Sun | Aug 19, 2018

Ja not on brink of catastrophic failure, Keiran

Published:Monday | August 25, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Kimberly Lyon, Guest Columnist

Kimberly Lyon, Guest Columnist

I have just read Keiran King's August 20, 2014 column, 'Jamaica is not a democracy', and frankly, I'm furious.

The piece is riddled with gross mischaracterisations, hyperbole, and an overall sense of ungratefulness for what Jamaica really has achieved and what it has to offer.

While asserting that Jamaica is merely a "populist tribal theocracy," he cites Australia and Belgium as beacons of democracy, where the voice of the minority is heard.

These are ironic choices since Belgium doesn't have a proper government at the moment because its Dutch-speaking region can't work with its French-speaking region, and both Belgium and Australia are fighting their own cultural battles against rampant xenophobia and racism.

It is, indeed, the unfortunate truth that many people struggle daily to meet their basic needs and provide for themselves and their families. Yes, it is true that we have some curious policies that, at best, do no harm.

Yes, many of our political leaders leave us without words when they do the things they do and say the things they say. Yes, crime is a genuine concern, and many lives have been lost to senseless violence over the years.


But this is the glass half-empty. It is not the sum total of the Jamaican experience, nor is it the entirety of the Jamaican identity. So, I wanted to ask the question, 'How is Jamaica doing, really?'

Let's start with the state of our democracy. Jamaica has experienced 52 years of uninterrupted democratic transitions through election cycles. We don't have to look very far to find a lot of countries where that is not true. While we were passing the baton from one elected official to the other, there were military uprisings, coups d'├ętat, and malevolent dictators all across the region, including in Argentina, Brazil, Dominican Republic, and Grenada, to name a few.

One of the most horrendous assertions in Keiran's column is that that we are just "one well-timed uprising away from being a failed state".

While this is clearly written for the purpose of grabbing attention, it does a great disservice to things Jamaica has accomplished, slowly but surely, and it undermines the real strife occurring in actual failed states, where there is no open media for one to write cynical columns.

In fact, Jamaica is ranked 119th out of 178 countries on its fragility by the Fund for Peace. In other words, we are more stable than 118 other countries, with our single biggest weakness being the emigration of our most educated people.

So, what about our freedoms? The 2014 report by Freedom House actually gave Jamaica a 12/12 score in electoral process. Who knew? We don't get any accolades for rule of law (6/16), thanks to a very slow judicial system, extrajudicial killings and our infamous, insular 'garrison' communities. We do, however, get a whopping 15/16 score for freedom of expression for our open media and freedom of religion.

And corruption you say? According to Transparency International, it could be worse. Ranking in the 45th percentile for 'Control of corruption' and the 60th percentile for 'Voice and accountability', one could say Jamaica is firmly in the middle.


In fact, we're kind of in the middle on everything else. Our gross domestic product per capita puts us at about 114 out of 220 economies, firmly in the centre. According to the United Nations Development Programme, we're just better than the middle on gender equality at 88th out of 187 countries. Our human development designation is 'high', but our rank is just above the middle.

If any of this is starting to sound a bit boring, it is because being a middle-income country really isn't as exciting as being on the brink of catastrophic failure. If countries were AMC show characters, Jamaica wouldn't be the danger-seeker-he-could-be-killed-at-any-minute Walter White. Instead, we're more likely to favour the he-has-destructive-habits-but-the-ladies-like-him-and-he-keeps-getting-by Don Draper.

There are just countless columns and articles and letters chock-full of over-generalisations and exaggerations about the state of our country, and it is neither constructive nor instructive.

I would rather see us zoom out more often and view our country's challenges and achievements in the context of the world - the REAL world, not the world that consists only of Miami and London and Toronto.

From that perspective, you would see that there are a lot of countries just like us, sharing this human experience of being a developing country, and that we are not alone. We might even learn something from each other. Not only could things in Jamaica be much worse, looking at the trends, you can see progress, and that is not insignificant.

Kimberly Lyon is a water policy specialist for the World Bank. Email feedback to and