Lessons from the Obama visit
Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States of America, has just completed a working visit to Jamaica. I have no personal recollection of the visit by Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, but having read his characterisation of our people, I was constantly reviewing the visit for what could properly be called the court jester feature.
Thankfully, there was not a prominence of the court jester feature. However, we were exposed to the precision, discipline and the polished art of how to answer in many words that delivered no bankable content. In this regard, we as a people have a lot to learn.
The precision came with the
timing of the events. The logistics of creating a moving bubble for the leader of the free world was
executed with the aplomb of rehearsal and comfort in execution. The
precision allowed for the flexibility of the previously unannounced visit to the Bob Marley Museum. The precision allowed an operation to be conducted clearly on a need-to-know platform. The logistics accommodated the people.
The supporting dignitaries such as the secretary of energy and Susan Rice, national security adviser, only made appearances as were explicitly required. The logistics were on display as Susan Rice was seen entering the presidential aircraft, Air Force One, for departure lugging her own luggage up the steps. Do you believe that could ever happen with any member of an official Jamaican delegation? Time would have to be allowed for the "hold on" to move the luggage and then remove themselves from the aircraft.
The sections of the Kingston Metropolitan Area that were sanitised saw discipline being imposed, as required for this visit. Everyone was subjected to the security rules.
The media representatives and security personnel were searched. The chain of command for the security forces was strictly obeyed. Only those, as dictated by protocol, were in the receiving lines.
The process was respected, except for the prime minister receiving the president at Jamaica House on the Thursday morning. The President extended his hand for the expected shake, only to have the prime minister reciprocate with one of her famous hugs. Within the bubble, the illegally constructed stalls were removed, the streets kept clean and free from homeless persons. Discipline, Singapore style. Those in Jamaica who frequently speak about the Singaporean model were the ones that complained the most about the sanitisation. How ironic? I trust we observed, learnt and on future occasions will implement.
Let us recall the 2015 Boys and Girls Athletic Championships and the grandstand being closed because of the lack of discipline in allowing too many unauthorised patrons into the stadium.
The president came and engaged the young people. He engaged the expert use of both the vernacular, in its place, and the precision of English language, when appropriate. By that act, he demonstrated his appreciation for our linguistic plurality; however, he never breached the boundaries.
The recognition of states' rights featured prominently in his answer to the question on the legalisation of marijuana use. The federal laws will remain in compliance with the government's interest in the health and welfare of all the citizens. The states may engage in an experiment.
The outcome of the experiment is yet to be determined, and as such, the federal policy shall remain. Note, he is a federal office holder. He must not be seen to be offering anything that could be interpreted as rights to the states.
Small island economies can create financial inducements for outsiders, but they must not facilitate the probability of money laundering or tax evasion or they will reserve the right to protect their revenues and financial system. This was the stance of a charismatic leader who has mastered the art of generic response, from which the audience may hear what they choose.
He also gave recognition to some cultural differences. Hang your hat, Jamaica, on whatever suits you. I said it all, yet gave nothing.
In a review of the president's visit, I am forced to search for his equal in the Government or Opposition of my country. He read prepared remarks from the teleprompter, but he also took questions about topics as varied as debt, immigration policy, legalisation and/or decriminalisation of marijuana, and he answered without resorting to an aide. He never said, "Leave your contact with my assistant and I will have the position paper forwarded to you." He respected the Second Amendment of the Constitution of America.
Andrew Holness has indicated, by his actions, that the provisions of the Constitution of Jamaica do not apply to his political machinations. Those of like mind in his party tell him, "You still have our confidence." Not mine. I will continue to oppose him until he bears the sanction he is due. This is my country.
President Obama left us with the message, 'educate, educate and educate' - all of us, inclusive of the leader of the Opposition.