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Barack Obama knows that we are a nation of slackers

Published:Monday | April 13, 2015 | 4:03 AMDr Michael Abrahams
Dr Michael Abrahams

Last week I was fortunate to have been in attendance at the town hall meeting with Barack Obama at the University of the West Indies. While I absolutely enjoyed the experience, it left me with somewhat ambivalent feelings. On one hand, I felt privileged to be in the presence of a human being who exudes such an enormous amount of positive energy and confidence and is able to connect and communicate effortlessly with an audience, inspiring and motivating many in the process. He entertained questions concerning a broad spectrum of topics from literally 360 degrees around him, answering them sincerely, intelligently and rationally.

On the other hand, I also felt disappointed, because as I stood there intently listening to every word emanating from the president's mouth, I realized that I could identify no one in our present political landscape that possesses that kind of presence. Nobody who can think on their feet and respond to a multitude of diverse questions with such mental and verbal agility.

One thing that was evident to me, however, was that Mr. Obama is watching us, and he knows that we are a nation of slackers. Early in his talk he brought up the issue of cronyism, something that is entrenched in our politics. It is common to see unqualified people running agencies and leading government ministries in Jamaica. At the helms of these entities we often see people who have little knowledge of the relevant subject matter and show little interest in learning. Friendship and political allegiance take precedence over competence and integrity, with deleterious consequences for the country.

Mr Obama also brought up corruption during his early remarks. As a matter of fact, that word was uttered by him at least four times while he stood before the audience at the assembly hall, and with good reason, as corruption is interwoven into the fabric of our culture and is endemic in our society.

Our leaders have a nasty habit of enabling corruption or turning a blind eye to it. Corrupt officials are rarely removed from their posts and virtually never step down, even when their dirty deeds are unmasked. The brazenness of it is sickening, but we as a people tolerate it and party loyalists make excuses, rationalize and move on, while our country suffers.

Mr Obama spoke about human rights for all people, regardless of religious belief, how they look, or who they love. As a matter of fact, the first person singled out for recognition in the audience was Angeline Jackson, a lesbian who was abducted and raped in her late teens, likely a victim of 'corrective rape', and who did not get justice.

This was not just a fleeting statement. Despite our prime minister stating her intentions to review our laws regarding sexual offenses, two consenting adult men can still get arrested, charged and humiliated for intimate acts with each other, even if they do so in private. Many Jamaicans fail to understand that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights fall under the umbrella of human rights, and even as Mr Obama spoke those words, religious zealots were protesting outside the University against Mr Obama's tolerance of gays.

Mr Obama also made reference to Singapore, and the strides the country has made despite having minimal resources, stating that the country invests in its people, and stressed the importance of an educated and skilled workforce. Our country has failed miserably in this department, with our leaders showing a preference for uneducated and uninformed masses who can be easily manipulated for political gain.

Transparency was also mentioned by the president, in a country renown for political opacity, and he also made a reference to the financial mismanagement that helped to cripple us.

So Mr Obama addressed the Jamaican 'massive' and the crowd went wild. But he is not only acquainted with Jamaican slang, Bob Marley and Red Stripe Beer, he is also aware of our chronic corruption, mismanagement and poor grasp of human rights. I hope that our leaders were paying attention.

- Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.