Challenge of the 21st century
Birthdays and anniversaries are times to look back and look forward, to take stock and to consider options for the future. Just as nothing is ever all good, nothing is ever all bad; and a healthy dose of honesty will allow us to first admit and then learn from our mistakes, and to temper our expectations.
Over the last five decades, all political administrations have made us one of the most indebted countries in the world, and we are being led to believe that if only we stay the course of the current International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme (another two years), we will see a turnaround of our national fortunes.
This past week, I heard a representative of one of the multilateral financial institutions make a projection that Jamaica may have to endure the current austerity for least a decade before we achieve real progress. Surely, we didn't believe that 50 years of imprudent and irresponsible borrowing could be reversed in four years of an IMF programme.
FREEDOM FROM SLAVERY
The struggle of the 19th century was freedom from slavery. Rebellions in Jamaica and elsewhere made an economy based on slavery unsustainable, which led the British Parliament to free the slaves and compensate the masters for the loss of their property. Within 30 years, the former slaves were again in revolt, since Emancipation did not bring with it land reform, justice in the law courts, and the right to vote. The Morant Bay Rebellion led to some reforms, but did not disturb the power relations.
The struggle of the 20th century was not so much between the colonial power and the colonists, but between workers and capitalists. The creation of trade unions in the 1930s, and the struggles for higher wages and better working conditions in Jamaica, paralleled similar struggles in Britain 50 years before. Both the People's National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which emerged, rode on the backs of the effectiveness of their trade unions (and not the other way around).
Anti-colonial and nationalistic rhetoric was eventually adopted by both parties. The thrust was to foster a Jamaican identity among Jamaicans, so Jamaican nationalists explored Jamaican history, archaeology and culture, to celebrate our separateness from things British. This was the period that saw the emergence of Jamaican art, sculpture, music, and dance.
The movement to 'Build a New Jamaica' saw JLP branches and PNP groups forming right across Jamaica, along with branches of the Jamaica Agricultural Society and the Jamaica Teachers' Association. Not to join in the movement was to support colonialism and backwardness. And so almost everyone registered to vote, and turned out on election day.
THE WAY FORWARD
Founded for the sole purpose to 'fight' for political Independence, after August 6, 1962, neither party had a clear agenda for the way forward. Impressed with our struggle for Independence, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore came to learn, but left disillusioned; there was no Jamaican model of independent nationhood to emulate!
After getting rid of the colonial Englishman who was milking the country dry, our Jamaican politicians - little more than mimic men - having no other role models they admired, stepped into the shoes of the Englishmen and continued to do the same thing.
Happy to be rid of an expensive colony, Britain handed Independence to Jamaica on a platter; Britain found colonialism to be unsustainable. It is that event which we celebrated yesterday.
The way the PNP and the JLP have handled our independence is also unsustainable. How could we have developed a primary education system that for decades churned out illiterates, and a secondary education system that for decades churned out persons with little academic qualifications? And we expected an expanding economy with exploding economic growth? We have reaped what we have sown: garrison politics, crime, cronyism, and corruption.
The struggle of 21st-century Jamaica is to develop a political system which will energise the nation to new heights of productivity. I don't believe that the PNP and the JLP, which brought us here, can take us where we want to go. Something new must emerge.
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.