Tue | Jul 17, 2018

Ewart Walters | Father of which Nation?

Published:Sunday | March 4, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Ewart Walters
Minister of Finance, Development and Welfare Edward Seaga, with the 1967-68 Estimates of Expenditure in hand, ascends the steps of Gordon House to present the Budget.
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Prime Minister Holness, in announcing a week ago an upcoming major honour for former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, described him as "the Father of the Nation". Clearly, Mr Holness has either not done his reading of Jamaican history, or, as in the immortal words of Fae Ellington about Bruce Golding's dallying to extradite Dudus, "him head tek him".

The Jamaican nation came into being on August 6, 1962. There is a small handful of people who could be described as "Father of the Nation". Mr Seaga is not one of them. Not by age. Not by performance.

In his 1975 book, Alexander Bustamante and Modern Jamaica, Professor George Eaton recognised Bustamante's major role in dismantling colonialism and described the labour leader as "the Father of the Nation". But Eaton would have been old enough to know that this title had been bestowed on Norman Manley from the 1940s, by the people. In bestowing that honour, the people would have considered Norman Manley's brilliant accomplishments as the leading barrister in the island, his foundational creation of Jamaica Welfare in 1937, and his personal role in getting the colonial government to accept the Jamaica Constitution of 1944. (Yes, that Constitution is in need of modernising, but it is what was achievable at the time).

That Constitution was the first limited step towards self-government and was followed by several changes leading to the Independence Constitution.

Jamaicans today know nothing about Jamaica Welfare. It was in many ways the true foundation of Jamaica, its mores and its outlook. An islandwide phenomenon, it created standards of living and behaviour. It did so in a way that did not promote urban drift but showed people how they could remain in their homes and communities and prosper. (Ah, there is that word). It therefore had a much more profound and permanent impact on the island than did the small increases in wages that the trade unions arranged.

Both Marcus Garvey and the principals of the Jamaica Progressive League, W. Adolphe Roberts and Walter A. Domingo, were instrumental in preparing for the birth of the Jamaican nation. They both drew up and published manifestos setting out plans for Jamaica, and so did Ken Hill's National Reform Association. I guess you could call them godfathers of the nation.

 

'IMPEACH THEM'

 

Marcus Garvey's far-sighted 14-point manifesto included a law to impeach and imprison judges who, with disregard for British justice and constitutional rights, dealt unfairly. The manifesto also included:

- An eight-hour workday.

- A minimum wage.

- A share of self-government.

- Protection for native industries.

- A legal aid department for the poor.

- Technical schools for each parish.

- Land reform.

- Libraries and civic improvement for parish capitals.

- City status for Montego Bay and Port Antonio.

- A national park at Kingston Race Course.

Several of these proposals are echoed in, or are echoes of, those prepared by the Jamaica Progressive League.

Edward Phillip George Seaga would have been a 14-year-old fourth-former at Wolmer's Boys' School when Norman Manley put the finishing touches on the Constitution in 1943-44. He was 32 and a minister of government when the work of people like Garvey, Roberts, Domingo, Ken Hill, Norman Manley, O.T. Fairclough and others resulted in the granting of Independence from Britain.

As minister of development and welfare, and later as prime minister, Seaga had some very bright spots, none brighter than his promotion of women in the civil service and elsewhere. In a society long dominated by men, bright women were now for the first time being pushed to the top, principal among whom were Gloria Knight and Thelma Rose Campbell.

Seaga's promotion of Jamaican culture has never been surpassed. One of the earliest of these supports was the creation of a section in his ministry that was devoted to helping singers/songwriters secure copyright for their products, even while detractors dubbed him 'Minister of Ska'. He upgraded the annual Jamaica Festival into something much bigger, with street dances, costumes, floats, and the kind of overall celebration seen in Trinidad, although many people felt it was not the real Jamaican culture. He restored Devon House and created Things Jamaican. He drew up a street maximisation plan for Kingston.

As a minister of the first independent government, his enthusiasm for our newly won Independence led him to try and expunge Emancipation Day from the national psyche. 'Forget about slavery' was the idea. 'We have Independence now.' It was P.J. Patterson, many years later, who put Emancipation back on the Jamaican map. In 1979, the year before he became prime minister, Seaga was censured by Parliament on a motion by Foreign Affairs Minister P.J. Patterson for his unpatriotic activities against Jamaica with US agents in and outside America.

He promoted or introduced several institutions, including the Jamaica Stock Exchange (1968), Jamaica Unit Trust (1970), Jamaica Mortgage Bank (1973), National Development Bank (1981), Agricultural Credit Bank (1981), Ex-Im Bank (1986), the Students' Loan Bureau and Jamaica National Investment Promotion Ltd (now JAMPRO).

He also launched the brilliant Spring Plains winter vegetables project to diversify the economy. Jumbo jetloads of these winter vegetables were exported to US markets. But the man he chose as manager, Eli Tisona, one of Israel's biggest mobsters, was arrested by US authorities and found guilty of 146 federal counts for drug-money laundering. It appears he was using the Spring Plains jumbo jet shipments to smuggle cocaine from Colombia to the US.

But Seaga also created for himself a bad press. Featuring trenchant partisan politics ("I will mark my 'X' in PNP blood on election day"), his 40 years in public life detracted from the building of the Jamaican nation. His good idea around creating Tivoli Gardens dimmed when only his own JLP supporters were allowed back into the new development. It was the real beginning of garrison politics that saw its apex when he offered "safe passage" out of Tivoli to security forces pinned down by gunmen with superior weaponry.

 

GARRISON POLITICS

 

In an article commending Seaga, the late Ian Boyne had this to say: "Seaga has not done enough to rein in the criminals of Tivoli Gardens. This is one of his greatest failures of his 40 years. Every time I have written about Seaga, I have deplored ... his role in garrison politics ... . There are times when he has put constituency interests first, and that is unforgivable."

Mark Wignall said, "He needs to apologise to this nation." And a letter writer to The Gleaner last week describes him as "one of the country's most destabilising persons".

If Holness said he is the father of the Tivoli nation state, there would be some truth to that.

Quite apart from what this proposal says about Mr Holness, the sad thing is that the prime minister had an opportunity to instruct himself on the national movement and apparently did not. When the University of the West Indies invited me down to launch my book on October 15, 2014, I paid a courtesy call on the leader of the Opposition, one Andrew Holness, and presented him with a copy. In preparation for the meeting, Mr Holness requested a copy beforehand so that he could read it. When I visited, the first thing he said was that he had been told it was "very well researched", but he had not read it yet. Apparently he has not read it since then either.

The book We Come From Jamaica: The National Movement 1937 to 1962 is the story of the men and women who championed the idea of the Jamaican nation. There is not enough space available here to tell you what they did, so for that you will have to get the book! Then you will have a better idea who the 'Father of the Jamaican Nation' really is.

- Ewart Walters, former Gleaner parliamentary reporter, is a triple journalism gold medallist and author. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and spectrum@storm.ca.