Peter Espeut | Bittersweet Emancipendence
By this time next week, we would have completed our observance of Emancipation and political Independence. The original events took place long ago, and are bittersweet as we look back, as neither turned out to be as liberating and redemptive as they promised.
We can truthfully say that in the 1830s, the slave owners were emancipated, as they received financial compensation for the loss of their property, and were freed from obligations to feed, clothe, house, and medicate their unpaid labourers.
At Emancipation in 1834, Jamaica had 309,331 enslaved people, and their owners received £6,161,927.5.10 in compensation for the loss of their property (rather more than £ 19 per head); the former slaves received no compensation for the loss of their freedom, their homeland and their heritage.
With no education, no land, and no home to call their own, the freed slaves were now free to starve. And many did.
Although they were no longer slaves, they did not have the right to vote, or to stand for public office (these were determined by the amount of taxes paid, which was related to landownership); the planters were the legislators, the magistrates, the prosecutors and the juries.
RESTITUTION PAID TO GUILTY PARTY
It was the non-conformist churches that bought land, subdivided it and sold it to the former slaves that gave them somewhere of their own to live and raise their families, and to grow crops to sell.
In law and in morality, righting a wrong always involves restitution, compensation, reparation, for the wrong committed. In our case, restitution was paid to the guilty party, the perpetrators, and not to the victims. This travesty cries out for justice.
We can truly say that in 1962 the British were liberated from the obligation to manage their former colony which had brought them hundreds of millions of pounds sterling in wealth. Having underdeveloped Jamaica for centuries, having intentionally suppressed the local manufacturing sector in favour of their own factories in Britain, having underdeveloped Jamaica’s human capital by building only a few high schools (the church built many more), with the stroke of a pen the British gained Independence from us.
The British were happy to depart, leaving in place a Creole political class unprepared either technically or morally to manage the affairs of Jamaica. In the decades which followed, Jamaica became one of the most indebted nations in the world (per capita), with one of the highest murder rates in the world (per capita), with the highest rate of deforestation globally, and with the most overfished waters in the Caribbean and probably the world.
Both our political parties compete for the dishonour of being the most corrupt, compete for the accolade of who can best plunder the resources which belong to the State, and therefore the people.
And so we are free! And we are independent! Let us rejoice and celebrate!
Every year during the early part of the month of August, we Jamaicans are reminded that we are owed a huge debt by our present and former leaders.
The descendants of the former plantocracy owe the descendants of the former slaves billions of dollars in reparation for the holocaust that was Jamaican chattel slavery, and its aftermath with which we currently live.
HAVE NOT DEVELOPED
The British State owes the Jamaican people billions of dollars for underdeveloping their Jamaican colony and her citizens, with which we currently live. Yes, in the decades since Independence they have provided ‘development aid’, but we have not developed.
The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP) owe the Jamaican people billions of dollars for misusing our ‘Independence’ and wasting Jamaica’s precious national and natural resources, with which we currently live.
The British can borrow to pay Jamaican black people the reparations we are owed for the decades of slavery, and to pay the Jamaican State the reparations we are owed for centuries of colonialism; but where will the JLP and PNP get the money to pay us the reparations they owe us for the decades of stealing and backward moves since Independence?
To symbolise that we want to break with our corrupt past, we must take down the statues of Busta and Manley in the public square.
Peter Espeut is an environmentalist and development scientist. Email feedback to email@example.com