Thu | Oct 22, 2020

Garth Rattray | Independent but not interdependent

Published:Monday | August 3, 2020 | 12:00 AM
This 1983 file photo shows scene at the National Stadium as the nation celebrated the anniversary of the first flag-raising ceremony which marked the start of Independence for Jamaica. The Governor General, Sir Florizel Glasspole, is addressing the gathering. The Rev. C. S. Reid, head of the Jamaica Baptist Union, stands beside him.

I still recall the pride and excitement of Independence Day in 1962. Our young nation was like a teenager being given the keys to the family car for the very first time. The feeling of power, self-determination and awesome responsibility were intoxicating. We could go wherever we wanted, lead ourselves, plan our great future and gradually break away from the influence of our ‘parent’… after all, Britain was an adoptive parent at best.

There was a smouldering, palpable fear in the atmosphere. Our older citizens wondered if we could manage all on our own without our British ‘mother’ holding our hand, guiding us, shielding us, protecting us, supporting us in periods of need. But it was time to take the reigns and chart our own destiny, it was time to surge ahead, to be who we wanted to be, to be ourselves…real Jamaicans.

We were so self-confident and we were so financially secure that we eschewed the invitation to form a Federation with other Caribbean nations. That did not sit well with them, and it has been a sore point to this very day. I believe that CARICOM is experiencing hiccups, in part, because of the events of the past. Although we did not depend on outside nations for our development, I had hoped that we would depend on one another to form a peaceful, progressive and economically strong nation.

DIVIDED ALONG SEVERAL LINES

Perhaps we retained the genetic coding for tribalism, perhaps it was the power play of politics, but our nation became divided along several lines. We have political, racial, social, geographic and economic lines of division. Some politicians of the day exploited our divided society to their advantage. Instead of focusing on uplifting the downtrodden and ensuring good education and employment, they went as far as to introduce guns to the poor and destitute, who saw their political affiliation as part of their life-and-death struggle for survival. If their party won, they were assured handouts for their daily existence. A loss at the polls meant socio-economic wilderness for the vanquished.

The more educated and/or affluent citizens often forged ahead; they made waves without looking back at the needy floundering in their wake. Success for one group fostered distrust and animosity in the other. The sad reality of being left behind by society worsened until a complete schism occurred. It was quiet, so quiet that it went unnoticed by most, but it was decisive and it had deadly consequences.

The guns that were supposed to be used for protection against political rivals, those same political rivals who had guns for protection against their political rivals, were now also trained on anyone that was deemed to have more than others. Those guns came to represent the only ‘power’ that many young men experienced. They became tools in robberies and in the thriving and gruesome murder-for-hire business.

In spite of our ‘Out Of Many, One People’ motto, we are not a united society. There are many causes for crime, but a major cause is a society in which some people are marginalised. Crime is therefore a societal disease that comes about when groups of citizens are left behind. If we had helped all citizens to develop by affording them educational and employment opportunities, we would be able to depend on everyone to contribute meaningfully to nation-building.

If Jamaica is to achieve true greatness, the various strata within society need to develop good interrelationships between our social groups (interdependence). This is achievable if those who are capable form partnerships by helping the less fortunate to acquire the skills and/or means to survive. It is only then that our interdependency, our ability to cooperate, will transform Jamaica into a productive, economically secure and peaceful country.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.