Sat | Jan 19, 2019

Wha ah gwaan, Jamaica?

Published:Saturday | April 18, 2015 | 11:05 PMMartin Henry


Nuff tings ah gwaan bout yah, Mr President. Pity yuh did'n stay longer to see how wi run tings pon di Rock Jamdung.

You're a quick study picking up snatches of Jamiekan very fast and using them impressively well. The youth massive, steeped in dancehall culture, went wild when you hailed them in their cultural language at the town hall meeting at the UWI. You immediately became one of them.

Beyond diplomatic briefings, you would have quickly learned from your own experience and exposure the travails and triumphs of Jamaica and its people. But you did pick up, almost by absorption, that this is an extraordinary rock with an impact on the world stage far beyond our size. It is yard to Bob Marley, Marcus Garvey, Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and all a wi weh tek it to di worl. Wi likkle but we tallawah.

Language in the mouth of power is sanctioned. Your use of Jamiekan to connect with Jamaicans has elevated the national creole.

There is a long-running debate here about recognising and formally using the language, an even if Jamiekan is a language. A couple of years ago, the New Testament was translated into Jamiekan as the first piece of international literature in the language and giving the language a formal writing structure which it never had before. I hope your links on the Rock will send you the audio and print versions of the Jamiekan Nyuu Testiment so that you can practise your Jamiekan for when you come back, as you say you will, as well as to remind you in another language, one of the powerfully creative little languages of the world, of your Christian roots which protesters here and in your own country against some of your policies say you are forgetting.

Mr President, you wouldn't have seen the vendors at the Harbour View roundabout or at National Heroes Circle. The Government scrape dem up before your arrival, jus like how dem rush patch the roads you were to have driven over from airport to Pegasus. But you pop dem and fly over all that effort at disguise in Marine 1. You should see the poverty and despair in the prime minister's constituency! But you have the same sort of thing in the black inner-city areas of the United States.

Street vending is a big part of the hustling economy of Jamaica. New Kingston and the UWI are not Jamaica. The majority of Jamaicans are employed in marginal jobs, are underemployed, are self-employed in marginal hustling work, or are unemployed. The official overall unemployment figure is 14 per cent. But among the youth massive, unemployment is 40 per cent, including many university graduates.

The majority of the graduates migrate; otherwise, the situation would be worse. And your country is the biggest beneficiary of the higher education output of this country. So when your advisers tell you about the illegal Jamaican migrants and those involved in crime, and we are the best in the world for beating the system at home and abroad, bear in mind that a big part of the flower of our nation is contributing skill and talent to your country and all of them over there sending money back home, remittances making up the second largest stream of foreign exchange earnings after tourism. And the majority of our tourists come from your country. We want more to come.

So give us a likkle big-up back home. Jamaican cuisine, which you sampled here, has world-class potential and is loved by everybody who tastes it. I understand you have given very few presidential dinners at the White House. How about a Jamaica-themed dinner, or breakfast, before your visit here gets stale?

Mr President, the biggest problem of the Jamaican economy is the debt burden: 140 per cent of GDP, one of the highest in the world. You have taken keen interest in the IMF programme and our exemplary debt-management system. The IMF programme is about debt payment. You could help us with debt-forgiveness arrangements and real growth programmes. We have to replace dead sugar and bananas with modern services and goods in the global marketplace. As I was saying, Jamaican food is one area with enormous growth potential.

By the way, the majority of the few Jamaican beneficiaries from your US$70-million Caribbean youth development initiative are likely to remain in the United States if they go there for education and training.

Although inflation has been kept low and under control over the last few years, the Jamaican dollar has lost a third of its value traded against the US dollar since 2010 while there has been a wage freeze for public sector workers. Working people are being pushed into poverty, and just before you came, there was big national chat 'bout the poor having to resort to fish back, the leftovers from producing fish fillet, which is even cheaper than chicken back and neck, much of it imported from your country. But in true Jamaican fashion, the people tun dem han' mek fashin with fish back. And the press has even published gathered recipes!

Recounting your joyful Nicodemus visit to Bob Marley's yard, now museum, you mentioned, too lightly I think, that Bob was shot and injured when preparing for a peace concert between warring political factions but said he wouldn't take time off since those doing the evil weren't taking any time off. Well, sir, those warring political factions were attached to the two political parties which have formed the Government of Jamaica, the People's National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party. The parties have used street gangs as enforcers to line up the votes in poor urban areas and created blocs of supporters, which we call garrisons.

Political control of the garrisons has been much reduced, but they remain the centres of our crime problem.

Mr President, we have been pushing more than 1,000 murders per year for many years, a rate of 45 per 100,000, one of the highest in the world. Right after you left, gang warfare around the area of our Parliament, which you didn't get to visit, has left several persons dead, including an 11-month-old baby allegedly shot by a 17-year-old gangster while his mother bathed him in the open yard. People have been shot not because of any involvement but simply because of which street they live on. Some of us want your government to apply a carrot-and-stick treatment to get our Government to fix the crime problem like the economic problem.

Rasta man Bob, like most of the rest of Jamaica, wouldn't back your stance on homosexuality or abortion. And they want your Government to respect their position. After all, you are willing to work with Cuba despite big differences.

Marley was a serious ganja man and even has a song about the herb. The week after you left, a law came into effect decriminalising the possession and use of up to 2 ounces of the weed. Jamaica wants to do big commercial things with ganja but our country has to be watching your federal government, which opposes ganja like opposing Cuba. But several of your states have freed up the weed. Just to let you know, I am neither user nor endorser of drug use.

You were happy to meet Usain, the fastest man on earth, and Shelly-Ann, the fastest woman. But as yuh tun yuh back, Elaine Thompson, a student at the University of Technology, which is just across the road from the UWI, ran a blistering 10.92 seconds in the women's 100 metres at the UTech Classics.

Another star is born. We have them in music, we have them in sports. But it is the improvement of the life of the ordinary Jamaican that we want to focus on more. Better opportunities, less hardship, greater safety, better service from our Government, better protection of our rights and freedoms, less pressure to migrate to your country.

The Beast did not get a chance to roar along with you on Highway 2000 on a tankful of gas from Venezuelan PetroCaribe oil. And Marine 1 didn't fly over the Goat Islands where the US had a World War II base. Highway 2000 is partly built, owned and operated by the Chinese, who also want to set up a logistics hub on the Goat Islands. But US-Jamaican friendship goes back from when salt fish a shingle housetop. In fact, the first salt fish in the ackee and salt fish dish was New England cod.

Nuff more tings ah gwaan. But when yuh come back.

- Martin Henry is a university administrator. Email feedback to and