Sun | Aug 25, 2019

Jamaica 57 | Emancipendence far from complete

Published:Tuesday | August 6, 2019 | 12:11 AM

Fifty-seven years after the British monarchy gave us nominal political independence and 181 after being released from physical bondage, we have the fastest set of sprinters on Earth. We gave to the world ska, reggae, and dancehall and an indigenous syncretic religion that is more popular than Christianity was at its age. We have possibly the most robust democracy in the Americas. Jamaica is a paradox, a liger, a cross between a lion and a tigress, a creature with a confused identity. Yet, it is not a little pussy cat; it is bigger and more powerful than either parent. This is often what you get when you create hybrids. It is called hybrid vigour.

We are not a native population. The first set of escaped Africans had blended with the native Tainos and, of course, their colonial masters. By the time legal slavery was abolished in 1838, we had already created a new culture, characterised by three main colour strata, each with its own subculture, but bonded by an overarching Jamaicanness. It is a perpetual internal conflict, where the legacy of the colonial history and plantation life makes us a wonderful ackee and salt fish, made from the African fruit and the North Atlantic cod but seasoned deliciously by native and imported condiments.

Our colonial past has kept our minds focused northwards. Therefore, we still have a skewed, romanticised view of the ‘Motherland’ and are hooked on the pomp and pageantry that her majesty’s forefathers bequeathed unto us. After all, we are still British subjects, not British citizens. Similarly, we share the ‘American dream’, are ‘foreign minded’ and have a sort of inferiority complex regarding the United States (US), to such an extent that even when the evidence is standing in front of us like a ZOSO policeman, we ignore it.

True, we are the murder capital of the Anglophone world, and our finance minister and other learned people are quibbling over the increase in poverty figures. However, we are a far better place than the majority of countries. Despite our modest gross domestic product per capita of US $5,100, our unemployment rate is around 10 per cent, literacy at 90 per cent, life expectancy of 76 years, and human development index of .73 means that overall, this is a healthy society and economy. All major indices have improved since Independence.

Since 1962, we have had 12 general elections, all of which ended with the loser accepting, although sometimes grudgingly, that the people have spoken and the only way to gain state power is via the ballot. Unlike the US, which has had innumerable assassination attempts on political leaders, including four murders of presidents, we thankfully have no such history.

For the past few years, Freedom House and Reporters without Borders have rated our media as the freest in the hemisphere and the English-speaking world. Jamaica is one of the best places in the world for women to live and is number one regarding the status of females in media. Our professions are filled by an increasing percentage of rising women, and that includes not just teaching and nursing, but law and medicine, with the overwhelming majority of judges being females.

Although the CARICOM region has the lowest percentage of persons with university degrees in the hemisphere, the overall pattern is an upward slope, with my plantation, The University of the West Indies, being rated in the top five per cent of universities globally. And for all of the controversy and lack of transparency that surround the professor who heads it, the Caribbean Maritime University is a top class institution, producing world-standard graduates.

Healthier democracy

As regards governance, we are a healthier democracy than both the United Kingdom and the USA. This little island nation gave universal suffrage to its citizens, 18 years before independence and 21 years before the Americans. Our constitution is lucid and available. Yet the British’s is not readily accessible to the average non-lawyer.

Still, it is our colonial and enslaved minds that prevent us from calling a spade a shovel. True, we have embarrassed ourselves with myriad scandals across administrations, and yes, there is corruption in government.

However, although we have harped on the corruption perception index (CPI), which is nothing but a measure of one’s beliefs, not one single media practitioner has gone past the narrative and perception to look at the actual evidence of corruption.

The reports from Transparency International, which measure the CPI, revealed that six per cent of Jamaicans reported paying bribes to judges. Yet, the figure for the USA is 15 and the UK is 21 per cent. Of course, given that in more than half of American jurisdictions, judges campaign and are directly elected like regular Comrades and Labourites, this creates far more space for venality and political favours.

One would be surprised that despite our ‘poor human rights record’ our Jamaican police killed 17 suspects for every officer murdered between 2000 and 2016. This figure is exactly the same as the USA.

However, in Jamaica, most police officers were selectively targeted and killed off duty. Moreover, in most American cases, there were no firearms recovered and the fatalities were not during planned operations. Interestingly, neither the UK nor the USA has the equivalent of an INDECOM.

We might even be most surprised that ‘homophobic’ Jamaica has a gay-trans murder rate of one-third that of America, whose figures have been increasing steadily over several years now. Furthermore, we have an Industrial Disputes Tribunal, where one can be reinstated if dismissed because of sexual orientation. Yet, in the USA, with no such court, it is lawful in more than 30 states to dismiss someone because of his or her sexuality.

Nonetheless, this is our crisis. Our confused hybridity makes many of our advocates for the Caribbean Court of Justice hug up their QC titles and sit comfortably on their knighthoods. With the exception of a few public academics like Carolyn Cooper and Ivy’s Son, none of the learned ‘Africanists’, Reparationists, and pro-Jamaican culture activists ever speaks the native language in public.

Yes, we are independent and have made progress; however, mental emancipation is far from complete.