Half a century after the British accepted our invitation to pull down the Union Jack and dismantle their colonial administration, Jamaicans, the anecdotal evidence suggests, are decidedly schizophrenic about what we have made of Independence. Perception of the country, it seems, swings between nationalistic fervour and a debilitating pessimism - that we have achieved little or nothing.
This newspaper adheres to neither of these extremes, believing that the Jamaican situation is far more nuanced and complex. More important, we are optimistic about the country's future, though not blindly so. We understand that if Jamaica is to do better and come close to fulfilling its potential, we have to be honest and frank with ourselves in assessing the failures of the past 50 years, so as to avoid past mistakes. We know, too, it will require hard work to convert aspiration into reality.
In reviewing the Jamaican ledger, a great asset is the perception that we are a 'cool' country, enjoying a brand recognition that is beyond our size or economic achievement. A vibrant culture, especially reggae music, and assembly-line style delivery of stupendously talented athletes contribute to cool Jamaica.
But it's more than that.
Diplomatically, Jamaica punches above its weight. We are looked to for leadership in many of the world's political forums. Part of the reason is that unlike many of the countries that achieved Independence at the same time as Jamaica, our institutions survived the severest of stresses. Jamaica maintained a relatively stable democracy.
Its big failure has been its inability to translate a strong culture and global respect into sustained economic growth and in creating a country where the vast majority of its citizens, rather than having to hanker at opportunities outside, can, in reasonable comfort, 'live, work and raise families'. This failure tells in:
Annual average economic growth over the last 40 years of approximately one per cent;
Per-capita GDP that has changed little since Independence;
Infrastructure whose expansion and maintenance have not kept pace with demand;
An underperforming education system, from which only 30 per cent of the secondary-school cohort received passes in recognised exams.
High rates of joblessness, including around 60 per cent of the country's youth being unemployed or opting out of the workforce; and
A high crime rate, marked especially by a homicide rate of around 45 per 100,000.
These indicators do not mean that there have been no advances since Independence. Fifty years ago, literacy was below 40 per cent and a small number of Jamaicans attended secondary schools. There is nearly universal enrolment today and around a third of young adults are in tertiary institutions. And for all their inadequacies, Jamaica's physical and social infrastructure are vastly advanced over a half-century ago.
But where change for the better is perhaps most obvious in Jamaica is the social advancement of the vast majority of the population who are descendants of slaves.
It is ironic that, given the relative stability of our democracy, and its contribution to other spheres of national life, that a major factor in Jamaica's underachievement is the nature of its politics - its conduct in divisive, tribal fashion that undermined continuity in policy and advanced the notion of politics as a means to deliver spoils.
We have improved on this front. There is still much more to be done if we are to fix the economy and simultaneously overcome the problems that detract from Jamaica as the place to live.
As a people of talent, energy and imagination, the fixes are not beyond Jamaicans. The process, however, demands commitment and, in a difficult global environment, extraordinary leadership. Which we must demand.
In the next 50 years, the issues raised should be different.
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