Ewart Walters, Guest Columnist
Time come. In our 51st year of Independence, time come.
It was The Gleaner's legendary editor, Theodore Sealy, who, in a moment of discernment, prophesied accurately the behaviour of Jamaicans after Independence. Likening the country to a chicken farm and the people to chickens, he said that when the fowl coop door was thrown open, the chickens would at first restrain themselves before eventually all rushing out to see the great big yard outside.
Right now, there is nobody in the fowl coop. All the chickens are busy out in the yard and it looks like they will never go back.
Poppycock? Just take a look at any intersection in Kingston and you will quickly see that it is every chicken for himself. In fact, intersections are no place to be 'chicken', as it is only the stout of heart with nerves of steel that get by in what has really become a dog-eat-dog theatre. Stop signs mean nothing. The notion of 'right of way' has completely disappeared, and disorder knows no bounds. It is as if today's drivers have never seen a Road Code, or if they have, they have long forgotten its contents or its relevance.
But the problem at the intersections is really symptomatic of a far more pervasive issue that is at the root of much that needs repair in national life. That can be summed up in one word: discipline.
Bound in law and order, discipline is not a word you hear much these days. The father of the nation, Norman Manley, often spoke about discipline and the benefits of discipline. Alexander Bustamante was the other of our leaders to speak about the need for discipline. He cast it in terms of law and order. "Law and order must be maintained," he would say, often. And, for the most part, it was.
Generally speaking, we were an orderly people. Yes, we bombed the 'Chi-Chi' buses when they took over the franchise from individual bus operators in the early 1950s, and our trade unions would clash physically and bloodily with each other every year until the '70s when Michael Manley changed the scenario by "putting labour into Labour Day".
And in the elections of 1976 and 1980, we took to bullets to persuade our balloting. But we took our driving tests. For the most part, we got our driving licences legitimately. And we stopped at stop signs and waited until the road was clear before continuing.
Bustamante would also speak often about the need for women and girls to be protected. "They must be able to walk freely on the streets," he would say. Today we look back at four decades or more of young girls being snatched from the streets and from their parents' homes by hoodlums who have no fear of reprisal, and of places of safety that are not safe.
Magicians have entered the national picture. It has become commonplace for files to 'disappear' from government and tribunal offices. And the prevailing environment suggests that you complain at your peril. Commercial buildings go up without sight or sanction by the local authorities. Some go up and up and up - in locations where height should be restricted. Some go up with sand from a stolen beach, catapulting us into Ripley's Believe It Or Not for the wrong reasons.
And our response? "A no nutten."
Much of this pattern of undisciplined behaviour seems to have developed and taken off in the '80s when we began an almost wholesale sucking up to imported values and attitudes that couldn't care less about us as a people or about the history of our endemic struggle to build our Jamaican nation.
While the jubilant expression "Man free!" adorned and permeated our newly independent existence in 1962, and while we still had memories of the community development ideas of Norman Manley, Thom Girvan, and Eddie Burke, along with the industrial development ideas of a Robert Lightbourne, we were constrained to abandon those thoughts in the 1980s in favour of an externally dictated process that was helpful only to the external dictators.
Our people, for the first time, were faced with having to rely only on themselves as our new paradigm was one that, based on the Reagan Republican notion of 'smaller government', saw their government beat a major retreat from their lives. They could no longer rely on a government that saw its hands bound by more and more international obligations and World Trade Organisation rules that, as an example, saw dairy farmers having to dash 'way their natural milk supplies because it was cheaper to buy milk powder from the US.
And then there were the gas riots of the late '90s, which reflected a total disregard of the governors for the governed, for they increased the price of gas by 50 per cent, overnight as it were, having not thought it necessary to say to the people, "Dawg, time tough; we have to put up the gas price because so and so." It was tantamount to saying "Let them eat cake," famous last words before the French Revolution.
In the wake of that age of smaller government, structural adjustment and privatisation, we abandoned the long-established Aedes Aegypti mosquito-eradication programme and the good work of Raymond the Sprayman - and invited cholera, dengue and malaria to revisit us. Of course, we then had to buy more vaccine and medications from the external dictators. (But isn't that what the whole privatisation thing is about?)
In the meantime, our police had to contend with a three-headed monster. The first was plain political interference which began raising its head in the very first years of Independence. The second was political coddling of gunmen. The third was the inescapable corruption within their own ranks. A 300 per cent salary increase from the Government of the day helped, but only for a time, as the political coddling continued and the monster kept growing.
It was the revolt of civil society - assisted by some excellent reporting and trenchant editorialising from The Gleaner - between 2009 and 2010 that lanced the boil and led to the eventual break-up of 'the mother of all garrisons', the reputed nest of an extended crime web that no administration had been willing to destroy. But in the afterglow of that celebrated event, the country was treated to a most dismal display of how far the justice system had fallen as we all watched the commission of enquiry and its unbelievably appalling report.
Lack of leadership
Up to the end of our 50th year of Independence, no administration has taken up the cudgel. (Yes, I know we are all transfixed by the economy and the notion that we have to secure an IMF deal). But it was Norman Manley who sounded the right note when he said, "All efforts will be wasted unless the masses of the people are steadily taken along a path in which they will feel more and more that this place is their home, that it is their destiny. They will then do more for it, work more, more effort, more thinking, more sacrifice, more discipline, and more honesty, than by any other measure you can bring to this country."
Not a word about the economy. And the reason for this was that when those other things are in place, when the people can feel that they are indeed part of the programme ("me inna de struggle, too"), it will be much easier to grapple with the economy.
But that is not what our external dictators have prescribed! And we no longer see our heroes as our models. No, blinkered we ignore our own internal solutions and gaze transfixed at imposed external ones.
Our task in this 51st year must be to rededicate ourselves to the goal of building the Jamaican nation and building it with Jamaican resources. We elect people to represent us, to lead us. We have seen in the Dudus-Manatt affair that we the people sometimes have to 'jook' them into leadership. Weeks into 2013, we have to jook them again.
Discipline. There was a time in the life of this country when our people knew discipline, if nowhere else, certainly within the borders of the parish of St Catherine, courtesy of the resident magistrate there. His Honour Mr V.K.G. McCarthy made sure that on pain of stifling fines, everybody kept within the speed limits in his parish. You just knew that as soon as you approached Ferry, you took your foot off the gas.
Our return to discipline, especially in these times when crime is eminently mobile, can begin on the roads. Senior Superintendent Radcliffe Lewis is making a start. He needs help. Enforce discipline on the roads and we will have set a foundation on which we can build a disciplined society.
Ewart Walters, CD, is a journalist and author. His autobiography, 'To Follow Right - A Journalist's Journey', will be in book stores soon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.