Elizabeth Morgan | Jamaica’s achievements after 60 years of Independence – a mirage?
Jamaica marked 60 years of Independence on Saturday, August 6, being one of two CARICOM countries to become independent in 1962. Trinidad and Tobago will also mark 60 years of independence on August 31.
Like many others, I was very interested in The Sunday Gleaner poll (August 7) which showed that many Jamaicans assessed their country as primarily having achievements in sports and music after 60 years of Independence. Sports and music do have trade elements, as Trade in Services linked to the Cultural and Creative Industries.
Prior to 2008 and the emergence of Usain Bolt and the haul of Olympic gold and other medals, Jamaicans, in my view, might not have ranked sports so high. Before then, our sports analysts, such as Jimmy Carnegie, would have measured Jamaica’s success in international athletics competitions, not only by medals won, which were few, but by the number of semi-finals and finals reached. Now, success is mainly assessed by number of medals won. Nothing is wrong with this, as it shows that great strides have been made in the development of track and field, the foundation of which was laid in 1910, when the first secondary schools athletics championships (Champs) was held and when Gerald Claude Eugene Foster (G.C. Foster), legendary coach, aspired to participate in the 1908 Olympic Games in London.
WHAT HAVE WE ACHIEVED?
Music has had a long tradition in Jamaica also. It was a part of life, with traditional instruments, folk songs, and local mento bands. A major classical composer, Samuel Felstead (1743-1802), emerged from Jamaica in 18th century. Others followed promoting music like George Goode, Mapletoft Poulle, the many music teachers, the elementary and secondary schools’ music programmes, church music, and the emergence of the Alpha Boys School.
Many of our great musicians emerged from or were influenced by these programmes. Bob Marley, in the 1960s and ‘70s, was just one of many good and creative musicians. So, sports and music, of any genre, are not flukes.
I noted a number of WhatsApp messages making the rounds which outlined Jamaica’s achievements and identity as grounded in cultural traditions, and like The Gleaner poll results, primarily showing achievements in sports and entertainment. Jamaica’s achievements are not associated with education, production, trade, science and technology, arts and literature, except Louise Bennett, infrastructure development, and economic progress, generally.
In 1962, when Jamaica gained Independence, the population was 1.7 million, and its literacy rate, age 15 and above, may have been about 60 per cent, depending on the method of assessment. Jamaica’s GDP was estimated at US$778 million, with per capita at about US$458 (US$4,513.34 adjusted for inflation). Jamaicans were then looking at advancing social and economic development, improving earnings, more jobs and a rising standard of living.
The GDP growth rate was averaging about four per cent between 1961 and 1963. There was promise for development post-independence. Note Jamaica’s per capita income in 2021 was US$4,587.
If the same question posed by The Gleaner poll could be posed to my parents and their associates in 1962, sports and music would not be high on their list of achievements, not that their value was not seen. Their generation would view achievements as improvements in education and character building; in industry, agriculture and tourism; infrastructure (roads, water supply, housing, schools, and hospitals); and expansion of production and exports. I think that my father would have looked at The Gleaner poll results and given Jamaica a failing grade in development.
PRIORITISE EDUCATIONAL AND ECONOMIC ADVANCEMENT
There is no question that Jamaica’s achievements in sports and music have been extraordinary, but in development of these cultural and creative industries, what has been done to enable the economy to benefit, both from brand recognition and staging of regional and international sports and music events of high standard that would generate income and be sustainable.
In music, Bob Marley died nearly 40 years ago. I am not sure that many Jamaican musicians, in reggae, have risen to the stature of entertainers of the 1960s to ‘80s, and improved their marketability. In fact, some have brought dishonour to the music and the country, if we are honest. With the global popularity of reggae and dancehall, they also now must compete with artistes across the world. Recall Reggae Grammy won by a US group, and did you see the British dancehall act at the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony?
In sports, to me, we do not have a major international track and field event that would attract international athletes, the media and an audience to fill the stadium. Are the facilities available and is the investment being made? Cricket is a shadow of itself – I went to an international match at Sabina Park and the stands were empty; the mecca of cricket was a barren space. Football seems to have development challenges, though Jamaican teams have qualified for the World Cup. In horse racing, we have groomed international jockeys. I went to Caymanas Park, I could see the potential, and the work needed to realise it. I am still hoping to see a proper sports museum.
For me, for the future, Jamaica’s achievements must prioritise educational and economic advancement in the context of sustainable development, integrating our fragile island environment, especially with climate change, and proper development of the cultural and creative industries. We still need to reverse 50 years without significant economic growth.
Elizabeth Morgan is a specialist in international trade policy and international politics. Email feedback to email@example.com