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Things Jamaican, a vision of Edward Seaga derailed by politics

Published:Tuesday | November 20, 2018 | 12:00 AMDr Andre Haughton

In 1963, just after Jamaica received Independence, there was a need to intertwine the Jamaican culture with meaningful enterprise. The Government established a company called "Things Jamaican" to produce and supply to a global market place things that were made in Jamaican. The venture was the idea of and therefore was spearheaded by the then Minister of Economic Development and Social Change, the Honourable Edward Seaga.

Under the company, Things Jamaican, craft vendors, pottery makers, artists, seamstresses from across the island were given a platform to showcase their talent. The aim was to transform the cottage industry which was seen normally as the productive element of the household into an industry with a proper structure so that it might have a meaningful impact on female rural and urban unemployment across the country.

Technical support was important

Mr Seaga approached the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to assist with providing meaningful support service to these crafts people turned entrepreneurs to understand the world of business. They brought specialists to provide design, marketing, and alternative craft. There was a training programme to improve quality control and design. Some of the products were produced by the "100 Village Programme" where each village was assigned a supervisor to bring their products to market. The people were hopeful and excited to participate in the programme, some as creators, others as marketers and some as sellers and buyers. It was a hopeful time in the life of the small business, there was policy supported by real action. Things Jamaican with the assistance of the UNDP developed a course to grade existing craft worker operating across the island.

How did Things Jamaican attempt to maximise sales?

There are two ways to export a product, send it abroad or sell it domestically to people who visit the island. Right away to maximise reach, Things Jamaican began to set up craft outlets at major hotels, airports and seaports. This was critical in infusing Jamaican made goods on a retail scale which would also require management, inventory, book keeping and marketing services, which increased employment linkages. Devon House on Hope Road was also declared a National Heritage site and was used to market and showcase products of Things Jamaican. The programme had the potential to increase the earnings of rural and urban poor but was neglected after there was change of government in the early 1970's.

What happened?

According to the literature, Things Jamaican was a good idea to assist poor creative Jamaicans which should be allowed to flourish but failed because of political discontinuation, which has been the Achilles heel of Jamaica. There are many other meaningful projects that have been initiated by successive governments from both sides but lose traction as soon as their administration leaves office.

Politicians in Jamaica sometimes appear to care more about their own political will rather than providing meaningful enterprise and livelihood for the people. But I guess this will not be a factor because the new ideology of these new governments is to lay a platform for everyone to fend for themselves. But if it is the case that a new vibrant far-reaching policy is advised in contemporary times, policy continuation has to be championed for.

A simple analogy

It's like a man plant a mango tree and the new owners prefer apples, so they root out the mango tree and plant an apple tree, as soon as the apple tree is ready to bear fruit, there is a new owner who prefer bananas to apples and root up the apple tree to plant bananas and as soon as the banana tree is ready to bear fruit, there isa new owner who root up the banana tree and plant ginger and the story continues. Much of this has been attributed to the whole idea of democracy.

What is the point?

The point is, neither of these trees was planted for the owners' interest but rather in the interest of the market and the people. Put more simply, whatever the government does is not for itself but in the interest of national development.