Jamaica to be a republic, yes!
The announcement that Jamaica has begun the process that could remove the Queen as head of state by 2025 was an early birthday present for the island, mere months away from celebrating its 60th year as an independent country.
When the chief of Jamaica’s Ministry of Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Marlene Malahoo Forte, QC, announced the start of consultations that would ultimately lead to Jamaicans having the final say in whether Queen Elizabeth II should have pride of place as the head of state, a role she has occupied across all of Jamaica‘s six decades of independence from the United Kingdom, I joined the loud chorus of approval.
The political will to break away from the symbolic nature of British rule and to cut ties with some of the more formal frameworks is not something that started with this Government. In fact, I recall former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller being very clear that Jamaica as a republic was an idea whose time had come. The last poll on this issue saw nearly 60 per cent backing the idea.
Perhaps the thing that has returned this issue front and centre to the national and international scene was the ill-fated trip to the Caribbean of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge William and Catherine. While not a complete public relations disaster, there were elements, including that infamous ‘fence’ photo – depicting smiling brown children being greeted by the man and woman who would one day sit in dominion over Jamaica as Britain’s king and queen – that left a rather sour taste in the mouth.
AMBUSHING THE ROYALS
Indeed, some British papers accused Jamaican politicians, like Prime Minister Andrew Holness and opposition parliamentarian Lisa Hanna, of ambushing the royal couple by speaking of Jamaica’s republican aspirations to their faces.
Apparently, in some quarters of the British right-leaning press, to be respectfully direct is in a way to forget your place. A brilliant reminder – if ever one was needed – that Jamaica’s days of bowing and scraping and ‘yes Massa-ing’ should be consigned to the bins of history.
The recent jubilee celebrations in the United Kingdom, and across many communities in former colonies, showed there still is affection for sections of the royal family, especially the Queen herself, who still performs public duties only years away from her hundredth birthday.
But here’s the rub, a desire to be a republic, free from at least the symbolic political affiliation of having the Queen as head of state, is not a personal slight against the current monarch.
Notice how I’ve skipped over the scandal of Prince Andrew, and not even touched the Meghan Markle and Harry racism débâcle, because it matters not if the royal family was comprised fully of Mother Theresa-meets-Nelson Mandela figures. It’s about the institution and what it represents, and why it is no longer fit-for-purpose to shape the political lives of countries like Jamaica, which should now be free to forge paths that are in their best interests.
I grew up and was educated in a system where we aspire to be influenced by countries like the United Kingdom, especially when it came to education. To speak ‘the Queen’s English’ was a sign of breeding and class, as it still is across so many of former colonised nations. Heck, I was an actual student of The Queen’s School in Kingston, where our sporting houses were named after former British monarch (proud Victoria House participant here), so I’ve had an opportunity to see the deference close up.
What you come to realise is that Jamaica’s own traditions and culture are also worth amplifying and celebrating. Moving towards a republic and ditching the Queen is another step in the journey of genuine self-love and autonomy.
We saw from the beautiful example of our Caribbean neighbour Barbados, when they ditched the Queen, that the sky did not fall in. There was no chaos. Just a quiet march towards forging a global identity that is not linked into one of the most scarring periods of the nation‘s history.
Wanting to move towards a republic is not about turning our backs on centuries-old ties with the United Kingdom, but asserting our new and proud position. Gaining Independence in 1962 was the beginning of this process, with the removal of the Queen its inevitable conclusion.
Not everyone is in agreement with this push. In fact, there is a small countermovement, where there are those who feel Jamaica’s destiny will be better served if we hand over even more power to London – becoming a vassal state, if you will. Well, haven’t we already tried that path, be it political and economic subservience to both the UK and the US?
Becoming a republic will not immediately solve all our ills, but it’s a gesture that should galvanise Jamaica and Jamaicans into doing what we’ve always done –punching above our weight!
As I type this, more learned folks than myself are putting together their thoughts on what Jamaica‘s new Constitution could look like. I have every faith that it will be the blueprint that will help to rejuvenate Jamaicans at home and abroad. It’s by no means a forgone conclusion, but I hope those of us with the final vote say ‘no’ to the Queen and ‘yes’ to a new Jamaica.
Amina Taylor is a journalist and broadcaster. She is the former editor of Pride magazine and works as producer, presenter and correspondent with Press TV in London.