The euphoria at the National Stadium last Saturday night, as the curtains came down on track icon Usain Bolt’s glitzy career as a national and international legend in his beloved homeland, was only experienced twice before in Jamaica. Firstly, when we attained political independence in 1962, and secondly when we became the first English-speaking Caribbean nation to qualify for the prestigious World Cup in 1998.
It is perhaps ironic, and indeed bittersweet, that his national exit should occur just at the time when the man who took our football to heady heights on the world stage, Captain Horace Burrell, passed on after a courageous fight with cancer. But while the Captain’s sojourn and signal achievement may be likened to a comet blazing across the evening sky (gone too soon), Usain Bolt’s impact on the Jamaican psyche and the world of sports, especially track and field, is an indelible mark that can never be erased.
Of course, it is to be noted that outside of the independence fervour, it took sports to unite this nation and give us a true sense of national pride. It is unfortunate, therefore, that while we continue to shine on the international stage, at home sports is treated in a shabby way, subject primarily to a “bandwagon” syndrome whereby the Government and private sector only get excited and are willing to provide meaningful financial and other resources when individuals or teams are doing exceptionally well.
But notwithstanding these occasional spurts of national unity, many Jamaicans regard as meaningless mumbo jumbo the words of the National Anthem — which perhaps explains why the majority of Jamaicans would opt to leave their land of birth if given the chance and. given the current spate of violence and crass indiscipline, why it has become more a matter of Jamaica, land we hate, than love.
It is to be noted that it was and has been the Afro-Jamaican that has taken this primarily black country to historic achievements, notwithstanding the underlining class and racial prejudices that still exist and that have helped to reinforce in the minds of many marginalised Jamaicans of African descent that “anything black no good.”
The ongoing hypocrisy surrounding dancehall culture and the annual Jamaica Carnival is a clear example of how perception has influenced reality. So when black women from “downtown” bare themselves and get on bad in the dancehall they are regarded as slack and immoral, but when the “uptown”, fair-skinned ladies take to the streets in wild Bacchanalian abandon, they are seen as just having good, clean fun.
Despite Independence (politics), Burrell (football) and Bolt (track), whenever the dust settles after the widespread celebrations and feverish intensity of nationalism, it can be said, without fear of any serious rebuttal, that Jamaica remains a divided, violent, and underdeveloped nation. Where did it all start?
In his seminal work, Alexander Bustamante and Modern Jamaica, the late Professor George E Eaton wrote: “Admittedly also, much of the dynamism of incipient nationalism, initially generated by the PNP, was spent in the fratricidal struggle between rival union-party blocs. Thus, instead of being able to capture the swell of racial consciousness which had crested in the revolt of the labouring poor during 1938, and to harness it to the cause of a vigorous anti-imperialist and nationalist movement aimed at achieving a Jamaican identity and consciousness based on pride and racial self-respect, Norman Manley and the PNP were forced to devote all their energies and organisational talents to converting Bustamante (and the traditionalist agro-proletariat) to the cause of self-government, even while seeking to wrest political power for themselves.
“Furthermore, Bustamante was won over to the cause of self-government only when he became convinced that the PNP did not intend to establish a socialist or communist state. The PNP, by force of circumstance, thus was led to abandon whatever radical policies it had initially espoused while retaining the (captive) rhetoric of socialism — a dubious advantage at best.”
Thus were sown the early seeds of political tribalism and one-upmanship that have continued to find fertile ground in a country which has failed to come to terms with itself. The major problem, of course, is that both major political parties — the JLP and the PNP — have so far not succeeded in taking Jamaica to a level of sustainable economic growth while ensuring a socially stable and patriotic people.
What has happened in socialist China points to the fact that fortune oftentimes favours the brave. The PNP continues to treat with ambivalence its socialist orientation when even its arch-rival, the JLP has adopted many of its precepts and practices, albeit in a bastardised way. If Dr Peter Phillips hopes to take the PNP back into the winners’ circle, he must lead a party that is fervently appreciative of the original principles and objectives of that noble movement as espoused by Norman Manley.
The current crime situation, which sees so many murders being committed right across the island, has left the governing JLP speechless, and the Opposition PNP somewhat equivocal. A little ray of hope emerged recently when Opposition spokesman on national security Peter Bunting, in a press release in response to the spiralling murder rate in the country, noted inter alia, that, “The Opposition recognises that the Government has the lead role and responsibility in ensuring public security but, in the tradition of the Vale Royal talks, we are offering to partner in an effort for a national mobilisation to fight crime and the causes of crime.”
The chickens are indeed coming home to roost, even as National Security Minister Robert Montague continues to declare that he is taking the fight to the “dutty criminals”, and Prime Minister Andrew Holness seemingly remains tongue-tied, having already painted himself into a corner in terms of his credibility when he stated during the last general election campaign that if he and his JLP team were elected Jamaicans would be able to sleep with their doors and windows open (or words to that effect).
A weak economy with the ever-occurring attendant evil of an inequitable distribution of wealth has been further debilitated by crime and corruption. We never did get it right in 1962, and we have not sought to capitalise on the national fervour which erupted in 1998 and 2017. As Bob Marley has sung, “I don’t wanna wait in vain for your love.”
The Jamaican poor continue to wait in vain, despite the attainment of political independence, despite our outstanding exploits and achievements in sports and the creative industries, despite tremendous gains in tourism, despite promises of “Better Must Come”, “Deliverance” and latterly the promise of “Prosperity”.
The bottom line is that Jamaica is a failing State with two political parties taking alternative grabs at power, while the people more and more become powerless socially, economically, and psychologically. We are at ground zero so we must come up with a pragmatic and nationalist plan of action.
In this vein, as foolhardy as it may sound, we need a Government of national unity. Suspend the Jamaican Constitution, which ludicrously still has us swearing allegiance to a dying monarchy, and put in place an emergency set of agreed governing principles while a new Constitution embedded in republican status is crafted — bearing in mind the necessity to have separation of powers. Get the best minds at the helm of Government, with a Lee Kwan Hew mindset designed to spur economic growth while creating a society based on discipline, probity, and unity.
This thought process needs to be fleshed out in greater detail but, as a patriotic, well-meaning Jamaican, I see no other way out at this time. As the old Jamaican saying goes, “What gone bad a morning, can’t come good a evening!” It sipple out deh.