Welcome

Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Jamaica, land we love.

By complete accident, brought about by a need to be budget conscious, I'm in a unique phase of my life. I landed in Jamaica yesterday and for the first time I'm in the land of my birth when it celebrates its independence, on August 6. I left Jamaica in 1961, when it was still a British colony, and within a year it was waving goodbye to British rule, while I was just getting used to the real version of the British rulers, as I continued my primary schooling in London.

Forty-six years on, we should have a country that is truly grown up. Many would argue that the country's development has been one of stunted growth, if you look at the way that the economy, with its potentially strong base of mining, mineral processing, agriculture and tourism has struggled to produce enough wealth and jobs to really nurture the majority of the people.

The country has a very grown up political system, which common to the Caribbean, has never broken apart: we have never had a coup, never been ruled by a despot or dictator, never had an election whose outcome could be contested as the result of widespread fraud. Changes of leaders of parties may not always have been the result of a true choice, but a lot of democratic principles have been applied in forming and changing the main political parties and their leaders. Jamaica currently has its opposition party about to head into a contest for its presidency, with the current leader/former prime minister pitted against an aspiring lieutenant. We have a prime minister who left a party to form his own, and was "brought back into the fold" to lead the party he had left, and then went on to beat the then governing party in an election many believed that they could not, and should not, have lost. We know that many countries that gained their independence from colonial rulers have found it hard to live up to these kind of political standard: Zimbabwe is probably the most glaring failure in that regard at the current time. Jamaicans have much to be proud of in their political systems.

We have justifiably enormous pride in our cultural achievements since independence, including, but not limited to, gracing the world with a completely new musical form in reggae. We have founded a new religion in Rastafarianism which has more than a trivially small following. Connecting those two phenomena we have, of course, Bob Marley. We can take immense pride from our sporting prowess, which was evident in athletics well before independence with the likes of Arthur Wint (who gives his name to where my father now lives) and has continued in that sport since--today we stand with the amazing fact of having the current and immediate former world record holder in the 100 metres sprint (why else have a name like Bolt if you are not going to produce a streak of lightning?). Historians and sociologists can argue all they like about the why but this little island has consistently produced fast runners, even more amazing when you look at those born here and developed elsewhere. We produced many heroes in the region's favourite sport, cricket. We led the region in soccer status by getting a place in the World Cup Finals and not looking too out of place.

We have cultural icons in literary and intellectual fields, many well known in the region, many well known outside it. To me, "Miss Lou" (Louise Bennett) stands out the most. We have beauty and grace. I remember the thrill as a pre-pubescent boy in London when I heard that Miss Jamaica (Carol Joan Crawford) had become Miss World in 1963, right there in London's Lyceum Hall. I had no idea what this meant, I just felt that a Jamaican woman had been thought lovely enough to win a "world something" and that was great. Several years older, and well past adolescence, I was again thrilled in London, when Miss Jamaica (this time, Cindy Breakspeare) was again crowned Miss World 1976. Things like that put your little country more visibly on the world map, no matter what you think about beauty pageants.

Jamaicans now tend to hang their heads in shame when they see, hear or read news about social developments in the island. Our biggest claim to fame in many people's minds in that we have one of the highest rates of murders in the world (we are in the top three with Colombia and South Africa, one "medal" ranking I would gladly see slip away). Imagine me in Barbados just yesterday hearing the news that Jamaica had just registered murder number 926 for 2008. When I arrived at the Kingston airport yesterday, I met my first-born daughter who was going to visit from the US/Canada for a week. As we left the Palisadoes area, I pointed out to her the sign showing each year's road fatalities: they averaged around 330 each year between 2005-2007. "Look!"I said, "That's what greets visitors to the island as they head away from the airport. If that's appropriate publicity, then they should do full disclosure and put up the murder figures, which are more than triple the road deaths." Yet, in saying that, I had not one ounce of fear that I would meet any trouble. I nver have and I hope I never will. As my driver/friend sped me up the highway and told me that Mandeville had just had two shootings in the town centre, I could only say matter-of-fact-like, "That's close to home." He joked: "Maybe we should move to Kingston."

No debate today about who is, or what is, a Jamaican, or about the value and place of our language/dialect, Patois. If you feel pride in the sound of the name Jamaica or Jumakya then today is your day. You can read and think about the meaning of the words of the National Anthem, and deal yourself with whether the hymn contains just pretty words with no meaning, or if it holds good seeds, which if nurtured well will help to grow something very strong.

Eternal Father bless our land,
Guard us with Thy Mighty Hand,
Keep us free from evil powers,
Be our light through countless hours.
To our Leaders, Great Defender,
Grant true wisdom from above.
Justice, Truth be ours forever,
Jamaica, Land we love.
Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica land we love.

Teach us true respect for all,
Stir response to duty’s call,
Strengthen us the weak to cherish,
Give us vision lest we perish.
Knowledge send us Heavenly Father,
Grant true wisdom from above.
Justice, Truth be ours forever,
Jamaica, land we love.
Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica land we love.

4 comments:

the real mccoy- dj CJ said...

Thank you for taking the time to write this piece. I really enjoyed reading it. The positives of Jamaica out-number the negatives

ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID said...

Interesting spiel on Jamaica, Land We Love.Notwithstanding, it seems as if you have calculatedly and systematically decided not to discuss, or, address one of the most ugly,monstrous,revolting,and repulsive aspect or feature of Jamaican politics,i.e., the garrisonization,tribalization,and Balkanization of the society especially the urban spaces,by the orange and green parties,and the concomitant problems associated with such a political sociology and political/economic construct.Quite frankly, any discourse on Jamaica, post decolonization must categorically incorporate this monumental and colossal failure of the political system,which in essence, is the cancer metastasizing and eating away at the body politic of the society.Hopefully, it will not take us forty six years to dismantle and de-garrisonize the society.Nuff Respect!!ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID

Brian said...

Those words are very pretty indeed. Terrific poetry and, for those who know the music of the anthem, truly stirring and inspiring. For a Jamaican, the anthem also pushes all the right buttons.

I agree with Esteban's comment, of course. The pretty words have not translated to reality.

Or maybe the pretty words, like the comforting motto, have helped to perpetuate a millinarian dream which has been used as a smokescreen to hide the machinations described by Esteban.

Dennis Jones said...

Whether Jamaica's "garrison" process of securing political favours is worse or better than say gerrymandering electoral districts (UK, US), or blatantly buying votes (almost universal in some degree), or threating to kill people who vote for the opposition (eg, Zimbabwe), or downright distortion of voting processes (modern Russia, Belarus, etc.), or some other manisfestations of a "spoils system", I cannot say. I'm not naive enough to think of politics as a clean and fair process. I'm also interested in the way that countries that experience certain kinds of evident political travesties deal with them: US presidential election victory of Bush Jr. over Gore did not lead to riots or revolution; Kenyan presidential electoral results followed to deaths of thousands; etc. Popular acceptance of such outcomes is something that I want to explore more in my own time. Jamaica's political machinations have been associated with other socio-economic phenomena and are not, to me, the clear cause in and of themselves of the country's malaise.

As regards anthems, I guess that every country wants to inspire its citizens when they get a chance to hail the country. The logic outcome of competitions to choose anthems or the inflicting of anthems on a country without any choice is hardly likely to give results that have sentiments such as "Long may we mire is suffering. Pray that our thieving leaders prosper."! Whether political leaders and others want to hold to the tenets of the anthems will change over time and may even never have been a likelihood from the outset but the two aspects are not in anyway connected. A lot of politics involves the perpetration of hypocracy, but that should not detract from a population feeling inspired by the words of its national hymns.