Jamaica is caught between a rock and a hard place. After 47 years of tinkering with political independence and playing around with the economy, the country is now at a crossroads with destiny. Never before in the history of this nation has the future looked so uncertain and fraught with perilous consequences.
Unfortunately, there are those like the proverbial ostrich who have buried their heads in the sand, while others see things through either orange or green spectacles. Then there are those who could not care a damn and are just doing their own thing, illegal or otherwise
However, there are those citizens who have the solutions to the island’s crises and want to implement them but are either alienated or forced through special circumstances or intimidation to stay on the periphery. For several decades, Jamaica has been a pressure cooker with some obvious release valves. Chief among these have been migration, religion, talk shows, entertainment, sports, gambling and general elections – a self-imposed two-party parliamentary system that gives voters the opportunity to change governments every five years. Of all of these, the first (migration) and the last (general election) have played the most pivotal roles in national development or underdevelopment.
In the case of migration, the upside has been the opportunity that is offered to Jamaicans to travel, study and work overseas, thus acquiring a better lifestyle than the one they would have become accustomed to if they remained in their homeland. A major positive spin-off has been the massive inflow of remittances which up until recently was the country’s best source of income. As a safety valve, fed up, frustrated and disillusioned Jamaicans have had the option of journeying to greener pastures and thus escape persistent poverty. There has also been the perception that it is safer to live abroad and be exposed to an environment in which there is discipline, the upholding of law and order as well as citizens’ rights.
With respect to the five-year political cycle which can be epitomised in the expression “room for rent, apply within, when I come out, you go in”, Jamaicans usually go to the polls to vote out rather than vote in a party and so this exercise, apart from having a certain amount of therapeutic value, tends to offer a sense of hope in that voters would have come to the conclusion that the party that they are not voting out will do a better job of managing the country’s affairs. In other words, there is an alternative.
Well, the chickens are coming home to roost because right now there is no clear-cut political alternative and with the worldwide recession that has devastated the economy of the United States, where most Jamaicans migrate, and from which most of the remittances come, our corner looks dark, as the man in the street would say.
The Jamaica Labour Party came to power at a time when many Jamaicans had become fed up with a corrupt, seemingly inept and uncaring People’s National Party administration. Despite the narrow margin of victory, it is fair to say that most Jamaicans wanted a change of course. Notwithstanding Portia Simpson Miller’s compassionate image (a factor that has endeared her to many citizens especially in the lower class), there were sufficient numbers of voters who felt that she could not manage the role of prime minister. The upper class had problems with her diction and delivery, her general deportment (especially on the political hustings) and her seeming inability to grasp details quickly. In addition to all of the above, she has been presiding over a party divided over the question of loyalty to her.
And so they turned to Bruce Golding. Articulate, well-spoken, his voice that resonates with a sonorous timbre and with which he expatiates in well modulated tones, captured the imagination of the Jamaican populace. Unlike his PNP opponent, he came across as a leader who had a full grasp of what good governance was all about and he had behind him a united party. Here is a man, they thought, who could stand and deliver. After all, during his stint in the National Democratic Movement which he founded and then abandoned, Golding had espoused those values and attitudes that could help revolutionise the Jamaican society, its economy and its politics. Indeed, I well recall Mr Golding declaring that if we fix the politics then the economy would fix itself.
Today, the grass is no longer greener abroad. It is no secret that many Jamaicans, particularly many among the hundreds of thousands living in the United States, are in dire straits and would love to return home. But return home to what? Is this another classic case of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire? Yes, Jamaicans are still migrating but most of the latest migrants are the educated or well-to-do ones who will find it much easier to survive in a foreign environment. The downside, of course, is the brain drain and the migration of capital, a scenario that does not augur well for a country that needs all able-bodied hands on deck!
Juxtapose the above scenario with the political situation in the country whereby most Jamaicans believe that the country is going in the wrong direction and that neither the JLP nor the PNP seems to have the right answers as to the way forward, and what emerges is a recipe for revolution. A bloody revolution? Those who will be quick to accuse me of being an alarmist and pessimist had better look at what has been happening in Manchester. That parish was one of the most economically vibrant, socially stable and crime-free areas in Jamaica. Under Mayor Cecil Charlton, Mandeville boasted of being the cleanest and most orderly towns in Jamaica. All that has changed and a group of residents, including business persons and professionals, has decided to take on the criminal elements in their midst. Some have already likened it to a vigilante squad.
In the meantime, the International Monetary Fund is predicting that there is likely to be no growth in the Jamaican economy between now and 2014. The next general election is due in 2012. Maybe we should all start singing beer-drinking songs