Editorial: The contradictions of Emancipation and Independence

The Jamaica Flag
The Jamaica Flag (Photo credit: Unknown)

The dates 1 and 6 August are important to the majority of Jamaicans because they are respective commemorations of Emancipation Day marking the end of African captivity and the end of British colonialism in Jamaica. The period has been dubbed Emancipendence with good reason because there is much to be thankful for. Some of these are highlighted in this editorial.

There is universal basic education. Jamaica is also an emerging and functioning democracy with political stability and limited racial and ethnic tensions which is the envy of many developing countries. There has been a significant reduction in political violence since the murderous 1980 General Election backed by substantive electoral reforms where we now have elections that are largely free and fair. With public health policies, we have eradicated measles, mumps, tuberculosis, malaria, and polio among other diseases from Jamaica that are still present in some developing countries. The country has a basic functioning public health and mental health service and basic infrastructure.

Jamaica was the first country to boycott apartheid in South Africa and robustly supported the liberation struggles in Africa. Jamaica also contributed significantly to many labour and human rights conventions in international fora. Our track athletes have been world beaters for many decades as our excellent performances in the just concluded 2020 Tokyo Olympics have revealed. Moreover, we have given the world several genres of music. These are ska, rocksteady, reggae, dancehall, roots Nyahbinghi, and chengy chengy gospel. Our rapid and energetic creativity since the advent of dancehall over the last 40 years has created several genres of music that we have not collectively identified and named. Many people view Jamaica as the most interesting small country in the world that continues to punch well above its weight. There are also pockets of excellence in all sectors of the country. Moreover, Jamaica has achieved middle-income developing country status. 

Despite Jamaica’s many successes, there is also a lot to be ashamed of not just because these problems exist, but because the situation in the country could have been very different with the implementation of the right kind of public policies. What is worse, successive governments, since independence, have been fiddling in the dark.

Jamaica has one of the highest rates of inequality in the world. There are also high rates of poverty and marginalization driven by marginal economic growth since independence hence Jamaica’s flat line economy. Public policies are dictated by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank while governments continue to ignore the cries of the people that voted for them that are suffering under the policies of the international technical bureaucracies.

Jamaica is the fourth most murderous country in the world driven by gang wars and domestic conflicts. As such, murder is the country’s national pastime and the gun appears to be the country’s national instrument! There are also a few members of Parliament who still control the criminal gangs in their constituencies. There is also “suicide by motor vehicle.” Since the start of the year, there have been some 290 deaths from motor vehicle accidents. There are some peadophile pastors roaming among churches that prey on young girls with the complicity of some of their congregants.

There has been poor governance and corruption across successive governments, in concert with some in the Jamaica Constabulary Force and some in the private sector. There is selective policing where the people in the inner city are continuously brutalised despite the best efforts of INDECOM with the police shamelessly kowtowing to people in the middle and upper classes. We also have failing schools, and an under-resourced public health system that is about to break with the third wave of the COVID-19 virus.

There is continued disrespect of Blacks in the country. Jamaicans with Black hairstyles are punished by teachers, employers, the police and some citizens. No wonder most of our female athletes at the Tokyo Olympics had hair on their heads that were not theirs. There is also rampant skin bleaching across all sectors of society because some Blacks believe they are too black. There has also been protracted disrespect of Rastafari despite the glory, fame and colossal profits Rastas have generated for the country, not to mention the love for the Black self.

There are large numbers of Jamaicans who want to migrate because Jamaica does not love them despite their love for the country.  These people find it difficult to survive economically. They are trapped on the modern-day plantation because many countries refuse to grant them visitors’ visas. These governments fear that these Jamaicans will overstay the allotted time and live in their country illegally.

We are “emancipated” and “independent” but Prime Minister Andrew Holness, like the prime ministers before him, is a member of the Queen Elizabeth’s Privy Council. The queen of England is still, shamefully, the head of state of “independent” Jamaica. The majority of the laws on the books in Jamaica were passed during the colonial period. The public high schools controlled by the churches have their roots in British colonialism and continue to miseducate students about Blackness. Obeah, the spiritual system that the Africans brought that they used to sustain their identity and fight the British oppressors, is still illegal. Free speech is restricted because Jamaicans are still arrested for using “indecent language” based on an archaic retrogressive colonial law!

The contradictions of “Emancipation” and “Independence” have been highlighted by some of the country’s academics. A few examples are worth mentioning here. Harvard Professor of Sociology Orlando Patterson captures these contradictions in his latest book, The Confounding Island: Jamaica and the Postcolonial Predicament. Paul Ivey of the University of Technology has also written about these contradictions in Jamaica: Paradise and Paradox. The late Louis Lindsay of the University of the West Indies, Mona expressed the fiasco of independence and its contradictions in his classic work, The Myth of Independence

These problems are not insurmountable in twenty-first century Jamaica. However, as Nobel laureate in Economics Amartya Sen argues in Development as Freedom, these problems will remain until the capabilities of Jamaicans in all sectors are enhanced and opportunities provided with the appropriate mix of public policies. Only then will Jamaicans be functionally free and independent. 

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