For months, Jamaicans at home and in its Diaspora, have been eagerly planning for, anticipating, the arrival of August 6, 2017. That’s the official anniversary of Jamaica’s 55th year of independence from Britain.
Sir Alexander Bustamante’s craftiness
Unlike some other countries, including the USA, who fought long, bloody wars to attain political independence, Jamaica received its independence relatively easy. Ironically, history will recall up to 1959 Jamaica’s break from the British was not sought to become an independent nation, but as a member of the West Indies Federation. It was Sir Alexander Bustamante’s political craftiness, insisting on Jamaicans voting in a referendum to decide the fate of that federation, and voters voting against the union, that Jamaica’s absolute political independence became a real possibility.
History will also recall there were Jamaicans, including leaders of the society, who believed the island wasn’t ready for the responsibility of, and wouldn’t succeed as, an independent nation.
Naysayers proven wrong
However, fifty-five years later, history may have proved those naysayers wrong. Although the nation has faced some tough challenges, some still to be overcome, all things considered, Jamaicans have successfully charted a national course.
The nation has been blessed with political leaders fully committed to its development. Some of these leaders sought the well-being of Jamaica at great personal sacrifice. Each, in their own way, sought for social-economic improvements.
In the 1960’s Jamaica was led through period of economic prosperity under Bustamante, Donald Sangster and Hugh Shearer.
During the 1970’s, under Michael Manley the nation saw a period when significant social change was attempted to alleviate the circumstances of the poor. Arguably, attempts at this social change were too aggressive. The aggression led to regrettable widening and bitter political divisions in the country. It also led to the loss of some of the nation’s monied class and intelligentsia to foreign shores.
The 1980s and 90s
In the 1980s, under Edward Seaga, the leadership sought to repair the financial and public sector, with limited success.
In the 1990’s under Percival J. Patterson. the leadership grappled with a changing world, one which became fiercely competitive striving to survive under the system of globalism.
Globalism, may more than anything else has been the factor that provided the greatest challenge to Jamaica, as it changed the normal way the nation conducted its economy. It required the introduction of new economic systems and infrastructure, resulting in the nation’s political and economic leaders to learn on the run.
A confident nation
However, even as the leaders struggled with difficulties created by globalism, the 2000’s under Patterson, Portia Simpson Miller, Bruce Golding, and now Andrew Holness have produced a confident nation. This confidence manifested itself in Jamaicans excelling on the global scene especially in the areas, of sports, academia and culture.
Jamaicans, including the Diaspora. through their relentless achievements have kept the Jamaican brand strong, astounding the world. These achievements have belied the size of the nation, and some have outdone citizens of First World countries.
Still, much to be done
Notwithstanding these achievements, very few Jamaicans would deny that even as the nation celebrates its maturity there’s still much to be done. The social foundation is still much too unlevel, still too wide a poverty gap between “haves and have-nots.” Crime begs a lasting solution, and the nation’s youth needs more reason to hope.
The core of the nation’s problem is economics. Without a strong economy, it will be difficult to alleviate poverty, have lasting prosperity, curb crime, and give the youth real hope.
Focus on economic independence
As the nation progresses some are urging its leaders to place focus on economic independence. There are recommendations to place emphasis on development of a non-traditional economy based on industries like agriculture, food-processing, horticulture, music and culture, craft and sports-tourism. Jamaica has much more to offer the world, while gaining significant economic benefit, than has been gained since 1962. There’s an increasing call to further develop that unique Jamaican brand.
These ideas have been talked about often since 1962, and every year since. There have been reams of paper written and discussed. Now as the nation moves forward beyond 55-years the focus must be on implementation. The challenge is now for Jamaica and its expansive Diaspora to strive determinedly to discover, and develop the resources to adequately meet the needs of the nation.