Jamaica celebrated 45 years of Independence on August 6. The debate about what the country has achieved since the end of British rule is not one that can have a definitive conclusion. There are enough statistics that show progress in many social and economic areas. There are also many statistics that show a worsening of economic and social development. The country has been under continuous transformation, and that has not stopped. I feel that the conclusions people draw will reflect their political position. There is nothing wrong with that.
I feel that Jamaica has made some enormous strides but has not achieved what many people believe the country is capable of, given its natural resources, its location, the general level of education. Jamaica has struggled with its political divisions for decades, and the drag that this has had on economic and social development seems clear. Those divisions have had a tendency to put the country into “stop-go” cycles, similar to those that the UK experienced for many years. Those divisions are often taken on a violent face, and whatever else people felt about Jamaica tends to get swamped by the negative consequence of this violent aspect. This is especially important at this time as Jamaica moves towards the next election date, for which nominations are due today (August 7). The country’s ability to move forward economically and socially depends on achieving a certain political maturity, which has escaped us for a long time. The current election campaign so far appears to have witnessed less politically related violence than as been seen in many previous elections over the past 30 years. Realistically, a general election in Jamaica without political violence may still be a dream, but to have an election with much reduced violence would suggest to me a major achievement.
Crime is the other aspect of Jamaica’s experience over the past 45 years, which has left many in a state of disappointment. The statistics on crime’s escalation and its effects on Jamaica were vividly put into context recently in a jount World Bank/UN study (see previous blog on the price the Caribbean is paying for crime). Jamaica is gaining much less from its progress because the shadow on violent crime creates an environment of danger, corruption, and uncertainty that many are still not willing to deal with. I think this is one of the reasons why the “brain drain” from Jamaica continues to be so very high. In small countries such as in the Caribbean people ask a very simple but legitimate question about crime. In islands or countries where people tend to know each other much better and are even connected very closely, why can’t we deal with the criminals? From conversations, which people have frequently, it’s clear that many of the names and activities are well known. If that is truly the case, then the concern about how the country is and has been governed needs to move to another level. Crime is more than a shadow in some communities, where press reports suggest that many lives are now under the control of criminal groups. If that is true, then elected government is not what really matters. And if that conclusion is correct then it would mean that 45 years of independence has seen a serious loss of what we felt we should have gained, which is more democratic control over our lives and affairs.