It was the best of times, the worst of times. Today this opening line from Charles Dickens is not restricted to a tale of two cities, but repeats itself everywhere, all over the world. Its difficult not to notice how wide the gap is increasing between the have and have-nots, the rich and the poor, the advantaged and the disadvantaged.
Jamaica has certainly not escaped this predicament. Since pulling itself away from Britain (far less than the populace thought it had), Jamaica has struggled in a world it suddenly found itself at sea in. Perhaps if all things were fair and equal, Jamaica would have been better off, but in a world where small countries have very little power in the structure and future of things, and where economic development is not necessarily in its control, Jamaica soon became lost.
That’s not to say the leadership of the country is entirely blameless. Not at all. We have always had leaders who mostly weren’t able to see the game for what it was. Michael Manley and Edward Seaga were the exceptions but both came up with different solutions, neither of them ultimately useful.
Manley saw change through a new world order and new world thinking. But those fell to the machinations of those who won’t allow financial, political or social independence, or any deviation from the path they have set the world in. Global Feudalism.
Seaga thought that housing ourselves under the wings of the nearest dying dragon would offer us protection but failed to realize that when a dragon is dying as this one is, it first begins to eat what it never gave a glance at during its best days… the most vulnerable closest to it.
Looking back, there is no one thing we can identify as where we went wrong. It was more a long continuous series of ideas and decisions, some of it taken out of our hands.
Jamaica continues to be on a path not of its own choosing, like a small boat guided to where the great waves take it, not being able to do much more than hopefully survive, with pilots who have virtually done little more than better prepare their own personal future.
Yet at the same time, it is the best of times for a small minority and luckily the island has heroes like Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Veronica Campbell-Brown and the band of other athletes who continue to represent this small country so well at the Olympics.
It is also the best of times by Jamaica’s ability to showcase many of its skills and creativity… our arts for example, as well as the strength of our people. Wherever you go, Jamaicans seem to have that uncanny ability to stand out, and in every society, even in the remotest parts of the world, there is probably a Jamaican who has made his mark.
Despite its small size, Jamaica is one of the most known countries due most likely to our arts and music and sporting abilities. But we are known for many other things… politics, law, economics, even science. Jamaicans have birthed many outstanding personalities who have made major marks on the world of academia, or the performing arts, fashion and food.
But much of our energies have been squandered by ourselves, our leadership and our inability as a nation to rise above mass mediocrity. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about us after 50 years is that we have failed to fulfill what we are capable of… a nation with so much talent and so little national advancement. A nation of so many talented moving parts but with no ability to be one successful unit… which makes a lie of our national motto.
Some people have been grumbling that with our many failures, what do we have to celebrate? Why bother with the charade of a 50th Independence anniversary? Well, we can and should celebrate. Not much is lost and nothing is gained by not recognizing our birth with a little cake, wine and some music. Bad times or not, this is still a significant moment in Jamaica’s history and we can celebrate the moment, even for a moment. We can celebrate the small successes as well, even if they are buried under the weight of our poverty and crime, high joblessness and diminishing earnings. Celebrate we must.
And we can hope that in the next 50 years, Jamaica will be able to fight the raging waters that have been carrying us on a course of unmitigated disaster. The truth is that while our destiny is not entirely in our hands, we have the ability to change that. But nothing can be done without the recognition that success will not come without hard work and sacrifice. And perhaps that is where our political, social, religious, intellectual and private sector leadership have failed us most, making us believe that success is easily achievable, just around the corner, as long we put them in place to simply tweak a few buttons, take a few pills and viola… instant success.
It was the worse of times… perhaps. But we can make it the best of times, as long as we recognize that sacrifices have to be made, and have to be shared.