Jamaica 50: Wi likkle but we tallawah

By Pat Watson Thursday August 02 2012 in Opinion
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The late Right Honourable Louise Bennett-Coverley, born in Kingston, Jamaica, was loved and respected the world over, but most especially in Jamaica and certainly here in Toronto where she spent her final years.



Jamaica’s cultural ambassador had a room at Harbourfront Centre named in her honour, which goes to show how much she was admired. If you count cultural wealth as the highest source of pride, then in Bennett-Coverley, fondly known as “Miss Lou”, Jamaicans have much of which to be proud.



Billionaire investor Michael Lee-Chin, born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, is one of the richest people in Canada. And if you count being a billionaire as something to be proud of, then we can chalk his success up as a source of Jamaican pride.



Politician Alvin Curling, born in Kingston, Jamaica, the first Black Speaker of the House in the Ontario Legislature, never lost his seat as Liberal MPP for Scarborough-Rouge River. Curling had a defining moment in 1995 for his 18-hour filibuster in protest against a Conservative omnibus bill. Recommendations contained in the 2010 Roots of Violence report, which he co-chaired, stands as an important document for change.



If determination is a measure of Jamaican pride, then Curling set a standout example.



If pulling the spotlight their way means anything to that nation of 2.9 million, then Bob Marley has done the job from one end of the earth to the other. It has been said that Marley’s music was popular even in China at a time when music from the great cultural exporter, the United States, could not be played there.



Today, as the Olympics take place in London, England, it is the Jamaican track and field competitors that have the eyes of the world on them. There might be people somewhere who don’t know the name Usain Bolt but, especially this week, one would be hard-pressed to find them.



There is not enough space here to fully honour all the personalities born in Jamaica who have given pride to that small nation. Each in his or her own way, with their own particular talents, have made Jamaica proud and shone a positive light on the people of that “island in the sun”. If it’s about pride, Jamaicans have much.



This coming August 6, Jamaica marks its 50th Anniversary of Independence. The people who have brought renown upon the nation have been blessings during the last half-century.



Where Jamaica has not shone so brightly is in its economic mobility. After the nation’s relationship with England changed in 1962 from colonial possession to independent member of the British Commonwealth, the Caribbean nation’s financial safety net was pulled out. With little but bauxite and tourism to give value to its currency, the transition from the British pound to the Jamaican dollar was the beginning of a downward spiral that continues to this day.



Take a look at the acclaimed 2001 documentary, Life and Debt, on how Jamaica’s dependency on international lending agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank has knee-capped economic development.



The Economist had this to say about Jamaica’s current economic picture: “(Jamaica) will finish the year with the slowest average growth rate since 2000 in the Americas – behind even earthquake-stricken Haiti.”



The Economist lays the blame squarely at the feet of government with, for example, tax breaks for international businesses, especially in tourism (which employs one in 10), which serves no benefit in terms of government revenue.



Now, as a means to increase revenue, even the Jamaican patty has a tax.



This very moment, a lot of people in Jamaica are trying to forge a living by trying to sell “a likkle someting”. Remarkably, much of what they have for sale on the streets of Montego Bay and in marketplaces all over the island are imported goods.



To see a future that truly gives meaning to the word “independence”, Jamaica must consider strengthening its agricultural sector. The country has to be able to feed itself. It seems a simplistic solution, but it is a start. And, another thing, the education system needs to be seen as more than a way to keeps kids busy. It is of necessity an investment in the country’s health and viability.



Of course there is hope for the future. Jamaica’s motto is “Out of Many, One People” but the de facto motto, as every Jamaican knows, is: “Wi likkle but we tallawah.”



A note on the Olympics…

The London Olympics: Equal parts bold distraction and noble show of human physical endeavour.


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