In 1962, the challenges facing this country were summarised by the Queen of the Commonwealth and Jamaica's symbolic head of state:
"My government recognises that Jamaica faces many serious challenges. Among them are the continuing problem of finding adequate employment opportunities, particularly for the young people of the island; the need for raising the standard of living; and the need for increasing production. To this end, my government is engaged in the preparation of a comprehensive development plan designed to enable every citizen to play his part in the development and progress of his island."
The new government got off to a good start, and in the first 10 years achieved remarkable advances in economic growth, expansion of facilities for health, education and social mobility. It made a great impression in foreign affairs, but failed in the essential domestic task of unifying the people and giving them an understanding of the true meaning of Independence; nor did it inculcate the need for people's patience and cooperation to make self-government work.
Among the prime requirements for self-governance are the shedding of mental shackles, abandonment of tribalism; avoidance of dependency; and other habits of colonialism. These cannot all be done in 10 years, especially by a people who have experienced centuries of subjection.
The first government did not take this seriously enough; and so the steady march of progress was changed to a great leap to reap even where we did not sow. The 40 years that followed show a pattern of negative growth with short spells of relief from downward trends; and even as we celebrate, there is no real hope that better will come. The only consistent growth is in the size of government.
The question arises: Have we met the challenges set out in the Queen's speech? Based on present economic instability, incompetence and corruption in places high and low, deteriorating infrastructure and lowering of national spirit, the answer must be a resounding, "NO!"
After 50 years, we still lack employment opportunities, particularly for the young people of the island, and still need to raise the standard of living for the many. There is even greater need for increasing production, and more than all, there is no design to enable every citizen to play his part in the development and progress of the island.
Has rising tide lifted enough?
Surely, there is evidence of individual prosperity and cases of personal triumphs with which even losers and sufferers may identify in the name of national pride. But how do we behave or perform as a nation? Are we less dependent now than in 1962? Is our state of peace, justice and security better? Have we more or less faith in government? Are we not a hundred times deeper in debt and vastly more reliant on foreign aid, loans and donations?
The overall answer inclines to the negative; and the evidence indicates that we stagnate because we are still lacking in unity; still ignorant of the responsibilities of nationhood; and still blissfully mindless of the need for sacrifice, self-reliance and patriotism.
In 1962, a sound of caution was made in Parliament by Dr Ivan Lloyd, then the longest-serving legislator. He recognised the threat of failure and warned:
" ... One of our outstanding problems, now that we are about to get full nationhood, will be to exercise all the discretion and all the intelligence and knowledge that we can in trying to keep the country truly united at all levels. It can hardly be said at this time that we are a properly united and properly integrated country.
"... We all, as politicians, should see to it that we do nothing ... which might be examples for people who have neither our intelligence nor discipline ... When we ... take such action and say such words on the street amongst a crowd of people who can easily and quickly and readily be inflamed, the danger is we may light fires which we may not be able to put out and control.
"Unless we exercise the greatest amount of restraint and discretion in public places, not only in what we say but what we do, we may well make this place uninhabitable for ourselves."
Seldom has there been more thoughtful and forthright expression made by one in government. Poor governance and divisive activity persist; and the same evil force that threatens to make the next half-century a bitter experience prevails: lack of conscientious political leaders, who delight, rather, in keeping the people divided so that even sheepish politicians may safely graze.
Ken Jones is a veteran media practitioner. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.