Though satellite dishes, cable and the internet have made the outside world more difficult to ignore, Jamaicans are parochial at heart. Perhaps it because we are an island with no bordering countries - certainly we have little contact with our closest neighbours Haiti and Cuba. We might follow overseas sports and soap operas avidly, but we are great navel gazers in political and social affairs. How many Jamaicans can name six world leaders? Even most university educated persons probably get stuck after Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Fidel Castro.


As such Jamaicans often imagine we are facing unique problems when in fact many other countries are grappling with similar issues. For instance the October 22nd issue of the Economist discusses many issues very much in the news here at present. Among them are partisan politics, entrenched parties, alienated electorates, homeless people, truth commissions, poverty, concentration of power, and corruption.


An analysis of the US Senate’s defeat of the Nuclear test-ban treaty gives interesting insights into the American political system.


“In the Senate, victory revealed many senators to be more interested in their partisan fight with the president than the consequences of their actions in the world…The Senate duly voted 48-51 not to ratify the treaty, splitting largely on party lines…Yet again, in the aftermath of impeachment, the minimum level of amity needed to work the system was lacking.”


Another piece discusses how the Democratic and Republican parties “rejoice in putting obstacles in the way of alternative parties”. Because “The more you make it difficult for others, the more you insulate your own power”.


Many claim that Jamaica’s problems stem mainly from our political setup. An American separation of powers model, they say, would reduce political partisanship and parties less manipulative. But presidential systems are just as subject to selfish political machinations as parliamentary ones. In the end only a truly free press and a vigilant electorate can provide real political accountability.


The Jamaican body politic is unquestionably in need of urgent reform. Obscene murder levels, chronic poverty and massive indebtedness are not signs of a healthy democracy. But ideological debates about presidential models and republicanism are unnecessary emotional distractions from the real issues at hand. Jamaica’s main political problems are entrenched patronage, an over concentration of power, and weak corruption laws. And these can be and have been addressed elsewhere within the Westminster framework.


An article on voter disaffection in Guatemala shows that increasing abstention levels in presidential elections are “a worrying trend common to other Central American countries”, even the ‘model’ democracy of Costa Rica. Electoral alienation is always a disturbing phenomenon, but it is not a uniquely Jamaican problem.


Then there is the Chinese method of dealing with street people. “Bejing is reckoned to have expelled 300,000 migrants from the city to ensure a spick-and-span capital for the Communist Party’s 50th anniversary celebrations on October 1st. Many of the expelled – including the mentally ill and children – have been kept in detention centres of Dickensian awfulness. It is a story that has been repeated in all of China’s major cities”.


Here the forced removal of 34 street people in Mobay thankfully engendered media condemnation and public anger, showing that Jamaicans still believe in the rights of the unfortunate. Those who admire the authoritarian orderliness of states like Cuba should think on the realities behind such Potemkin façades.


An article on Nigerian corruption trials discusses eye opening sums of money. “Mohammed Abacha and his mother were made to hand over US $750m last year. But this is said to be a mere fraction of the money that went missing.” And a quote from a former Nigerian Supreme Court judge regarding a military atrocity inquiry is very apposite to the truth commission debate here - “If we know what happened… there are things we cannot undo, but the knowledge itself will heal, and if someone says sorry that will heal too”.


A discussion of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization report on world hunger reveals that - “Two out of five children in the developing world are stunted, one in three is underweight, and one in ten is wasted.” About 30% of the Caribbean’s population is undernourished with only Central, Southern and East Africa having greater rates. The FAO web site reveals that Jamaica’s rate is roughly 22% - slightly better than average perhaps, but still tragically high. And World Bank figures show Jamaica getting the benefit of only 47c on each dollar spent on its programs, well below the regional average.


Here is a thought provoking quote about Britain’s Tony Blair, perhaps the world’s most respected leader. “Just when you thought his power was so absolute, his control over the party, Parliament and country so complete that he could afford to relax a bit, he ups and does something to earn the “control freak” label all over again.” Also reviewed is Mr. Blair’s decision to bring his friend Peter Mandelson back into the cabinet only 10 months after he resigned in disgrace for concealing a loan from a minister his department was investigating. All this in the least corrupt of major nations.


A profiled Indonesian corruption fighter illuminates our current corruption laws debate. “We have a problem with the people. They are not really anti-corruption, because the rich and corrupt still have high status.” But “By concentrating his efforts on prominent public officials or corrupt public services, he hopes that he can create popular disgust with the current system.”


That a single magazine issue could touch on so many topics relevant to Jamaica shows we are not after all sinking alone into a political and social mire while the rest of the world basks in sunshine. That we are at least attempting to deal with our problems is itself a sign of hope.


Yet it is necessary to distinguish between problems which may be temporary aberrations endemic to democracy, and those which evidence serious mistakes of our own making. It is pointless to re-invent the wheel or seek non-existent perfections. Human resources and energy are limited, and it is only common sense to concentrate efforts where they will do the most good.


But of course it would be stupid to pretend our problems are not serious merely because other countries have similar troubles. Misery is poor company.

Comments (0)

Post a Comment
* Your Name:
* Your Email:
(not publicly displayed)
Reply Notification:
Approval Notification:
* Security Image:
Security Image Generate new
Copy the numbers and letters from the security image:
* Message: