“All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own, and if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it.” Samuel Johnson


A few days as a tourist doesn’t make anyone a foreign expert. As the old proverb says “Come see me and come live with me are two different things”. But even hurried sight seeing abroad can leave strong impressions. And while glad to be home after a month in China, Singapore and Thailand with a group of fellow Jamaicans, I can’t help feeling a little sad and angry. Because we Jamdowners abroad all agreed that the biggest difference between these distant lands and our native isle was the sense of safety we felt there and lack here. Why, we kept asking ourselves, were we able to roam these foreign streets freely even at night while back a yard we are literally afraid to walk to our gates after sunset?


Like most English speakers I was brought up to believe that the best leaders are those freely chosen by their people. If I have heard Churchill’s “Democracy is the worst form of government ever devised, except for all the others” once I have heard it a 100 times. (Of course Churchill also claimed that “The strongest argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter”.)


While in Toronto Canada last week I went to a live free performance by Jamaica’s international star Shaggy. The massive crowd, composed mostly of young females of all races, enjoyed itself immensely. At one point Shaggy brought a young girl of about 12 on stage and serenaded her while the crowd cheered. When he did his signature piece “It Wasn’t Me” the place went wild. (Why are women of all ages invariably the biggest fans of “old dog” songs?) Afterwards Shaggy gave a studio interview shown on big screens around the venue where he came across as bright, articulate and humble. Having tasted stardom once before and then been almost forgotten, he realized fame was fickle - “Another guy might soon come along to take my place, so I’ve just got to enjoy it while I can”. Shaggy made me feel proud as a Jamaican – “What a nice guy” everyone kept saying. The crowd left feeling happy and in high spirits, which after all is what entertainment is supposed to be about. All in all it was first rate stuff. The man deserves to have sold 10 million records.


Jamaica may be an island of only 4,411 square miles and 2.5 million people. But pound for pound, as they say in boxing, there is no more country more full of contradictions. For this nation combines a decidedly third world standard of living with a virtually first world life expectancy. It is one of the world’s most stable democracies but has one of its highest homicide rates. It probably has both more churches per square mile and a higher out of wedlock birth rate than any other place on earth. Its most famous sons Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley are international symbols of racial pride, yet it is likely the only state to have more than once elected a visible minority leader.


“The ‘good old times’ - all times when old are good –

 Are gone”. Lord Byron


Whenever there is an upsurge of violence in Jamaica there is always much talk about the “good old days” when people could walk in safety wherever they wished at any hour of the night and everyone slept with doors unlocked. Nor is this all nostalgic fantasy. In 1955 there were less than 25 murders committed in Jamaica and our homicide rate was 1.2 per 100,000. In 2000 we had 887 murders and our homicide rate was 34.4 per 100,000, an almost 30 fold increase. It is doubtful that any country not at war has seen such a comparable explosion of violence.


“All my life I have sacrificed everything – comfort, self-interest, happiness – to my destiny.”

Napoleon wrote this in 1807 at the height of his glory when he dispensed laws to half of Europe. And if the most famous political figure in history at his zenith could speak of his career in such melancholy tones, what must be the thoughts of lesser mortals who devote their entire lives to politics and never achieve any real acclaim?


There are peoples who like keep their own counsel and are reluctant to express their thoughts to others. Jamaicans are not among these. Any opinion we have is worth sharing, and at the top of our voices. Of course verbal remarks that prove wrongheaded are easily denied or forgotten. Printed mistakes are permanent black and white embarrassments.


Whatever else it may be Jamaica is seldom boring. In few places is human nature’s eternal battle between reason and instinct thrown so regularly into stark focus. We may be one of the world’s most stable liberal democracies, but our behaviour regularly echoes the most ancient law of existence – might is right.


Maybe it has something to with the way financial institutions are run in this country, but Jamaican bankers seem rather fond of the ‘benevolent dictatorship’ concept. A few years ago it was then CIBC head Al Webb making the call. Now it is BNS boss William Clarke suggesting it as a possible solution to Jamaica’s problems.


On April 12th I received via fax a copy of a letter to the Jamaica Observer from Patrick Hylton, the managing director of FINSAC LTD. It stated that I “published certain libelous statements regarding this organization” in my article of April 9, 2001 entitled ‘Jamaica Needs the NDM’.