1999 Articles


In our era of cultural relativism few unqualified statements can be made about politics. But Winston Churchill’s assertion that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others” brooks no argument.


“Religion belongs to the infancy of human reason which we are now outgrowing” said Bertrand Russell. John Lennon put this sentiment to song - “Imagine there’s no heaven... And no religion too… Imagine all the people living for today”.


The Auditor General’s report on public sector pay, the death of jockey Al Gopie, and national footballer Ricardo Fuller’s kicking of an opponent might seem to have little in common. But the official reactions to these events all reveal an unwillingness to take decisive action which might be unpopular, and a refusal to take responsibility when things go wrong. Such traits are as old as man – victory has a hundred fathers while defeat is an orphan goes the ancient proverb. But in Jamaica the refusal of those in authority to say ‘It was my fault’ or ‘I was wrong’ has reached almost pathological levels. Our so called leaders have completely forgotten the concept of doing what duty demands even when it may have unpleasant results - they greedily covet privileges, but flee all obligations. With such shameless examples from the top, is it any wonder that the common man in Jamaica often seems so unwilling to accept responsibility for the consequences of his actions?


‘Cool, cool Mandeville’ has long been regarded as the neatest and most

attractive town in Jamaica. Travel books and tourist brochures still refer

to its green parks and British-like order and charm. But anyone driving

through its town centre nowadays during rush hour sees merely a chaotic

traffic jam of impatient drivers and careless pedestrians with street

vendors spilling into the streets. The bus park is a loud unsightly mess as

aggressive ‘ductors try to push every passing person into their bus, while

idle loiterers molest passing females with impunity. The market was once famous throughout Jamaica for its cheerfully bucolic atmosphere. According to Barbara Gloudon, a visit to the Mandeville market was like an enjoyable Sunday outing. But it is now slovenly, unpleasant and a known haven for all sorts of illegal activities.


It is impossible to disagree with the idea of civil action in theory. Such groups are at least making an effort to better the country. Surely, as the old but true cliché goes, it is better to light one candle than curse the dark. Unfortunately many Jamaicans view any talk of ‘citizens action’ with jaundiced cynicism. And who can blame them? Jamaican citizens groups over the years have been long on talk and very short on results.


“The world” said Horace Walpole “is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.” Charlie Chaplin gave a film director’s corollary “Life is a comedy in long shot, but a tragedy close up”.


Julius Nyerere was widely admired for his unquestioned sincerity and integrity. Almost uniquely among African leaders of his generation he lived simply and was not corrupt. Under his one-party rule Tanzania was politically peaceful and was spared civil war. On the other hand his social experiments almost ruined the country economically. Though honest himself, his regime was bedeviled by widespread theft of foreign aid. He preached justice, yet had political opponents and persons accused of economic crimes jailed without trial.


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.


The latest Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Jamaica 50th out of 99 countries, and even sanguine observers must find it worrying that we are seen abroad as more dishonest than notoriously corrupt nations like Brazil and Zimbabwe. It is cold comfort that we are tied with South Korea and above Argentina. Relatively strong economies may be able to support the costs of corruption, but unchecked it can virtually ruin weak ones – look at Indonesia and Nigeria.


While in exile on St. Helena Napoleon was urged by his aides to write a book on military strategy. Why not let the world know the secrets of history’s finest general? The great man laughed. It would be easy to describe the details of his maneuvers. But what would be the point? It was not the theory that counted, but the actual doing. Execution was everything.