Every country exhibits a national character which emanates from, and is a reflection of its national culture, and influences the economic development of the country. If this is the case, what does Jamaica’s national character and culture denote for the country’s economic development?
We Jamaicans like to think we are exceptional and special. We love to recite ‘we little but we tallawah’, which is taken to mean we can do anything we set our minds to, despite our small size. Jimmy Cliff’s You can get it if you really want is emblematic of this spirit. Poet and novelist Kwame Dawes explains that Jamaicans take this attitude towards any task in any circumstances by the “suspension of a sense of scale”.
This audacious attitude is built upon the view that we freed ourselves from slavery and colonialism, as well as the tremendous accomplishments of outstanding individuals such as Nanny and Mary Seacole and the feats of daring by Jamaicans such as the bobsled team. We comfort ourselves and revel in the achievements of our great people. Marcus Garvey led the largest movement of people of African descent and global icon Bob Marley produced the song of the 20th century, helping to established reggae as a worldwide music genre.
No doubt, Usain Bolt is the greatest and fastest sprinter of all time. Arguably George Headley is the greatest batsman and Michael Holding is the Rolls-Royce of fast bowlers. Jamaica is reputed to produce the best coffee, rum, pimento, ginger, and ganja.
Thus, if we are so exceptional, why are the people who live in Jamaica so poor? If we are so special and exceptional we should be among the developed countries, shouldn’t we? Jamaicans go abroad and succeed in enriching themselves and can provide charity to their impoverished relatives in Jamaica, while the vast majority of Jamaicans in Jamaica are poor. What is it about Jamaica that keeps us on the island so poor?
We are 53 years away from colonial exploitation, so that is no longer a plausible explanation. We are not too small to achieve economic development as many smaller countries have done better, example the sandy spit of the Cayman Islands. It cannot be that the “best” people have migrated. The rich have not sent all the profits overseas. Crime is certainly a deterrent to investment and economic activity, but that has not stopped the majority of Jamaicans from trying to make a living.
Jamaicans are not lazy people, but we cannot make it if 40 per cent of people between the ages of 15 and 24 are unemployed. Every other economy has had to face unfavourable external factors such as oil prices and natural disasters and have often managed to maintain economic growth.
One factor that cannot be discounted is that successive governments of both the People’s National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party have failed to create a policy environment in which Jamaica can achieve sustainable economic development and increase the standard of living of the majority of Jamaicans in their homeland.
As the general election approaches, Jamaicans have to decide which political party will give them the best chance for economic development, based on policy and performance.