Editorial

Jamaica 55: Has Independence been worth it?

Sunday, July 16, 2017

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When the British reluctantly granted political Independence to India in August 1947, they were not convinced that their colonies were competent to manage themselves. As for the very small states of the Caribbean, the idea of political independence seemed ludicrous.

Jamaican nationalists contemplated the challenge of independence but the British were more interested in grouping the Caribbean colonies for administrative efficiency. Many in the Caribbean felt that the only feasible way was through a political federation.

This possibility was first explored in a conference in Montego Bay in September 1947. Federation did not work but one fortunate spinoff of the conference was the establishment of the University College of the West Indies, now UWI.

Jamaica attained Universal Adult Suffrage in 1944, internal self-government in 1955 and became independent in 1962. Many people feared that Jamaica would be worse off than being a colony.

Ever since 1962, the moot question has been whether the quality of life for the majority of Jamaicans has been better now than 55 years ago. Comparing Jamaica in 1962 to Jamaica today, the report card is mixed.

First, there is the great pride that the people of Jamaica feel of being in charge of their own internal and international affairs rather than being ruled by people of a different culture and ethnicity. All the important jobs are no longer reserved for white foreigners.

Second, the majority of Jamaicans, including the poor, have access to education (not perfect), health care (bad as it is), piped water (still a good way to go), electricity (both legal and illegal), housing (still not enough) and paved roads (in most major population centres).

Jamaicans are living longer and major diseases like malaria and polio have been eliminated. Kingston to Ocho Rios and Montego Bay takes half the time, with a modern, scenic highway.

Third, on the economic front, unemployment remains high especially among the youth; banana and sugar are struggling for survival; bauxite/alumina is on the up; tourism is holding the economy together well, sport has attained new heights; entertainment is booming and the stock exchange is mobilising new investment.

Fourth, crime has grown exponentially and has adversely affected every aspect of life. It is the main constraint on business operations, investment and economic growth. It is rampant in all parts of the country, urban and rural and has permeated every sector, institution and profession.

Fifth, violence has led to heinous murders, maiming and raw brutality. Violence is a part of every aspect of life: Babies being killed, men murdering women, women torturing children and old women being raped.

Yet with all the problems nowhere is better than yard, 'the Rock', because most Jamaicans are honest, hard-working, enterprising, helpful and fun-loving and we live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

As we prepare to celebrate 55 years of Independence, we think it was all worth it. We'd be interested to hear what you think.

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