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True Independence: Now or when?

Al Miller

Sunday, April 22, 2018

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Independence isn't doing your own thing; it's doing the right thing on your own.

— Kim John Payne

Since January 2018 I have been encouraging us, as a people, to make this year the turning point towards building the new Jamaica. It means tackling the nagging issues and setting the platform for real growth and development that has been eluding us for decades.

Just so that we are all on the same page from the get-go, let me state that the nagging issues are sometimes not what we can clearly see. For example, some will look at crime and violence as a nagging issue, but it really is the fruit of a root! Some will look at our poverty and our retarded gross domestic product (GDP) growth and say those are nagging issues, but I say they really are fruits of roots! It's time to tackle the roots.

To build the new Jamaica we must become truly independent. What does that mean or look like?

What is true Independence?

Independence is about being free from bondage and enslavement and free to become what you choose to be. After 55 years are we independent?

Why not, what has hindered us?

Many views and opinions abound on this. Postulating will not create the change. We must carve a path and pursue it vigorously.

If 2018 is going to be the year of positive social transformation and economic growth for us we need aggressive action now. Each of us must know our part and play it. Each sector must know where it fits and what is required at this time.

If the 2030 Vision can do this then it has to be kept before our eyes, coordinated, with annual goals and timelines if it is to be realised. Rallying a nation is crucial to produce transformation. It will not just happen, we must be intentional.

If prosperity is a deep desire of our people then what it will take must be carefully worked out, and the parameters and process put in place, forming a master plan. Who will produce it, monitor it, and drive it? The level of our achievement cannot be greater than the level of our planning and execution.

Mobilise us transform us!

I continue to cry out for a nation-building team to be formed and tasked to mobilise and galvanise the nation for transformation and to excite our people around a cause. We must channel the various streams of development activities into a cohesive force. We must harness the many creative ideas and wealth creation avenues into producing the desired outcomes.

I believe while we continue to improve the quality of delivery of essential services, along with education and health, the current national intense focus should be in three areas:

1) Social — order, corruption and injustice, crime and violence

2) Mental — mindset and behavioural change

3) Economic — industry, commerce and wealth creation for all

Political independence

The political independence won for us by Manley and Bustamante, started us on the journey, but for various reasons we have not yet attained full independence. It's reminiscent of the time when slavery was abolished; however, many slaves did not receive freedom until some years after. You see, it is possible to be declared free but not fully free. It is possible to be declared independent in word but not see the evidence in action.

It is high time to move beyond orbiting around the political declaration of independence and ascend towards real independence. I posit that real independence will become manifest in four areas:

i. true psychosocial independence;

ii. real food security independence;

iii. genuine health and cultural independence; and

iv. actual economic independence.

Psychosocial independence

Psychosocial independence will become evident when we begin to believe in who we are, grasp our capacity for greatness, deliberately overcome obstacles, live at peace with one another, support each other, and free ourselves from mental slavery as Bob Marley cried; free of a mentality of dependence on handouts.

This psychosocial independence must be led by a strong Church and Government collaboration. We must raise our national self-esteem and make every citizen feel first-class, with a sense of belonging, a sense of acceptance of the natural self (no to bleaching), and with all of us having a high value or reverence for life.

We must find ways to motivate our citizens to become producers, nation-builders and valued contributors to the national economy, instead of disinterested 'pon di corner' lymers or 'foreign' yearners and runaways. We must find ways to inspire our people to be peacemakers and community builders, instead of violence producers and community destroyers. We must accept the responsibilities that come with freedom and independence. Positively transforming these areas are just a step toward true independence.

Food security independence

Food security independence is another aspect of the real independence we must achieve. We must grow what we eat and eat what we grow, then export our surplus to everyone we know. Yes, we must indeed maximise our agricultural potential!

For the past two Sundays I have discussed in this column that Audley Shaw's move to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries is an extremely important one, not to be taken lightly by his detractors or by the good minister himself.

It is not an easy task to inspire us all to feed ourselves, but if there is anyone with the attitude to do it, Minister Shaw is that man. Some of our agricultural items, we are told, are of the best quality in the world. We now just need more of us producing, more arable lands being put in production, and better sharing of the wealth that comes when our GDP grows.

Health and cultural independence

Towards health and cultural independence we must become able to locally provide the best health services and meet the welfare needs of our people. It is time we begin deliberately utilising our natural herbs to heal; wedding the local homeopathic with medical approaches. We should develop an international reputation in this regard and become a health tourism mecca, while again earning from the excess as we bless the rest of the world with our natural healing herbs.

Who are we really as a people? What does a Jamaican uptown citizen have in common with a downtown or rural Jamaican citizen? Some would immediately say dancehall or carnival! Maybe it's our accent or our natural aggression toward problem-solving?

The simple and most primary answer to the 'who are we…' question should be our values. Values are the ideas, principles and actions which the majority of us embrace and express in word and deed. Values, therefore, are synonymous with culture.

In case you're wondering why I have wedded health with culture, think about it for a moment. Our values, aka our culture, can drastically impact our health and welfare. For example, a nation that culturally accepts promiscuity and violence as the norm will have attendant sexually transmitted diseases and broken bodies which create a bigger burden on health services, than a nation that espouses chastity and peace.

We must therefore culturally develop and maintain who we are as a people based on time-tested and proven values that work for a healthy society. My recommendation is the Judeo-Christian values of our founding fathers. Values that have made us strong with an indomitable spirit. Tampering with them has created the negative downward slide we have been experiencing in recent years. We must stem the slide by reinforcing and inculcating them to this generation.

We must fortify ourselves against external imposition of alien cultures that divide and destroy and not be ashamed to declare to the world who we are and why. It is often said that a man who will stand for nothing will fall for anything. Being Jamaican must be clear and must mean something. We must write and use more of our own books and develop our arts and entertainment for content to communicate our values and culture.

Economic independence

No nation is truly independent without economic independence. God gave it to us at the beginning, but our mismanagement threw us off course. Now is the time to shake free and stand. We appreciate the help of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others, but dependency inhibits and will quickly return us to entrapment. We are much too resourced as a nation, and smart as a people, to be so dependent on external help just to live and provide the basic necessities for ourselves.

I was tremendously encouraged Wednesday afternoon when I got the chance to read excerpts from a speech given by the new Minister of Finance Dr Nigel Clarke to a labour forum. The excerpt was carried in the Sunday Gleaner of April 15, 2018. Clarke showed a healthy, balanced grasp of what is necessary in this regard.

Should he, in his current role, pursue and accomplish his own stated direction then the prime minister's reshuffle would indeed prove to be a masterstroke and not a mistake. If both himself and Minister Shaw efficiently manage these two portfolios, then there is hope for economic independence. For it is our development in industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries that will provide us with the means to escape the entrapment and dependency hole in which we find ourselves. Minister Shaw's success will give new Finance Minister Nigel Clarke something to work with!

Here is part of what Minister Nigel Clarke said, supporting as a base, the need for a shared national vision that frames decision-making:

“The national project must gain a fresh momentum around the goal of economic independence... the organising principles are the pursuit of economic independence, the expansion of economic opportunity for all, and the protection of the vulnerable... Successive Jamaican governments have [had] to manage the affairs of Jamaica so as to maintain a sustainable and credible economic path for future generations... Borrowing should be mindful of the long-term sustainability of public debt... high levels of national debt compromise our economic independence, threatening our ability to sustain ourselves without external assistance, leading to an over-dependence on creditors and, in the process, we lose flexibility and space in the setting of economic priorities. This has been the primary economic lesson for Jamaica since independence.”

He demonstrates a good grasp of the situation. I am now more comfortable that this portfolio is in potentially good hands. We will have to ensure he does not lose focus or yield to the pressure of sectarian interest above best national interest.

I repeat what I said last week: There is need for a tight team relationship with Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Minister of Finance Dr Nigel Clarke and Audley Shaw, so that his Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries can be the engine of growth that gets the support to drive our economic independence.

As the nation was galvanised by Norman Manley and Sir Alexander Bustamante around political independence in 1962, so too should our new-era prime minister and leader of the Opposition maturely co-operate in galvanising our people at this time around making our nation truly independent, prosperous and crime-free. May God grant them the wisdom and ability.

A united nation is vital to our success. We must prioritise the action needed to tear down the divisions and be “out of many one people” focused on a common cause so that this nation, under God, may become truly an independent nation in the shortest time.

Rev Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or pastormilleroffice@gmail.com.

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