Today, Jamaica is half a century old. Music throbs from the National Stadium as the evening grey grows deeper. The remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto rustle in the trees, and the White-Chinned Thrush in our yard starts his persistent, piercing whistle. On television, the military bands in scarlet, white and black march at the Grand Gala. Choirs will sing, dancers will dance, flags will be waved, drummers will drum. The announcer will speak in her best Queen’s English Jamaican voice. There has been Indian Bollywood dancing, Chinese dragons and of course African drums, illustrating the Jamaican motto “Out of Many One People” – and then, time to wheel out the church people. The obligatory prayers (yes, we are a Christian country. Out of many one people, but let’s not worry too much about the Jews, Hindus, Muslims, atheists and others tonight) – followed by gospel music. As one Twitter friend just commented, “Forgive my naïveté but I interpret ‘Out of many, one people’ to include many races, many cultures AND many religions.”
Sigh. Well as you can see my weekly review is well overdue. It has been overwhelmed with Olympic runners and swimmers and shooters and fencers and rowers and fighters, and now the celebrations of Jamaica’s fiftieth year of Independence. Putting all of that aside (which is a lot), what is left?
Talking about the preservation of our culture (last Monday, August 1, was our Emancipation Day and we are greatly focused on this topic at present), Professor Emeritus of English at the University of the West Indies Edward Baugh (who’s also a marvelous poet) spoke out recently on Jamaica’s lack of interest in actually preserving the physical aspects of our heritage. As we know, some of our finest examples of colonial architecture are now in ruins – except for a few that have been miraculously revived in the name of tourism. And there are many examples of our oral and written history that just can’t be found. How careless we are.
All the more reason to congratulate the venerable Gleaner Company - the oldest company in Jamaica by far – for its new website, diG Jamaica (www.digjamaica.com) – an ambitious project that seeks to pull together a great deal of information on Jamaica, including historical data and up-to-date vital statistics. This is a fiftieth birthday gift to Jamaica from the Gleaner, and it’s looking good. We need this kind of serious and detailed record. Kudos to Gleaner Managing Director Christopher Barnes and consultant Deika Morrison. This is the way to go!
Well, there were at least a couple of interesting developments last week. Firstly, the Supreme Court ruled that the license issued by the then minister of mining and energy in 2001 to the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPSCo) was invalid and not, in fact, an exclusive monopoly. The legal details are too complex to get into, but this is a remarkable development, following a rare class action suit filed by a group of Jamaican citizens calling themselves Citizens United to Reduce Electricity (CURE) and represented by a high-profile and somewhat controversial lawyer. Well, it’s not quite a “cure” yet, but this paves the way for more competition. What next? JPSCo will appeal the ruling. There’s a long way to go before we manage to reduce the insanely high cost of electricity. Jamaica’s rates are the highest in the Caribbean and among the highest globally – a huge deterrent to business and investment, large and small, domestic and overseas. My favorite government minister, Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell, seems quietly pleased with the ruling.
Secondly, the British policeman who has been heading the Jamaica Constabulary Force‘s anti-corruption unit – with considerable success – for the past few years, has been appointed head of the Financial Investigations Division, which operates from the Ministry of Finance. Mr. Justin Felice says he will tackle corruption, financial crimes and money laundering “very, very robustly” (note emphasis) and more power to him! We would like to see some of the “big boys” under manners (a Jamaican expression meaning “on their best behavior,” for my non-Jamaican readers!)
Talking of law enforcement, the head of the Lottery Scam Task Force has been transferred to the newly-formed Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force (MOCA – another nice acronym), and the Deputy Mayor of Montego Bay was released from prison. You may recall the high drama at the orange house on the hill, the DM’s residence, with an early morning raid involving the seizure of large quantities of cash and “high-end vehicles,” etc. Well, gun and ammunition charges brought against the DM were dismissed in court last week. His son pleaded guilty. So the matter was swiftly dealt with; the DM was hauled on the shoulders of jubilant supporters – quite well-built ladies – on exiting the court; and he will no doubt return to taking up his duties in the St. James Parish Council. There are no charges remaining against him, including no charges connected with the hateful scam, either. That’s that.
Apart from these events, there was a huge wave of reflections and all kinds of analysis from columnists and anyone with an opinion on the state of Island Jamaica at fifty. We were regaled with the views of our former prime minister, P.J. Patterson, who believes that “we have achieved” much in the last fifty years. A strong advocate of the Caribbean Court of Justice, Mr. Patterson (sorry, the Most Honorable P.J. Patterson etc) thinks politicians should come together in the Jamaica 50 “spirit of unity” and “do what is necessary” - that is, pass legislation to make the Court Jamaica’s final court of appeal, without of course consulting the Jamaican people on the matter. A battle is to follow… I don’t need a crystal ball to foresee politicians on both sides showing a remarkable lack of Jamaica 50 unity on the matter – perhaps involving much braying, shouting and walking out of the chamber.
And talking of unity – it has become a real buzzword, lately – the Gleaner continued to air the views of the privileged and successful on the topic on its front page. Even business leaders – the head of our local cigarette company included – are pontificating on the matter. I would like them to go down and talk to the men, women and young people of this country and ask them what they think about unity; especially perhaps in the “garrison” communities of our inner-cities (funny there has been very little talk about them, lately) where one side of a street is feuding with the other side, and small communities have names like “Vietnam” and “Dunkirk.” Even the Prime Minister’s garrison constituency. I wonder what they would have to say.
There were, of course, endless speeches in Parliament, and numerous recorded messages from the Prime Minister, Governor General and Leader of the Opposition, on Emancipation Day and again for Jamaica 50. If you are really interested in reading them, the links are below. Our Prime Minister also gave an interview to Time magazine, talking about everything from homophobia (no, Jamaica, we are not really homophobic, and no, I am not going to do anything about changing the laws on buggery); to Usain Bolt, etc. The full interview is in the magazine and excerpts are in a link below.
There was an additional speech in Parliament late last week, by President of Nigeria Goodluck Jonathan. The hardly-ever-smiling President was warmly received, wore his usual felt hat both indoors and outdoors, and urged Jamaica to join his country in fighting poverty. Again, that old buzzword “Unity” or variations thereof continually punctuated his speech. In fact, he asked a very pertinent question: “Is the Black man really free today?” and continued, “Today the destiny of the Black person is in the hands of the Black people.” Well, Marcus Garvey told us that years ago.
President Jonathan had very little to smile about, on his own account. An Associated Press report printed in the Sunday Observer, a day or two after his visit, was headlined “Nigeria in turmoil.” Gloom and doom.
Others shared their views on Jamaica 50. A letter writer observed, “Isn’t it interesting that with all the festivities surrounding our Emancipation and Independence the only things that we can boast about are our music and our athletes? Are you telling me that almost 180 years after Emancipation and 50 years since Independence the only thing that we can brag about is entertainment?” Oh dear me. Financial analyst Dennis Chung, in his usual clear-headed manner, asked another question: “After the party, what?” Read his sensible and balanced article in the Observer’s Caribbean Business Report below.
And you may well have missed some interesting comments by economist Dr. Damien King of the University of the West Indies. “We are poor because we have not had the courage to expand opportunity. It is now time to choose inspired leadership that can create equality of opportunities instead of pandering to the poor,” Dr. King said recently. I could not agree more. But are our leaders listening? Well, for the past fifty years they have not been. And as we all know, our current Prime Minister loves the poor.
OK, now the good and bad (and we are all beautiful, not ugly):
Bad first: A letter to the Editor from a pastor last week declared, “Flexi-work is slavery.” Oh, come on. Can the church please get worked up about some actually relevant issues? The debate about flexi-time has actually been going on for eighteen years, now, with the church vehemently opposed. Eighteen years. That’s progress for you.
The University Hospital of the West Indies and the Kingston Public Hospital have malfunctioning or non-functioning CT scan machines. These are two crucial, large and busy Kingston hospitals. They, and their patients, often have to resort to seeking assistance from private institutions – and the patients have to pay.
As radio talk show host Barbara Gloudon has regularly remarked, with Jamaica at fifty years old, the historic Ward Theatre in downtown Kingston is literally crumbling. Chunks of it will soon start falling on people’s heads.
The good stuff, finally:
I don’t usually gush over beauty queens – and Jamaicans do love their beauty queens – but have to congratulate the Miss Jamaica Festival Queen 2012, Ms. Kemesha Kelly. She is not just a pretty face (although her smile is dazzling). She is a youth advocate – intelligent and articulate, with a strong vision for Jamaica. One of those many young people we should be proud of. Big ups to Kemesha! You will go far.
And now, congratulations to a Jamaican overseas, and a former work colleague of mine in Jamaica, Luke Williams. The lanky Luke has lived in London for ten years now and he is a tremendous teacher, a writer, a great actor. He is also a correspondent for Radio Jamaica, so I hear his warm voice reporting from London on a regular basis. And Luke recently carried the Olympic torch! From Ilford High Road to Redbridge Town Hall. His school nominated him for the honor. Marvelous stuff. And a lovely article by Jamaica Observer writer Janice Budd, by the way.
Our Jamaican Fulbright Scholars always do us proud, and six post-graduates were recently selected for courses in the United States ranging from public policy to tourism and the environment to finance and pest management. Congratulations to them all.
And once again, the American Friends of Jamaica came up trumps. They donated a forty-foot container full of very important equipment and supplies to the Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay, which serves a wide area with a population of almost a million people. I have no idea why this news was tucked away in the Gleaner’s social pages…
Last but not least, an organization called Halls of Learning has done a great job with a special summer camp for young people in the often-volatile Mountain View area of Kingston. Its young and enterprising founder, Marvin Hall, has a unique approach to learning which includes technology (robotics) and stimulating the child’s natural creativity. Great stuff.
To end, sadly blood was still shed on our island during its weeklong celebrations. My sincere condolences to the families, friends and all those affected by the sad deaths of the following Jamaicans.
And so we march on, into our next fifty years! Have a great remainder of the week.
Killed by police:
Joseph Williams, 29. Llandilo, Westmoreland
Randy Allwood, 21, Alma, Westmoreland
Kadena Jarrett, 24, Frome, Westmoreland
Robert Williams, 24, Dover, St. Mary
Dudley Gordon, Rose End, St. Mary
Sasheka McBean, 25, Spring Mount, St. James
Oneil Lee, Spring Mount, St. James
Jerome Allen, Spring Mount, St. James
Therese Marie Cole, 26, St. James
Davian Robinson, Port Antonio, Portland
Oneil Brown, 30, Cassava Piece, St. Andrew
Uleces Johns, 51, Slipe, St. Elizabeth
Stacy-Ann Smith, 17, Wynters Pen, St. Catherine
http://www.jis.gov.jm/special_sections/Independence/symbols.html (Independence symbols)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120731/lead/lead6.html (JPS licence invalid, rules Supreme Court)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/UWI-professor-bemoans-Ja-s-poor-record-keeping-practices_12086060 (UWI professor bemoans Jamaica’s poor record-keeping practices)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120730/lead/lead8.html (Can you diG it? Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120803/lead/lead8.html (Felice to tighten noose on financial crimes)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/New-FID-boss-Justin-Felice-vows-to-tackle-corruption_12152121 (New FID boss Justin Felice vows to tackle corruption)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120608/news/news6.htmlRelated articles (Anti-corruption body to work with new task force)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120801/lead/lead1.html (Troupe set free)
Jamaica 50 – The Celebration Continues (prweb.com)
50-50 Reflections (petchary.wordpress.com)
Who Is Jamaica? (nytimes.com)
Jamaica celebrates 50th anniversary to mixed reviews (lfpress.com)
VIDEO: Memories of Jamaican independence (bbc.co.uk)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Raw-sewage-flowing-in-Majesty-Gardens-streets (Raw sewage flowing in Majesty Gardens streets)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/PJ-wants-politicians-to-show-maturity_12098630 (PJ wants politicians to show maturity)
http://repeatingislands.com/2012/08/05/jamaica-at-50-island-nations-p-m-talks-about-the-queen-the-caribbean-and-usain-bolt/ (Jamaica at 50: Island Nation’s PM talks – Time Magazine)
http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1834406,00.html (Can Jamaica’s sprinters fight crime? – Time Magazine)
http://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com/newsflash/president-jonathan-speech-at-jamaicas-50th-annivesary-celebrations.html (President Jonathan Speech at Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/What-are-we-celebrating-_12142507 (What are we celebrating?)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Jamaica-2012–A-time-for-reflection (A Time for Reflection: Dennis Chung column)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Redistributive-policies-have-not-helped-the-poor–says-Damien-King_12098736 (Redistributive policies have not helped the poor, says Damien King)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120802/news/news3.html (Hospital emergency)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/magazines/career/Fulbright-scholars-feted_11990181 (Fulbright scholars feted)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Luke-Williams–moment-to-shine_12035947 (Luke Williams’ moment to shine)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120802/lead/lead5.html (Huge support for Mountain View special summer camp)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120803/social/social4.html (American Friends of Jamaica gives Cornwall Regional medical supplies)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20061127/flair/flair1.html (Marvin Hall’s Robotics Stimul-i)
“Strong, strong, strong.”
Millicent Forbes died yesterday. This is the word human rights activist Carolyn Gomes of Jamaicans for Justice used to describe her. She kept coming back to this word.
On April 18, 2000, Ms. Forbes’ thirteen-year-old daughter, Janice Allen, was at her gate in Trench Town, Kingston, when she was shot dead by a policeman. There is no doubt about that simple fact. What followed after that was a complex web of corruption, stuffy courtrooms, deception, meetings with lawyers, appeals and repeated rejections. It was like a spider web. The more she struggled and fought, the more the web seemed to tighten, ever so slightly; and there was a spider sitting quietly in the corner, just waiting for her to give up.
Yet she never stopped. Not for herself, but for her daughter and the memory of her, just starting to grow up, turning into a woman. She might have been a singer, a dancer, a nurse, a teacher. She would have always been just Janice, the daughter of a loving mother, and a sister too. She deserved to live and love and grow up, have children of her own. But that chance was carelessly taken from her.
In television footage, Ms. Forbes leans as far as she can with her whole body, across the plain grave of her teenage daughter, painted blue and white, embracing all that concrete. The tomb stood beside a road, where cars and people passed. She was dignified and alone in her grief.
For those of us who followed the slow, painful and increasingly weary journey of Millicent Forbes – and for those who walked with her and gave her support along the way – there was a growing feeling of inevitability. The end would come when all appeals were exhausted, after all the judges and prosecutors had handed down their rulings and walked out of the courtroom, got in their cars and driven home to their families. But it was what we call the “system,” not those functionaries, that finally defeated Ms. Forbes, and defeated Janice, and directed that the policeman should go free, for lack of evidence, in 2004.
Can a human being – a woman, from a poor part of town – really fight the abstraction that is the system? Although it is far from an abstraction; it is very real with its papers and its offices and its courtrooms. Ms. Forbes remained strong at her core. She stood up in countless public meetings and told those around her, and anyone who would listen, that she would not give up. She endured threats and sarcasm, bribery attempts – and the sneering and suspicion of those who, with their contempt for “those human rights people,” wished she would just keep quiet and bear her sorrow and her sense of injustice quietly, like other humble women of the inner city did.
But then, it was not their daugher who fell to the ground that day with a bullet in her brain. It was not their daughter who died in her sister Ann-Marie’s arms on the way to the hospital.
On April 13, 2010, almost exactly ten years after her daughter’s death (just think, she would be 23 now, the same age as the Petchary’s son!)Ms. Forbes’ final, faint hope was extinguished in the Supreme Court.
Was there anywhere else to turn?
Robert Browning wrote, “I count life just a stuff/To try the soul’s strength on.”
That’s all there is? Life is just a kind of test of one’s strength? Then, I guess one day, it will always be time to give it up.
Rest quietly now, Millicent Forbes.