Jamaica’s fiftieth anniversary (Jamaica 50) celebration has not been a smooth, gentle glide to the August 6 finish line. In fact, it has been fraught with political niggling, confusing press statements and slick marketing jargon, (with the local media trying to make sense of it all) and apparently rising levels of frustration and irritation on the part of the Jamaican populace. Amidst the confusion, it seems we are all searching for meaning. Surely, we cry, Jamaica 50 is not just about signature songs and parties and Jamaica 50 sunglasses, cute as they may be. Recriminations have been heaped on the head of an overburdened Culture Minister who is valiantly seeking to create something coherent. According to a Gleaner article this week, the youth of Jamaica – those who will take over for the next half-century – believe that “the true essence of Jamaica 50 is lost on the masses.” And the venerable Gleaner regretted the lack of “sober reflection” on Jamaica’s half-century, in an editorial.
But perhaps Jamaicans are expecting far too much of Ministers, government agencies and the like. We all know that there is very little money in the public piggy bank for elaborate celebrations, and governments generally like to do everything “big.” So they have scaled things down, and now it seems like very little, and the people are disappointed. I am hoping that appropriate and meaningful commemorations will take place at the local level – much smaller, but with substance and of course the element of enjoyment and celebration (nothing wrong with that).
But what of the “sober reflection” of which the Gleaner speaks? Well, it is far too late for the government to conjure that out of thin air, especially with exactly one month left before Independence Day; just one month. Fortunately – and to my personal deep satisfaction and relief – one institution has been preparing steadily and in a clear and focused way to consider Jamaica’s fifty years. It has adopted a long-term approach rather than grasping last-minute marketing opportunities. The emphasis is not only on Jamaica’s past and present, but also on its future – thus “50-50.”
I speak of the University of the West Indies‘ (UWI) Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES), which launched its 50th Anniversary of Independence Conference under the theme “50-50: Critical Reflections in a Time of Uncertainty.” The conference will take place at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston from August 20-24, 2012. Good timing, when the official celebrations are over and we have all had time to get over our hangovers and think. The dates are also significant as they fall half-way between the Jamaican and Trinidadian Independence Days; our Caribbean neighbors celebrate their fiftieth on August 31 this year. So this conference will have a regional aspect also.
And it’s all open to the public, free of charge. Not just as onlookers, but as participants who can make their contribution on the wide range of issues. Issues that do (and will) affect Jamaica and Jamaicans, our children and grandchildren, in the next fifty years.
This conference did not come “out of the blue.” Conceived at the end of 2009, SALISES has prepared us for it with a series of seminars over the past two years. Some of the most significant sessions were: “Challenges of the Independence Experience in Small Developing Countries” in March 2011; “Prime Ministerial Reflections” (Edward Seaga, Portia Simpson Miller and PJ Patterson), April – June 2011; and “Globalization, Climate Change and the Reframing of Rural Resilience: The Development Challenge for Small States in the Caribbean and Beyond” in April, 2012; as well as “Through Women’s Eyes: Conversations on Independence,” a partnership with UWI’s Institute for Gender and Development Studies. There have been over thirty related events over the past year, Conference Director Professor Brian Meeks informed us. A new partnership with Florida International University Libraries has also proved beneficial in the process.
Professor Trevor Munroe told the media that reflection (one assumes, some introspection included) is the cornerstone of the conference. As one of the oldest research institutes in the Caribbean based on empirical evidence, SALISES will maintain this empirical underpinning. As Professor Munroe’s colleague Dr. Patsy Lewis explained, the presentations will come out of the various research clusters – more than seventeen of them – which cover a wide range of sectors, including migration; youth; religion; the Caribbean experience of conflict, both internal and external; aging and demographic shifts; regional integration; culture and sports; and others. A number of outstanding keynote speakers and many other distinguished expert panelists are confirmed. The conference will open on Monday, August 20 at 3:00 p.m.
On the cultural front, there will be considerable interest – as it cannot be denied that culture has formed a vital part of Jamaican/Caribbean development. There will be a major cultural event in Emancipation Park, just across the road from the Jamaica Pegasus, on Wednesday August 22. And there will be a film night on Thursday.
Well, what more could you want? SALISES would love the public to come in droves, and support the conference in all its aspects. This is not only going to be a reflection, but a reflection – a “reasoning,” if you will – with the Jamaican people. The University of the West Indies has often been accused of operating “in a bubble,” Dr. Lewis noted; perhaps an unfair criticism. SALISES plans not only to produce publications after the Conference, but to post lots of material online so that it can be much more widely available and available to the public. It also hopes to produce Policy Briefs arising from the discussions, which it will share with key public, private and civil society groups. If you check out the blog link below, you will see a number of videos and other relevant material – so let’s dig in and get our “thought juices” flowing! (I just made up that expression, I think).
More details and updates to follow… and check out the SALISES Facebook page for more information.
And did I mention that it is all open to the public? Spread the word!
P.S.: The Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ) will air the “Prime Ministerial Reflections” on July 22, July 29 and August 2. And P.P.S.: Thanks to SALISES’ Annie Paul for inviting me to the press briefing. You can check out Annie’s excellent blog at http://anniepaul.net/
The University of the West Indies
Mona Kingston 7
Fax: (876) 927-2409
- http://thesalises5050project.blogspot.com/p/what-is-5050.html (the SALISES 50-50 Project)
- http://www.salises5050conference.com/ (SALISES 50-50 Conference information)
- Celebrating Jamaica’s 50th Year of Independence (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120705/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Gleaner editorial: A Second Chance for Ms. Hanna)
- Our Jamaica 50 Song….What the Hell Is It? (newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com)
- That Jamaica 50 song… (anniepaul.net)
- Sunday Songs (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica Does Literary Fest With A Caribbean Twist (npr.org)