As Jamaica marks 48 years since becoming a sovereign nation, some youths are weighing in on the country’s progress, with the consensus being that the country has a lot to celebrate in its short journey since August 6, 1962, even as it strives to achieve visions of becoming a developed state.
Personifying Jamaica as a woman, communications practitioner, Gareth Manning, says “she’s had a hard life, but she’s had some moments where she has shone brightly.” Two recent instances, he says, were the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Germany and the 2008 Beijing Olympics in China.
Masters student in Social Anthropology, Tracian Meikle, notes that just 48 years after cutting the proverbial umbilical cord, which joined Jamaica to England, the country is widely respected around the world.
Tracian Meikle says she is especially proud of Jamaica’s rich culture.
“There is something about being Jamaican. It’s one of the few countries that you can go abroad and say ‘I am Jamaican’ and immediately you can illicit a response, that you can usually be proud of. They’ll be real excited to know you, to want to talk about Jamaica, so I am happy that we are our own independent country,” she explains.
She is especially proud of Jamaica’s rich culture, which is celebrated around the world, whether it is dance, music, or the Jamaican patois.
Tracian believes that despite the economic challenges, Jamaicans should not discount the country’s achievements since Independence, as Jamaica is still a relatively young nation.
“Forty-eight years is still a short time and we’re still just trying to get up there. We are still just trying to get on our feet. I mean, look at the United States and what they have achieved since 1776, it’s just going to take us more time,” she posits.
It is for this reason, she says, that Jamaicans should use the Independence period to reflect on the achievements of the country and see it as a time to make affirmations regarding how they can help to move the country forward.
This view is also shared by doctoral candidate in International Political Economy and Development, Omar Hawthorne. “I think the holiday should be used more for reflection and assessment. We should assess how far we have reached, where we have fallen short and how we address the shortcomings. In all of this, we would be celebrating our achievements as a country,” she states.
She says that Jamaica still has some areas, which need to be worked on, such as crime and beaureucratic inefficiencies. “Our economy will not develop to its capacity until we solve, not only our crime problem,” she says.
Omar also dreams of a country where all Jamaicans unite and work for the greater good instead of trying to “beat the system”.
She believes the level of patriotism in the country needs to be worked at as well, with children being taught more about their culture. “Kids need to be taught our history and hence they would be more civic-minded,” she argues.
Gareth is also of the opinion that at 48, there is need for improvement in many areas, such as education, which he says, holds the most possibilities for progress for the nation.
However, he thinks the country can hold up its electoral system and democratic process as proud achievements. He points to institutions such as the Electoral Office of Jamaica, the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, and the Office of the Political Ombudsman, which have helped to improve the conduct of the electoral process over the last 20 years, thus preserving Jamaica’s democracy.
“We have free and fair elections whenever they come up..I think we have come a long way as far as that is concerned compared to the 1970s, which was a very turbulent time,” he explains.
Responding to criticisms that Jamaica might have been better off without Independence, especially in light of economic constraints, Gareth opines that in the same way that children strike out on their own after a while, so too must countries strive to be independent of their mother countries.
“There comes a time when you must leave your parents’ house and make life on your own. It’s not going to be easy; there will be challenges, but then you will appreciate even more, the achievements that you’ve made, because you’ve made them on your own. The same thing, I think (applies), to our country,” he declares.
He also notes that independence has far greater implications than what happens with a country’s economy. He notes that Jamaican culture and values are very different from those of Britain and without independence, the unique Jamaican culture might have been stifled.
Omar also agrees that Jamaica’s independence is to be celebrated. “Certainly, within the context of international relations and foreign policy. we act on our own behest and do not have to solicit permission from England before we engage other countries. Independence is important, as to whether we do a good job with it, that is our prerogative to determine,” she says.
On Friday, August 6, there will be several events to commemorate Jamaica’s Independence, and for Tracian, these celebrations are vital in helping to keep the country focused on its goals and to ground citizens in their roots.
“It would be a loss if they are done away with,” she says. In fact, it is her view that Independence celebrations need to be stressed even more. She says that instead of using the Independence weekend to party, as many youths do, it is important that concerted effort be made to ensure that national celebrations focused on the country’s achievements become more widespread.
“In the United States you know that for Independence, you’ll take out your barbecue, you’re going to put on a red, blue and white party and you’re going to see fireworks. Eight out of 10 people will be doing the same thing for Independence, while in Jamaica, what do we do?” she asks.
That is why she is happy that the Government has resurrected the Float Parade and the Grand Gala, which she says has been catching on. “I was away both times and being away and watching it on television I was thinking, I wish I was at home and could go to them…I was so sad that I’d actually missed it,” she recalls.
She is looking forward to attending some of the activities this year and says she hopes other young people and Jamaicans in general will support the activities being put on island wide.