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“Full free” still out of reach

“And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations
and you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets with dwellings.” Isaiah
58:12.

The emancipation of slavery only partially satisfied the blood, sweat and tears of a people who
for themselves and subsequent generations had made the ultimate sacrifice to achieve it. The
triumphant shout of ‘full free’ that August morning was however for a constricted personal
freedom − a surreal freedom, for in the next four years of apprenticeship and beyond, the estate
owners [they were simultaneously landlord and employer] continued to maximize their
exploitation.

Nothing had changed; they were wearing the same rough calico/linen, living in the same
deplorable circumstance; hard labour in the same fields at minimum wages; high rentals for the
same miserable accommodations while still growing their own food in their ‘spare’ time.
Attempts at personal independence by purchasing small lots and moving from the plantations
were often frustrated by the owners. The church however assisted to alleviate the issue by
purchasing acreage, sub-dividing and selling lots to the ‘peasant’ farmers − some forming
townships such as Sligoville and Sturge Town; many becoming in time the backbone of the
internal economy − a role further enhanced by the 1890’s land reform which made larger lots
available at discounted prices. From the ‘ruins’ of their lives they had started ‘to rebuild’ and to
‘raise up a foundation for many generations’.

In contrast, many of the racially mixed or those ‘absorbed’ into the white households, were more
readily accommodated in acquiring property and commercial opportunities; thereby solidifying
then and into the future, their higher social and economic status.

Emancipation did not mean reparation for the slaves; rather, it was the Jamaican slave owners
who received then over £6 million compensation from the colonial authorities for losing legal
[not economic] control of the slaves. Here was evidenced the biased social justice and the
distinctly racially stratified socio-economic order −− "at the top were the white masters, in the
middle the mulattoes, and at the bottom the black slaves...” which despite adjustments for
‘modernity’ has largely remained with us.

Journeying to “full free.”

The thrust towards “full free” continued unrelentingly through such struggles as adult suffrage
and self-government towards another benchmark − political independence i.e governing
ourselves and enabling every willing citizen to become the best that he/she can be. Naive?
Expectations were high; here was an opportunity to ‘repair the breach’ for a people forced into
slavery/apprenticeship/colonialism and to bring them to ‘streets with dwellings’− the realization
of their God given potential and right to dignity.

But no one expected our own leadership to be without vision or opinion and to readily become
[like the colonials] self-seeking and authoritative − some becoming themselves an obstacle to
achieving ‘full free’ for all; further exacerbated by the fact that government with its legal
authority locally and overseas, the largest budget and employer, is the defining national player.

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Yet the private sector is not much different; several of its leading players are from the people but
no longer of the people − simply replacing their colonial predecessors and consistently the
people in general remaining comparatively ‘as they were’.
Nationhood and socio-economic progress, is more than an anthem and a flag; it has to be moral,
disciplined, ethical and egalitarian, properly organized and managed, with respect for the law, an
unequivocal system of justice, an agreed path and facilities to economic independence and the
opportunity for social mobility based on merit; goals sought by our people for generations which
outline the path to “full free” − the fervently sought crowning attainment since arriving on the
slave boats.
It has to do with an education system with at its very core the nurturing of the ability to think;
inculcating the people’s history thereby embracing at last their true identity, from which can be
forged positive personal and national goals while unlocking the mental fetters which has
imprisoned most −irrespective of socio-economic status.
It has also to do with the church seriously and consistently adhering to its fundamentals in
‘holding up the nation and its aspirations before the throne of God and fearlessly and without
favour, representing Him to the state’.

Economic reality
Political independence was to have been consolidated [politically, economically,
administratively etc.] and a foundation laid for economic independence i.e. the ability of each
individual “to escape poverty through one’s own hard work”

This effort however, is struggling because of many factors, such as incompetence − e.g. the
unbelievable use of expensive money for long term physical infrastructure; a lack of serious
commitment in leadership e.g. the continued cement issue and its negative multiplying effects.
We are net importers of most essentials. Our major industry − tourism, is one of low wages with
the major benefits routed overseas and strangely, labour intensive businesses continue to relocate
elsewhere. Migration is continuous as many seek a better life; remittances and ‘invisible’ imports
are indispensable contributors to our income; a depressingly negative balance of payment and
substantive incidences of recklessly squandering resources.
About 66% of our foreign income is spent importing oil while the country bleeds heavily from
the enormity of the dollar value of corruption which unpunished, demoralizes a country where
morality and justice are increasingly marginalized. Violent crime [accelerated from the very
political system created to facilitate our freedom] is not only a major killer but a despoiler of
social and economic progress

Our Minister of Finance seems continuously to be juggling budgetary demands, keeping them in
an arc like orbit as each pass fleetingly through his hands in an ever repeating cycle − this is our
circumstance, “a nation that has come of age but is neither able to feed itself nor solve its
problems.”

A new game needed

The finance minister’s juggling has to be replaced by a new vision and determination − with a
new act.
Given our history, our leaders [public/private and the church] still need to grasp its importance
and from it, have a sense of our destiny − an inherent belief in our God given potential for

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greatness; a passion expressed through selfless commitment and leadership to complete the drive
to at last attain ‘full free’ for everyone; the realization of our forefather’s dreams and the hope
today of all our people.
A detailed national plan reflecting what we have, how we should be organized, what are our best
options etc, should neither be beyond us nor involve extended time − there are many analyses,
reports/recommendations already on the shelves. This has to incorporate the talent, innovation
and productivity of all our people.

The people’s time?

An urgent priority therefore must be a focus on the mass of our people − the rural/urban
communities where the people are concentrated, which traditionally have been left behind; where
they are accustomed to being spectators to developmental programmes rather than the focus;
more accustomed to contributing to the economy than its beneficiaries; more accustomed to
bringing honour to the nation through its music and prowess in sports than being honoured by the
nation. Jamaica’s progress has to be based on the productive innovation of all its people and
commitment to responsibilities.

History asserts that our people have the drive to succeed and are our most valuable asset. The
original free holders that emerged from the abolition are our bedrock. They and succeeding
generations not only carried the economy on their backs but their fore-sight, progressiveness and
frugality, ensured the advancement of their children − they sold livestock and produce from
small farms and enterprises; migrating to urban centers [local and overseas] to facilitate the
progress of family members. Their cooperative spirit engendered an impressive list of
institutions e.g. ‘relief’ associations, ‘partners’, burial schemes etc, tailored to support their
socio-economic activities and to underscore the inherent dignity of the people.
Yet the lack of real support has kept most of our people in ‘shackles’; they see no hope − no
legitimate pathway to success; they are embittered with the ‘spin’ on everything; the ascriptive
‘who knows you’ format to progress instead of by achievement; the contagious yet unpunished
corruption [only poor people go to prison] and reckless squandering of resources; the unchanging
social order where real power still rests in only a few hands; a ‘tribal’ political system with
which they are disenchanted.
We are complacently sitting on a seething volcano and history will judge us negatively if we do
not deal positively with this situation — in the name of all the generations since the middle
passage across the Atlantic and a God Who offers us ‘an assured future’, let us do our part to
‘repair the breach’ and ‘restore the streets with dwellings’ for our people.

"Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it" -- Frantz Fanon

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