“…Give us vision lest we perish…”
I’ve been wondering a lot lately what the leaders of Jamaica see for Jamaica’s future. I understand about the country managing its debt, about the country taking advantage of the expansion of the Panama Canal, about getting crime under control. But that’s all basic stuff, yes? Those are checklist items in basic governance. I’d think that most countries want to be the “place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.” What’s special about that? I can’t seem to identify the overall vision that Jamaica’s leadership (elected or not) has for Jamaica. It can’t be merely to become “first world”; a dedicated technocrat government and powerful or focused civil society can do that. And even such a government would need to express a vision – some plan that articulates or is framed by guiding principles – to challenge and inspire the population it governs.
What is it that Jamaica’s leadership wants Jamaica to be and to stand for?
The U.S. vision of and for itself may annoy you (as it does me at times) but it is a clear and constant theme: America is exceptional and therefore it must be the beacon city on a shining hill that is the example for all other nations. The Brits adopt the proper stiff upper lip and have a deep sense of their history – perhaps a kind of entitlement even? – and therefore behave as if they can and must take a rightful place in the world. Germany: disciplined, technically sound, careful not to think too much of itself (again, history at work) but confident in its disciplined and technical approach to doing things; focused on efficiency and practicality. For example, I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people comment on the German football team as looking and playing very German. It’s something that’s immediately recognizable even in their football team’s style. Singapore, to which many wistfully compare Jamaica, has carved out an ethos that is clear: discipline, order, and rule of law will bring success even if ruthlessly (some say) achieved. When, many years ago, that young American ran afoul of Singapore’s laws, much of the world reacted with “Well, you know what Singapore is about so why go there and act contrarily?” Mandela envisioned a just South Africa free from apartheid and made unimaginably difficult choices to ensure that vision could become reality. It’s still a work in progress but there’s a reason Mandela is called the “Father of South Africa” and why even when there are critiques of his governing style as President, there are complementary things said about how he acted to effectuate the vision he had for South Africa. Think about the Springboks. Think about why he stepped down after one term. I’m condensing a lot here but I hope that you get the idea. These countries and others have, over time, either developed or deliberately begun to develop a clear ethos and have had leaders who have articulated a clear vision. Or maybe it is that these and other countries have had moments in their history where leadership had to step forward with such a vision; defining moments when the future of the nation was at stake. But then, hasn’t Jamaica too had its moments?
What is Jamaica’s ethos and what is our (resulting) vision for ourselves?
Last November when Ghana qualified for the 2014 World Cup, one of the articles published that caught my eye was titled, “Kwame Nkrumah’s team, are going to the World Cup” Among other things the article explained how Ghana’s Nkrumah used football to further his vision for Ghana and for Africa:
More than narrow nationalism, though, Nkrumah’s political philosophy was one of pan-Africanism and African solidarity. Independence from the colonisers would have to come first, naturally, but thereafter, continental unity was to be sought. As he outlined in one famous speech, ‘Independence now, tomorrow the United States of Africa.’ And, in another, ‘The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the whole continent of Africa!’ The national team was again Nkrumah’s chosen outlet for the expression of his pan-African ideology. He chose to nickname them the Black Stars, both in homage to the great pan-African pioneer Marcus Garvey and to symbolise their role in fostering black, i.e. African, pride. Benjamin Koufie, a former player and manager with the Black Stars, told of how ‘Nkrumah was telling the whole world that there is a continent called Africa which could compete with any other continent in the game of football.’
If African football was to compete, thought Nkrumah, it must however act in concord. One tournament summed that belief up more than any other: the aptly named Kwame Nkrumah Gold Cup. It was a competition between West African national teams, but ‘competition’ itself was perhaps the least important thing about it. Rather, it was an enterprise to strengthen the ties between West African nations. One Ghanaian football administrator told fans that they should ditch their petty prejudices and support ‘all the visiting teams as brothers.’ Nkrumah himself, in the aftermath of the 1960 final (a 6-2 win for Ghana against Sierra Leone in the Independence Stadium (again, note the name), Accra), said that the tournament was special ‘not for its intrinsic value, but rather because it is symbolic of the sound foundation upon which we can build the unity of West Africa and of the great value I attach to the success of this movement.’
It’s such an elegant yet powerful way to reinforce that vision.
During the months since reading that article I’ve thought a lot and very carefully about Jamaica and the vision articulated for it by its leaders. It’s not a new concept for us to have leaders with powerful inspiring visions; we’ve had Michael Manley and Edward Seaga and some would add P.J. Patterson and Bruce Golding to that list. Outside of politics we’ve had leaders whose individual visions for Jamaica and Jamaicans inspired pride, creativity, community, and action. Louise, Rex, Leonard, Charles. In fact, we have 7 national heroes who have been named heroes exactly because of their visions for Jamaica and because of how they acted to further those vision.
Try as I have, I am unable to discern a an ethos or a theme…nothing. There are just speeches and “utterances”; no cohesive clear vision and no strategy to execute that vision. If it is that Vision 2030 is the bible by which Jamaica will live for the next 16 years (and beyond?) then why isn’t there a cohesive narrative from our MPs, Cabinet Ministers, and Senators that frames Jamaica’s goals and policies in the spirit of that document? Where is the inspirational rhetoric (yes, of course, rhetoric combined with related thoughtful and deliberate planning and action) to inspire and challenge all Jamaicans? Where is the inspirational rhetoric that inspires confidence that Jamaica’s current leadership has not abandoned Jamaica to pilot itself on some identifiable course toward an unknown destination? Where is the inspirational rhetoric to which Jamaicans can react and interact with?
Who are we and who do we want to be?