As we begin the New Year, Jamaica enters a new era. Once again, the country looks expectantly to a new regime with new policies, hoping and praying that this time things will be different.
How many times have we heard that morning has broken? That age-old problems will be solved? That social justice and economic opportunity for all will prevail at last?
Too many times to count.
This time might be different, though.
Prime Minister Bruce Golding and his team have the look of authenticity. They tend to say the right things most of the time. Will they back their words with action? Let us hope so.
As these new leaders survey the year ahead, they must find the problems daunting. I know that I would.
In my view, the most pressing challenge is crime. When law enforcement officers are being gunned down and gangs rule whole neighborhoods, the government must take drastic action. In the short term, the problem must be addressed with a show of strength.
But that is only a short-term solution, which often spawns as many problems as it solves. There is only one solution to crime in the long term: societal reform. People without hope can be expected to rebel against authority. The government must initiate programs to provide food for the hungry, health care for the sick, succor for the aged and infirm – and hope for the hopeless,
But where is the money to come from? If the government took away the wealth of the fortunate few and shared it with the unfortunate masses, it would be like a mere sprinkle of rain on a parched desert. The answer must be to produce new wealth, and this time to ensure that it is distributed fairly.
Golding’s government has identified some key areas in which this can be achieved. I would not presume to challenge their findings. But I would like to offer my observations for what they’re worth.
How about alternative fuel? Could Jamaica become a world leader in developing bio-diesel and ethanol, for example? And what about wind power? There is so much wind on the Santa Cruz Mountains that if we turned our jackets inside out and held them above our heads like a sail, we would be blown off our feet. And solar power? If there’s one thing Jamaica has in abundance, it is sunshine.
I know that the island already is moving in that direction, but would it be possible to produce so much alternative power that we could export electricity to the North American grid? And so much alternative fuel that we could sell some of it abroad? Maybe not, but it’s worth thinking about.
Much has been done in exploring niche markets. This, in my opinion, is the way for Jamaica to go. Using the island’s agricultural tradition as a base, gourmet food processing and production of exotic flora and fauna should be encouraged.
The environment is of paramount importance. Jamaica’s natural beauty is its greatest asset, and nothing must be done to compromise that beauty. So, the government must pursue development without endangering the ecology, which means ruling out such reckless projects as bauxite mining in the Cockpit Country.
Tourism is a tried-and-true dollar producer. But it’s time to go beyond the tried-and-true ways of promoting tourism. What about the Jamaican Diaspora? The millions of Jamaicans scattered across the face of the earth could be a powerful force for promoting tourism. We all want to go home. That’s a given. We go home to visit and, increasingly, we go home to stay. But that’s not all. We have friends and business associates in our adopted countries. We have made contacts in various fields. We would be the best sales force Jamaica could hope for.
There are many organizations that could be useful in marshaling the force of the Diaspora. Across the world, groups of Jamaicans have come together to form clubs and associations. And in some areas, Jamaican groups are joining with other Caribbean organizations for social and political strength.
I recently met with radio host and actor Ron Bobb-Semple and teacher/actress Evie Larmond to discuss the launching of the Caribbean Coalition of Associations, Inc. in Tampa, Florida. Ron is from Guyana; Evie is from Jamaica. Ron is noted for his portrayal of Marcus Garvey. And you may have seen him in television commercials. He also hosts an Internet radio broadcast.
Evie is founder of Project Read Initiative, which sponsors seminars for Jamaican teachers of Grades One and Two. The four-day seminars held in Jamaica focus on teaching reading and comprehension. So far, 700 Jamaican teachers have attended the seminars.
The Caribbean Coalition is to be launched Jan. 12 at the Clarion Hotel on Fowler Avenue in Tampa. It will be “an evening of cultural diversity,” which will include stage presentations by students reflecting the folklore and traditions of the islands.
This is the kind of initiative that I think the Jamaican Tourist Board should identify itself with. If I were in charge of Jamaican tourism, my first objective would be to contact groups like this all over the world, and help them grow so they can help promote tourism. I would also provide the means for these groups to interact with each other, creating a worldwide base for Jamaica’s promotional endeavors.
That would do a lot more good than a few ads on cable television.
But back to the challenges facing Jamaica.
The most basic is education. Golding’s government has expressed its intention to focus on early-childhood education, and I cannot emphasize too strongly how important this is. There is also the formidable task of providing free secondary schools, as promised (by more than one government).
Then there are those periodic hurricanes. They have been, and probably always will be, a curse. Being surprised by a hurricane is like being surprised by Christmas. You know a hurricane will hit Jamaica every few years. So why not plan for it?
At school, they taught us that the Japanese used to build paper houses because the country is earthquake prone. If a paper wall falls on you, it won’t do as much damage as concrete and plaster.
Jamaicans might be better off living in dome-shaped homes. Domes have been proven to withstand the strongest winds. Why do Jamaican houses look like British or American houses? The only reason I can think of is that they’ve always been built that way.
In short, I think Jamaica can overcome the challenges ahead. But little can be done without money. Where is the money to come from?
Our imagination and ingenuity might provide the answer.
George Graham is a Jamaican-born journalist and author who has worked as a reporter in the Caribbean and North America for more than half a century. He lives in Lakeland, Florida. His books, “Hill-an’-Gully Rider” and “Girlie: A Love Story,” are available at http://stores.lulu.com/georgeg.