The Election of Portia Simpson-Miller As First Female Prime Minister Brings A Renewed Hope To Jamaica
By Francis Wade
For the first time in many years, there is a whiff of possibility in the air.
It started with the Leader of the Opposition for the past 16 years, Edward Seaga who finally retired in early 2005. He had become un-electable.
It continued with the Police Commissioner, Francis Forbes, leaving. He was ineffective.
It kept going with the retirement of the Prime Minister, PJ Patterson, who demitted the office and accomplished little.
It got a little extra push with the surprise departure of the Governor General, Sir Howard Cook. He upheld a status quo that was broken.
In the space of some 15 months, the most powerful positions in our country have changed hands, with the possible sole exception of the positions in the judiciary.
Perhaps, the last time Jamaicans have a trusted leader was in 1972, when Michael Manley swept into office.
He promised much at that time, and created a vision for our people that was outstanding and breathtaking and just plain inspiring. He himself was brilliant, handsome, articulate and had a charisma that we Jamaicans just loved.
However, by the time he left office in 1980 in a massive landslide - the largest ever in a contested election in our nation’s history - it had all gone terribly wrong. The economy actually shrunk in real terms. Our citizens were leaving Jamaica without telling their parents, brothers, sisters and neighbours to live in Miami, Toronto and New York.
Although I was only 6 years old in 1972 and cannot remember anything of that year, I do recall the way in which Jamaicans were mobilized in creating a better future for our country, as Manley helped to create a picture of a better future for us all.
The turning point in my own experience was not the oil crisis of the 1970s that rocked the world economy. It was not the crime that began to increase at a rapid rate (although nowhere near what it is today.) It was not the interference of outside forces from other nations.
Instead, it was the death of possibility that for me as a 9 year old was epitomized in Manley’s famous “five flights a day” declaration.
He said: “Jamaica has no room for millionaires. For anyone who wants to become a millionaire, we have five flights a day to Miami.”
That single statement is remember by Jamaicans everywhere, as it helped to set off a wholesale migration of our country’s professional middle class that we have never recovered from. Even nowadays, many Jamaicans still belief that a better life can only be had by living abroad.
I’m sure that Manley didn’t intend that to happen, but happen it did, as his words as Prime Minister essentially killed the infant possibility that he had brought into existence in 1972.
When he lost power in 1980, it was by landslide, and there was a short-lived euphoria that ushered in Edward Seaga’s tenure as Prime Minister.
He was succeeded by Manley, mostly because change was not happening quickly enough. Manley was succeeded in his own party by PJ Patterson, mostly because he was the best of what was seen as a weak bunch.
He won every election after that, not because he was good, but because the alternative -- Edward Seaga – was unpalatable to most Jamaicans.
A few weeks ago, Portia Simpson-Miller won the right to become the head of her political party and therefore the first female Prime Minister of Jamaica, replacing PJ Patterson.
She was not supposed to win, as the word on the street was that one of her opponents was desperate enough to pay party delegates J$3000 (about US$50) to vote for him. This despite the many rumours that the predominantly male power brokers in the party would never let her win.
Middle and upper class Jamaicans were embarrassed, as Portia from time-to-time will lapse in what Trinis call “green verbs” – grammatically incorrect English -- and the thought of her “H””s doing a dance from one word to another in the presence of Kofi Annan, George Bush - or God forgive us - Queen Elizabeth -was just unbearable to many.
“’Ello Your Majesty, I ‘ope you ‘ad a good flight, and welcome to h’our h’island home.”
I cringle a little myself at the thought!
But regardless of that (who cares about our H’s anyway given our much bigger problems…) her election has brought a whiff of possibility.
She has come from very humble beginnings, and made herself into a leader of a nation. She overcame the odds, she is a fighter and we Jamaicans love that.
She kisses, hugs and talks about love and forgiveness and God all the time, and we need that -- according to my wife, “what Jamaica needs now is a Mummy.”
But above all else, she talks about the future, our future. And she’s doing it in a way that no-one since Michael Manley of 1972 has done it, or more importantly, been heard doing it.
While we are afraid to commit ourselves to much (we got too burned the last time around) we want her to succeed. More importantly, we want all of us to succeed, and we all want to succeed.
Out of nowhere, it seems, our murders have dropped by 20% in the last couple of months.
It is the kind of thing that happens when possibility enters that air and may we all work together to make it last!
Picture: Courtesy of Jamaica Information Service
Wade is a management consultant with a passion for transforming the Caribbean workplaces, economies and society. He blogs at Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle
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