The Moscow 2013 World Athletics Championship saw the birth of a new Jamaican superhero. Javon Francis, an 18 year-old high schooler at Calabar, who hails from Bobo Hill. He unleashed an explosive last leg gallop in the final of the men’s 4×400 meters relay, which catapulted the Jamaican team from 5th place to 2nd, then held off a fast-advancing Russian for dear life to win his team a silver medal.At the end of the race we had the now iconic image of one of his team mates shaking his legs while he lay on his back, trying to shake the lactic acid out of the limbs and revive his body. Soon, the world learned that this youth was nicknamed ‘Donkey man’. The story is that a coach at Calabar once set him to catch another younger star athlete, and when Francis was asked why he’d not caught that gazelle, he answered “I’m not a donkey.”
Today, the IMF mission reported that Jamaica had passed the first test under the latest arrangement, so should be eligible for a disbursement once these results are confirmed by the IMF Executive Board. Starting programs well is normally not a major problem: they are designed to have reachable near-term targets, which are easier to hit. The real test, like in the passing of a relay baton, is whether the country can go the full course, hanging on to get the prize, like ‘Donkey man’.
Analysts and politicians often speak about an economy’s engines of growth. To my mind, Jamaica has a real short- term problem, because the economy does not appear to have any robust or reliable engine that could pull the Jamaican train out of the terminus and head to some destinations along the train line.
The IMF program is meant to lay foundations for growth. It discusses several areas. Measures will be introduced to improve the business climate. Labour market reforms will be made to improve flexibility in the job market and reduce mismatches between training and job opportunities. The government will aim to improve public sector operations, including fiscal reforms, and enhance the courts system. Measures will also aim at lowering the cost of energy. Planning is underway to make Jamaica a logistics hub. The government will develop micro, small and medium enterprises. Small farmers will be helped with the introduction of nine agro parks to help establish an agricultural supply chain. Other measures will aim to improve the resilience of rural communities at risk from climate change and natural disasters.
Laudable though they are, I see no ‘donkey man’ in that set who will run from a losing position, screech past the crowd ahead, and continue driving its economic legs and financial arms to the finish line, to rousing applause from national and international onlookers.
The cynics out there hold a natural fear that Jamaica will not make any major changes and the economy will continue to limp along in its seemingly casual ‘business as usual’ state. Growth numbers will remain anaemic. We will perhaps see some signs of newness, like with the uniforms for the last major championships, but much of what is underneath is the same tried and tested.
I’ve not seen or heard much recently about the engines whom some thought could–creative industries, information and communication, agriculture, construction. Have they withered and died, like many other green shoots? Or, were they never really as muscular as some suggested?
Finance is a necessary lubricant to this whole exercise and the IMF money is an important part of that. More funding is needed, but its not enough. The PM’s current visit to China may see her bring back a few crocus bags filled with funding, and she will roll off the jet like the market women on the jitneys to Kingston, ready for a new day’s business.
Of course, none of it may matter because the whole thing is wrong and can’t work without some fundamental changes, from top to bottom.