The land of look behind: Jamaica reaping what it’s sown

An area of Jamaica, The Cockpit Country, is also known as The Land of Look Behind. The well-respected Encyclopaedia  Britannica describes this area as ‘difficult and inhospitable terrain’. It’s where slaves went when running away from the British in the 17th century, and from where they waged successful guerrilla attacks. The Encyclopaedia adds that the area has ‘dense scrubby trees, rising hundreds of feet above depressions and sinkholes with sharp, precipitous sides’. Without being too unkind, all of Jamaica could be regarded as the land of look behind.

It’s almost a tautology to say you must invest in your future: it makes little sense investing in your past, except for the sharp-witted, if you invest in heritage. Jamaicans lament how things they want to achieve seem stymied at many turns. People look for someone to blame, and it’s not usually hard to find at least one ‘person’ who has let the ball drop, so to speak. One of those phrases that comes too easily to the lips of Jamaicans is “It not ready yet…” Usually, that would mean food, job that should have been completed, new outfit ordered, items ordered, etc. We get accustomed to things not being really fit and ready to go even though an event has been scheduled and is underway.

A few weeks ago, my church rector was lamenting that the finances were worse than expected because various fund-raising events had not taken place: dates had been set; venues had been booked; fees had been paid; but somehow the events did not take place. Net outcome: a bigger loss.

Jamaica’s national football team has just been dumped out of the qualification rounds for the 2014 World Cup. Observers, keen or casual, want to take to task everyone associated with the sinking ship–the Jamaica Football Federation and its president; the current coach and his predecessor (who was ditched mid-campaign); players, both local and foreign; the supporters, who were ready to hail the new conquerors after early results, but then abandoned the  boat,w when things looked doomed.

I watched the Finals of a prestigious professional football match last night, between two giants of local football–Tivoli Gardens and Waterhouse. Many things struck me about the match, and they were mostly negative. First, the field looked more set for gardening than for letting a large ball run truly. Bumpy would be a kind term. The players have very good skills and they needed them to master these rough conditions. But, you can only push a rock uphill a short way. A free kick taken by one star, Jermaine (“Tuffy”) Anderson was rolling tamely to the goalkeeper, when it suddenly took a huge hop, as if a ghost had given it an extra kick, and within a blink the ball had gone past the goalkeeper, who had been poised on his knee to pick up this ‘dolly pass’. 2-0. What? TV replays showed what had happened in horrific slow motion. water-fieldWhat to do? Tivoli pressed on. They eventually hauled back the deficit, and the game went into extra time, then penalties, after which Waterhouse won 3-1 on kicks. Victory!

In the audience were the president of the JFF, the national coach, and many dignitaries. I really wanted the broadcasters to do what they do in the US, and go with a roving microphone to get instant reactions from important figures at the event. Let’s assume, however, that the ‘think tank’ of Jamaican football felt sufficiently embarrassed by the incident and the spectacle of this top-level match played on a cow pasture. Do they expect to be putting out top-level players if this is where they have to hone their trades? If so, the success will be ‘despite’ not ‘because of’. But, honestly, it’s not good enough. It’s a disgrace. It’s a travesty. It’s Jamaican. How can you build hope in a nation this way? One of the local radio stations (Irie FM) has a jingle about “extraordinary people doing extraordinary things”. If you have to do extraordinary things all the time, you will be burnt out in no time. Years of talking about what needed to be done, what was to be done, and yet. After the World Cup debacle, I heard the JFF president talking about plans for the next campaign. All good-sounding, but talk without substance? Right now, we could see what happens if you don’t put your money where your mouth is.

Many things in any country show signs of being ‘tired and worn out’. What is often important to get a country moving forward is not just new investment, but reinvestment. What often excites and energizes people are signs that things are being renewed or improved. In a real and metaphorical sense, the football field is so much about Jamaica. All the signs are there of little investment and little or no reinvestment. Yet, the expectation is that things will improve. It can’t work!

As luck has it, today will see government measures aimed to deal with this problem as far as businesses are concerned: new tax measures that should reduce some of the costs of doing business will be introduced by the finance minister. The positive side of me says that “It’s never too late to start to do the right thing”. We’ll have to see how that measure has its impact.

We can see clearly enough what happens when you don’t make the investments at all or in good time. Simple things don’t happen–the ball takes a wicked bounce and all the hard work goes up in a whiff of dust. The field was probably in its best condition, which was terrible.

Crumbling begins and then the whole edifice falls down. Putting players in smart uniforms and nice boots, can’t compensate for playing on a junk heap. Jamaican football is now a fallen edifice, and it should be used as a very timely metaphor and clear indication of what happens when you talk too much and do too little.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)