Tourism in Jamaica-tendentious to the last

Jamaica’s relationship with tourism is a sort of social elephant in the room. My current motivation to explore that tendentious issue is partly that I’ve been hosting friends from France and been experiencing first-hand some of what Jamaica offers foreign visitors directly and what can be made of interest to them and anyone in general. I’ll write separately about that after they’ve gone this week and incidentally before I go off on a trip overseas.

I’ve said before that I was never a fan of tourism as an economic development base–given its tendency to make many think its a source of easy money, so it carries many of the problems of windfall gains–but can understand its attractiveness if only from the simple standpoint of exploiting comparative advantages that nature and location have made more pertinent. I also wrote recently that one of the major changes in modern life was the ease and relative cheapness of international travel. Without that, countries like Jamaica would have remained the playground of mainly the rich and famous; they’re still important, but well-outnumbered by millions of ‘ordinary’ people seeking a getaway. That might have been a better thing in hindsight for the nature and quality of the product–if you think that a niche focused on quality rather than quantity is somehow going to be better–but an inevitable outcome of that would have been a much lower level of income flowing from visitors to the country overall. Whatever the retention rate of income from foreign visits, the overall flows do matter if only in a temporary way, but also in terms of its potential–people see opportunities to make money, even though they may not exploit them well or at all. But, the spread of mass tourism inevitability changes the relationship between host and visitors in many ways, and in the case of Jamaica, in a not too good way, I venture. We’ve integrated poorly the needs of the tourism sector in areas like food supply and noticeably (though I have no clear idea how it could have been managed well otherwise) in terms of the potential social relationships between hosts and visitors.

One of my issues with mass tourism for developing countries is the impact that sudden large injections of income have on social relationships. At best, every member of the host population could gain on average the same amount from visitors (if, say, all foreign spending went into a massive national pot and was then distributed evenly–Utopian thinking, maybe). At worst, a few individuals, including those who own directly or indirectly tourism assets, gain from the massive flows. They then have the choice of sharing part or all of their gains. Jamaica has had a bit of both, because some revenues from tourism (say, in the form of taxes on the sector) flow into the national treasury and are then available (mainly to redevelop the sector, but, in principle, it could be used more widely). However, a lot of revenue flows all over the place because workers in the sector gain wages, vendors of all sorts gain revenues from selling to tourism enterprises or to visitors directly, both legal and illegal products. From all of that, some have gained a little, while others have gained a lot. I do not have data on how gross tourism revenues have been shared over the nation or how the net revenues have been settled and what are the clear identifiable gains from that. In the absence of such data–and they are hard to compile for many reasons, including the obvious one that illegal activities are generally well hidden. But, one can adduce or deduce by proxy some of the impact by looking at things such as the nature, volume and style of local housing developments in areas close to tourism centres. Some of that is genuine speculative development for rent or ownership by foreigners (or even local visitors). Some may be development for local ownership based on gains from tourism-related activities. Some may be development financed by based on gains from foreign travel, whether as part of the diaspora or as migrant workers. Some seems directed to the needs of workers in the sector. And so on. Now, some will have views on whether some or all of this should be controlled or directed by public policy, and feel that bad results should then be laid at the hand of a less-than-caring government. Take that there if you wish.

Such developments point to what kind of chasm tourism can create in countries. The visual message is that ‘there is money to be made’. So, many will flock to the sector to try to get their share. It’s evident in industrialized or richer countries, too. So, the influx of oil wealth from the Arabian Gulf has transformed many parts of the world, notably the property market in the UK. When OPEC imposed its embargo on oil exports in 1973 against countries supporting Israel (including the UK) and oil prices quadrupled in 1974, who foresaw what would happen to the sudden surge of income and that the UK, say, would be one of its major beneficiaries? London already had attractive assets, including property, so prudent investment management would have had some of them on the ‘shopping list’. Voila! Property boom in prime parts of London. More sales of luxury cars. More sales at swanky department stores, etc. More travel through Heathrow. More signs in Arabic. Who won? Who lost?

When mass visiting by foreigners is a ‘natural’ or spontaneous part of a country’s development it’s impact can be quite different. Mainly, when visitors tend to just appreciate what is already in place it tends to be more readily understood that no special effort has really gone into the development. So, British history is well known, and many historical artefacts have been treasured and well-maintained, so people visiting them was a feature long before mass foreign tourism came into being. Now, with competition, it happens that enhancements get put in place (parking, rest facilities, marketing of various kinds, etc.) and ancillary developments occur (lodgings may be in demand, food and drink sales may increase dramatically, etc.).

Tourism (or the mere influx of visitors) tends to highlight social divisions, especially in terms of income and access, but also in terms of feelings such as xenophobia in particular or resentment in general (ask about the experiences of Jamaicans who are returning residents–not a pretty picture). You get the chance to compare and contrast, and to harbour feelings about ownership and rights to national patrimony. This is true almost universally. The Swiss, say, despite their wealth, may prefer to keep the niceness of their lifestyles for themselves. Alright, come if you must, but don’t stay too long and please leave quietly. 🙂 So, resentment of visitors is a common outcome. When the income gaps between hosts and visitors are large, or perceived to be such, that resentment can be more widespread and lead to various forms of social conflict, one of the more obvious being the propensity of poorer people to extract from the wealthier. That can be done subtlety (ie hoping that generosity will flow freely) or brutally (through various forms of criminality). So, foreign visitors have to tread carefully, knowing they are targets–and this applies universally, so don’t get all huffy about how white people want to think badly of black people. My first sight of a mugging was in Florence, Italy, in the 1970s, when I saw motor scooter riders ripping handbags off the shoulders of pedestrians in the city centre. Motor scooter muggers True white-on-white crime. Such things are now commonplace in many cities, or wherever large people circulate. Some places will be affected less, because of general local attitudes to crimes against people, others may suffer worse. So, whether in our local market, the extraction comes in the form of expecting generous tips or selling services for well-over reasonable local prices or from selling services like drugs and sex, extraction processes are underway. Now, almost inevitably, such extraction possibilities will attract many, including those involved in organized crime.

Oddly, this social division may not leave either set of parties discontented. Some tourists live in a world of guilt about what their travels represent and are relatively unfazed by the thought of their giving more money to locals; they know the world is unfair and even though they add to that on one hand, some try to redress the balance on the other hand. Of course, that can get near-ridiculous and also set off another wave of unreal expectations. So, the tourists who are ready to give up a set of golf clubs, or their nice expensive holiday clothes, or the rest of the (seemingly worthless) local money, naturally leave the impression that ‘these people have more money than sense’. I’m not sure if they would agree with a view held by some in Jamaica, or elsewhere, say, that scamming is a form of (justifiable) reparations.

My own feeling about Jamaican mass tourism is also that it’s something that the majority of the population has never really bought into. With its focus largely on coastal areas in the north of the country, those who were not in those areas did not feel connected to it. These were essentially rural areas whose main form of economic survival was in decline (say, sugar cane growing) and with relatively small populations (despite its being called the ‘second city’, Montego Bay is no more than a small town). It’s getting an international airport that served North American and European needs to get easy access to sun and sea made sense but really din’t impact much the rest of the country. As focus changed and other areas started to feature (especially on the south coast), naturally more people saw the possibility of a stake in the sector, especially as its nature was different–being more rustic and generally smaller scale. The markets aren’t the same in many ways. Kingston was also different given that much of its foreign tourism was based around business rather than leisure, but it also offered more that was already available in terms of entertainment and history etc; yet, it was never really much exploited as a broad leisure tourist destination (though that may be changing with the sight of cruise ships docking in Kingston Harbour setting off waves of speculation and excitement).

At a glance, literally, one can see what tourism means in Jamaica. Travel to Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, for example, and see people dressed in the uniforms of hotels and leisure establishments; also, you see streams of taxis or minibuses ready to take visitors to points of interest. You see tourists out trying to enjoy themselves, often doing things no self-respecting local person would do, like jogging at midday :). You see also the other associated activities, depending on time of day, vendors of all sorts of things (and let’s not be coy about what’s for sale 🙂 ). In some areas of Montego Bay, especially, you see an upsurge in construction. So, you can see where a lot of money is flowing into local pockets. In Kingston, you’re hard pressed to see a similar set of sights aimed at visitors, except at the airport. Even our major sights in Kingston (such at the Bob Marley Museum or Devon House) are not easily identifiable as tourist attractions if one were to look for uniformed personnel. This is more striking when you venture to places such as Port Royal or Rockfort Mineral Baths. Who would know that these are major points of interest? Venture to the south coast and you see a picture that’s a mix of the north coast centres and Kingston: few places have any notable indication that they are really attractions for tourists. To me, this is nice as they are meant to be ‘off the beaten track’. But, even Jamaicans can miss them or never know of their existence. I find it funny who knows about ‘Border’ (where the parishes of St. Elizabeth and Westmoreland meet) and the place to get great fried fish and bammy. Last week, I took some visitors to Gut River, one of the most beautiful natural sights I’ve ever seen, on a road so bad that only the brave or fools would venture 🙂 Milk River is well-known and now well-signed and now with a better road than before. But, low-key it remains. At the west end, we have Negril, with it’s hotel strip (akin to Mobay) and Bohemian reputation. If you reach that far, then you know what you’re looking for.

But, here we are in this awkward ‘marriage’. Tourism has allowed Jamaicans to have more money flowing into our island. It has enhanced visibility on a global level. The best that Jamaica offers in terms of natural beauty is hard to beat. The worst we offer (say in terms of service and traffic issues) is often not so unusual for those who travel. We have a ‘face’ that is shown to visitors that’s often welcoming and generous. We have all-year-round what many crave–sunshine. Our food is more than tasty and interesting. We undersell our history, badly. We undersell our culture, too, besides our music and our sporting reputation. We have people who feel distant from tourism and dissed by it, too. But, if we’re honest, we live in a country that distances many of us and disses many of us as a matter of routine.

But, guess what? If ever a piece of national development showed what public disengagement from policy-making means, then look at tourism. If there was a national debate on the way forward for the sector, then please tell me when and how widely it was held. That some people now feel saddled with something that they don’t like tells me more about what I believe is the compliant even even complicit tendencies of many Jamaicans, who often only feel push to express views when they feel their corns being stamped on. It’s one of many areas where the population had little input to the shaping of what was really theirs to influence. Now, standing around and scratching heads and wondering how things turned out so? Those whose motives and knowledge helped craft a monster now feeding its crime-driven lust should stand in shame but no less should be the shame of those citizens who thought they too could take a bite of that poisoned fruit that was offered.

I ask again: Why did the government take so long to act against crime? Is it the economy, stupid?

It’s clear to me that, implicitly, at least, the current Jamaican government had as part of its ‘strategy’ for dealing with crime, expected benefits from a faster-growing economy. Conventional wisdom is ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ and that a fast-growing economy is more likely to absorb many people whose skill levels do not put them high on the list of those to be readily employed. This is important for those near the bottom of the labour force, who can command a shrinking number of jobs and usually get lower pay.

The problem with the strategy was several-fold. First, there is no guarantee that unskilled labour will be taken up in any great numbers nowadays because many technological changes make such labour less desired, either because productivity of other workers has risen, or the need for simple mechanical or physical operations has been reduced. This is a global trend. Second, many investors in Jamaica are leery of the quality of Jamaican labour: this reflects decades of declining labour productivity, so it’s just simple economic or financial sense to look for labour from other markets, or to invest elsewhere. Third, the base of the strategy was fragile: after decades of stagnant growth, the promise of faster growth (let’s go with #5in4) was tempting, but frankly not that realistic.

So, reality bit hard. Labour was needed at a much faster rate than before, which meant that the alternative opportunities that could have been expected to help tempt (especially) young men and women into the formal (or even informal) and legal economy were not appearing. Thus, the supply line of young, able-bodied people to add to the corps of criminals did not change much. Therefore, a rapid rise in violent crime was not surprising.

It was perfectly reasonable for the government to give itself time to see how the economy was faring after its tax cuts and promotion of a ‘new’ growth strategy. But, for me at least, it was clear that the economic strategy was not going to bring much faster growth because it lacked a lot of plain economic logic. I’ve commented before about the budgets and how I think they are more growth-negative than growth-positive. I’ve yet to see much to change that view. In addition, the things that seem to be affecting growth positively (eg in agriculture, it’s good weather) are not policy variables.

Yet. I’m still bewildered why it took nearly two years to realise that with a faltering economy something more direct needed to be tried with violent crime.

I’m not convinced that the recently declared public state of emergency is indeed the right strategy, but it’s going to have more than a little ‘feel good’ effect, but I understand that change is sometimes a catalyst, whatever it is. (It’s well-known that positive things come merely from announcements.) I wish the government well, and I wait for them to come clean with the public about their thinking and what it may mean for how they handle other tendentious issues.

A balance sheet approach to policy issues

Many people struggle to see more than one (their) side of issues. For my sins, economics focuses a lot on seeing many sides of issues. For simplicity, though, one can approach many issues with what I’ll call a balance sheet approach. Some may see that as pros and cons, achievements and failures, etc; really trying to assess positives and negatives. I take that approach with a lot of problems I try to understand, so my conclusions are usually nothing much to do with individuals (though they are not a trivial part of the mix) but much to do with how things are really working.

I’m explaining that so that those who love to see all issues through their blurred political lenses will stop thinking that I come at things from a specific political viewpoint.

That said, I’ve long had my eyes on government in general in Jamaica, and why it so often fails to address problems well. I’ve also long had my eyes on the policing of Jamaica. So, with that in mind, I suggest you just put together your own balance sheet for these two institutional set-ups and see what conclusions you draw, simply on a success: failure ratio. 🙂

What declaring a public state of emergency may reveal about government of the people

I’ve said this before, so please don’t be surprised. I do not ascribe to the commonly-expressed view that Jamaicans do not respect rules: Jamaicans are normally compliant. They respect rules that bind. The evidence that many bring forward to support the argument to the contrary is often partial, at best, and if looked at carefully, often reflects the same group of people behaving a particular way in different places and circumstances. So, for example, most Jamaicans, by an overwhelming majority, respect the rules of the road. The main miscreants are those driving private transport vehicles–taxis and minibuses. The proof of that is everywhere, every day: Most people respect red lights, do not cut in recklessly, do not speed (most of our roads don’t support driving much over 80 km/hour on their straightest sections, and the state of many roads is so dangerous that it would be both dangerous to body and vehicle, and Jamaicans love their vehicles). Most people do not park regardless of obstructions created or signs that indicate parking should not take place. To my mind, ignoring what is the overwhelming evidence is indicative of something people do a lot in Jamaica, which is to let emotions run even in the face of facts. What I see as the truth is borne out by other data that go beyond what I see with my own eyes. Speed is a major culprit in road accidents, but the mapping of those accidents show that they tend to be on stretches where traffic can flow fast and relatively freely for long stretches–along the north coast–and, for reasons that I cannot fathom, means to control speed either physically or with police acting as deterrents seem to be used rarely. We have few accidents at intersections and we have few instances of vehicles careening off roads.

I cite the issue with traffic for a good reason. It’s where we see masses of people acting in the same general space. When we see congested roads in Jamaica, we often do not see wholesale disregard for rules of the road. Jamaicans do not decide to take over the opposite carriageway, for example, which may be mainly empty. They try to ease the burden of waiting by antisocial things like blocking junctions (a common practice in congested urban areas), but that stops whenever there is control at such points. In other words, most drivers suffer. That suffering reflects some unbelievably low levels of enforcement, the proof of which is the regular amnesty for traffic fines, that tell us that it’s the collecting agents and those who should monitor infractions who have fallen down on the job.

You see the same tolerance in many areas, such as markets and eating places, as well as administrative places (government offices and banks, for example). Few people like waiting unnecessarily. However, when people see ‘fair treatment’, they tend to be more understanding. So, when an institution has ‘single queueing’ say with tickets, people more or less gladly wait their turn. When such methods are not evident, then people revert to ‘only the strong survive’ methods and try to use ‘muscle’ to be served before others. However, in my experience, a lot of peer pressure often stops that being too bad–‘Eh, bredda! Yu nuh see me in front a you?’ People will usually respect what they know to be the reality and respect ‘first come, first served’. Jamaicans do not routinely resort to physical or verbal violence in such situation. Pride and shame kick in fast and most will mutter displeasure, rather than letting that boil over into some physical confrontation. Where that may be different is in places where people feel that ‘life and limb’ are at risk, so we see some hostile behaviour at places like hospitals. But, I don’t recall seeing altercations in restaurants or patty shops, for instance. That contrasts immensely with what I have often seen in the UK and USA, and in other parts of the so-called ‘civilized’ world. We don’t tend to see road rage. Again, the more common sight is suffering (in relative silence).

Some Jamaicans tend to feel that they need to ‘take the law into their own hands’ in the face of some form of social injustice and the offender is often the government or some public agencies. In such cases, we know the common reaction of burning tyres and blocking roads, carrying placards and shouting about ‘Justice’ to any who can hear. We see that, too, in terms of reactions to the police, when it seems they have been heavy-handed. That is when Jamaican tolerance has reached a natural barrier.

The reaction to the police deserves to be looked at separately because it comes in the wake of a long history of abusive behaviour by that arm of the security services. There is little love lost between the police and many average citizens and too many officers are woefully short of good interpersonal skills. I’ll attest to that personally based on several interactions that could have escalated in reaction to an overly-aggressive attitude displayed by a police officer. By contrast, I have seen exemplary behaviour, too, by members of the JCF, which tells me a lot about the inconsistencies in how it develops its work force.

All of this is to say what?

The government yesterday declared a ‘public state of emergency’ for the parish of St. James.The PM ‘declared that the prevailing conditions in St. James met the conditions for [its] imposition’….”We will be going after wanted men, seizing weapons and taking back our communities,” Police Commissioner George Quallo declared in support of the decision to impose the State of Emergency. The PM, in response to a question, said the government had waited this long to declare the State of Public Emergency because it needed to have appropriate resources to make the initiative a success. Furthermore, he said, the administration needed to be assured of public support for the measure before it went ahead with it.

So, here are my concerns:

The ‘prevailing conditions’ had been evident for nigh on two years. In fact, they were so evident that the now-PM had made a pre-election declaration about how his party being elected would bring forth a much-safer Jamaica. What changed after the election?

The police commissioner declaring what the force will do now, suggests they had been doing nothing of the sort beforehand. Waiting for ‘appropriate resources’ makes little sense when two national budgets have been prepared and these resources were not sought as priority spending.

Public support, if really needed, could have been sought by a simple and repeated call from day one of the administration.

I see no evidence that Jamaicans were not willing to see the government take a ‘more aggressive’ approach to murders–on the contrary. So, was the government so bad at reading those somewhat obvious signs? Had it been a matter of real urgency, the matter could even have been put to the people as a referendum motion, or (less fitting, but in keeping with the times), through an online petition.

The feeling I get, is that, like the situation on the roads, where most people want to act in a certain way, but a few want to impose their way of acting on the rest, when they prevail, it seems to some that the general has lost its place to the particular. Now, whether those few are local business interests, criminal interests, or political interests, they are far outnumbered by the rest of the country. So, why was the popular sentiment so hard to discern? Why was more suffering piled on an already suffering nation? It could only be because it’s generally known that Jamaicans are indeed compliant people.

Monthly photographic montage: #January2018 Daylight—teaser

For 2018, I decided to try to follow some daily photographic themes. For the month of January, my focus has been on daylight–not just the sun rising, but often the light of day as night passes away. This is just a foretelling of what to look for at month’s end: I will share a composite picture of the month’s images. Following months with have different daily themes, and I will aim to share each month’s composite.

Here is one of the daily images so far.

Is Jamaica ready for the four horses of the crime apocalypse?

I don’t think I’m being a ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’, ie someone second guesses, because I have been expressing my views (often contrarian) for some time. What I’ve wondering for some time is how much of a real groundswell there is in Jamaica for the process of attacking crime differently, especially in a way that accepts that it cannot be done without a major overhaul of the police and policing. From my viewpoint, it’s patently obvious that the many vested interests in high crime levels (especially murder) have formed an unholy alliance that has put all lives on the line. If this were the USA, we would long have seen a movement named #JamaicanLivesMatter. Instead, we have to make sense of the fact that many Jamaicans detest the police (in large part because of their noted corruption and oft-reported brutality), but at the same time as many talk about fearing armed criminals, embrace them more than they embrace the police. Last week, I posted on Twitter:

But, focusing on whether or not there is some groundswell.

If my reading of the Jamaican newspapers is correct, it seems that editorial opinion is ready to take head-on the matter of murders in Jamaica and especially the role of weak and ineffective policing. For instance, today’s Gleaner editorial, In a state of anarchy | Where’s the political spine against crime?. This isn’t the first editorial on the topic, but more have appeared in a short time in 2018, not least because the rate of murders has taken another uptick, with 61 killings in 13 days (against 47 during the same period in 2017). Where the editorial struck me as different was in point the fingers not just at the police but at the up-to-now ‘spineless’ political leadership of the country:

‘Everyone agrees that the police force is notoriously resistant to change, is in need of drastic overhaul. if not a total reconstitution, including with greater civilian oversight.

Political leadership, however, has been afraid to tread too heavily on this front. For, the constabulary represents a strong political bloc that has been known to undermine governments. Changing this attitude shall require spine and will.’

First, a little difference of opinion. It’s far from proven that everyone agrees on what the police force needs, and that is clear if one reads or listens to some of the utterances of members of the public and some politicians, who prefer to court the important voting bloc, rather than stand equivocally against the police.

Second, just a brief look at what we need from society to get things really moving. We can agree on the ‘arms of government‘–the executive, legislative and judicial branches. We then need to think about and agree on how the rest of society is organized. We have long passed the days of the ‘estates’ of government involving, say, the monarchy and nobility, clergy, and the ‘working people’ in some form. Society has more elements that see themselves as capable of exercising power over decisions. For example, most would now recognize organized labour as a powerful pillar, and some would recognize a vibrant set of civil society organization as another pillar.

While, I don’t want to be prescriptive about Jamaica right now, it’s worth think about who or what are these modern pillars, because they must stand strong for any change to occur. For me, this is critical, because no matter how much intellectual force goes into an idea, if arms government are not in agreement on the need, and if many of the people are not in agreement, there will be no moment. So, while I am much in agreement with the views of commentators like Gordon Robinson or Garth Rattray, who both have columns published recently on crime-fighting, I wonder, first how much of the rest of Jamaica see the problems their way. Notably, Gordon Robinson touches what I think many will feel is a raw nerve, on the matter of whether citizens with arms make for better personal safety:

‘The call to disarm the citizenry until we have crime under control and clean systems to permit such a privilege for non-law enforcement professionals has been pooh-poohed, while we pursue the same-old, same-old in the hope of a different result. Stories of Wild West-type shootouts between miscreant(s) and licensed firearm holders that end in the eradication of an occasional miscreant used to defend citizens’ need to be armed actually prove the opposite.

Because our policemen so frequently ignore this truism, we’re tricked into believing the punishment for attempted robbery (or even attempted murder) is death, hence the unseemly public celebration whenever a would-be robber or gunman is cut down by a licensed firearm holder. This isn’t just a wrong response to attempted crime, but it further inculcates a culture of violence in our people that ensures increased, not reduced, violent crime.’

It may make little difference that I agree with him on this or that I agree with his assessment that the Zones of Special Operations are not working, in terms of dealing with crime in the nation overall. But, by their own admission, the security forces said they anticipated that criminals would escape the net of ZOSO, but by being flushed out would be more easily corralled. I found that logic bizarre when I first heard it, and I still find it bizarre as a policy now.:

‘Folks, ZOSO ain’t working. We’ve wasted another year trying quick fixes. It’s broke(n). When will we begin to begin to fix it?’

I’m one who sees Jamaica as a land of quick fixes that clearly do not work, yet persists in looking for quick fixes. I’m also one who sees Jamaica as full of people who are blocked from making certain decisions because they all compromised. The Contractor General is one important official charged with dealing with corruption who has recently come out saying similar, in his comments on the need to stop ‘hanky-panky Anancyism’, and touches on the invidious practice of political appointments to public agencies, and the matter of people’s willingness to step up and speak openly about what they complain about privately.

#WhetherJamaica and #shithole countries?

While POTUS45 was thinking of yet another way to insult a large swathe of black people (and I’m sad that my good friends in Norway were unwittingly dragged into this swim in the swamp), I was having lunch with some francophone friends and discussing something I found intriguing with a Haitian friend. In our conversation, we talked about what it was like for her to be exiled in Jamaica from her homeland as a child and trying to find her ‘way back home’ after growing up through the nostalgia with your parents and relatives and friends. That was her situation. Mine had parallels, though I had not been exiled, as my parents migrated voluntarily. She lives in Jamaica and has since gone back to Haiti and tried to find ways to make business connections between the two countries.

The point of intrigue was about how countries had wrought their independence from colonial rulers and what had happened to them. I’m tempted to use ‘befall’, but that would suggest absolving those countries from blame for the woes they experienced.

I thought about how Haiti had wrested its independence from France through a slave rebellion starting in the late-18th century, the only state formed after rebelling against colonial masters. I thought about how Guinea had gained its independence in the late-1950s, as the first colonial African country to accept de Gaulle’s offer, with its first president saying famously:

“We prefer poverty in liberty to riches in slavery.”

I thought about Jamaica, getting its independence from Great Britain in the early-1960s.

Each had been described as ‘the pearl’ of the colonies, having been a major supplier of food stuffs and minerals, and each has sank into deep economic crisis compounded by punitive extractive policies by former colonial master, pqpoor budget management, political turmoil (though Jamaica did not have violent changes of political power, though violence associated with its political parties), and social degradation of different degrees, leaving each much poorer than its resources and location would have predicted.

There’s a lot to the history of how each went from glory to gory, but how fitting that they could be summarily described as #shithole countries by the person whom many see as leader of the ‘free world’–not a view I have, but that’s me.

Sadly, many, including current and past citizens as well as visitors would agree with that description of each country. I don’t feel that way about any of them, though, I’ve not lived in or visited Haiti, so cannot base my views on anything I know personally.

The debate about the US president’s comments will rage on. The lives of people in these countries will go on. It’ll be interesting to see where views settle on whether truth was spoken or insults made.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”–attributed to Spanish-American philosopher, George Santanya.

Those Americans who forget that many of them and/or many of their ancestors came from the world’s #shithole countries expose themselves in ways that are all too obvious.


#WhetherJamaica? A glimpse at our road traffic woes through an historical eye

I have the good fortune, or misfortune, if you prefer, of having spent much of my life living outside Jamaica. So, as my friend/attorney, Clive Williams said when we first met, “I can see that you run up to the wicket differently.” I do not disagree that I approach many local issues from a different angle/viewpoint. I have also had the benefit of living in or working in lots of different places, so many things I see in Jamaica can be put into a geographical or socioeconomic context that reflects that we are more similar than different, fundamentally, but at different points in our historical progress.

Take, for example, our traffic woes with illegal taxis and the bad driving habits of public service vehicles, in general. I know and have learned (because I studied urban planning) that ‘pirate behaviour on roads is a common feature of many urban developments. In the UK, during the period from the mid-1850s to World War 2, pirate buses created various forms of mayhem on London’s road, first with fare scams, then with ‘racing’ and ‘dangerous’ driving (as many ex-soldiers sought to find work and landed as bus owners in a poorly regulated environment):

After the first world war, the situation got worse. There was a shortage of buses (many had been requisitioned during the war) and many ex-servicemen took advantage of the absence of any sensible licensing procedure to set up their own bus services.

By 1924, London’s bus operations had become completely chaotic.

Pirate buses would race their General counterparts, terrifying passengers; take shortcuts to get to the busiest areas for trade; switch between routes to find the best passenger traffic.

Fines for speeding were increasingly common; there were even some more serious incidents of sabotage.’

Does that racing, terrifying passengers, taking shortcuts, totally chaotic, etc ring a bell with what we often see on Jamaican roads, though our passengers often seem sanguine?

For those who have watched the British TV series, Peaky Blinders, you can see the world of post-First Word War Britain up-close and dangerous, as ruthless ex-servicemen turned into gangsters.

The necessary conditions may be somewhat different in Jamaica, but at their base they include similar features to the 1920s UK: a general lack of employment opportunities for able young men, but also a world where public transport is in great demand and the supply is woefully inadequate: we know that JUTC alone cannot meet the needs of the Corporate Area and rural bus services are notable by their absence. Add to that a poor system of regulation and enforcement and you have all you need for mayhem.

None of that excuses what happens in Jamaica, but it means that we wont see change until the basic conditions change, plus we have a police force that is more complicit in its inability or unwillingness to enforce and a general approach by government that it’s easier to offer amnesties, periodically, than to see fines paid regularly. I’ve written before about what those perverse incentives must lead to: Who in their right mind would pay fines when due?

So, as the saying goes: History is prologue.

The Road Traffic Act that is due to go through Parliament may offer some solutions, but I would venture to guess that on the matters of enforcement it is silent, because the powers are there already, but not used fully. We also have the well-known but also untouched problem of members of our security forces being active participants in the business of running taxis and minibuses. If ever you wanted to see an enforcement ‘conflict of interest’ you’d be hard pressed to better that. Some argue for higher fines, but that’s pointless when current/lower fines aren’t being paid on time, or ignored by owners who are themselves implicated fully in both the breaking and keeping of laws.

Queen Victoria on Parade: Weekly Photo Challenge – Weathered

My ‘soul mate’ in the area of thinking freely and sharing your unconventional views has a nice pictorial piece. But, contrarian that I am, I may take this to a new place: ‘Whethered’, where I look at the ‘What if’ of life (in Jamaica, mainly, but not solely). For instance, it may be a pictorial look at how we make ‘normal’ what many others feel is ‘abnormal’, eg our love or roadside vending. These things are often part of a transition from one socio-economic state to another, but we have little real historical perspectives that let us remember that this was say the way of life in Europe though to the early 20th century. So, we are not doomed, just in ‘our place’ in history. You’ve been warned!