“I am 50 and ah lovin it, 50 and ah lovin it” is the refrain of a Jamaican song that I can’t get out of my head and which blasts from my mouth at some most inappropriate times.  Maybe it’s because I have been ruminating about Jamaica’s 50th anniversary and wondering if most Jamaicans feel as jubilant as the singer, as he extols  his accomplishments and prowess on turning fifty.

However, based on the wide cross section of persons I have engaged in discussions, it seems that the reaction to Jamaica’s 50th anniversary is as varied as the four seasons of the year.  Many of the responses from persons under the age of 40 were full of hope and optimism and felt that as we move forward, Jamaica will fulfill her great potential. 

Others were bright and sunny, as they are of the view that we are great in so many areas, despite our size, as we have been able to be of influence throughout the world.  Still others were chilly in their tempered responses, as they declared that not everything has been to their liking.  Then there were respondents who were dreadfully cold in their reactions, as it is their belief that we were not properly prepared to undertake the business of being “independent”.

Overall, many persons are of the view that we have achieved some positive milestones over the past 50 years.  It was felt that despite being a stratified society, especially before 1962, we have managed to achieve a reasonably cohesive society, despite the turbulent period 1972 to 1980 when we “tried on the ideology of Democratic Socialism (a near relative of Communism) for size”.   It didn’t fit and it took quite a bit of struggle to bring us back from the brink of political hegemony.

The free market system was restored and once again the creativity of ordinary Jamaicans surfaced to the fore, just as it did post-Emancipation.  Historically, the former slaves were never compensated for their years of giving free labour and were never prepared for employment through skills training and education. 

This is in comparison to the ruling planter class who received reparations for the loss of their labour force.  So ordinary Jamaicans from back then until now, still rely on their creativity and intelligence to survive, and in many instances the money and ruling class still depends on this creativity, as it is able to fund and capitalize on this creativity to their benefit.  We just need to examine who owns and controls (for the most part) the vast repertoire of ska, reggae and dance hall music that originated from ordinary Jamaicans.

The current administration has promised to do something tangible towards protecting the country’s intellectual property rights, copyrights, trademarks and Brand Jamaica.  This is good news in this our jubilee year.  Let’s see them now walk the talk.

Looking back over the past 50 years, our women, especially those in high positions have done extremely well.  We have had our first female Prime Minister since 2006 and she is back at the helm since 2011.  Other firsts include:  First female Children’s Advocate – 2006; First female Attorney General and Minister of Justice-2007; First female Director of Public Prosecutions-2007; First female Auditor General-2008; First female Director of Public Prosecutions-2009.

Our History books undervalue our women’s contribution, as they do not highlight that this pattern of high achievement was ingrained on the plantations, as in the fight for freedom, women carried out a lot of the intelligence work and were fully integrated in the struggle.

We are fifty and we love it in terms of our housing-stock which has improved tremendously across every stratum of the society.  Since 1962, there have been improvements, that even those who are chilly and cold must admit to, in the quality of materials used, as well as in the technology employed; which are evident in our design, form, and function and in the vast array of amenities used in all types of housing units.  Our architects and builders are among the best in the world.

We must congratulate all governments from 1962 to the present for their involvement and innovativeness in devising programmes that give the lower strata the opportunity to have access to proper housing solutions.

We are 50 and we love the fact that we have established some great institutions such as the Edna Manley School for the Visual and Performing Arts which has been a beacon to the world and now attracts students from all corners of the globe to study dance, music, drama and the visual arts.  Our National Art Gallery which show-cases our great artists, can stand with the best in the world.

We have the only Children’s Hospital in the Caribbean and despite huge challenges; our locally trained doctors and nurses are in great demand locally and internationally.

On the international scene we must also celebrate the fact that despite our size, Jamaica played major roles in influencing global political thoughts in areas such as the Non Aligned Movement and in our vocal opposition to the awful Apartheid Regime in South Africa that held so many Black people as captives in their own land.  After a fierce, bitter and long struggle, the system of apartheid was toppled. 

Jamaica’s African sports men and women - young people, brought significant pride to the Jamaican Nation during the past fifty years. Gaining gold, silver and bronze medals at international sporting meets, including the Olympics. Jamaicans are demonstrating their resolves, strong state of mind and commitment to the highest standards of sportsman/womanships. It must be noted that these are ordinary individuals of humble backgrounds - not children of the rich and powerful. Jamaica and Jamaicans are now in world focus for the right reasons. ‘Our African Ancestors may be looking on with delight’.

Our internationally acclaimed national hero, Marcus Mosiah Garvey stands tall, especially over the past 50 years.  Although a controversial figure based on his philosophy and ideology, he cannot be pushed aside from his position of being a pioneer in the Pan African Movement.  His views on Pan Africanism influenced a wide variety of famous Pan Africanists and Black Nationalists since 1962, when many African colonies also attained Independence; leaders such as Julius Nyerere, first President of Tanzania in 1962; Jomo Kenyatta, first President of Kenya in 1964. 

Others influenced by Marcus Garvey are our own Dudley Thompson (who died recently), Nelson Mandela, first Black President of South Africa; Steve Biko, Malcolm X, Nigerian singer Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Jamaican reggae singers Burning Spear (Winston Rodney) and Bob Marley to name just a few. (Marcus Garvey: A controversial Figure in the History of Pan Africanism by Jeremie Kroubo Dagnimi). 

It is my view that if Marcus Garvey had not been denied United States citizenship, maybe he would have been pardoned a long time ago.  It will be interesting to see if and when ‘Marcus Garvey’ will be included more substantially in our school curriculum and how the teachings of this great man will be implemented and by whom.

Our school system is not perfect, but we celebrate the fact that since Independence, we have more tertiary institutions that offer accredited degrees and other training programmes that give greater scope and opportunities for economic development.  Since 1962, many ordinary Jamaicans have gained access to more quality and relevant training, to enable and empower them to acquire marketable skills and competencies to be used locally, nationally and globally.

I will agree with some of the respondents that successive governments have dropped the ball, as it relates to our economic and social development on many occasions, but after 50 years, we can celebrate the fact that we are an example to the world that our democracy is strong and we transition from one government to the next with ease and smoothness.  We have no fear of the military seizing power, as the officers of every rank are loyal first and foremost to the Jamaican Constitution and this over-rides any individual’s ambition.

We have fallen short in our social development in that we are perceived as having a crime rate that ranks among the highest in the world.  Our leaders and our men in particular, have a lot of soul searching to do as the statistics show that for major crimes, the number of men arrested far outnumber women. 

In 2009, there were 539 men arrested for murder as against 22 women arrested for the same crime.  The same pattern maintains for major crimes such as shooting, robbery and burglary. (Statistics at a Glance on Gender Indicators in Jamaica 2009-2010: Bureau of Women’s Affairs)

Our home and family life needs vast improvement, as some of our young men, especially those from the lower economic strata, behave like rogue elephants that destroy everything in their paths.  These rogue elephants only settle down when a mature male is placed in their midst, who can teach them how to become mature and how to be an elephant.

 Jamaica’s criminals, the majority of whom are males below the age of 35, need fathers who are present and relevant in their lives, but failing that, need strong mentors and good role models.  Too many of our young men are mentored by men with unsavoury reputations who are very wealthy, but are not rich in the values and attitudes that uphold good moral principles.  The get-rich-quick mentality causes many young people to abhor and scoff at the Spiritual Law of Life which says “Work for your food”.  Far too many depend on welfare or PATH programmes, even when work is available.

Soon the majority of Jamaicans from every stratum, both those at home and those abroad, will drink rum, drink beer and will drink up everything and many will sing that “we are 50 and we loving it”.   So as we enter the “party, party and more party” mode, let us soberly remember to give thanks and praises for the many blessings we have received, as we now move into the future and try to realize our great potential.

 I want to extend my thanks to the respondents, especially the women who participated in the 51% Coalition:  Women in Partnership for Development & Empowerment through Equity Workshop; who assisted by sharing their feelings and insights as to where we are as a people, 50 years after attaining Independence.

More of Valerie Dixon’s work can be read here at this link and she can be contacted at:

  By Valerie Dixon