Nearly every time that a comparison is drawn with the Jamaican economy, Singapore becomes the benchmark. It has morphed into a kind of yardstick for our development, despite the fact that we are not like Singapore, whether in name nor in nature. Jamaica is what it is, a struggling democracy framed from a colonial past which has retained severe class and race structures. It has a strong religious ethos and a peculiar dominant culture. While there may be similarities with Singapore, I want to move the discussion in a different direction, focusing on the style of governance and the sustainable development agenda.
At the International level there are stark differences with governments who are busy dealing with the international affairs of other countries, governments busy developing their countries and governments who are paying lip service to development. In the 1970’s when the late Prime Minister Michael Manley announced his affiliations with the Cuban Government specifically Fidel Castro, several things happened: the diffusion of misconceptions, cut back in foreign direct investments and a flock of capitalists who decided to flee the country. Too many Socialists of that era failed to spread the positives of the Manley style of governance. We tried Federation it failed, we bashed Democratic Socialism and then we ended up with Capitalism which in my view is the solid reason for the many economic and social inequalities we continue to face today notwithstanding the remnants of slavery. It has stymied existing opportunities for many, increasing the population of those who are locked in the pit of poverty. I recently had the opportunity to visit China, while I have studied Communism and Socialism, the real-life interaction with this people-based system gave me a new appreciation for the Manley experiment and the true potential that Jamaica flung away because of fear.
Today there are many fallacies surrounding the activities of the Chinese Government’s in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean but we all should try to understand China from a philosophical standpoint. But let it be clear, China, through its socialist policies empower its people, especially the most vulnerable.
For China, women form a large part of the demographic composition. China’s current female population is six hundred and seventy-two million (672 million) which total forty-nine percent (49%) of the entire population. At the heart of China’s Development are women from different socio-economic backgrounds who are learning how to fish, and they are given the tools to do so. They operate under the auspices of the All China Women’s Federation- a large network of women who engage in entrepreneurship, community development, decision making and all aspect of women’s and community life. The national systems, policies and laws endorses women’s quality advancement and there are instances where in some provinces over 20 million women have been trained in entrepreneurship.
For Jamaica, although we have a lot of female managers, decision making is still rested in the hands of our males. Furthermore, our males do not buy into the principles of egalitarianism or even the empowerment of women. While there are effective women’s groups in Jamaica, these groups are fragmented and no real ‘joining-up’ and collaboration nationally to solve some of our social problems.
Whilst we are paying lip service to the sustainable development agenda, for China the agenda is not only a vision, there are activities to back it. On the indicators of sustainable development, in China I saw sustainable cities, sustainable farming practices such as the development of organic farms- booming organic strawberry, herbs and mushroom farms, planting of cover crops and the adoption of agroforestry practices. The nationalization of Chinese herbs and medicine is also very admirable, Chinese ‘eat what they grow and grow what they eat’ and the government is balancing developments in agriculture and industrialization.
Locally, across the rural and urban domains, there are obvious differences in development where majority of the state’s resources are being channeled to the development of the latter. The Chinese government sees it fit to develop rural areas given the influx of rural dwellers into the urban areas, this is in an attempt by the government to reduce poverty nationally; an area successive governments of Jamaica have failed miserably. Chinese values range from collectivism to humanism; putting family and country above their own selves and putting people first and promoting human welfare. Like the pilgrim to Mecca Chinese have incorporated traditional values in today’s development; not sacrificing one for the other. The grim reality for Jamaica is the fact that our decision makers put party first and there is the constant mobility of individuals in the economy along the lines of nepotism and cronyism. The bottom line is there is a level of discipline that our society lacks.
In all this, the possibility of promoting the sustainable development agenda locally is very slim as Members of Parliament are only given 4 to 5 years; a very short term to make themselves look functional in the eyes of voters and donors; though there are exceptions.
While we struggle to agree on a development agenda, a lot of the policies and changes in the new era of China’s development are being actualized. Chinese are on the same page with President Xi Jinping and they all buy into the development of China. The Government is ensuring that no one is left behind by displaying a level of willingness to fix the development gaps.
My experience in China has opened my mind to the real vision Prime Minister Manley had in the 1970’s. I am not saying that Jamaica should turn to democratic socialism. However, it cannot hurt for us to experiment with it again, and this time, stay the course and see if it will boost our economy and advancements. This style of governance is not the monster it was purported to be.
Shari-Ann Henry holds a Master of Science in Development Statistics with a specialization in social and demographic statistics from the UWI St. Augustine Campus.