Reading Time: 24 minutes

The Politics of Poverty:

 Jamaica contains just over 4,400 square miles, and a population rapidly approaching 2 millions. Just over half the land is productive farm, forest, and pasture. About 40% is unproductive, either permanent waste or undeveloped. About 5% is urban area. The most densely populated area is the capital, Kingston, and the surrounding urban and suburban lowlands of the Parish of St. Andrew. Here in particular, but throughout the island generally, there is large unemployment and under-employment. The effect of this on party political behaviour is clear. Vote for me and you might get a job. Vote for my opponent and, if I win, you probably won’t. Harass my opponent in his electoral campaign and get a hand-out for a meal. The parties have no need for philosophies other than the simple creed of bribery. Indeed, as some well-meaning politicians have discovered, to have a policy and a programme can be disastrous. The strongest position is one of non­-commitment to anything but the Party. Ideologies and principles are dangerous; flexibility and room for manoeuvre are all-important. In saying this about Jamaican political behaviour let me also say that I see the same conditions elsewhere; and although there are different illnesses behind the similar symptoms, I suggest one ailment in common: the beginning of the break-down of Parliamentary democracy as we are accustomed to think of it in terms of party-political organisation.

TABLE I
Population and Employment in Jamaica, April, 1960
Approx. Population Density per

Sq.Mile

Labour

Force

Unemployed Percentage

Labour Force

Unemployed

Parishes Area
(Sq. Miles)
Kingston 8 123,403 15,425 58,100 10,800 19%
St. Andrew 166 296,013 1,783 136,200 22,200 16%
St. Thomas 287 68,725 239
Portland 314 64,510 205
St. Mary 236 94,233 399
St. Ann 468 114,360 244
Manchester 320 111,788 349 454,100 49.000 10.8%
Clarendon 462 163,950 355
St. Catherine 460 153,535 334
Trelawney 338 56,080 166
St. James 230 83,003 361
Hanover 174 53,902 310
Westmoreland 312 109,606 351
St. Elizabeth 468 116,706 249
Compiled from: Annual Abstract of Statistics, 1967, No. 26, <Dept. of Statistics, Jamaica)
Tables 1 (p. 2) and 10 (p. 9); and
Jamaica: Five-Year Independence Plan, 1963-1968, p. 36.

 

Perhaps, then in Jamaica, the trouble is that we have come into possession of an obsolescent system. Whatever the cause, it appears that the system of government which we have inherited from Britain is inappropriate, per­haps, to the needs of the middle 20th century and certainly to the circumstances of Jamaica.

The most damaging consequence of powerful colonialism such as Britain exercised is the encouragement it gives to imitation and the deterrence to creativity. Authority lies in the metropolis. Colonial action is subject to that authority. It is always safer, therefore, to ask first if what we plan to do would be approved. Thus, colonials learn that there is a higher judgement than their own. When colonials need help and advice, they tend first to turn to the metropolis. And because advice from the source of authority carries great weight, colonials learn that expert opinion lies outside their boundaries. In consequence, colonialism breeds a tendency to deference rather than confidence; and since the metropolis is most likely to approve attitudes and institutions which are similar to, or at least not incompatible with its own, colonialism breeds a tendency to imitation rather than creativity. Our institutions and our literature offer abundant examples of this lack of self-confidence. So does our present behaviour.