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Dotun Adebayo jets off to Jamaica

REASON TO SMILE: Jamaican Culture Minister, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, has secured a UN heritage status for reggae, pioneered by legend Bob Marley

HAPPY NEW Year. We may as well continue 2019 as we finished 2018 – with hope in our hearts and soap to wash out my mouth when necessary:

Mi hear say unuh who didn’t manage to get away from Inglann during the holiday season have been freezing in this British weather?

Oh well, let me tell you about the shine, the whole shine and nothing but the sunshine.

Welcome To Jamrock. No, the passport controller at Kingston’s Norman Manley Airport did not greet me by way of Damian Marley’s biggest hit, a veritable antidote to his father’s tourist anthem, Smile Jamaica.

You do get an incredibly polite and respectful greeting from everybody at the airport though, compared to Heathrow and Gatwick.

I wasn’t expecting any welcome to Jamaica at all. After what I had written about Jamaica’s successful pursuance of a United Nations’ heritage status for reggae, I was expecting Jamaica border control to take one look at my passport and escort me to an ante-room where I would be flogged and chastised until I was prepared to sing One Love together with the rest of the Jamaican lobbying committee to the UN.

The UN acknowledgement is the crowning glory of Culture Minister Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange’s tenure in the Jamaican government.

Her achievement is nothing to be sniffed at, I’ll give her that. It was a triumph of guile and diplomacy and, to be fair to her, she did not take my criticism personally, but instead issued a challenge for me to “Come here, man, and see for yourself what a difference this UN endorsement can make.”

So here I am in Jamaica, seeing for myself. And Ms Grange is right. I have done a tour of the north coast resorts, from Negril to Ocho Rios, and have seen for myself the immediate impact of the United Nations recognition of Jamaican music as “world heritage”. The resorts are full – and not just because of the all-inclusive “stuff your belly full” nature of the seafront hotels. Reggae music is bringing tourists by the planeload to Jamaica to come and savour this great natural resource in its home setting. And the tourists are spending their money, too, which is only good for the economy. But I’m still not sure how much of these tourist US dollars are filtering through to the sufferahs who, let’s face it, reggae belongs to.

Like up here in the sleepy, hilly village of Kinloss in Trelawny, where the yutes are so sleepy they are virtually comatose. It’s only poverty that prevents Jamaica from being one of the most successful countries in the world, with one of the strongest economies – per capita. Before you scoff and say, “Chuh, joke you ah joke, Adebayo. Jamaica is just a lickle inconsequential island in the Caribbean sun. It doesn’t have much going for it except for Bob Marley and Usain Bolt. Apart from them and Marcus Garvey and the art of rapping and Rasta and how it has changed the way we walk and talk, it’s only welcome to Jamrock on a beach with a few Club sodas.”

Before you say all of that, hear me out. Think of Singapore – tiny and inconsequential – but rich. And it doesn’t even have reggae or Bob Marley. Same goes for Monaco or Barbados. In the last couple of weeks out here on this amazing island, I have had good time to reason and consider the sheer waste of talent in this country. Jamaica’s talent is literally sitting idle in the shade of an old mango (or is that an ackee) tree (joke me ah joke, man. I may be a city bwoy but I am not an idiot). That this talent, particularly the young, is not being harnessed and mobilised for the benefit of all is criminal. No government can have done its duty to its constituents if the young, willing, able and eager are cast aside and left to contemplate endless demoralisation. That is what is keeping Jamaica from its true potential.

It was while sitting in one of the many roadblocks set up around the west and north coasts by the Jamaican Defence Force over Christmas, that it dawned on me that the JDF are a tiny and inconsequential army without much purpose (what threat is it ‘defending’ Jamaica from?) and yet it serves an existential function that is priceless. You only have to look at the expressions of pride and purpose on the faces of the fine and immaculate young soldiers who comprise the Force, and you get an idea as to how Jamaica can make itself great. Even if these roadblocks have virtually no other objective than keeping the young recruits occupied with a sense of duty, in reassuring reggae tourists on the north coast resorts that they are keeping an eye out for the bad boyz that might make their holiday less than comfortable. Even so, at least the yutes are not loafting, or skylarking, as my father-in-law’s generation would call it. And if that gainful employment of the yutes’ time and sense of usefulness could be enhanced by learning a skill or a trade, then even better.

So what I am advocating to make Jamaica “great”, is national service, but not as a punishment for having grown up in a slack generation. Yutes should never feel like they are being made to pay for the privilege of being born in paradise. And national service is not necessarily military service. There are numerous areas of civilian/community service for which these great young minds of Jamaica could and should be engaged – everything from teaching to counselling to protecting the rain forest and building. And, of course, they should be paid a basic stipend for their time. Jamaica should lobby the United Nations to this extent, to help it make poverty history in Jamaica by funding a youth corps. If Jamaica can get the UN to declare reggae as heritage, surely it can get them to let off a portion of money to keep the yutes off the streets and out of the shadow of the ackee tree (or is it a mango?)

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