My fellow Jamaicans, here at home and wherever in the world you may
be. We mark the 47th anniversary of our independence at a time when
Jamaica, like every other country, is feeling the effects of the
global economic crisis. Our economy has come under severe pressure and
I know that many Jamaicans are experiencing additional hardship in
their daily lives.
It is a testing time for us, a test of the strength of our nation and
the resilience of our people to withstand the pressures, weather the
storm and position ourselves for recovery.
We have come through tough times before and Independence is an
appropriate time to remind ourselves of the road we have travelled,
the challenges we have had to face and the difficulties we have overcome.
Those who were born before Independence, especially our senior
citizens, will have personal recollections of the long, tedious road
to Independence, the struggles of the 1930s to secure the basic rights
of our people including the right to vote and the right of workers to
representation and collective bargaining, the transition to self
government in the 1950s and the attainment of Independence in 1962.
For them, the achievement of Independence was a cause that inspired, a
dream that they were called to pursue; hopes that they believed would
be fulfilled. Embedded in that dream and those hopes was a nation that
would be at peace with itself and the rest of the world, a nation of
vast, untapped opportunities that would be opened up to create
prosperity and a better life for all the people of Jamaica.
We often bemoan the fact that so much of that dream and so many of
those hopes remain unfulfilled; that in these 47 years of Independence
there have been too many missteps, too many lost opportunities, too
many failures and disappointments. Yet, we must not allow ourselves to
be disillusioned or de-motivated for the journey is not over and the
race can still be won. We will pull ourselves through this difficult
stretch and we have it within us to make up lost ground and get back
in the race.
We must not allow our failures to overshadow our achievements for to
do so would be to dishonour the work and sacrifices of the many great
Jamaican men and women who have helped to build our nation and create
the institutions that have held us together even in the toughest of
In the next few days, we will bid our final farewell to an icon of
that struggle, Lady Bustamante. Her passing is a reminder that we did
not reach where we are without the toil and sacrifices of those who
have gone before.
It is not difficult to identify the areas of the greatest deficit in
building on our independence:
Firstly – the slow pace of economic development and our inability to
provide jobs and a decent standard of living for all our people;
Secondly – the weaknesses in our education system that deprive too
many of our children of a good education that can make them productive
and an asset to society;
Thirdly – the lack of respect for the rights of others and the failure
of our legal and justice system to adequately protect and enforce
These are the priorities that must be tackled if the dream and hopes
of Independence are to be fulfilled. And they must be tackled with the
same evangelical zeal with which we pursued the attainment of
Independence. They may not have the same glamour or evoke the same
passion as the quest for political independence. They may not pump the
same adrenalin as when we were struggling against a colonial power.
But their essentiality is no less commanding and their fulfilment no
less important. Indeed, they are the unfinished part of the
47 years ago, we took firmly in our own hands the tools of nation
building. We accepted full responsibility for the building of that
nation. We must accept responsibility for our failures and the
mistakes we have made, for not having worked hard enough and fast
enough. These are setbacks that we must overcome, ground that we must
make up. There were setbacks, too, in the struggle for independence
but we overcame those and achieved that goal.
Despite the setbacks and the harshness of the times, we can overcome.
The fruits of Independence are within our reach even if they are not
immediately within our grasp. Let us rekindle the spirit of
Independence. Let us recommit ourselves to fulfilling the dream and
hopes of independence.
Our nation needs us now as much as it ever did before. Let us rise to
the occasion. Let us answer the call.