Friday, February 4, 2011

Why Jamaica should take note of Egypt

jamaica-gleaner editorial

IT WOULD be easy for our Government, and Jamaicans generally, to assume that there are no parallels between the violent uprising in Egypt against the long-serving President Hosni Mubarak, or the revolt in Tunisia that chucked out the dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

Nor might we see a congruence between anything in Jamaica and the events in Yemen, where President Ali Abdullah Saleh is under pressure from demonstrators; nor Algeria, where Abdelaziz Bouteflika has announced that a 20-year-old state of emergency is to be lifted.

Nor would Jamaica expect to be classified with Jordan, with its limited constitutional rule and where real power rests with King Abdullah III.

After all, Jamaica, its social malaise notwithstanding, is a functional democracy with high levels of individual freedom and the right of people to elect their government at intervals, although the process sometimes gets rather messy.

This newspaper, however, believes that as Jamaica watches the deepening unrest in North Africa and the Arab world, it is serious cause for concern. For while the proximate cause of the uprisings - Ben Ali, Mubarak and Co - may be to throw off repression in favour of democracy, the underlying issues are much deeper.

disenchanted young people

They are as much social and economic as political, and have been driven, primarily, by disenchanted young people. And therein lies our parallel.

Ben Ali, for instance, found it relatively easy to maintain social stability when his country's economy was in reasonably decent health. Things, however, have gone sour, and domestic economic problems have been aggravated by the global crisis. Political discontent has been exacerbated by high levels of joblessness and underemployment, particularly among young people.

In essence, the crises faced by youth in the North African and Arab states are not dissimilar to those highlighted by social anthropologist Professor Don Robotham in last Sunday's edition of this newspaper, and upon which we commented in the same issue.

urgent and robust attention

There are some harrowing facts worth recalling: nearly 400,000 people in the 15-29 age group - 59 per cent of the cohort - are either unemployed or out of the labour force. Of this group, 83 per cent have stopped looking for work, most likely because they believe that there are no jobs to be found.

Fixing problems such as these is never easy, but they always demand urgent and robust attention, which Prime Minister Bruce Golding and his Jamaica Labour Party promised would be the case when they came to office more than three years ago.

We have, however, neither felt nor seen the urgency of an administration that is driving hard for economic growth and giving substance to its promise of job creation. It has mostly pursued a predictable economic orthodoxy of the recent past, with little embrace of a real partnership with the private sector to jump-start and rev the economy.

Early in its tenure, this newspaper suggested to the administration the need for something akin to a job council, similar to the one US President Barack Obama appointed recently with General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt at the helm. We recommitted to the idea at the time of Mr Immelt's appointment and do so again.

We don't assume that Mr Obama has greater insight than our prime minister, unless the US president has a better grasp of Middle East matters.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

February 4, 2011

jamaica-gleaner editorial