Friday, April 17, 2015

Obama and PJ: “Wah gwaan Jamaica?

President Obama addresses Jamaican Young Leaders

Observer column for MON 13 April 2015
by Jean Lowrie-Chin

It was a privilege to have been present at two moving events last week:  President Obama’s Town Hall Meeting and former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson’s 80th birthday celebrations.  Both politicians were outstanding law students and have been acknowledged for their even temperament. In campaigning, they were nicknamed, “No-drama-Obama” and PJ, the “Fresh Prince”, who was not given to the platform dramatics of his predecessors.
Former PM Patterson celebrates with his grandchildren
Ever since the young African American Barack Obama was nominated as a US presidential candidate in May 2004, Jamaicans have been journeying with him, and so expectations were high when we heard that finally, he would be landing on our soil on April 8.  But even those expectations were surpassed. 
GraceKennedy CEO Don Wehby noted at a press event on Friday: “Jamaica’s ‘love meter’ was on a high when President Obama arrived, as he reminded us how important it was to have humility.” 
Well, I believe that ‘love meter’ exploded when he walked into the UWI Assembly Hall and hailed his audience with “Greetings, massive!  Wah gwaan, Jamaica?  … I want to thank the University of the West Indies for hosting us.  Big up, You-Wee!  Thank you.  I’ve been making myself at home here.”
The President visits the Bob Marley Museum
As we awaited his arrival, all the talk was about his visit to the Bob Marley Museum, his singing along to “Exodus” and “One Love”, his reference to his collection of Marley albums.  We knew he had hosted the Marley family during his first term as President, and this was confirmation that he was a true fan of our beloved Bob.
This President touched a special chord when he referred to Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce: “I get a chance to say hi to Usain Bolt and Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce. When you have the fastest people on the planet, you’ve got to say hi to them, right?  Because that’s fast. There are a lot of people out there, and they’re the fastest!”  
In a more serious tone, he discussed America’s commitment to the Caribbean and Jamaica: “Now, we are not just nations, we’re also neighbors. Tens of millions of Americans are bound to the Caribbean and the Americas through ties of commerce, but also ties of kin.  More than one million Americans trace their ancestry to Jamaica.  More than one million Americans visit Jamaica each year.  So we’re committed to you and this region.  And as I’ve said before, in our foreign policy there are no senior or junior partners in the Americas; there are just partners.”
President Obama strikes "To the world!" pose with Usain Bolt
The President then turned to his historic decision to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, a country that has been a compassionate neighbour to Jamaica.
We applauded President Obama’s declaration: “I believe that engagement is a more powerful force than isolation, and the changes we are making can help improve the lives of the Cuban people.  And I also believe that this new beginning will be good for the United States and the entire hemisphere.”
Mr Obama underscored the importance of our young people. “More than 100 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean are between the ages of 15 and 24.  Most of the region is under 35,” he noted, “And what gives me so much hope about your generation is that you’re more interested in the hard work of waging peace than resorting to the quick impulses of conflict.  You’re more interested in the hard work of building prosperity through entrepreneurship, not cronyism or corruption.”
PJ Patterson with an admirer and Minister Phillip Paulwell

There was loud applause as the president pronounced the words “cronyism and corruption”, and I reflected on the fact that this was the reason given by several young people who have not registered to be on the Electoral Office of Jamaica’s voters’ list.
Many years ago, early in his role as Prime Minister, P.J. Patterson launched his “Values and Attitudes Campaign”.  It is with great sadness that I remember the cynical comments from political opponents and media commentators alike as the campaign was laughed to scorn. At that time the writing was on the wall for Jamaica, as children were having children, who then evolved into “barrel children”.  These “barrel children” were so named because they had been left behind by migrant parents, who sent them barrels of food and clothing. Some of these children were exploited by greedy relatives, some left to fend for themselves in violence ridden tenements. These tenements continue to exist, and are a reproach to those who say they care for their constituents
But, where there is life there is hope, and as we give thanks that Mr Patterson has arrived at his 80th year in good health, we ask both political parties, many of whose representatives were present at his birthday celebrations, to give him a lasting gift for national stability.  Let the PNP and JLP join together to develop and sign a P.J. Patterson 80th Birthday Charter for Values and Attitudes, declaring that together, they will work selflessly for our beloved Jamaica.
Although he is no longer in active politics, P.J. Patterson is an active member of the Madrid Club, composed of 80 former world leaders, the Global Leadership Foundation and is regarded as the most respected adviser to the People’s National Party. 
President Obama with PM Simpson-Miller
In his reply to tributes from family and friends, he harked back to that day in his young life when his mother, a teacher in Somerton, St James, put her bright young son on the bus to begin studies at Calabar High School, and his extraordinary political journey, beginning with his appointment to the Senate in 1969 by N.W. Manley. He noted that his circle of friends included members of both political parties, acknowledging that their common aim was Jamaica’s development.
As he pondered Jamaica’s future in a 1992 interview, Mr Patterson told Black Enterprise Magazine, “With creativity, discipline, determination and hard work, we will enter the 21st century as a strong nation.”  This is the same formula we distilled from President Obama’s responses at his Townhall Meeting at UWI, when he noted that the small country of Singapore “has one of the highest standards of living in the world.”
He shared: “What is it that Singapore did that might be replicable? Well, one of the most important things they did was they made an enormous investment in their people. And if you’ve got a highly skilled, highly educated workforce, if you’ve set up rules of law and governance that are transparent and non-corrupt, then you can attract actually a lot of service industries to supplement the tourist industry, because people would want to locate in your country.” 
The most powerful leader on our soil, an elder statesman in our midst – may they inspire fellow leaders to earn the respect of Jamaica’s disillusioned young people. 

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