Queen or country?
By Dania Bogle, writing from Kingston
When 37-year-old Melissa Douglas was growing up, she was often regaled with stories of Queen Elizabeth II, Jamaica’s former governor John Eyre and the English ladies who ran the children’s home in Carron Hall in the Jamaican parish of St Mary, where her grandmother, Amy Harper, was raised.
Mrs Harper, who died in 2009 at the age of 82, grew up in the heyday of British rule, before Jamaica gained political independence in 1962, and revered anything English.
In her granddaughter’s childhood, Jamaica still had only one television station and very few radio stations, and people watched and listened intently every Christmas Day and New Year’s Day when the Queen’s message was aired.
While she still feels tied to the old English ways of her grandmother, Ms Douglas knows that she is among a lingering minority of Jamaicans who feel that way.
“I still believe in speaking the ‘Queen’s English’ and I believe that fighting for political independence was one of the worst things that could have happened to this country,” she told Caribbean Intelligence.
Republicanism and royal visits
During campaigning for the 2011 election in which current Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller was elected, the possibility of Jamaica becoming a republic was a point of discussion.
However, since the election, not much has been said.
Steven Golding, the son of former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding, believes the talk of going republican was, and is, something politicians use to distract citizens.
“To do it legislatively, it’s something they have to be fully prepared to commit to,” he told Caribbean Intelligence©.
“You will hear them talking about how much it will cost, [because] we have to change uniforms for our police and our soldiers, but if we were serious about it, we would have done it a long time ago.
“Look at how many other Caribbean countries have done it. What are we waiting on?” he added.
When Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, and his wife visited Jamaica in early March, the event took place in relative obscurity. That speaks volumes about the mindset of contemporary Jamaicans.
Prince Edward was there as trustee of the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Foundation and Chair of the International Council, and while in Jamaica, he participated in activities related to the award, which operates in some 144 countries.
Mr Golding told Caribbean Intelligence© that only a certain class of Jamaicans – of the kind who would have attended the functions held to welcome the Prince – maintain their archaic ties to the British monarchy.
‘Just manage the country’
“There are some Jamaicans who would prefer to keep the monarchy, who are invested in the monarchy, who are so brainwashed they can’t perceive or conceive of a life without the monarch,” says Mr Golding.
“What is sad is that the majority of the wealth in this country is concentrated in that class or in that type. It is not in the interest of those who are the movers and shakers.”
Ahon Gray, a 25-year-old media worker, says it does not matter to him who is in charge, as long as the country is being properly managed.
“Whichever ways that will help the country become better managed in terms of taking care of its citizens, I will go for it. It doesn’t matter which leadership,” he told Caribbean Intelligence©.
“Now it’s just pure corruption. I find that members of parliament are not really in the job for the sake of the country, but rather in there to get as much as they can.”
For her part, Ann Dawson, a security officer who grew up in the eastern parish of St Mary, recalls her mother going to Kingston’s National Stadium to mark Jamaica’s independence.
Although she has not given much thought to the monarchy, when prodded, she did say that she did not see the relevance of having the Queen as head of state nowadays.
“I don’t see what purpose she [Queen Elizabeth II] really serves in Jamaica for Jamaica,” she said, adding that while she was growing up, her mother and her contemporaries were very much in favour of the monarchy.
“Dem people use to worship the Queen,” Mrs Dawson stated.
These days, Mrs Dawson says she does wonder whether Jamaica would be in a better position as a nation, had it not opted for independence.
“Because look at Cayman Islands. They are not independent and they are doing better,” she says.
CCJ and the Privy Council
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which was established in 2001, could also be an argument to sever ties with the monarchy, as there is no longer any need to hold fast to the UK-based appellate body, the Privy Council.
However, in February, a Trinidad and Tobago judge said that CCJ rulings could not be enforced. For Mr Golding, that provided more evidence of Caribbean people, and Jamaicans in particular, trying to discredit their own.
“The monarchy isn’t a question of power, it’s a question of pride,” he said.
“It’s what they identify with. The Privy Council itself said they are tired of cases we bring to them. We are worried about justice among ourselves.
Always quick to tear own our institutions, but never quick to tear down the colonial institutions.”
“I’m nationalist, so there is no way I could ever be happy having a European monarch as my head of state,” Mr Golding concluded.
‘Not a priority’
Prof Trevor Munroe, who lectures in the Department of Government at the University of the West Indies, told Caribbean Intelligence© that while the Jamaican parliament had voted since 1995 to do away with the monarchy, the question of how to pick the head of state in a republic had not yet been answered.
“In the minds of the people, this would not be a priority right now,” he added.
“The priority is to find a way to live better, to have less crime in the country, to reduce the cost of living and to have a better quality of life.”
“Personally, I think that Jamaica became independent in 1962. It, at that time, relinquished its ties to the British parliament and I feel that that process needs to be completed, where the ties to the British monarch and the ties to the Privy Council, where the British system is our highest court of appeal, also need to be relinquished.”
During Jamaica’s 50th independence anniversary year in 2012, former Jamaican Prime Minister and lawyer PJ Patterson told Caribbean Intelligence© of his disappointment at the slowing down of the pace to move away from the Privy Council and join the Caribbean Court of Justice.
He described the lack of pace as “a lack of confidence in ourselves, which I find disappointing”.
Thoughtful at 50
The debate on Republicanism and the CCJ returned to the limelight during that 2012 independence anniversary year, but receded again as Jamaica moved into its 51st year, with only Usain Bolt’s medals and a visit by the International Monetary Fund to mark 2013.
For its part, the Council of Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) has charted the financial detail of republicanism beyond the political rhetoric.
In an article entitled Replacing the Queen: Does a name change make sense for a cash-strapped Jamaica, COHA contributor Aleia Walker said that such a move would mean the cost of changing insignia, rebranding the Defence Force (some US$2.4m, the experts reckon) and possibly jeopardising British aid.
Ms Walker pointed out that Trinidad and Tobago had made the transition on the basis of a quadrupling of oil prices in 1973, which helped it make the transition to republic status in 1976.
She concluded: “For the time being, present economic realities [in Jamaica] may not present the most opportune time for a change of government structure. With a stagnant economy, the best fiscal environment for the change may not be immediately visible to those in power.”
But, with the IMF not only at the door, but regularly in the front room, the republican arguments in Jamaica are not going away.
Jamaican Observer columnist Michael Burke wrote in November 2013: “Becoming a republic will be a psychological break from mental slavery.
“No, republican status will not feed hungry bellies, and republican status by itself will not magically transform Jamaica into a First World state.
“But the psychological boost that should come with it, coupled with a mental education that emphasises conscientisation, should help our Vision 2030 goals.”
Are we ready for Republicanism? Jamaica Observer 2013.