Reflecting on Jamaica’s Independence 61 years ago
August 8, 2023

Reflecting on Jamaica’s Independence 61 years ago

Our belated congratulations to the government and people of our sister isle of Jamaica as they celebrate their 61st anniversary of national independence, achieved on August 6, 1962. Very special greetings to the women of Jamaica who have been excelling on the global sporting scene.

Jamaica’s independence, the first won by any of Britain’s colonies, was like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, It led the way towards national independence for most of the other countries in the island-chain which had been plumped together by the colonial power in February 1958 in a queer concoction called the Federation of the British West Indies. It was neither fish nor fowl, not fully independent but supposedly internally self-governing. On the other hand, Britain still called the shots with the nominal Head of State being a governor general appointed by the British crown.

The whole experiment was clearly unworkable. It attempted to satisfy the popular clamour in the islands for the restoration of sovereignty and regional integration. Nationalist leaders in the persons of Grenada’s Albert Marryshow, our own George McIntosh, Norman Manley of Jamaica and Robert Bradshaw of St Kitts had long been advancing these demands.

Britain, under pressure following the second World War, had been forced to concede Independence to some of its larger countries in Asia (India and Pakistan) and Africa (Ghana, Nigeria etc) but it was still reluctant to fully concede to Caribbean demands. It patched together this hurried Federation without any proper consultation with the Caribbean people. Its long practice of divide and rule was already being absorbed by the region’s politicians and though they hastily banded together in two opposing camps for the Federal elections, insularity and personal interests, not genuine unity and integration were the dominant features of the politics.

The “Big Boys”: Dr Eric Williams, Norman Manley, and even our own E.T. Joshua, did not contest the Federal elections and the larger countries like Jamaica and Trinidad openly quarrelled over the siting of regional institutions. This was the basis of the Mighty Sparrow’s classic Federation calypso based on Jamaican political sentiments, – “We don’t want no Bajan Premier”, and Trini response, “Trinidad can’t be capital for you” which announced Jamaica’s withdrawal from the Federation after a referendum with Manley’s rival Alexander Bustamante leading the withdrawal.

So, from there it became dog-eat-dog, with Trinidad following Jamaica in the same month of August 1962, leaving the small islands high and dry. There were even administrative problems stemming from the break-up. For instance, there was a Defence Force, the Regiment, based in Jamaica to which each country provided members. When it broke up, most of the Vincentian contingent chose to go to the newly formed Trinidad Regiment, being more familiar with Trinidad.

Thus, out of division arose the national independence quest with Barbados and the then British Guiana leading the way in 1966. It took more than a decade later for the small islands to formally reclaim sovereignty. But it is said that sometimes “out of the evil cometh good”, for the independence leaders were themselves to take up the themes of integration and regional unity.

Even Jamaica, in spite of all sorts of pronouncements has remained faithful to CARICOM and that institution has just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Yes, Jamaica, like many of its regional counterparts has made economic progress since independence. But many fundamental problems remain for which regional unity can provide solutions. As we congratulate them, let us encourage them to follow the path of Caribbean development and unity.