The UWI Press recently brought out Professor Patrick Bryan’s latest opus Edward Seaga and the Challenges of Modern Jamaica, published by the UWI Press in 2009. The title, however, may mislead the reading public; it is a book about Jamaica’s recent history during the half-century since Independence in 1962. Seaga very worthily stands as a central and dominating figure in the colourful years, offering Professor Bryan a backdrop to his (economic?) history of the nation. But, in fact, during the years of the People’s National Party Government, led by Michael Manly receives the author’s equal attention.
The author obviously intended the book to serve as a vademecum for his readers in all corners of the world. And so it is. Jamaican or not, the searcher seeking a one-stop historical analysis of a young nation in its first 50 years of political life must find Bryan’s book a fully satisfying, accurate, detailed, serious, sometimes sad and sometimes happy but always professional account of the times.
It makes, unfortunately, for heavy reading. The style is clear and obvious; but the tale is told in ponderous way. The student or general reader will find himself, sometime in the middle of chapters, weary of the narrative, which involves detailed economic reports and summary paragraphs. Courage is the name of the read.
Critics will notice the “double vision” displayed by Bryan in his effort to describe the economic facts and figures parallel to his task as a political historian, e.g. “…Employment in the cut flowers and foliage sector moved from 305 persons in 1981 to 2200 in 1985, while export earnings increased from US$1.4 million in 1982 to US$1.6 million in 1984.” Heavily statistical paragraphs dot the manuscript, sometimes pushing out the basic story. The author seemingly composed his text with the Social and Economic Survey at one elbow and the Survey of Living Conditions at the other.
However, following the pioneer writers and historians Cargill, D’Costa, Figueroa, Nettleford, Augier, Stewart, McIntyre, Beckford, et all, Professor Bryan has parenthesized all of them giving a grateful Jamaican and outside public a final manual embracing the story of Jamaica’s efforts at survivable Independence.
Bryan begins with the struggle over West Indies Federation and its demise, the resulting inevitable successes of the Bustamante government the decision to remain a Westminster and Colonial type of government, the origins of the two most prominent political parties (there were numerous smaller parties during the half-century!), the leadership role of Seaga in the cultural life of the peoples, the Manley ( that is, the non-Seaga) years, the victory of the JLP in 1980 including the highest thus-far level of violence, structural adjustment, the invasion of Grenada, the slippage in the general economic situation leading to the victory of the PNP in 1989, and the inglorious seat in the Opposition benches held by Seaga and his party until recovery and victory in 2007.
The military invasion in Grenada (the American forces outnumbered the Caribbean forces by five to one!), served as a measuring stick not only for the Jamaican Government but for the newly organized states in CARICOM.
CARICOM opposed the invasion; Eddie Seaga, Eugenia Charles and Tom Adams supported the invasion. It is unnerving to picture these three militants marching closely behind Colonel Ken Barnes of the Jamaica Defense Force Second Battalion with their M-16s at the ready. Clearly a time of discernment.
Secondly, the issue of Tivoli must be faced by the two parties – particularly the labour party – before the post-independence scenario is laid to rest.
Professor Bryan delicately described the JLP and Seaga (and here he hesitates) as non-authoritarian. He stubbornly refuses to cross the line and label ( the often-labelled Eddie) as a dictator. If he was not a dictator, he wore the clothes of one.
The reality of the Tivoli Gardens community sticks in our throats, however, as an example of an undemocratic, dictatorial, suffocating excision to the body of Jamaica.
Though his own party ruthlessly bulldozed the inhabitants of Back O’ Wall, the future Tivoli Gardens ( see The Children of Sisyphus by Professor Orlando Patterson), including may of the Rastafarian religion, the same party seized the property and constructed a series of single- and multiple- storey buildings that now stand out big and brave on the Denham Town horizon. The politicians admit that the first grateful recipients of the apartments were faithful followers; and so they remained. And Tivoli Gardens hardened as a constituency devoted to the re-election of Edward Seaga as Member of Parliament for West Kingston.
The question remains — the answer to which Professor Bryan circles – is this democracy ? In Seaga’s case neither party dared to mention even the existence of the dilemma.
Another author might have included an analysis of the origin of crime in Jamaica, the story of the Cuban Brigadistas (some of whom serve professionally in Jamaica today), the fate of Lester (Jim Brown) Coke (of recent fame) in his private suite at the General Penitentiary, the case of ministers from earliest times imprisoned for malfeasance of US working cards, the story of our superior and highly qualified judiciary, the work of the charitable and donating agencies and their effort on the living conditions of Jamaicans (USAID, British Aid, Peace Corps, British German, Dutch, French, Belgian, Swedish, Canadian, Roman Catholic, Adventist, Methodist volunteers and grants, Food for the Poor and many others impossible to calculate).
For teachers, police, nurses, doctors, lawyers, accountants, surveyors, professionals, the reading and study of this book is mandatory.
For the judiciary, and all parliamentarians and the diplomatic corps, the reading and study of this book is compulsory.
For all non-Jamaicans, working short – or long- term in Jamaica, the reading and study of this book is essential.
For all churches, lodges and associations, the reading and study of this book is exigent.
For all others, the reading and study of this book is vital.
It is difficult to imagine the work of Professor Bryan increasing. But may it be so.