Warm Jamaican greetings!
I am happy to be back in London and even more delighted to have this opportunity to address you. We are here, of course, to participate in the activities to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and to underlie Jamaica’s deep and long-standing relationship with this country. This year is also a special year for Jamaica as we celebrate our fiftieth year of independence.
And how fortuitous it is that Britain, from which we gained our independence, is the place which is destined to provide the greatest and most intense source of celebrations for Jamaicans during August, the actual month we gained our independence! That, is the irony of history!
I would like to use this opportunity again to congratulate our newly-appointed High Commissioner to this country, Her Excellency Mrs Aloun Asamba; a very distinguished, dedicated and devoted Jamaican, who for many years has given selfless service to her country. Service has been her lifelong passion, ladies and gentlemen.
Anyone who knows Her Excellency knows that she is a people person. That is evident not only from her captivating and endearing smile and ebullient personality, but from the warmth and compassion which characterise her inter-personal relations. I assure you, you could not have a finer representative and advocate. Your Excellency, God’s blessings be with you as you serve your people away from home.
You would all have known by now what a smashing time HRH Prince Harry had in Jamaica on his recent visit, and that he was greeted as a virtual rock star. The coverage of his visit in the international media was simply awesome and the exposure Jamaica had was literally incalculable. The exceedingly warm reception which the Prince received in Jamaica is an indication of the bond which exists between the Jamaican and British peoples; and, more particularly, of the warmth the Jamaican people feel toward the Royal family.
This high regard for The Queen and the Royal family will no doubt remain, whatever the future might hold in the natural evolution of constitutional relationships between Jamaica and Britain. Jamaicans have the maturity and sophistication to distinguish between constitutional systems and fraternal relations and to know that human solidarity and bonding is not conflated with any particular type of political arrangement. Relationships go beyond structures.
Our relationship with Britain has, indeed, evolved over the years, but the bond has remained constant. Many of you can remember Royal visits to Jamaica and the excitement, even euphoria, which attended them. It was Princess Alice who established the University Chapel at the University of the West Indies. She became the first Chancellor of the University College of the West Indies when it was founded in 1948. She remained Chancellor until our independence in 1962. And since our independence Jamaica has had the honor of having Her Majesty preside over the Opening of our Parliament on two occasions.
The relationship between Jamaica and Britain has been a mutually beneficial one. Long before the famed Windrush years of the 1950s when many Jamaicans came here. Thousands of Jamaican patriots between the ages of 19 and 25 volunteered for military service in both World Wars.
Jamaica was the first British colony to respond to the call of Sir Winston Churchill for members of the Empire to fight for the “Mother Country”, and after the wars, when Britain experienced a shortage of labour, Jamaicans again answered the call. During the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of our nationals played a pivotal role in the development of the steel industry, as well as the transportation, health and education sectors. Jamaicans in Britain have gone on to make their mark in every field and every arena here.
Indeed we are very proud of you and your achievements. We are very proud of the fact that you have demonstrated time and time again that, despite some negative publicity due to the misdemeanors of a very few of our misguided citizens, the vast majority of our people are decent, hard-working and highly talented people who have distinguished themselves in many areas.
It is no cliché to say that we are a great and resourceful people. Our history amply demonstrates that we are resilient. We endured the horrors of the slave trade and plantation slavery. Our workers struggled valiantly for their rights in the 1930s and we struggled for self-government and eventually independence in 1962.
We have created our own musical genre, Reggae, which is among the most exported and adored in the world. Bob Marley’s Exodus was named Album of the Century (1900 – 2000) by Time Magazine, and his One Love single dubbed anthem of the millennium by the BBC. I said millennium, (1000 AD – 2000 AD), beating out HANDEL’S Halleluiah Chorus.
Our little island has produced the fastest man in the world, THE man whom the world will be coming to this city to see in just a few months. This lightening Bolt was the first human being to set world records in three sprint events in a single Olympics, and the first man to simultaneously hold the 100m and 200m Olympic and World Championship titles.
Before Bolt, Jamaica had the first and, indeed, the only person to make the final in all three Major Olympic sprinting events-the 100m, the 200m and the 400m. Sixty years after this feat at the Helsinki Olympics, no other human being has equaled the great Herb McKenley. We were the first Caribbean team to hold the 4 by 400 relay world record 60 years ago in Helsinki, when Arthur Wint, Herb McKenley, George Rhoden and Leslie Laing won Gold.
You all know the amazing story of our bobsled team at a winter Olympics in Canada in 1988-a feat memorialized by a movie. Our own Courtney Walsh was the first bowler in the history of cricket to take more than 500 test Match wickets, and the first West Indian cricketer to bowl over 5,000 overs.
Outside of sports, We have produced many firsts.
Una Mason was the first black female broadcaster at the BBC.
Lucille Mair was the first female Undersecretary General of the United Nations.
The Right Reverend Monsignor Gladstone Wilson was the first black tutor at the Vatican’s Urban College in Rome and Neville Callan the first black head of the WBF.
Reginald Murray was the first Caribbean person to win a Rhodes scholarship
Dr. Saleem Josephs who graduated from Columbia University in 2006 was the first person to earn three degrees simultaneously – an MBA, a Masters in Public Health and a Doctorate in Dental Surgery, all obtained in five years.
Three Jamaican medical doctors produced the world’s first cardiac surgery simulator.
And (I learnt last week) that the first black person to head a secondary school in Britain was a Jamaican.
I could go on and on and you could add more to this illustrious list. Added to this are the innumerable unsung heroes, ordinary Jamaicans, making extraordinary contributions wherever they are. So with all that said I believe in Jamaica. I will never give up on Jamaica, no matter the challenges and problems; no matter the obstacles we face, no matter how threatening the storm clouds appear. We will not roll over and die.
We have a vibrant Parliamentary democracy where the rule of law is respected and human rights are enshrined. There are a number of exciting projects in the offing. These include:
The North South Highway infrastructure project.
Expansion project in our port facilities at Gordon Cay to take advantage of our strategic location and the possibilities arising from the reopening of the Panama Canal.
A logistics hub and business centre at Fort Augusta.
I sense a growing political maturity in the country, a willingness by the people to work together and a recognition that our political options are very limited. The political parties have achieved consensus in some critical areas and both are agreed on key macroeconomic strategies for the good of the nation. And certainly both our main political parties have always been very clear about the important role played by you in the Diaspora.
Your assistance, both material and otherwise, has been critical to the lives of many Jamaicans back home. Your goodwill and support have stood us in good stead and have helped us to weather our challenges with greater gusto. I am sure all of you will be excited about the US$1 billion Diaspora Bond which Jamaica in collaboration with the World Bank will be launching in August to coincide with our 50th independence anniversary. I urge you to participate in this bond. It is an investment in the future of your country and of your fellow Jamaicans.
We have much to be proud of as we celebrate Jamaica 50. We have maintained a healthy, robust and enviable Parliamentary democracy. We have always aimed to change our Governments peacefully and democratically and have not been fraught with the democratic collapse which we have seen in too many countries, including some in the Commonwealth.
Our people respect the rule of law. Not only do we conduct peaceful elections and have made remarkable progress in electoral reform, but we have deepened our democratic process. Our civil society and media are vibrant and dynamic. Our human rights lobby is particularly strong and people’s consciousness about their rights has grown appreciably.
In August we will take the opportunity to again showcase Jamaica to the world not only through our athletics but through our business and commercial promotions. But you represent our permanent exhibition. You are our ambassadors, our permanent representatives. When our athletes have folded their tents and our booths are down, you will still be here carrying our flag high and being that beacon of the Jamaican spirit. You are invaluable to us. We can’t overemphasize the critical role you play in promoting Jamaica.
I am reminded of that poem by Robert service titled “Carry On!” I leave you with just a few lines:
“Carry on! Carry On!
Fight the good fight and be true
Believe in your mission; greet life with a cheer
There’s big work to do, and that’s why you are here”.
Carry on, fellow Jamaicans, carry on!
Let’s together celebrate our 50th and carry on!
Thank you and may God bless all Jamaicans at home and abroad.