Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton recently concluded their tour of the Caribbean to celebrate the Queen’s platinum jubilee. Commentators contend that the trip was orchestrated to highlight the relevance of the monarchy in a region where the demand for republican status is escalating. Though the visit was slated to be a cordial event, William and Kate were greeted with hostility by Jamaican politicians and protesters who denounced Britain’s involvement in the slave trade and colonialism.
To show solidarity with Jamaican activists, international outlets ran stories describing the tour as misguided and tone-deaf, but few appreciate that Jamaican officials were putting on a charade to obscure years of mismanagement. Like Jamaica, Singapore and Botswana also became independent in the 1960s, but unlike Jamaica, both countries are success stories. Years of political ineptitude transformed Jamaica into an economic basket case. Stories in the local media are replete with cases of corruption, and the problem is so pervasive that corruption and related crimes account for around 5% of GDP.
Moreover, on the other side of the spectrum efficiencies in government are exposing billions of taxpayers’ money to misuse. To make matters worse, in contrast to the rest of the Caribbean, Jamaicans are victims of garrison politics. Jamaican politicians bastardized the political system by creating tribal enclaves that would provide permanent support to political parties. The explosion of this system has ignited a wave of crime, violence, and intimidation.
The harsh reality of garrison politics is well enmeshed in the Jamaican psyche and has been documented by several studies observing links between this style of politics and crime. This relationship is so established that criminologist Anthony Clayton could discuss the filthy partnership without eliciting national controversy:
Unfortunately and sadly, it’s the case that some of our most serious criminal organizations are still well connected into the political process. You have this rather strange spectacle of low-level criminals, bag carriers, being arrested, and some of the most high-priced attorneys in the country turn up to defend them . . . The person who is being arrested never heard of that attorney in their life. Somebody is making that connection for them.
The hypocrisy on display during the royal visit was quite jarring. Politicians and intellectuals implored William and Kate to apologize for slavery without realizing that Jamaicans are yet to receive compensation for the debilitating effects of garrison politics or inept management. For instance, a group called the Advocates Network penned a scathing letter demanding that the British apologize for past atrocities. The group wrote:
We are of the view that an apology for British crimes against, humanity including but not limited to, the exploitation of the indigenous people of Jamaica, the transatlantic trafficking of Africans, the enslavement of Africans, indentureship and colonization, is necessary to begin a process of healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, and compensation.
Serious students of history can see that this screed is just empty grandstanding. Slavery is an ancient institution in Africa, and it actually withered under British rule. In 1845, for example, King Akitoye of Lagos was compelled by the British to abolish the slave trade, but due to dissenting voices, he was ousted. As a result of smart political alliances, however, his authority was restored, and this culminated in the 1852 treaty between England and Lagos abolishing the slave trade.
The British were so strident in their opposition to trafficking humans that they devoted energy to eliminating the international slave trade on a global scale, as Tom Lansford explains in the Encyclopedia of Emancipation and Abolition in the Transatlantic World:
After abolishing the slave trade within the British Empire in 1807, the British government led an attempt to end the international slave trade, but in order to stop the ships of other countries, the British had to arrange treaties with those nations . . . In addition, through a treaty provision known as the “equipment clause,” British ships could also stop and impound ships that were outfitted as slaving vessels.
Interestingly, the note mentions colonialism, but the literature is lucid in showing that colonialism was never unique to Europeans. Indeed, Africans subjugated each other, with the empires of Asante and Benin being classic examples of African imperialism. Furthermore, on average British colonies are actually better off. And as I explained in a recent article, the problem is not the legacy of British colonialism, but that Jamaica veered off track during the Manley years. During that period, the economy contracted by 25% and Manley’s anti-capitalist rhetoric forced elites to flee the country with resources and human capital.
Another troubling issue is that throughout the visit, activists remained incognizant of the reality that without colonialism, Jamaica would not exist. Jamaica was colonized by the Spanish and then the British. The Tainos who settled in Jamaica prior to colonialism were not on par with the Aztecs, Mayans, Incas, Olmecs, or other civilizations in the Americas, and therefore because of colonialism, Jamaica is relatively richer. Of note is that Jamaican slaves were overwhelmingly taken from West Africa, and this region, like Africa, more broadly lagged behind Europe before the transatlantic slave trade.
Despite the brutality of slavery in Jamaica, the reality is that Jamaicans enjoy higher living standards than Africans because their ancestors were exported as slaves. Although Africans also benefitted from exposure to European technology, they are grappling with an environment that is less conducive to economic growth. Obviously, activists are living in a fantasy world. Nothing should repulse us more than the tacky and lowbrow behavior of Jamaican officials, however.
Instead of making their guests feel comfortable, Jamaican officials sought to elevate the discomfort by raising controversial issues like reparations and acquiring republican status. Jamaica is suffering from a chronic implementation deficit and has been talking about becoming a republic for years, so if the political establishment had the political will, this would have been done decades ago. These issues should only be pursued through diplomatic and ministerial channels. Additionally, based on online responses I have seen, people really don’t care about Jamaica’s transition to republican status. After attaining independence nearly 60 years ago, Jamaica is still a basket case, and it is highly unlikely that becoming a republic will change anything.
It was nevertheless quite surprising for people who want to extricate themselves from the monarchy that Jamaicans weren’t also lobbying for the European Union and Britain to cease their aid allocations to Jamaica. It would have been better if William and Kate had cancelled the tour, because it only showed Jamaicans to be an unserious and emotionally-impaired bunch of people who can’t manage themselves.
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