To be or not to be a nation
The Queen and Jamaica’s journey to maturity – Part I, published on Feb 18, 2012
By Dr. Richard A. Byron-Cox
I approach this subject with great reluctance and only out of a deep sense of duty, for such matters as a change of the head of state in any country are by their very nature political, and any statement or action with a tincture of politics could be reason enough for one to be sent to the hangman’s gallows, bearing in mind the bellicose nature of our Caribbean politics.
But be that as it may, being a Caribbean citizen I feel I have a duty to say my piece on the declaration by the newly-elected prime minister of Jamaica, Mrs. Portia Simpson Miller, on the need to remove the Queen as head of state of her nation. I feel this obligation for many reasons, including the fact that this could well signal the beginning of a new phase in the evolution of our Caribbean civilisation.
Jamaica became a sovereign state almost two score and ten years ago. At that time this was little more than a grand fanfare over the granting by the “mother country” of flag independence, as the late Maurice Bishop of Grenada would say. It could be no different really, taking into account the circumstances prevailing at the time. It was anybody’s guess whether such a tiny nation would fold under the weight of the new challenges or, demonstrate that it could indeed survive on its own.
After all, there were no guarantees and larger nations have failed. Further, it was national hero Daddy Manley who made the point “that the mission of my generation was to win self-government for Jamaica. To win political power … And ….the mission of this generation… is reconstructing the social and economic society and life of Jamaica”. He knew what the challenge was and still is.
We must all be happy to see that, although many difficulties and challenges remain, Jamaica has over this period seen fundamental positive changes, and has been able to heal many of the wounds and cure some of the diseases of colonialism. This is clear from the existing evidence, in that it is an undisputed fact that this tiny Caribbean state has made its statement to the international community in no uncertain terms with self-evident and universally known achievements, which I, therefore, have no need to list.
Despite these successes, however, there are still many infirmities that need to be addressed. And, in some cases where the wound is basically cured, ugly, unnecessary and psychologically damaging scars still abound. This is evident for example in the fact that the dangerous political divisions still hit telling blows to the body politic of the country and there are many who still believe that skin complexion has some intrinsic value, so the lighter the hue the more valuable the man. These are all mentally imprisoning remnants of a past where colonialism, slavery, and racism determined the status quo in the Jamaica of that time.
No disrespect whatsoever is meant to Her Majesty, but the office of head of state as determined by the present Jamaican constitution is also one such scar.
Chapter IV, Article 27.of the constitution of Jamaica states: “There shall be a Governor-General of Jamaica who shall be appointed by Her Majesty and shall hold office during Her Majesty’s pleasure and who shall be Her Majesty’s representative in Jamaica.”
Chapter VI Article 68.1 goes further with the declaration: “The executive authority of Jamaica is vested in Her Majesty,” while 68.2 stipulates: “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the executive authority of Jamaica may be exercised on behalf of Her Majesty by the Governor-General either directly or through officers subordinate to him.”
On top of all this, in the First Schedule to the constitution, there are oaths to be taken by both the governor general and prime minister swearing allegiance not to Jamaica, but to Her Majesty.
Now every Jamaican with a prima facie understanding of governance of this country knows that the prime minister calls the shots and that the governor general is by and large a mere ceremonial decoration. He or she reads a so-called throne speech prepared by the government of the day and is otherwise used as a presence of importance to add style and status at the relevant state functions and appropriate events in support of a charity. The office of the governor general in its present state is in essence therefore little more than a ceremonial relic of British colonialism.
I hasten to add that it does not represent the iron shackles of colonialism or the Mephistophelian power that not even the blood of national heroes Sam Sharpe and Paul Bogle could prevail against. It is merely the last ruins testifying that Jamaica was once the prerogative of others to decide. All that is needed now is the political will of the Jamaican people to put an end to this impropriety as regards the country’s status as a truly independent nation.
But if this office of head of state has no real power, it is then generally speaking incapable of harm. And that being the case, then why worry about it? Why this need to remove it? More than that, Jamaica has good relations with England. Wouldn’t the removal of the Queen affect these negatively? Further, many countries around the world including Canada and Australia, countries of the “first world” have the Queen as their Head of State. Can it be that bad if she is Jamaica’s as well? And finally, the nation has lived with this state of affairs for five decades of independence; many other countries have done so much longer without coming to any harm.
So why this need to change something which in one way or the other has been part of Jamaica’s history since 1655 and without which there could be no understanding of this Jamaica as we know today proudly proclaiming “Out of many one people”?
Richard A. Byron-Cox is an international law specialist, international civil servant and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org