When I came back to live in Jamaica in 1989 after being away at school for over a decade I used to wonder how a land so God blessed with natural resources could be so poor. Having lived and done business here for twenty six years I now wonder how a country so lackadaisical and careless has not sunk under the sea.
Now Jamaicans as individuals are for the most part bright and articulate. Yet too often they seem incapable of carrying out even the simplest task efficiently or of taking pride in their work.
And not for nothing is Jamaica world famous as the “land of soon come”. As the old joke goes “In Jamaica right away means in a while. In a while means tomorrow. Tomorrow means never.” The only events that regularly start on time here are national cricket matches. As for business appointments, I have learnt to be grateful when the person I am expecting shows up at all.
Sometimes not even naked self-interest seems to motivate Jamaicans. A few years ago I decided to run a television ad for my business. So I called up four production companies and asked them for a quote. To this day not one of them has gotten back to me.
But then one of the toughest parts of doing business in this country is trying to give people your business. Getting a plumber, carpenter or electrician to actually show up is a minor triumph. And more often than not those you are trying to buy goods from or hire for a job act as if they are doing you a favour. Then in the next breath they moan how bad business is.
A prime indication of our intellectual slackness is that simpleminded, knee jerk refrain of Jamaican radio talk shows and rum bars – “the politicians mash up the country”. For how can politicians who are freely chosen by the people from the people be anything but a reflection of the people? Honest, hard working and efficient nations do not elect greedy, corrupt and incompetent officials. No, politics is more a symptom than cause of Jamaica’s ills.
One thing is certain – if it wasn’t for the relative efficiency of its women, this country would long ago have descended into complete chaos. Experience has taught me to actively seek out a woman to deal with when doing business. When a Jamaican woman says she will do something, 80% of the time she will. With Jamaican men you are lucky to get a 20% response.
What makes it so difficult for Jamaican men to concentrate on and properly carry out even important matters? Because, says a cynical friend, “them have too much young gal”.
He may be right. For 85% of Jamaican children are born out of wedlock. And while Jamaican single mothers generally do a good job of raising their children, most can only afford to send them as far as high school. Which means that many young girls cannot afford college fees or even pay the rent without the help of a rich older man.
Actually the “boops and boopsie” syndrome partially explains why our tertiary institutions are so overwhelmingly female. For male high school leavers find it much more difficult to get financial aid and usually have to fall back entirely on their own resources. Which is why for every young girl boopsie there is probably a teenage gunman.
The politically correct say Jamaica’s uniquely high out of wedlock birth rate is a symptom of a lack of education. But this cannot be the full story. For Jamaica was less educated in 1950 than it was in 2000. But instead of going down the out of wedlock birthrate increased in that time from an estimated 70% to over 85%.
A female social worker I know angrily attributes our family structure – or lack thereof – to our leaders’ contentment with the status quo. “Of course the politicians and businessmen want to keep things as they are! Why should they want to change the situation when there are hordes of young girls out there who need “minding” and a “big man” can have as many “crissers” as he can afford? If our government really wanted to do something about the problem it would make sure the statutory rape laws and child support laws were enforced without mercy. But if they did that most of our parliamentarians would probably be in jail. How many of our male MP’s do you think don’t have outside babies?”.
Which brings to mind the old Jamaican political adage that in order to win an election you have to have a baby in every district so all the relatives will vote for you. Not that women are blameless in all of this. A politician friend says he is often aggressively pursued by women in his constituency who if turned down laugh at him for being “soft” or curse him off as a “sodomite”. A reporter tells me that at political rallies he often hears women pointing to candidates on stage and boasting to friends that “me tek dat!”
Of course no sensible man would ever try to fathom the mind of Jamaican females, for there are no more complex beings on the planet. But as one once remarked to me “Well you know us Jamaican women – we would rather have ten percent of a 100 percent man than 100 percent of a ten percent man.”
And men keeping more than one woman is no doubt the prime source of corruption in this country. For since most salaried men have to turn over their paycheck to the “wifey” or “right out”, the only way they can afford the “maties” on the side is to get money on the side. According to my friend the cynic, if a man knows there are women available he is going to find a way to afford one. And no country on earth has more available young women than Jamaica.
This is why, he continues, Jamaica is so badly governed and its businesses so badly run. For most men in authority spend most of their quality brain power scheduling their women. Only after having exhausted themselves mentally deciding when they will do what to whom do they attend to affairs of state and business. In other words, most matters of national importance are settled by intellectually (and often physically) drained men.
A far fetched theory? Maybe. But how else can we explain the endless stream of inexplicably bad decisions we keep seeing in both the private and public sector?
It would certainly have made sense to Alexandre Dumas the elder. “Whenever there is a crime” says his detective Fouche in The Mohicans of Paris “my motto is always ‘cherchez la femme’ – let us look for the woman“. And is not the way Jamaica has been mismanaged since 1972 a crime?
By Kevin O’Brien Chang