Monday, April 18, 2005

Rastafari Never Fail I Yet

published: Sunday | April 17, 2005
Cedric Wilson, Guest Columnist

THE BALLOTS have been counted, the votes tallied and the results yield no surprise. Bruce Golding, leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), has emerged miles ahead of his three rivals in the West Kingston by-election.

Such is the reality of garrison politics in Jamaica. It is easier to have a hurricane in January or for it to snow in Montego Bay than for voters in a garrison to elect a representative from a different party.

Yet, for all the certainty of the outcome at last Thursday's poll, if we consider Ras Astor Black, the man who got eight votes against Mr. Golding's 8,000, it is evident that the by-election was not entirely about garrison politics.

It's not the first time Ras Black of the Jamaica Alliance Movement has offered to serve as a member of Parliament. In March 2001 in the Northeast St. Ann by-election, he was there as a candidate ­ Shahine Robinson of the JLP won. He also ran in the October 2002 General Election for the Northwest St. James parliamentary seat in which Dr. Horace Chang of the JLP emerged victorious.

Historically, third parties have failed to impact Jamaican politics, yet Ras Black entered the race. Never mind the fact that he lacked the resources to mount a serious campaign - and don't introduce the impossibility of a garrison constituency to an outsider - what is striking about Ras Black is his remarkable tenacity and his indomitable belief that the life of the ordinary Jamaican nan be far better.


Ras Black draws inspiration from his faith in Rastafari. Four years ago, during the run up to the Northeast St. Ann by-election, RJR talk show host, Barbara Gloudon interviewed him. She asked him why he was so confident of victory in the election. His laconic response was 'Rastafari never fail I yet'.

More than anything, Rastafari genius lies in its symbolism. Indeed, its contribution to the forging of a Jamaican consciousness is derived from the fact that it recreated the dominant images of Christianity in the likeness of the black man and therefore it substituted the Emperor Halie Selassie for a blond, blue-eyed Jesus. It hailed Marcus Garvey, a man despised by many middle and upper-class Jamaicans before the 1960s, as a prophet. It tapped into the indigenous rhythms of the people and used reggae as a vehicle to bring to the foreground the lamentations and the hopes of the oppressed and the dispossessed. Indeed, Bob Marley, perhaps the most well-known apostle of the faith, is embraced internationally through his songs because the struggle of Rastafari is universal. And like the seventeenth century French philosopher Rene Descartes, who reaffirmed his existence when he declared 'Cognito, ergosum: I think, therefore I am', Rastafari proclaims the pride in the black identity in the assertion of 'I and I'. In stating 'I and I', the rastaman blurs the definition between the first person and the third person; he discards the distinction between 'me and you' because there is the implicit knowledge that one man's existence cannot be separated from that of the other man. It is in this respect Rastafari, through the manipulation of symbols and use of language, brought the social issues of the people at the base of the society from the background to the foreground and created the mood, the rethinking of the socio-economic model of the 1960s and 70s.

The question is: What are the policies Ras Black and the Jamaica Alliance Movement propose? At the launch of the movement October 2001, Ras Black proclaimed a message of love stated that the goal is to downsize the parliament to 14 members; cease the repayment of debt for 20 years in order to rebuild the country's infrastructure; remove all taxes from imports; abolish income taxes and increase the general consumption tax to 17 per cent.


Certainly, the budget should be smaller with fewer parliamentarians, but the policy prescription is at best impractical. The implications are grave when the implications for balancing the budget, addressing a massive balance of payment imbalance and the reaction of the international community a default by Jamaica in payments of its debt.

And yet, we cannot deny that behind Ras Black and his movement is a hope that most Jamaicans cherish - the elimination of the paralysing violence and a desire for economic prosperity.

When Ras Black journeyed from his home in Trelawny to run as a candidate in West Kingston, the very birth place of the Rastafari faith, it was a symbolic trip. And in doing what many would never dare to even contemplate, he epitomises the soul of Jamaica.

There was no way he could ever win and yet he believes that there is the possibility for change. Maybe when he says victory is sure because "Rastafari never fail I yet" he really means for any people 'hope will never fail'.

Cedric Wilson is an economics consultant who specialises in market regulation. Send your comments to
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