Michael Manley- Jamaica's Radical Prime Minister and Non-Aligned Nations Protagonist
Legacy of Democratic Socialism and Solidarity With Black Africa 

Winston Donald

© Copyright 2021 by Winston Donald

Photo of Michael Manley.
Last week Cabinet members for the new Jamaican Conservative government of Prime Minister Andrew Holness was rolled out. The new government will shape and promote polices that befits the economic and social objectives of a debt ridden island state for the next five years. It is the first time that a conservative government has upstaged the Social democratic party, the Peoples National Party, the party that was led by Democratic and Fabian Socialist firebrand Michael Manley who is now turning in his grave at the massive loss at the polls of the People’s National Party of the island nation of Jamaica and its failure to even secure one third of the seats of parliament.
The legacy of Manley has caused many historians, scholars in government and politics and political pundits to reflect on the past with nostalgia when the People’s National Party provided the platform for Manley , the Statesman and Internationalist especially in the space of Black African Solidarity to fight for equal justice, social causes, economic independence, freedom for those in colonial Africa and the fight against apartheid.

In 1972 , Michael Manley son of Jamaica’s Founding Father took his People’s National Party to a landslide victory over the conservative Jamaica Labour Party. It was the first time in Jamaica’s history that a party formerly a bastion of Brown-skinned and bourgeoisie Jamaicans had appealed to the masses with the message of “Better Must Come”. In fact Manley victory, was as a result of him being favoured by all classes of Jamaicans- rural, urban poor , the working class, the Middle Class and elements of the rich and propertied classes.

Shortly after winning the general elections Manley instituted radical changes to how the island treated and serviced its populace. Within a month he instituted Free Education. The Common Entrance Examination created by his father in the late 1950’s became more inclusive as what was called “The Half Scholarship” was dropped and the amount of high school spaces saw a massive increase in 1972. All Jamaicans students could now sit this Eleven Plus age examination , irrespective of their social and economic backgrounds. The fees that prohibited many working class Jamaicans from attending the regional university was removed and funds as grants became available for boarding on campus. The effect was a new generation armed with First degrees to use for development of the nation. Families were now witnessing the first persons from their generation to attend college.

By 1974 Manley became more radical . His governing political party declared ( after attending a Non Aligned Meeting in Algeria accompanied by Cuba’s strongman Fidel Castro ) that it was a Democratic Socialist Party. This declaration became a radical shift in politics and governance in the Caribbean and Latin America. The radical shift was to impact Jamaica, good or bad, nationally and internationally. Democratic Socialism became a curse to the privileged in the Jamaican Society. They wondered where Manley was going politically. It was a threat to the merchant and planter/propertied class as back then only 21 Caucasian and Middle Eastern families, mainly Jewish and Lebanese controlled the economy together with other minorities such as the Chinese Jamaicans. They held and wielded tremendous financial and social powers bordering on hegemony and they were at the helm as chairman for the major private and public boards.

The fist radical move was to get Parliament removed the “Bastard Act.” This was an evil British law in which any Jamaican born out of wedlock could not access several services provided by government. For example a bastard, would be disenfranchised from inheriting property belonging to his /her parents. A “bastard” if female, was prevented from attending Teacher’s College.. Manley followed up with women’s rights by 1975. Laws were passed that gave women equality and three month maternity leave. Banks were established with government having significant shares. These act as a buffer in opposition to those owned by Canadian and British private interests which repatriated the profits abroad. With his soft power more blacks began to ascend the corporate ladder in the finance industry.

In 1974, two years after his election victory, Manley sought to find additional income for the island’s coffer by imposing substantial levy on the bauxite companies. The levy produced the inflow of foreign exchange so critically needed for his ambitious educational and other social programmes. The levy came on the heel of his declaration of the US Ambassador as Persona Non Grata. The American bauxite companies had for over two decades exploited the island’s mineral resources paying little in corporate taxes and acquiring vast acreage of citizens lands at low prices. The bauxite companies took Manley to the World Court but that did not deter his government from extracting the levy to develop Jamaica. The National Youth Service was created also by 1974 to allow youths exiting high school to give back two years voluntary service to the country and to receive a stipend in the economically tough times.

Manley sought to intensify agriculture to reduce Jamaica’s dependency on imported North American produce, banning several temperate region fruits and produce. He established the Pioneer Farms with cooperative ethos across the island. Government lands were leased to the peasantry under Project Land Lease to boost the production of agricultural crops especially protein producing crops. Where there was the inability or incapacity to produce, regional agreements benefitting Jamaica were signed to import cheaper goods such as milk and grains from Cuba.

By 1976 Manley pushed to solve the housing crisis for black urban dwellers by the establishment of the National Housing Trust. The “Trust” provided thousands of housing solutions for the grossly underhoused Kingston population. It also established houses to the rural working class.

The housing solutions created a loyal base of working and lower classes who now in possession of real estate would thank Manley for taking them out of the slums and out of dilapidated housing stock or from paying rents to uncompromising landlords.

The impact of the years of Democratic Socialism was mixed. The social situation of the majority black Jamaicans lives took an upward swing. Thee were more educated citizens at the tertiary level especially doctors and scientific and business professionals. Communities once the bastion of a minority of elites were opened up to the black middle class. Positions in state agencies, banking, the Officer corp of the army , the national airline, once off limit to black Jamaicans were opened up to them to provide social mobility. Rural communities saw modernization as nearly all rural districts received electrification as a result of joint agreements between Jamaica and Canada. The bauxite industry was near nationalized with Jamaica retaining 51 % ownership. The state nationalized its utilities companies and the sugar industry. On the other hand, inflation bite into the Jamaican economy during the years of Socialism. There was a flight of the Upper Middle Class to Canada and the United States as they perceived the coming of Communism. The ethnic minorities especially white, Chinese and Lebanese Jamaicans felt threatened by Manley’s policies and the socialist rhethoric. They felt the “Out of Many One People” moto was hijacked by Manley. It would never be the same again. Black consciousness had reached its highest level and despite lack of tensions, the mases would be forever aware of white and ethnic minority privileges fed and nurtured by Britain colonialization. Pop Culture brought this out more than anything as the reggae song belted , “My Leader Born ya” translated in English to My leader is a native Jamaican , one of us black people. This sentiment was irrespective of his light skinned complexion. This accolade would never be given to other leader of the time, the Middle Easter Arab , then Opposition leader Edward Seaga.

Prior to winning the 1972 general election in Jamaica Michael Manley traveled to Ethiopia, the beacon of black pride and icon of non colonization. Ethiopia is sentimental to Jamaicans and the country also has religious affinity to many Jamaicans, in particular Rastafarians who worshipped Selassie as a divine person.. The Emperor who was cognizant of the social and religious situation in Jamaica gave Manley a rod , which Manley paraded throughout the 1972 General Election campaign as his authority from a divine African monarch to clean up the social and economic ills permeating the island nation.

Michael Manley was not prepared to be satisfied with social justice for Jamaica but for the entire black world. Africa and the continent meant much to him. Although light skinned he had a full black heart and soul. Manley capitalized on Jamaica’s membership in the Non Aligned Movement to foster relationship with Black Africa. By 1974 Chief Johnathan of Lesotho had visited Jamaica and by 1975 Tanzania’s Prime Minister had was welcomed in a state visit followed by the African Resistance Leader Samora Machel of Mozambique. Embassies and High Commissions were set all over Africa, particularly in West Africa. Manley ensured that there were Jamaican diplomatic presence in Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia and Kenya. A Pan Africanist he was much concerned with the conditions of black people at home as much as abroad. He could not watch or heard about the oppression and suppression of the aspirations of countries in Africa for Independence. Notable to mention were the oppression and racism being experienced by the South African people. Manley hated how the west and European colonial powers exploited Africa. Every opportunity he received in the International arena, he articulated non engagement with the evil and racist South African Apartheid government and the Portuguese Colonialists in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea Bissau. He banned all sporting links and imported goods from South Africa and the racist regime of Ian Smith in Rhodesia. Manley used his charisma to appeal to the Western powers to desist from investing in South Africa and South West Africa and to stop all sporting relationship with them.

In the 1970’s the African colonies were fighting for their Independence. Portugal, a poor Western European country would not let go off her colonies. Resistance movements developed in Guinea – Bissau , Rhodesia, Mozambique, Angola, South West Africa and South Africa.. Manley was the voice and champion in the west clamouring for Independence of these colonies and for support of the resistance and armed movements. In a speech to the nation in 1974 Michael Manley went as far as promised to send Jamaicans troops and individual to help Mozambique fight the colonizers in their bush wars. That year he also pledged support to the Freedom fighters in Guinea Bissau, Rhodesia, Angola, South West Africa and South Africa. The verbal pressure exerted by Manley and his ability to influence other nations’ leaders led to complete Independence for the remaining colonial countries and between 1974 and 1980, Countries such as Guinea Bisau, Cape Verde, Angola, Mozambique and Rhodesia became independent. Manley in a book written state that Henry Kissinger was aggressive in his demand for Manley and Jamaica to desist from supporting the quest for Independence in colonial Africa. Manley did not acquiesced to Kissinger’s request and by the next two weeks the country witnessed the greatest political violence in its history. That visit by Kissinger and the aftermath left a lot of questions in the mouth of Jamaicans .

Though Manley has been dead since 1997, the impact of his support for and assistance to Africa and the demonstration of goodwill has resulted in the strongest bond ever between the African nations and Jamaica. The solidarity with the African countries resulted in full diplomatic relations and cultural and economic relationship being established to date. Today Jamaica and Africa have the warmest relations between any country in the African diaspora and the African continent below the Sub- Saharan desert. No wonder, Jamaica was the first country in the west visited by Nelson Mandela after his released from prison by the racist Apartheid rulers. Mandela at his state visit July 24, 1991 commended Manley and the people of Jamaica for being at the forefront of the fight against the evil apartheid government.

Jamaica has continued to provide support to Africa from a global institution perspective and there have been significant cultural exchanges, trading and economic benefits accruing to both Jamaica and the African nations. Manley has also inspired a generation of political activist to be  cognizant of the plight of their black brothers irrespective of countries or nationalities.                                                                                       

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