Jamaica is an enigma. On the one hand, as a small island state in the Caribbean Sea, it is the one hundred and sixty eighth smallest state in a world in which scale matters, yet it has global recognition on par with the leading dominant states in the world. When it comes to global recognition, countries, like corporations, are recognized by their logo or branding.
The United States for example is branded by the stripes and stars, the Statue of Liberty, its military power, and its cultural and human capital. Great Britain is recognized for its imperial past and the monarchy; France for the romanticism of Paris and its cuisines. Italy is recognized for its architecture, its landscape and the Vatican, and Japan for its remarkable rebuilding after its devastation in the Second World War.
Among Caribbean island states, Jamaica is equal in global recognition as the aforementioned countries. Like its Caribbean counterparts, Jamaica boasts pristine white sand beaches, luxurious tourist resorts and frequent visits from royalty, the rich and the famous. One distinction, however, is that Jamaica is the only developing country ranked in the top ten countries visited by Americans in 2007 ahead of China and Spain, according to a Pew survey on global travel.
Jamaica’s global recognition is a result of the island’s ingenuity, a Janus quality that brings both positive and negative recognition. On the positive side of the recognition ledger, Jamaican reggae music and the legend behind Bob Marley’s music have given Jamaica a global brand the equivalent of Nike and Coke. Reggae, like jazz, is seen as an original musical art form.
Then there is Jamaican marijuana/ganga weed, the putative choice of worldwide marijuana smokers. When Jamaica comes up in conversations globally, invariably reggae music and marijuana will be invoked as part of the discourse.
Then there is the athletic prowess that has added to the island’s global recognition. Jamaican athletes in world sprinting are Olympian in stature, owning the two most prestigious world records in sprinting, the one hundred and two hundred meters.
There is also the global recognition that comes with negative branding; mention Jamaica in conversation anywhere in the world and the discourse will invoke the notorious posse gangs, gun violence, corrupt politicians, drugs and sexual indiscretion, etc.
Negative branding of course adds to Jamaica’s global recognition, while tarnishing the shine garnered by its positives.
Taken together, Jamaica has benefitted from its global recognition in inestimable ways. The most obvious being the direct tourist dollars.
Similar to the corporate world global branding and recognition, what are referred to as good will, constitutes a part of a corporation book/market value. Just what is the dollar value contribution of Jamaica’s good will is not exactly known, but what is certain is that it is a significant part of the GDP.
Jamaica’s enviable world status is the result of collective self-restructuring; an inside-out job that differs significantly from the type of restructuring that is associated with the state or external agents such as the IMF.
The latter is associated with a top down elitist architecture of progress, absent of an organic relationship to the place or subjects in whose name the restructuring is carried out.
The former embodies the birth of reggae music, which emerged out of the ghettos of Kingston, not from a formal music academy in which the esoteric quaver and demisemiquaver and vocal training were regimentally taught. Reggae music is the poetry and the anthem of the oppressed, the marginalized and the dispossessed.
Previously Published in KOTCH MAGAZINE