Jamaica’s Michael Manley and his democratic socialism and solidarity with Black Africa

Winston Donald September 27, 2020
Jamaica's Michael Manley was not prepared to be satisfied with social justice for Jamaica but for the entire black world. Photo: Michael Manley Foundation

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’s victory was a result of him being favored 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 served its populace. Within a month, he instituted Free Education. The Common Entrance Examination created by his father in the late 1950s became more inclusive as what was called “The Half Scholarship” was dropped and the number of high school spaces saw a massive increase in 1972.

All Jamaican 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 were removed and funds as grants became available for boarding on campus. The effect was a new generation armed with First degrees to use for the development of the nation.

By 1974, Manley became more radical. His governing political party declared (after attending a Non-Aligned Meeting in Algeria) 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 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 chairmen for the major private and public boards. 

The first radical move was to get Parliament to remove  the “Bastard Act.”  This was an evil British law in which any Jamaican born out of wedlock could not access several services provided by the government. For example, a bastard would be disenfranchised from inheriting property belonging to their 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 the government having significant shares. These acted 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 a substantial levy on the bauxite companies. The levy produced the inflow of foreign exchange so critically needed for his ambitious educational and other social programs. 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 of 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 under-housed Kingston population. It also established houses for the rural working class.

Manley’s  Solidarity With Africa

Prior to winning the 1972 general election in Jamaica, Manley traveled to Ethiopia, the beacon of black pride and icon of non colonization. Ethiopia is sentimental and also has a 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 election campaign as his authority from an African monarch to clean up the social and economic ills permeating the island nation.

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 used membership in the Non-Aligned Movement to foster a relationship with  Black Africa.

By 1975, Tanzania’s Prime Minister was visiting Jamaica. Embassies were set up in Africa, particularly in West Africa. A Pan Africanist, he was much concerned with the conditions of black people at home as much as abroad. He could not watch or hear about the oppression and suppression of the aspirations of countries in Africa for Independence. Notable to mention was 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 relationships with them.

In the 1970s, the African colonies were fighting for their Independence. Portugal, a poor Western European country would not let go of 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, clamoring for Independence of these colonies and for support of the resistance and armed movements. In a speech to the nation in 1974, Manley went as far as to promise to send Jamaicans troops and individuals 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-Bissau, Cape Verde, Angola, Mozambique and Rhodesia became independent.

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 relationships 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.

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 activists to be cognizant of the plight of their black brothers irrespective of countries or nationalities.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: September 27, 2020


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