Edward Seaga and the Challenges of Modern Jamaica by Patrick Bryan University of the West Indies Press, November 2009. 376 pages
The UWI Press recently brought out Professor Patrick Bryan’s latest opus Edward Seaga and the Challenges of Modern Jamaica, published by the UWI Press in 2009. The title, however, may mislead the reading public; it is a book about Jamaica’s recent history during the half-century since Independence in 1962. Seaga very worthily stands as a central and dominating figure in the colourful years, offering Professor Bryan a backdrop to his (economic?) history of the nation. But, in fact, during the years of the People’s National Party Government, led by Michael Manly receives the author’s equal attention.
The author obviously intended the book to serve as a vademecum for his readers in all corners of the world. And so it is. Jamaican or not, the searcher seeking a one-stop historical analysis of a young nation in its first 50 years of political life must find Bryan’s book a fully satisfying, accurate, detailed, serious, sometimes sad and sometimes happy but always professional account of the times.
It makes, unfortunately, for heavy reading. The style is clear and obvious; but the tale is told in ponderous way. The student or general reader will find himself, sometime in the middle of chapters, weary of the narrative, which involves detailed economic reports and summary paragraphs. Courage is the name of the read.
Critics will notice the “double vision” displayed by Bryan in his effort to describe the economic facts and figures parallel to his task as a political historian, e.g. “…Employment in the cut flowers and foliage sector moved from 305 persons in 1981 to 2200 in 1985, while export earnings increased from US$1.4 million in 1982 to US$1.6 million in 1984.” Heavily statistical paragraphs dot the manuscript, sometimes pushing out the basic story. The author seemingly composed his text with the Social and Economic Survey at one elbow and the Survey of Living Conditions at the other.
However, following the pioneer writers and historians Cargill, D’Costa, Figueroa, Nettleford, Augier, Stewart, McIntyre, Beckford, et all, Professor Bryan has parenthesized all of them giving a grateful Jamaican and outside public a final manual embracing the story of Jamaica’s efforts at survivable Independence.
Bryan begins with the struggle over West Indies Federation and its demise, the resulting inevitable successes of the Bustamante government the decision to remain a Westminster and Colonial type of government, the origins of the two most prominent political parties (there were numerous smaller parties during the half-century!), the leadership role of Seaga in the cultural life of the peoples, the Manley ( that is, the non-Seaga) years, the victory of the JLP in 1980 including the highest thus-far level of violence, structural adjustment, the invasion of Grenada, the slippage in the general economic situation leading to the victory of the PNP in 1989, and the inglorious seat in the Opposition benches held by Seaga and his party until recovery and victory in 2007.