President Obama: The president of the United States’ visit to Jamaica

Jamaica had just had a visit from the first black president of the USA. There is an interesting parallel in the visit of the first black African leader and reigning African monarch to our shores on April 21, 1966.

The arrivals at Palisadoes, however, were in sharp contrast to each other in terms of crowds, colour, emotional outpouring, and sheer spectacle. His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I arrived to a highly emotional and public welcome. Thousands of Rastafarians travelled from all over Jamaica to see and meet their leader.

Hartley Neita, who was press secretary to Prime Minister Sir Alexander Bustamante and Acting Prime Minister Donald Sangster, described the scene in his biography of Sangster: “The people wore African robes and turbans in a kaleidoscope of colours. They brought thousands of Ethiopian flags and buntings, palm leaves, firecrackers, thunder balls, drums, and the abeng. With them too were the Afro-Jamaican Societies in Jamaica.

“The crowds captured the airport’s waving gallery and all night before the arrival could be heard the blowing of the abeng and the chanting of songs such as The Lion of Judah Shall Break Every Chain. And the ganja smell permeated the atmosphere right back to Harbour View and across Kingston Harbour to the cement factory.”

This was four years into Independence, and Jamaica had been handling visits by individuals of international prominence with ease and aplomb that year. First was

Dr Martin Luther King Jr, later in the year the first Canadian prime minister in office to visit Jamaica, Lester Pearson. Then, in March 1966 Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip came for a four-day visit. Later in the year Prince Phillip, accompanied by Prince Charles and Princess Anne, officially opened the British Empire and Commonwealth Games on August 3, and two weeks later the Commonwealth Paraplegic Games. It was a busy year for hosting leaders, as in November, president Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, a friend of Sangster’s from previous Commonwealth heads of government conferences, paid an official visit. The year ended with a vacation visit by Prince Rainier and Princess Grace (the former Hollywood star Grace Kelly) of Monaco.

But Selassie’s visit was another story. As the Ethiopian Airlines plane landed, the crowds roared and rushed from the terminal building, tossing security aside, and raced across the tarmac to the plane. Shouts of “black man time now”, “Hail the man I”, rent the air. Banners waved with slogans such as “Human rights now”, “Behold the lamb of God”, and “Lay not Thy hand on the Lord’s anointed”.

The police were surrounded. Authority was overwhelmed. Only the military were able to keep some semblance of order. As a result, the pre-arranged greeting ceremony went through the window. Dignitaries were not presented. The red carpet was ignored. Anthems were not played. The Emperor was hurried to the governor general’s car and made his entry into the city, creating what was the biggest ever traffic snarl in Kingston.

His remaining two days were more ordered, as the visit had been engineered by Sangster and Foreign Affairs Minister Hugh Shearer, and both men worked with pan- Africanists like Mortimer Planno, Z Munroe Scarlett, Cecil Gordon, Ras Sam Brown, and Byron Moore to cool down the climate. Selassie addressed both Houses of Parliament, was given a civic reception at the National Stadium, was conferred with the degree of doctor of laws by the UWI, toured Kingston, and laid the cornerstone for the Haile Selassie Junior Secondary School in Delacree Pen.

He left Kingston for Montego Bay and the airport by train on a journey that took him through scenes of enthusiastic welcome at each crowded railway stop. As a young teenager I joined the thousands who went to see the royal train at Denbigh and have memories of seeing a diminutive, khaki-clad figure sitting quietly between Sangster and Sir Clifford Campbell before he came out to greet the cheering crowds.

Selassie’s visit was of great significance, particularly where the Rastafarian movement was concerned. Neita opined in his book that, for the Rastas, having been ostracised and denounced for years by the Jamaican society, the pomp and ceremony of the emperor’s visit under the aegis of the Jamaican Government and the society’s elites, served to thrust them into a temporary respectability. In fact, so overwhelming was the response to the visit that independent Senator Wilton Hill presented a motion in the Senate one week later proposing that Haile Selassie be proclaimed sovereign of Jamaica, instead of Queen Elizabeth II. According to him, the welcome given by the public clearly showed “that there is far more support for Haile Selassie in Jamaica than our alien queen”. Any takers for a similar motion for President Barack Obama?


A case for building a Jamaican solar industry



The 700MW of solar energy would cost some US$1,400 million, give or take, or about 14 months of imported electricity fuel savings. Another 700MW of large-scale wind would be a little cheaper, but for this simple exercise let’s keep them the same cost. So, that means US$2,800 million, all told, for both, with no storage necessary.

Solar irradiation in Jamaica, even after accounting for cloudy periods, is slightly more than 12 hours per day on average availability; so that’s a 50 per cent power-capacity factor. Solar-PV equipment life now easily exceeds 30 years for tier-one panels (superior quality panels with long life). Using the 2014 prices and usage factors, and assuming loan financing at 10 per cent interest rate, this equates to below US$0.10 per kilowatt-hour to generate electricity. Add JPS transmission and other charges of US$0.15, for a total charge of US$0.25 per kWh max to the customer. On-site generation for larger users could therefore be well below US$0.15 cents, since there would be no transmission or delivery charges.

Wind turbines now run at near 50 per cent capacity factor for newly built turbines above two MW sizes — up to eight MW sizes which are now commonplace. Equipment life is normally 20 years. At the same 25 per cent realistic usage factor, and similarly financed, the cost of wind generation is similar to that of solar — an overall US$0.25 cents per kWh for this wind-and-solar combination.

Since 1,400MW total capacity of solar and wind newly installed turbines and only 350MW is needed on average, overall capacity factor is 25 per cent. That’s easily met since either wind or solar can supply up to 50 per cent capacity factor at always overlapping times.

A shocking outcome? We’ve solved our problem for the next 40 years and have put our country on a growth path to boot.

So Jamaica would save over US$1,200 million every year and still chop our electricity rates almost in half you ask?

Absolutely! And never suffer another scheduled power cut. And still have enough power left over to supply Alcoa (Jamalco), Alpart and Windalco at bargain rates. So there would be no need to ever close these plants again. We need the jobs (and the elusive company taxes). We can now attract more of these mega-plants with ultra-cheap excess power offerings, maybe at US$0.05 cents per kWh. The extra revenue from these new power sales will more than compensate for the lost JPS revenue from the increased incidence of small-scale solar self-generation at residences. We could save the US$1,200 million it is costing us each and every year for JPS to import fuel, and could use it to improve the lives of our citizens instead.