Sat | Feb 27, 2021

Opal Palmer Adisa | How principles of Kwanzaa can help us attain SDG 2030

Published:Thursday | January 14, 2021 | 12:13 AM
Opal Palmer Adisa
Opal Palmer Adisa

As we enter the year 2021, I am mindful that Jamaica has only nine years in which to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030, a blueprint to which we, and 194 other nations, signed on back in 2015, to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. These are not lofty goals, but basic rights and necessities that everyone should enjoy.

The COVID-19 virus created a pandemic in early 2020, profoundly altered lives and had serious implications on the timeline of those 17 goals, which are: no poverty; zero hunger; good health and well-being; quality education; gender equality; clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy; decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation, and infrastructure; reducing inequality; sustainable cities and communities; responsible consumption and production; climate action; life below water; life on land; peace, justice, and strong institutions, and build partnerships for the goals. The pandemic brought into focus the essentiality of these goals for many on the bottom of the economic ladder.

Generally, not much has been broadcast locally about the SDG 2030, nor does there appear to be a strategic plan to achieve them, but we must take steps towards achieving these goals. As 2020 came to a close, and, as I have done for the last 40 years, celebrated Kwanzaa, the celebration founded to give black people an opportunity to establish self-awareness and study our history, I reflected on its seven principles – Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujamaa, Ujima, Nia, Kuumba, and Imani – encapsulated as Nguzo Saba, and how they may help us to achieve our 2030 goals.


I would like to demonstrate how practising each of these seven principles can help us to achieve some of the SDG 2030 goals. The first, Umoja, which means unity, can serve as the base. In order to achieve SDG 2030, we must be unified and work together. It is essential that the Government regularly promotes the 2030 vision in order to get national buy-in and agreement on their achievement.

The second principle, Kujichagulia, is self-determination. We are now in our 59th year of Independence and we must be self-determined to feed, clothe and educate our children. In fact, self-determination is required to achieve the first four goals. This also requires discipline and commitment, two values which we tend to lack as a people. Development at any level requires cooperation, discipline and self-awareness.

Ujima, collective work and responsibility and Ujama, cooperative economics, require us to cooperate to achieve a common goal. We need to learn to build as one Jamaican community. The poor work, but they work alone; the rich work towards their own goals and the middle class is somewhere between. We need to ask ourselves how we can eliminate hunger and establish good health and well-being, but first, we may have to ask ourselves what these things mean to us. They could mean good parks and affordable healthcare. Food, clothing and shelter should not be privileges; they are basic human needs. As COVID-19 has shown us, many children in Jamaica don’t have access to quality education because they have neither Internet nor computers. Yet there is enough wealth here to make good, equal, quality education for all a reality.

One of the most serious impacts of the pandemic has been a rise in violence against women and children, which hinders our ability to achieve gender equality and create a wholesome future. Although Jamaica has the largest percentage of women in middle management, they often earn less than men, and while universities have a larger percentage of women pursuing degrees, data indicates that many men with less education earn more than women. Most single-headed households are headed by women who are singularly burdened with providing for children financially as well as emotionally. We need collective responsibility and sense of village to align these disparities.

The fifth day of Kwanzaa is Nia, purpose. We must ask what is our purpose, as a government, as a people, and as a society. If we believe that these are worthy goals needed to become a developed nation, our purpose has to be clear and agreed on by all or most. Kuumba is creativity. We are very creative, but do we use our creativity to ensure our own prosperity? Prosperity starts with producing our own food and reducing importation, building housing that is in accordance with the environment, harvesting rainwater, investing and doing more research into herbs and plant life. How can we use our creativity to bring about gender and economic justice and to end crime?

Power of Faith

The seventh and final principle is Imani – faith. In order to achieve anything, faith has to serve as the base as well as the roof. I have faith that Jamaicans are going to adhere to the health protocols and remain safe and keep our numbers low and provide care for those already ill as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. I have faith that the majority of us are decent human beings and want to create a society that works for all. I have faith that we understand the importance of implementing the SDG 2030, and that with a clearly articulated plan we will come together and make some of the essential goals, which are basic rights, happen.

I invite all Jamaicans to really consider the Nguzo Saba principles as a means of personal, family, community and societal progress. I want us to be able to say proudly, that hunger is eliminated, everyone has clean water and sanitation and good schools that provide top education for all our children regardless of where they live. Let us work together, my fellow Jamaicans, and make 2021 a year in which Jamaica soars to levels that benefit all our people.

Opal Palmer Adisa is the university director of The Institute of Gender & Development Studies Regional Coordinating Office at The University of the West Indies.