The Dudus events in Jamaica and the future of Caribbean politics.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. (1)
Dickens' famous quotation from A Tale of Two Cities, reflecting on the French Revolution, has been used almost to distraction to reference the fraught, contradictory atmosphere that accompanies social revolution or moments of extreme social instability and uncertainty. It is an appropriate descriptor for the sense of tentativeness, of interminably postponed birth and of anomie that is pervasive in contemporary Jamaica. I offer one caveat at the beginning. Though this note is entitled "The Dudus Events and the Future of Caribbean Politics", I am not here going to delve into the inner workings of Bajan, Trinidadian, Grenadian politics, or any other Caribbean sphere aside from that of Jamaica. This note is about Jamaica and the conjuncture is peculiar to her. Yet it would be foolish to conclude that these thoughts and ideas are not relevant to the future of the entire Caribbean region, particularly its Anglophone components.
Jamaica is important not only because it is the largest Anglophone territory and therefore a central target for regional trade and investment, but because culturally, it is the dominant player in the region. Jamaican culture as manifest through reggae, dancehall, language, attitude and style has come to occupy, sometimes to the chagrin of educators, commentators and politicians, an almost hegemonic position among the youth throughout the entire region. To the extent, therefore, that Jamaican culture is reflective of a deep, impacted social schism and crisis in that island, then that crisis and its popular manifestation has been generalised as the lingua franca of youth and the dispossessed from Cuba and the Bahamas due south to Suriname and points beyond. This Jamaican cultural hegemony is further cemented by the growth and consolidation of an increasingly integrated Caribbean Diaspora. In cities like Brooklyn, Toronto and Fort Lauderdale, as a generation before in London and Birmingham, West Indian or Caribbean integration is far advanced and while significant elements of other Caribbean cultures are very present, it would not, I think, be entirely unfair to say that the young, diasporic Caribbean population speaks with a Jamaican accent. Thus, an unresolved social crisis in Jamaica, spiralling out of control will have a profound and as yet uncalculated effect on the entire region, both at home and abroad.
The Dudus events
On Labour Day, 23 May 2010, the combined armed forces of Jamaica, all three battalions of the Jamaica Defence Force and the Jamaica Constabulary Force, in an unprecedented show of military strength, entered the dense, high-rise community of Tivoli Gardens, central to and traditionally the most loyal component of then Prime Minister Bruce Golding's West Kingston constituency. Breaching the heavily fortified community through a series of strategic holes blown out of concrete walls to the south, the military took the dozens of armed gunmen by surprise, engaging them in a series of sharp skirmishes which lasted the better part of two days. When peace was eventually restored, some 73 purported combatants, along with one soldier, were dead, hundreds of young men were detained and in a country used to the constant reportage of urban violence and police confrontations with gunmen, ordinary Jamaicans nevertheless paused in shock at the sheer scale of the violence and carnage. (2)
George Lamming, in his profoundly prescient novel Season of Adventure, (3) which covers the history of the imaginary island of San Cristobal from independence to the collapse of the first republic and the formation of the second, is a rich analogical source for the contemporary moment in Jamaica. The Tivoli invasion, I suggest, parallels in one respect, the collapse of Lamming's first republic, in that the socio-political arrangements that have provided a degree of cohesion since independence have collapsed. Here, however, the analogy ends, as the political structures--the formal state structures along with the two-party arrangement--remain intact. This is the peculiarly hybrid nature of the present moment: a system that is no longer vibrant and functional exists alongside a superstructure that remains in place; thus, the relevance of the other analogy that I have mentioned, of a dangerously postponed birth.
Five phases in Jamaican politics
In order to arrive safely at this conclusion, however, let us retrace a little history, familiar to any casual student of post-colonial Jamaican politics. The Jamaican two-party political system, while certainly not unique in the Commonwealth Caribbean, is among its most durable. (4)
It has provided for the recurrent if not regular transition from one party to the other over six decades. In a relatively poor and sharply hierarchical society, however, this has been accomplished through a particularly vicious system of machine or 'clientelist's politics, characterised by the winning party's distribution of scarce benefits in a biased manner to its supporters. From the very beginning, with survival being the ultimate stake for many, the system had the potential for sharp contestation and violence. This at first took the form of symbolic clashes between groups of supporters--often trade union based--but it would be an error of history to conclude that violence was not embedded in the system from its early days. (6)
The second phase in its evolution was the emergence of distinct urban enclaves in which support for one party was or became overwhelming and which was used ultimately as a means of securing political control over a particular constituency. While there are debates as to the origins of the violence, there is little contestation that the bulldozing of the Back o' Wall slum and the displacement (7) of its People's National Party (PNP) supporters, followed by the building of Tivoli Gardens with its almost complete support for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), signalled the beginning of 'garrison politics', (8) to use the term popularised by Carl Stone. Henceforth, Tivoli would be a political and military bastion under Edward Seaga's leadership. The PNP quickly moved to build its own garrison communities and with its wider popular and geographic support in urban Kingston, it would soon outstrip the JLP in the number of similarly designated communities. But none, it is generally accepted, ever approached Tivoli in terms of sheer organisation and paramilitary capability.
The third phase occurred in the 1970s. With the partial consolidation in and around Michael Manley's PNP of a movement to remove the final vestiges of colonialism and deeply entrenched inequality from Jamaican social and political life, the stakes were raised. Contestation was now no longer between two parties with reasonably similar programmes, operating largely within the narrow boundaries of parliamentary elections. Manley's project, while initially mild in its policies, enraged important sections among the traditional elites, who were determined from the early days of the regime to remove him from power. In a classic process of escalation, the PNP's platform evolved from relatively mild policies such as its proposal of a national youth service to become, in response to growing opposition and rising popular expectations, the rhetorically combative 'Democratic Socialism'. (9)
The JLP, for its part, moved to the right--both in its rhetoric and international associations, finding common cause in particular with conservative elements in the US Republican Party. And after 1973, the PNP grew closer to Fidel Castro, strengthened the country's already established links with the Non-Aligned Movement and built new contacts with what can loosely be described as the international anti-imperialist movement, including the establishment of economic and political ties with the Soviet Union. (10) Cold war hostilities further exacerbated the already deep wounds in the body politic as blood feuds--some accumulated over generations--morphed into ideological and philosophical divisions. The rise of Manley's government also provided a fecund space for the growth and proliferation of a rich and widely acknowledged popular cultural movement. Bob Marley was only the brightest star in a firmament that included Peter Tosh, Dennis Brown, Burning Spear, Bunny Wailer and the recently departed Gregory Isaacs. It is the cultural movement (11) that has proved far more enduring than the radicalised politics of the era. And yet, analysts of contemporary Jamaican politics have failed, until very recently, to give culture its true weight in the explicandum of the present impasse.
The defeat of Manley and the PNP following the IMF-induced structural adjustment policies and economic contraction of 1977-80 and the bloody election of 1980, (12) led to the fourth and penultimate phase of this process. The various political gangs that had amalgamated into the armed militias of the two parties in the war years 1975-1980 were now no longer required, as the battle had been resolved with decisive victory for the JLP, free enterprise and the West. Highly trained and combat-experienced veterans of the inner-city conflict on both sides of the political divide very quickly became freelancers. No longer at the behest of the parties, they sought to use their newly honed skills to advance their independent purposes and did so effectively through the formation of various Posse and Yardie (13) gangs that operated effectively throughout the United States and the United Kingdom. It is in this phase too that the traditional power relations of Jamaican politics were first put to the test. The success in drug dealing and other illicit activities led to a novel reversal of fortunes, in which the heads of the gangs returned to Jamaica flush with cash. This was occurring at the same moment that the Jamaican state, under various IMF structural adjustment programmes, was 'downsizing' and unable, therefore, to provide the scarce benefits and largesse that had been the currency of dominance and control in the earlier period. The result was that in this long interregnum that lasted from 1980 until 2010--some thirty years--the balance of power gradually shifted from the politicians--the traditional patrons of the clientelist system--to the Dons, their former henchmen, but now increasingly wealthy and autonomous associates. (14) The Dons still required the politicians to provide them with legitimate government contracts and political cover to conduct their activities; but more critically, the politicians could no longer survive without the Dons, not only for their military support at election time, but in the context of a parlous economy, for their cash. This is the period of the maturation of the Dons, the features of which Anthony Harriott has succinctly described, including, inter alia, the emergence of legitimate businesses; geographic monopolies as administered territories; the growth of criminal firms as monopolies; the successful creation of social support in their host communities; immunity from local law enforcement; and the reverse cooptation of elements in the political parties (i.e. the opposite of the cooptation of communities into the parties in the Sixties and Seventies, now the gangs co-opt politicians to serve them in the legal sphere). (15)
This description is undoubtedly the one which prevailed as the prelude to the Dudus events of 2010. After years of careful collection of evidence against the Don of the notorious Tivoli Gardens 'Shower Posse', Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, the US authorities, using its mutual extradition treaty with the Jamaican government, filed the appropriate papers for his extradition. (16) The process was revealing as it provided remarkable proof of the substance in Harriott's argument that, in essence, the balance of forces between the politician and the Don has shifted significantly, if not decisively, in favour of the latter. It took some nine months from the initial request, and the violent events in Tivoli Gardens, to bring about his eventual capture and actual extradition to the US to stand trial. The Jamaican government, from the very beginning, sought to delay the extradition, then claimed that the US evidence was illegally obtained, while simultaneously seeking to hire the reputable American lobbying firm Manatt, Phelps and Phillips to intervene in order to 'resolve' the situation. The inevitable questions would have to be: resolve what situation and in favour of whom? In recent years, numerous persons have been extradited to the United States under the extant treaty without the requirement of any government intervention to facilitate a resolution.
There are, of course, many more turns to that particular screw which cannot be elaborated here, except to suggest that the prevarication, generally obstructive tactics, obfuscation and lying of the Golding administration suggest more than anything else the depth of the impasse of credibility and legitimacy that is consolidating in Jamaica. The other side of the equation was, of course, the gathering strength of the Don. Coke used the long wait provided by the Government's manoeuvring to gather his forces, prepare them politically and turn Tivoli into what he thought was an impregnable fortress. Most stunningly, in May, two days after Golding recanted, admitted dissembling and signalled that he would sign the note for Coke's extradition, a large force of women dressed in white emerged from Tivoli Gardens in support of Dudus, bearing placards and chanting slogans proclaiming, inter alia, that he was 'next to God' and that they would die for him. (17)
A few days later, emboldened by this show of overwhelming support within the enclave and importantly, solidarity in the form of paramilitary support from surrounding communities, many of traditionally opposing political persuasion, the Tivoli machine seemed to go on the offensive, attacking and burning police stations and crucially, ambushing and killing three policemen in the volatile east Kingston community of Mountain View. The burning of the stations and the death of the police officers led to a pivotal moment, as many awoke to the imminent threat to the very existence of the state. This provided the political foundation for the unprecedented attack on Tivoli Gardens with its alarmingly high death toll.
Beyond hegemonic dissolution
The collapse of the Tivoli Gardens stronghold may signal the end of a long phase of maturation of the criminal system that developed out of the garrison politics of the Sixties and Seventies, or it may simply turn out to be a temporary setback. It is too early to arrive at a conclusive judgment, but the evidence is beginning to accumulate. Immediately after the Tivoli incursion and in the following months up until the present, (18) murder and major crime rates in Kingston and St Andrew and throughout the island have been remarkably lower. Numerous gang leaders and associates have been arrested and alongside those combatants who died in the violence of May or in subsequent encounters with the armed forces, real advances have been made against criminal gangs. Some minor initiatives have been taken, such as the decision by elements in the private sector to rebuild the economically vital Coronation Market in west Kingston that had been partially destroyed in the battle, along with new initiatives to construct housing for citizens in depressed urban communities and a host of interventions of larger or smaller size from non-governmental organisations. These and the more determined stance of the present police and military leadership to stamp out crime are all contributing to the momentary ebb in violence, but in the end they are at best temporary palliatives that fail to address the deeper, fundamental contradictions in Jamaican society. (19) Some fifteen years ago, in an analysis which I still think provides useful insights, I suggested that Jamaica was in a moment of hegemonic dissolution:
The economic crisis, the collapse of the political project, the growing psychological independence of the subordinate classes, and the shelving of social leadership by the middle classes are the conditions under which a moment of hegemonic dissolution has emerged. (20)
Using Gramscian categories, I understood hegemony to mean the effective control and direction of Jamaican society and concluded that
The social bloc in charge of Jamaican society is no longer ruling over a people convinced of its social superiority and its inherent right to 'run things'. (21)
I think that this analysis still has saliency in present-day Jamaica. (22) How else can we explain the performance of an economy with a vibrant, English-speaking population, more than reasonable outlay of resources for its admittedly small size and perfect placing in the centre of major trade routes from North to South America and Asia to the Americas that is unable to show any significant economic growth over the past three decades? How else can we explain the murder rate, even in its moment of decline, among the highest in the world? How else can we explain the flood of migrants --some 85% of the professional classes by some estimates--who have voted with their feet by seeking a better life elsewhere? (23) Some road block some arterial clogging, is stifling Jamaica. The country's problems, I submit, are not primarily to be located in wrong-headed economic policies, though if the truth be told, there have been many; nor is it to be explained in the absence of human initiative; nor, importantly is it to be primarily identified in the nature of the world capitalist system. If it were entirely the result of external factors, then how would we account for the contrary experiences of Barbados, or Mauritius, even further a field, Singapore, all with far less resources, both human and material, and therefore more peripheral by most definitions, yet all achieving remarkable indices of growth, human development as well as resilience to shocks over the past five decades? The answer, I submit, is to be located in a period of stasis, identified by the failure of any significant social force to put a stamp on the society and haul other elements into an alliance to move the country forward. This is what I refer to as hegemonic dissolution. Yet, it is also important in recognising the significance of a moment of impasse to also note that no social phenomenon or moment is ever motionless. This particular conjuncture is merely a passing crossroads in the onward flow of social traffic. We therefore need to focus on some of the movement, the changes that have accumulated over the past fifteen years and particularly in the most recent period.
On the positive side, coalescing before and since the events of May 2010, there are new and important initiatives that have been taken both through and around the government to address corruption. The Independent Commission of Investigations into Police Offences, or INDECOM, (24) is one that allows for a degree of public control and oversight. Another is the Office of the Contractor General (OCG), embodied in the crusading presence of Glen Christie, (25) who has brought to his position a previously unimaginable sense of fairness, fearlessness and integrity. Alongside Christie, a new cadre of apparently fearless officers has emerged in the public sector, (26) which seems to be dedicated to rooting out corruption. The PNP, in stealing a march on the ruling JLP, has appointed an Integrity Commission (27) of non-partisan individuals to vet its potential electoral candidates as fit and proper and has opened its accounts to the public. These initiatives have perhaps received less attention than they might in the general atmosphere in which the credibility of politicians and the policy initiatives of governments of whatever stripe are deeply discounted. (28)
But in other critical spheres of socio-political life, the results are, at best, dismal. In the new situation, which is admittedly in its very early phases, very little has been done to address the structural underpinnings of social inequality and concomitant hopelessness for the future that pervades the lives of most inner-city dwellers and the poor in general. Beyond the traditional road repair and building programmes which are deeply implicated in the old patronage system and the occasional soundings about new industrial zones close to Kingston and in Clarendon, there is no new and bold thinking coming from either the government or opposition as to how to dramatically create jobs, increase wealth and promote a virtuous cycle of prosperity. The present Government, punch-drunk in the admittedly pusillanimous environment of the world recession and caught up with the dreadful routine of trying to balance savaged budgets, seems to have lost focus, if it ever existed, of the bigger picture. But neither is a clear image of possibilities, despite occasional releases about a new, 'progressive agenda' (29) emerging with any urgency from the opposition PNP.
More critically, there is no sense of the important cultural and psychological dimensions of the present moment and the implications therein for the derailing of any process of national development, which can only occur if there is a prior attempt to forge a modicum of consensus and unity. Obika Gray, in a penetrating and important paper on culture and development in Jamaica, (30) written months after the Tivoli tragedy, has argued that post-colonial governments in Jamaica and the Caribbean have emphasized economic policy and political management to the detriment of any attempt to manage the sphere of moral culture and values. The result has been a grave mistake, because culture is at the heart of development as it is "... the ideological battleground for struggles concerning both the distribution of goods and the allocation of values". (31) The failure to engage effectively with the sphere of culture and values has led, Gray argues, to the proliferation of a subaltern culture of conflicting values, some of which are undoubtedly positive while others are profoundly negative from the perspective of generating a new project of national cohesion that might engender positive paths of human development in Jamaica and across the region.
The crisis of popular culture
I want to develop Gray's important insights through two interventions in the Jamaican media. The first is from Gleaner columnist and well-known Baptist Minister Devon Dick, entitled 'The Spirituality of Mavado'. David 'Mavado' Brooks had recently been named a 'person of interest' by the police, along with competing deejay artiste Adidja 'Vybz Kartel' Palmer. (32) Dick, in his article, engages with Mavado's lyrics which seem to vacillate between a pious Christianity as in the recording 'Messiah' where he sings "Me a bwoy believe inna prayer", and 'Touch de Road', where he chants "Gunshot bun dem skin like the song me sing/when me done with him not even drankcrow [John Crow or vulture] want him". (33) Dick asks a number of penetrating questions about the nature of Jamaican culture and the ethical character of Old Testament morality, but seems somewhat baffled in the conclusion when he laments that, "Apparently, in the spirituality of Mavado and others, there is no dissonance between songs of inspiration and songs that incite violence". (34)
The second intervention surrounds the media flurry that erupted after the shooting of Cedric 'Doggy' Murray in August 2010. Murray, wanted for numerous vicious murders, was the notorious leader of the St James-based 'Stone Crusher Gang'. His diary, recovered after his death, revealed a quite literate and deeply conflicted human being. Murray had apparently been one of Coke's close associates, shooting his AK-47 at police in the Tivoli battle until in his words, his "finger was numb". Yet, at the same time, Doggie revealed an apparently deep spirituality, to quote his diary: "I am a real gangster all out, but I love the Lord with a passion. Why I do the things I do? SIN. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me; that means I can repent and change but yet my faith is weak. My life is a book a puzzle". (35) In one of the best of a flurry of articles seeking to put meaning to Doggie's diary, Don Robotham argues that "A particular type of religiosity seems to be becoming an essential part of the psychological makeup and ideological armoury of the more intelligent Jamaican criminal". (36) Robotham concludes:
Fire and brimstone Old Testament heroes such as Gideon provide inspiration capable of mobilising other youth and sustaining them through the many trials of their battles with 'Babylon' and 'Medianites'. Given the glaring historical injustices in Jamaican society and our innumerable social and racial divisions, this is a heady brew with a truly explosive social potential which could make the events in Tivoli in May look like a picnic. (37)
Hegemonic dissolution, if the phrase still has relevance, in its advanced phases is not just the rebellious distancing of subaltern classes from the Anglophilic, Christian and creole notions of the traditional Jamaican middle classes, but the creation of substantially new cultural and philosophical spaces, which incorporate, among others, the following elements.
1. The assertion of Post-Emancipation notions of Rights and Justice.
2. The utilisation of Old Testament concepts of righteous violence, incorporated into an embracing of gun culture as an avenue to power and wealth.
3. A Manichean notion of absolute right and wrong, captured most popularly in the omnipresent homophobia of the dancehall, but applied across the gamut of social relationships.
4. The subordination of democratic forms of governance to the imperative of the powerful and overarching chieftain, best exemplified in Doggie's acknowledged fealty to the 'bigger don', Dudus.
5. A moral relativism, based on the notion that the entire society is corrupt and therefore poor people getting their share via corruption, illegal and violent means is justifiable.
6. A deep hostility to "Babylon', the police and the higher-ups in society.
7. A clear accommodation to neo-liberal consumerism, most evident in the 'Bling' culture and the hyper-consumerism expressed in the lyrics and style of many in the dancehall.
If a new Jamaican consensus is to be built on the imminent collapse of the old, it will require not simply a condemnation of these new and often disturbing quasi-philosophical narratives, but a critical engagement with them. There are elements here, including moral relativism, neo-fascist authoritarianism and the glorification of violence that may prove incompatible with any attempt to forge a collective national enterprise; but there are also others, such as the appeal to consistency in applying rights and justice, themes of universality, and a persistent contempt for old hierarchies, which are inevitable if a deeper and more inclusive democracy is ever to be placed on the agenda.
A way forward?
I present my conclusion as a possible way forward out of this impasse as a series of theses.
1. The critical and definitive feature of contemporary Jamaica as it has been for the entire period of the first post-colonial half-century is the deep social divide, with its outwardly inclusive edifice but deeply hierarchical and exclusionary daily reality.
2. The new feature of the past three decades is the failure--recognized by the entire society--of the middle and upper classes to manage and organise a functioning and effective state with a vibrant and buoyant economy.
3. The way forward must inevitably address security and forensic questions as it grapples to bring a modicum of peace to the society, but these will inevitably fail if there is no attempt to frontally address the central question of the social divide, the deeply flawed moral economy and the persistent political features of patronage and hierarchy that have accompanied them in the post-independence era.
I shall not address the forensic and security measures in my conclusion as I leave that to others like Anthony Harriott, who are far more versed in matters of community policing, social intervention in garrison communities, neighbourhood watches and the like. (38) Rather, I wish to concentrate on some of the key matters related to the social divide.
Missing, as earlier suggested, from the entire national debate is any serious, novel discussion on how to dramatically change deeply entrenched patterns of poverty in a short time period. Short of a social revolution in which the entire society is turned bottom up and which would find it almost impossible to survive in the hermetic, international political atmosphere of contemporary global capital domination, there is one avenue that might lead to a quick and rapid recalibration of wealth from the bottom, and it is an urban and rural land reform programme. Jamaica stands at a peculiar moment where the government possesses significant arable lands--primarily old cane lands which are only partially engaged in production. Indeed the Government of Jamaica is, somewhat ironically from an historical perspective, the single largest landowner. There are also significant tracts of urban and suburban idle land that are owned by the Government. A bold and determined programme of land reform, carried out in a genuinely bi-partisan manner and with oversight from untainted institutions, such the Office of the Contractor General, bolstered by the increasingly vigilant media and a reinvigorated body of public opinion, might, simultaneously, increase agricultural production; empower an entire renovated stratum of urban and rural small landowners; boost significantly national demand; and release hidden equity that would filter through the economy and give it a new unprecedented entrepreneurial energy and dynamism. (39)
There are obvious dangers to such a policy, not least of which is the likelihood of it succumbing to the very patronage and corruption that is at the heart of the present moment. Yet, in a context where there are no clear alternatives, might it not be worthwhile to think through and weigh the pros and cons of such an approach via both formal technical discussions as well as a popular national conversation? Might not the conversation itself serve as a forum to not only debate this idea but propose feasible alternatives? Might it not also serve another function--to engender trust, open the avenues for non-partisan dialogue and lay the foundation for greater consensus in the future?
The second proposal concerns the matter of rethinking the tattered independence constitutional arrangements that are in need of major overhaul. The easy options have to do with checking and balancing the power of the executive and of other powerful institutions in the society and there is indeed wide consensus on most of these. (40) The more difficult questions have to do with the deepening of democracy. The critical intellectual failure of the past two decades has been to abandon the matter of deepening democracy for the less difficult question as to how to check the power of the executive and entrenched bureaucracies. Elsewhere I have proposed the following as a possible agenda for constitutional and political reform:
1. A Constituent Assembly of the Jamaican People at Home and Abroad as a means of starting a genuine popular debate and to arrive at a consensus on the main elements in new political and social arrangements. The Assembly might be empowered to meet every decade to review the extent to which the agreed changes have become archaic and to include new generations in the act of writing their own constitution.
2. The utilisation of the annual budget debate as a strategic measure and a specific event that can be open to public debate and that might establish a template for a new participatory approach to governance.
3. The abandonment of members of parliaments' offices as the primary source of distributing benefits at the constituency level. In its place I suggest, following Stone, (41) the establishment of a constituency council composed of members of both parties and non-party representatives from the community.
4. The establishment of the principle of recall, with appropriate safeguards to prevent its frivolous and narrowly partisan use, to put an ultimate check between elections on MPs who fail to deliver.
5. The tabling of new laws related to party financing that would open the books to the public in order to undermine the ability of powerful financial interests to subvert democratic principles.
6. The devolution of greater power to local government, entrenched in law, to counter the overarching powers of the party, the centre and the city. (42)
Finally, to return to the matter of culture and philosophy: the hidden lynchpin in any movement away from the present crisis is the question of philosophical consensus, which is precisely not on the agenda in today's Jamaica. Any move towards a new consensus, therefore, cannot operate primarily at the level of structures, laws and statutes, but must engage in a conversation around the worldviews that inform various options as we grapple for a way to forge a working and viable consensus. Such a conversation must place on the board not only basic ethical questions, including universal norms of social living, which can no longer be taken for granted, but more troublesome matters, including the burgeoning of homophobia, gender inequality and the resurgence of gendered violence. It would have as its overarching goal almost two centuries after emancipation and fifty years since Anglo-Caribbean independence, the interrogation of the meaning of freedom, the rethinking of democracy and the continuing salience of sovereignty (43) in the contemporary 'globalized' world. It would have to do nothing less than attempt to lay the foundations for a new approach to social living as we move towards the middle of the twenty-first century. (44)
All crises, as difficult and debilitating as they might be, provide openings and opportunities. This thirty-year crisis, rising to a crescendo in the Labour Day 'Dudus' events of May 2010, is no different: it provides the opportunity to begin re-thinking the entire set of encrusted arrangements that have undergirded Jamaica's post-colonial journey. It is not, as I intimated at the beginning, a common proposal for any other jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Caribbean. I suggest, however, that if these or similar proposals are not addressed and efforts made to implement them through a project of national popular inclusion and engagement, then the situation will not improve in Jamaica, and the consequences for the Caribbean as a whole will be profound. And Jamaica must not be allowed to fail, to quote once again Barbados's famous son, George Lamming, because of a failure of the imagination. (45)
* This paper was first delivered as the annual Patrick Emmanuel Lecture at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, on 25 November 2010.
(1) Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, Oxford World Classics, Oxford and New York, 1988, p.7 (first published 1859).
(2) See for one of the earliest and more insightful analyses, Rupert Lewis' Notes on the West Kingston crisis and Party Politics, paper delivered at 'States of freedom, freedom of States' symposium, UWI/Duke University, UWI Mona campus, 16-18 June 2010. See also Horace Levy's "May 2010" typescript, June 2011, which argues, inter alia that the events of 2010 suggest the capability of civil society to effect deep change in Jamaica. For a somewhat sympathetic but sketchy account of the 'Dudus events', see K.C. Samuels, Dudus, 1992-2010: His Rise, His Reign, His Demise, Pageturner Publishing House, Jamaica, 2011.
(3) George Lamming, Season of Adventure, Alison and Busby, London, 1979 (first published 1960).
(4) See for an elaboration of this argument Brian Meeks, Radical Caribbean: from Black Power to Abu Bakr, The Press, University of the West Indies, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, 1996, p.127.
(5) See Carl Stone, Democracy and Clientelism in Jamaica, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, NJ and London, 1983.
(6) See Obika Gray, Radicalism and Social Change in Jamaica, 1962-1972, The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville; 1991, Obika Gray, Demeaned but Empowered: The Social Power of the Urban Poor in Jamaica, University of the West Indies Press, Kingston, 2004; Amanda Sives, Elections, Violence and the Democratic Process in Jamaica, 1944-2007, Ian Randle Publishers, Kingston and Miami, 2010.
(7) See Gray, 1991, pp.73-82.
(8) See Carl Stone, Class, State and Democracy in Jamaica, New York, Praeger, 1986 and Mark Figueroa and Amanda Sives, "Garrison Politics and Criminality in Jamaica: Does the 1997 Election Represent a Turning Point?" In Anthony Harriott (ed.) Understanding Crime in Jamaica: New Challenges for Public Policy, University of the West Indies Press, Kingston, 2003, pp.63-88.
(9) See Kari Polanyi Levitt, Jamaica: Lessons from the Manley Years, Maroon Pamphlet No. 1, Maroon Publishers, Morant Bay, Jamaica, 1984.
(10) See Holger Henke, Between Self-Determination and Dependency: Jamaica's Foreign Relations, 1972-1989, University of the West Indies Press, Kingston, 2000.
(11) See for instance, Brian Meeks, "The Frontline: Valentino, Pablo Moses and Caribbean Organic Philosophy in the Seventies", in Holger Henke (ed.) Modern Political Culture in the Caribbean, The University of the West Indies Press, Kingston 2003, pp. 276-301 and Anthony Bogues, "Get Up Stand Up: The Redemptive Poetics of Bob Marley" in Black Heretics, Black Prophets: Radical Political Intellectuals, Routledge, New York and London, 2003, pp. 187-205.
(12) See Michael Kaufman, Jamaica under Manley: Dilemmas of Socialism and Democracy, Zed Books, London, 1985 and Evelyne Huber Stephens and John D. Stephens, Democratic Socialism in Jamaica: the Political Movement and Social Transformation in Dependent Capitalism, Macmillan, London and Basingstoke, 1986.
(13) See Laurie Gunst, Born fi Dead: A Journey Through the Jamaican Posse Underworld, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1995.
(14) See Anthony Harriott, Organized Crime and Politics in Jamaica: Breaking the Nexus, Canoe Press, Mona, 2008, pp.16-17.
(15) See Ibid.
(16) The nature of the extradition treaty, the attempt by the Prime Minister and other members of his administration to lobby the State Department, presumably in favour of dropping or modifying the extradition demand, has been the subject of a 2011 Commission of Enquiry; which, unprecedentedly was broadcast widely across the country. Despite conceding that there had been 'errors of judgment', most notably on the part of the Prime Minister, the tepid conclusions of the Commission led to no condemnations or indictments. At the time of writing, public opinion was still divided, though leaning towards dismissal of the findings as captured in the comments of the general secretary of the Jamaica Baptist Union, Karl Johnson: "I get the impression that the commissioners are wanting us to believe that the whole series of events was just a whole comedy of errors ... This country was almost brought to her knees, 73 people minimum died and they are wanting us to believe that the whole thing was simply a comedy of error? Something is wrong". The Gleaner, Thursday, 16 June 2011.
Then in a surprise move on 25 September 2011, PM Golding who had attempted to resign in the immediate aftermath of his May confession, once again announced that he was stepping down. This time he followed through, yielding power to his youthful Minister of Education Andrew Holness on 23 October. Portrayed by some commentators as a wily political move to initiate a generational change and provide a boost for the governing party's electoral chances, there was nonetheless the hard evidence that after less than a term in office, Golding had resigned at least in part because his credibility and popular support had plummeted following the Dudus events. Whether a new Prime Minister will be able to repair the JLP's credibility and sweep home to a second term remains to be seen in the seemingly imminent general elections.
(17) See Samuels, 2011, pp.214-215.
(18) This talk was given in November 2010 and revised for publication in June 2011. The trend of declining murders still continues. The murder rate for October 2010 showed a 43% decline over the same month in 2009 (The Gleaner, 26 November 2010). Between June 2010 and May 2011 there were 700 fewer murders than the previous year. The police also claimed that since the beginning of 2011 they have dismantled 50% of the fifty-seven gangs they had targeted. See Petre Williams Raynor "Iron Fists can't Curb Crime", The Sunday Gleaner, 19 June 2011.
(19) This approach was echoed to some extent by Police Commissioner Owen Ellington, who, in June 2011, argued that "... it cannot be an endless fight within the battle space between the police and the gangs, so there has to be another phase of strategy". This, he suggested, should include the physical upgrading of communities and greater use of community policing. The Commissioner, however, stops short of addressing more fundamental policies of social reform that might address entrenched inequality and poverty. See Ibid.
(20) Meeks, 1996, p. 131.
(22) As it is indeed apparently applicable elsewhere in the world. Achille Mbembe's insightful analysis of African politics fifty years after independence comes to remarkably similar conclusions when he describes features of the contemporary African political landscape as including "the absence of a concept of democracy that would constitute a real alternative to the predatory model that thrives everywhere ... the reversal/withdrawal of any radical vision of social revolution on the continent ... the cystification of entire pockets of society and the irrepressible desire, among hundreds of millions, to live anywhere except home (and) the emergence of a culture of racketeering". See Achille Mbembe, "Fifty Years of African Decolonisation", Chimurenga Online, www.chimurenga.co.za.
(23) Docquier and Marfouk found that 85.1% of Jamaicans with a college education were resident outside of the country between 1990 and 2000. Frederic Docquier and Abdselam Marfouk, International Migration by Educational Attainment (1990-2000), Release 1.1, The World Bank, Washington, DC, Tables A1-1 and A1-2.
(24) See for instance, 'Wanted: bright investigators to fill INDECOM posts', The Gleaner, 28 December 2010.
(25) See Corbin Lyday, Margaret O'Donnell and Trevor Munroe, Corruption Assessment for Jamaica, USAID, Washington, DC, 11 September 2008, p.16.
(26) Among the leaders of these is Danville Walker, who left his position as chief electoral officer to be Commissioner of Customs. See Ibid. p.17.
(27) See "PNP Unveils Integrity Commission", Jamaica Observer, 1 September 2010.
(28) Powell's and Lewis's 2009 study of political culture in Jamaica found that there is declining interest in the party as an avenue for social change and in political parties in general. See Lawrence Powell and Balford Lewis, Political Culture of Democracy in Jamaica, 2008: The Impact of governance, Latin American Public Opinion Project, USAID, March 2009, pp.171-190.
(29) There is to date, no final, comprehensive statement from the PNP on its planned rethink of policy and theoretical orientation which is to be captured in the 'Progressive Agenda'. For an attempt to identify where the process of elaborating it has reached, see Winston Davidson, "The Progressive Agenda Explained", The Sunday Gleaner, 3 October 2010.
(30) Obika Gray, Culture and Development in Jamaica, typescript, 2010.
(31) Ibid. p.23.
(32) In a new if not entirely surprising twist of art imitating life or its inverse, Vybz Kartel was arrested on 29 September 2011 and subsequently charged with murder.
(33) See Mavado, 'Messiah' and 'Touch de road' in Devon Dick "The 'Spirituality' of Mavado", The Gleaner, 18 November 2010.
(35) Quoted in Don Robotham, "From Natty to Doggie', The Gleaner, 12 September 2010.
(38) See, for instance, Anthony Harriott, "The Emergence and Evolution of Organized Crime in Jamaica: New Challenges to Law Enforcement and Society" (Draft given to author, 2010)
(39) I develop these ideas in greater detail in Brian Meeks, Envisioning Caribbean Futures: Jamaican Perspectives, The University of the West Indies Press, Kingston, 2007.
(40) See Trevor Munroe, Renewing Democracy into the Millennium: The Jamaican Experience in Perspective, The Press, University of the West Indies, 1999. And, for comparative discussions of constitutional reform initiatives in the Anglophone Caribbean generally, see Selwyn Ryan, Winner Takes All: The Westminster Experience in the Caribbean, ISER, St Augustine, 1999.
(41) See Carl Stone, Report of a Committee Appointed to Advise the Jamaican Government on the Performance, Accountability and Responsibilities of Elected Parliamentarians, Typescript, Kingston, 1991.
(42) See Meeks, 2007.
(43) See for instance, Norman Girvan, "Existential Threats in the Caribbean: Democratising Politics, Regionalising Governance", CLR James Memorial Lecture, Trinidad and Tobago, 12 May 2011, www.normangirvan.info.
(44) To stimulate such a conversation is in large measure the goal of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) in its research project to examine fifty years of independence and look towards the next fifty years, entitled "Fifty-Fifty: Critical Reflections in a Time of Uncertainty". See http://thesalisesS050project.blogspot.com/
(45) See George Lamming, "The Plantation Mongrel" in Richard Drayton and Andaiye (eds.), Conversations: Essays, Addresses and Interviews, 1953-1990, Karia Press, London, 1990, p.248.
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|Title Annotation:||Notes and Comments|
|Publication:||Social and Economic Studies|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2011|
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