By: Basil Wilson
Jamaica enjoyed a glorious summer celebrating fifty years of independence. The Olympic athletes were phenomenal in London as they were in Beijing. A nation of 2.8 million people has produced in 2008 and replicated in 2012, the fastest woman on earth and the fastest man on the planet. Blake emerged as a star in his own right and Weir surprised us in the 200 and Parchment in the 110 meter hurdles. It was a summer befitting a nation that has liberated itself from the yoke of colonialism.
We wish the euphoria could have continued ad infinitum. The celebrations at home were full of merriment and civility. In New York at the Hilton Hotel over a thousand Jamaican patriots showed up to celebrate Jamaica’s independence. But the high is far from lasting.
The IMF negotiations are still pending and the conclusion will invariably mean further belt tightening in a country trying to recover from economic emaciation. The nation is fighting the scourge of crime and the reconstruction of communities with two hands tied behind our backs. The dept payments remain onerous and soak up revenues that should be used for the investment in human capital.
This week the Sunday Gleaner, September 30, 2012 ran a number of articles on the status of western Kingston in the post-Dudus era. There is a yearning for the good old days when Edward Seaga was the reigning member of Parliament stretching into the Dudus era when he imposed iron-fisted control.
The new Member of Parliament is Desmond McKenzie who grew up in Western Kingston and based on the submitted reports by journalists, residents are disgruntled with McKenzie’s inability to deliver the goods. The journalists also depicted that there was a growing sentiment or disillusionment with the political system.
There is obviously a leadership vacuum in Tivoli Gardens and the surrounding environs. In the post-state of emergency interlude, government has not entered the fray with new resources and new programs. Much of the funds circulated in the previous era were from the underground economy which entailed sales from crack houses, robberies that took place outside the community and other forms of illicit economic activities. Some funds were generated by legitimate economic activities such as Pasa Pasa. The old order in Tivoli has collapsed and no new order is in place. The police and the military are a presence but a social order in a democratic society cannot depend solely on the coercive apparatus of the state.
In the early decades of independence, both political parties, JLP and PNP with their commitment to populism, found the necessary resources to engage in slum removal and construction of low-income housing. This quest to improve the standard of living and the quality of life for the poor in Western Kingston and South St. Andrew led us down a path of political corruption and the institutionalization of political violence. The latter has essentially ebbed but the politics of corruption and the culture of dependency remain injurious to the bodypolitic and the cultural system.
When a community grows accustom to a dependency on an illegally-grounded economy, community wholesomeness is destroyed. The characters who rise to the fore as area leaders or ‘dons’ make it based on the unadulterated quality of extreme cruelty. That institutionalization of violence has contributed to the underdevelopment of communities in Jamaica, especially in inner city communities.
Culture is seldom stagnant and culture in Jamaica moves at a swift pace. There is now a reluctance in inner city communities to wear the crown of the “don”. It has become a hazard. But that reluctance for donmanship or the ebbing of political violence has not reduced the quotient for criminality. The taking of life or the making of a ‘duppy’ is still a badge of honour even if that entails taking the life of police or military officers. Contract and reprisal killings are quite prevalent. Despite the conviction of notorious gang leaders, the hydra-headed monster of gangsterism still plagues Jamaican society.
After fifty years of crawling beyond the yoke of colonialism, where do we go from here? How do we make Jamaica a far more humane place where life is sacrosanct? We can shore up the criminal justice system and make it more efficacious. There is even a new clamor for the death penalty. The truth of the matter is that the country has to look outside of the criminal justice system. It is the inability of the bodypolitic and the economic system to manufacture opportunities for the hordes who are confined to the sidelines of the legitimate economy but refuse to be subservient spectators and function as ferocious predators.
The Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller, instinctively understands this class dialectic and in her budget speech, proposed programs to expand housing for the poor and the operationalization of emergency employment programs. Good intentions are not enough even though resources are nigh non-existent. But I am convinced that we can do more with what we have. There is not only a leadership vacuum in Tivoli Gardens, Denham Town and Hannah Town but a leadership chasm in the bodypolitic and in the larger society. When the upsurge in crime perennially occurs, we circle the wagons and presume that some shock to inner city communities will have a lasting impact.
There is a longing and a thirst for peace and justice among a segment of the inner-city youth population. People are not just interested in flowery speech but in material deliverance. That will not come apocalyptically but the message of the extant injustices will not prevail and that the bodypolitic and civil society are working toward a less unequal and more just Jamaica may very well lower the scalding temperature and allow the space for the construction of a new social contract.
The euphoria of the fifty year epic is now passé. The country needs to examine itself and work in a “harambee” fashion to foster, nurture and cultivate new possibilities for the poor. We have to offer inner city communities like Tivoli Gardens more than the presence of the state’s military might.