Dr DK Duncan, the icon who was both revered and reviled

Dr DK Duncan, the icon who was both revered and reviled

Sunday, September 20, 2020

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Dr Donald Keith Duncan — “DK” to the many who either revered or reviled him — died at the age of 80, leaving a legacy as a radical and controversial politician.

After Jamaica College he studied dentistry atMcGill University in the United States, and on returning to Jamaica in the mid-1960s, immediately plunged into politics as an activist in the People's National Party (PNP).

Dr Duncan was passionately dedicated to transforming Jamaican society in a way that uplifted the masses of the people. How he thought this could best be accomplished proved controversial and divisive, both within the PNP and in national politics.

While the face of the PNP was the undisputed Comrade leader Michael Manley, no one doubted Dr Duncan's role as, arguably, its most powerful general secretary in shaping the party and its democratic socialist brand in the contentious 1970s.

When Mr Manley made him the super minister of national mobilisation after the landslide 1976 General Election, Dr Duncan cemented his place as an icon in Jamaican politics. But it would usher in the greatest period of controversy, especially as several other ministers resented his perceived tendency to micromanage them.

Though clearly not a Communist, despite the propaganda of the time, Dr Duncan was a radical social reformer, typical of many of the intellectuals who grew up and rejected the contradictions in the mid to late 1960s.

He embraced the philosophical trends of a period of dramatic change across the world. It was a time of political independence, the East-West Cold War, the American Civil Rights movement, Black Power, and so much more.

Jamaica was at that time beginning to have serious social and economic problems. Ghettoes had emerged in lower Kingston, rising crime had become a problem, sugar production as a major employer had started to decline, and Jamaica emerged with one of the world's most unequal distribution of income and wealth.

Dr Duncan, like Mr Manley, believed that the means of production should be put to the benefit of the majority of people and this could be done by a mixture of co-operatives, land reform, State-ownership of the 'commanding heights' of the economy, and private enterprise.

But careless rhetoric, incompetent State management, poor fiscal policy and the retribution for the PNP's foreign policy of non-alignment set off overwhelming local and international forces of opposition.

The big election win of 1976 led the PNP to misjudge what the Jamaican people were ready for and what the world order would tolerate, hence the crash in the 1980 General Election, also proving that his vaunted organisational skills were not invincible.

Undaunted, he committed the rest of his life to contributing to the political process in a more moderate social reformist agenda. This rethink was a mark of his dedication to the national movement and his political acumen. In this he found a kindred spirit in Mrs Beverley Anderson-Manley.

He died with the knowledge that he had produced two daughters who are following in his footsteps. No more can be asked of a man than that he tries to leave the world a better place than that which he found.

This is what Dr Duncan tried to do and for this he must be saluted.


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