Edward Seaga: The misunderstood architect


Sunday, August 06, 2017

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“Since I have had the honour to preside over the Government, I am only too well aware that once Mr Seaga takes his seat, irrespective of the numbers beside and behind him, Her Majesty's loyal Opposition is alive and well.”

— P J Patterson

I grew up in Kingston 12 during the 1950s and the 1960s, where we recognised the unsmiling, coldly handsome Edward Seaga, as 'the white man in dark glasses' and 'the poco man', because we heard that he 'jumped pocomania' with the practitioners of that form of worship. He was also seen as the 'Godfather' of the area, wielding an iron fist and exercising total control over the entire community, including a core of feared political operators.

The lives, reputation and activities of some of the men that were protectors of his political machinery, have in some instances portrayed him in a totally unsavoury light.

Seaga himself, in his book, My Life and Leadership Volume 1: Clash of Ideologies 1930-1980, has placed the most popular of them, Claudius Massop, within the political structure of West Kingston in the 1960s and the 1970s:

“He was also the enforcer in the downtown Kingston area which was supportive of the JLP. As such he was regarded as the protector of the area from external attacks.”

It is true that early community leaders like Zacky Lewis the 'High Priest', who had an official pathway in Tivoli named after him and Massop, who was my brother's close friend, were more peacemakers than aggressors but they did give cover to others more deadly and cruel. This was evidenced by the violent activities of their successors, Carl 'Biah' Mitchell, Jim 'Ba Bye' Brown and lieutenants such as: 'Blood', 'Jonathan', 'Bouyork', 'Baskin' and the vicious 'Curly Locks' in nearby Rema. But any simplistic conclusion as to Seaga's unfettered complicity in that season of depravity belies the complexity of the setting.

The battle for West Kingston— Seaga and the 'Burning Spear'

Confronted in the 1962 and 1967 campaigns by a formidable political rival, the resolute and combative Dudley Thompson, supported by 'Group 69' from Matthews Lane, a collective of hard political activists, Seaga quickly adopted an aggressive posture. In addition, Group 69 would have predated Seaga's entry into the crucible of political strife in the Corporate Area and beyond. Thompson, who is unfortunately remembered for his statement that “…... no angels died at Green Bay,” in reference to the murder by agents of the State, of five young men lured to pick up guns in the foothills of St Catherine, was certainly an equal participant in that regrettable period of tribal hostility.

Many Comrades would, however, argue that it was in fact Seaga's proactive stance, which pushed Thompson to marshal his forces for inevitable political conflict. But the Miconian Dudley Thompson, a Rhodes Scholar, erudite Queen's Counsel and RAF World War Two fighter pilot who adopted Jomo Kenyatta's nom de guerre 'The Burning Spear', was fully cognisant of the dangers of political battle. As one of the Kenyan leader's defence counsels in the aftermath of the 1952 to 1960 Mau Mau Uprising … he would also have been equally attuned to prepare his people for a long and dangerous struggle of attrition.

To underestimate Thompson would be fatal. Apart from his Kenya sojourn on the African homeland, he had sharpened his spurs through his association with many of the anti-colonial struggles of the 1940s and 50s - from the turmoils of Kwame

Nkrumah's Ghana to Mandela's revolutionary surge in South Africa and relished the battle for power.

Cognisant of Thompson's background and his will to prevail, Seaga perceived that victory could only be guaranteed by greater vigilance, organisation and ruthlessness.

As a consequence, Seaga did not seek to have consensus around a set of non-violent, non-tribal measures but rather considered discretion and dialogue, as unaffordable luxuries in the bitter and intense political cauldron of the time.

Instructively, Eric Frater recounts that one night in the closing stages of the 1962 campaign, after Dudley Thompson gave one of his usual upbeat briefing to the party executive on the effectiveness of his strategy to control the streets of West Kingston, Norman Manley, the senior Queen's Counsel, gave his own logical assessment with uncontested finality:

“Dudley, you are being out manoeuvred and outgunned.”

Inexorably but inevitably, Seaga eventually prevailed over the Panama-born Thompson by 780 votes in the 1962 general election and expanded his margin of victory to 2,772 in 1967. However, old Comrades from West Kingston are adamant that it was the intervention of Superintendent Howard and Inspector Joe Williams, the PNP's nemesis, who with his men tear-gassed hundreds of Dudley's supporters on their way to the voting booths at the Queen's Theatre, Spanish Town Road, that led to Seaga's victory in 1962.

They further insist that were it not for the unashamed partisanship of Inspector Joe Williams, who was appointed commissioner of police by Seaga during his tenure as prime minister in the 1980s, the history of Jamaica would have positively changed.

Ever mindful of the PNP's anger and hatred at the bitter defeat of the 'Burning Spear', Seaga moved to consolidate his fiefdom in anticipation of the difficult struggles ahead.

And come they did. With Michael 'Joshua' Manley's PNP riding a tidal wave of hope to power, winning 37 seats to the JLP's 16 in 1972, Seaga stood almost alone surveying the ruins of his party, gaining little comfort that only his bitter JLP rival Wilton Hill in South West St Andrew survived alongside him in the Corporate Area.

Days of struggle, Days of the Guns

From the ashes of 1972, Seaga emerged as leader of his party in 1974 and set about to rebuild its organs and champion his 'anti-communist' crusade against the PNP. But back in his domain, he was confronted by even more redoubtable opponents than Thompson could ever be. To his northern border was 'Tony' Spaulding, 'the Trench Town Rock' and his Arnett Gardens posse led by the feared 'Tony' Welsh and Anthony 'Starky' Tingle. Hovering to the east was the near-invincible Michael Manley and his 'garrisons' led by intimidating activists such as Burry Boy, Feather Mop, Vinnie, Ozzie, and Lenniments, and with the contentious exit of Wilton Hill in the west, emerged a young, vibrant and formidable Portia Simpson. There was also the forceful Carl 'Russian' Thompson and his Marl Road enforcers in West Central St Andrew. Any gaps, real or imagined, were closed by the then militant Dr DK Duncan, the PNP's general secretary in East Central St Andrew, completing a solid group of stronghold constituencies that the PNP dauntingly referred to as 'the Western Belt'.

Whether fair or unfair, in a real sense this encirclement resulted from the voters' disgust at the major role they attributed to him, in disrupting their conservative way of life with alien political violence. In response, Seaga created a fortress-like organisation with an aggressive cohort, ready to pounce at the slightest attempt at any incursion on his territory.

He understood fully the consequences of his actions and played the hand he crafted:

“They wanted…to cripple…my presence in the area so as to reassert their dominance which would allow them to do what they want. The (JLP supporters) were being gunned down…I built for them what people called an enclave, and I make no apology for that.”

His strategy was consummated by 1980, receiving 9,335 votes to his opponent, Chaderton Ward's 575, and his party winning massively, capturing 51 seats to the PNP's nine. This included all in the St Andrew “Northern Belt” which has remained largely unchanged until the general election of 2011.

The paradox of Edward Seaga

Herein lay the complex contortions of Edward Seaga.

Could the same individual who lived among the poor at Buxton Town, St Catherine, for several years, studying their rustic and cultural habits to fashion a path to their upliftment, promote a system which offered self-destruction to the urban poor?

Obviously, Seaga was a central figure in that dispensation of heightened electoral violence, that in his mellow years, he would have found reprehensible.

Towards the end of his tenure, with his life's work in Tivoli threatened, he would also have seen clearly the destructive potential of the offspring of the earlier activists and summarily present the police, with the names of gang members who breached his unwritten edict and undermined communal order and stability. Their leader was none other than Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, son of 'Jim Brown', the subject of the April-June 2010 extradition impasse with the United States of America. That was a defining moment, which showed that he could no longer control that which his tenure had spawned. Seaga's own revelation on the issue is frightening:

“I have no control over these 13 men who have a pattern of brutality that I will not tolerate, will not accept and will fight against. They have blown off the leg of a young girl who at 20 years old has to walk with crutches. They have killed two sons of one lady within three days; they have killed a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old boy. They sent 15-year-old boys with pack guns into the Rema community in order to chastise, in order to mete out what they call justice. To fire six shots into a man and kill him and that sort of thing I am not going to tolerate it…”

It showed too that his laudable integrated community planning model was fatally compromised by the protective system he had put in place. Questions will long be asked, why not earlier? Why wait until his back was against the wall to engage the police?

'Light a candle, sing a sanke...'

There were others in the formal political arena like the 'Gang of Five' who challenged his authority and were summarily crushed, then later reprieved and told to “light a candle, sing a sankey, and find your way back home'. The 'Gang' was never identified by Seaga, the names were inferred. They would in time return to the fold in full acceptance of his leadership. They would also outlast him to be returned as senior ministers in the 2007 Administration of Prime Minister Bruce Golding. There was also another challenge, the 'Gang of Eleven', which led to the formation of the breakaway National Democratic Party. Again Seaga would prevail, with most of the rebels finding their way back to the JLP, including their leader Bruce Golding.

Nation building and lasting glory?

Unquestionably possessed of a sharp mind, the Wolmer's and Harvard-educated Seaga could never be taken lightly or dismissed as inconsequential. A perfectionist, he was always impatient with mediocrity from any quarter, which might have led to some of the celebrated clashes that have been twisted to demonise him. His often tumultuous years in politics and governance have yielded many far-reaching changes to national life.

In that context, he stands above all others in the creation of some of the most significant financial institutions in the modern Jamaican economic firmament: the Urban Development Corporation - UDC (1968); the Jamaica Stock Exchange (1969); the Jamaica Unit Trust (1970); the Jamaica Mortgage Bank (1973); the Jamaica National Investment Promotion Ltd — now JAMPRO (Jamaica Invest) (1988); the National Development Bank and the Agriculture Credit Bank (1981), both now fused to form the Development Bank of Jamaica; the Ex-Im Bank (1986) and the Self Start Fund (1983).

In our recent economic history of unending outturns of negative growth, we often forget that his policies led to increases in growth rates of four per cent in 1987 and 1989, despite the ravages of Hurricane Gilbert in 1988.

He should also be recognised as a visionary who fully understood that sustainable development required companion educational institutions and strategies. This is why he engineered and established the Human Employment and Resource Training Trust (HEART) and the Learning for Earning Activity Programme (LEAP).

Being fully cognisant of the educational and other social challenges of West Kingston, his early initiatives as MP led to the transformation of the degrading slums of Back-A-Wall, into the functioning community of Tivoli Gardens, offering high-rise apartments and social amenities. On the downside, many PNP supporters had to seek refuge at Wareika Hill, Sufferer's Heights, Taylor Lands, Trench Town and the wastelands alongside the dump at Riverton City. Some would return to populate a small high-rise apartment complex at the southeastern tip of Tivoli Gardens, north of the Railway Sports Club, then known as Lizard Town, now only a memory after they were chased out by JLP aggressors before 1980.

His initiatives also saw the creation of Operation Friendship, a sanctuary for physically challenged persons; the upgrading of Denham Town High School; the construction of Tivoli Gardens High School and the establishment of the Tivoli football, basketball and netball clubs. More importantly, as the president of the Premier League Clubs Association, he has impartially promoted a sense of camaraderie and discipline among member organisations from many inner-city areas, regardless of political affiliation.

Although little known, his acute awareness of social transformation through sports led to the creation of defined playfields on the original All Saints School sports ground and the adjoining lands that once comprised New Town and Victoria Town. These playfields were designed to support sporting aspirations of youths from the adjoining communities of Denham Town, Hannah Town, Trench Town, Jones Town and Craig Town. Sadly, after he left office in 2006, only two of those playfields survived — both at the Hannah Town/Denham Town section of the zone. Inevitably, without his guidance and control, irreparable vandalism took place, involving the unconscionable scrapping of the underground irrigation pipes and other infrastructural provisions.

Cultural pioneer

His affinity for cultural upliftment led him to promote the establishment of the Tivoli Cultural Programme; the Jamaica Festival, the National Heritage Week and the designation and award of National Heroes. His thinking on the elevated honour is profound:

“The concept of National Hero was wider than creating a national honour…in the context of colonialism and slavery, other pressures were molding the identity of Jamaicans to accept subjugation to a master class, denial of freedom and economic serfdom…. The order of National Heroes encompassed all those who removed these shackles so that Jamaicans could be identified as a free people of equal stature, endowed with a rich heritage in which there was no longer weakness but strength.”

He was also the principal proponent in the founding of the Cultural Training Centre for the Arts and the upgrading and conversion of Devon House to a heritage centre.

His pioneering role in the popularising of Jamaican music as a producer and promoter has been fully acknowledged. It was also Seaga who led the way in providing institutional support for our cultural products by establishing Things Jamaican Ltd to create a captive market for Jamaican handcraft. Most admirably, he has sought to engender national appreciation for our indigenous art forms, by showcasing the work of the outstanding creative artist and revivalist Mallica 'Kapo' Reynolds to Jamaica and the world.

Seaga's tribute to Garvey

Although largely unremembered and unappreciated, it was Edward Seaga who took the lead in the atonement of his nation's ill-treatment and historical injustice to Marcus Garvey, by presiding over the return of his body from England for burial in the National Heroes Park. In that redemptive process, he also ensured that Garvey was conferred with the first Order of National Hero of Jamaica. In perhaps his finest moment, Seaga's tribute at Garvey's commemorative service at the Roman Catholic Cathedral, North Street, requires highlighting:

“Garvey's stage was not Jamaica; it was the continent of colored peoples. Yet he is a National Hero of Jamaica and his works carried a message which helped to shape and structure the whole character of the people of his own country, among millions of other people around the world. Men shape, build and extend the boundaries of nations; some are economic giants… still others are heroes because they battle nature and extend the frontiers of knowledge; and then there are national heroes, those who belong to no category because they are all. They are those who shape the character of a nation to build and unleash the spirit of a people that the germ of their works and thoughts affect all aspects of a nation's life. Of such was the man Marcus Mosiah Garvey.”

Return to Academia

On his retirement from politics in January 2005, Seaga was honoured by the University of the West Indies as a Distinguished Fellow and later appointed pro-vice chancellor of the University of Technology and chancellor in 2010. From both vantage points, he has pursued research and enriched the intellectual and academic landscape with thought provoking insights and articles on major socio-economic issues of the day. In the process, he has completed two books on his personal life and the political history of his time, Edward Seaga: My Life and Leadership Volume 1: Clash of Ideologies 1930-1980 and Volume 2: Hard Road to Travel 1980-2008.

The Seaga years: A verdict

The fact that a powerful, deadly, well-organised patron system existed and is survived by uncontrollable factions in Tivoli and Denham Town does detract from his profound community development achievements. Admittedly, part of his intent was to create a model community out of a slum. He sincerely believed this could not be achieved without protection, given the PNP's personal enmity of him, with destabilisation expected from the earlier dispersal of PNP supporters and the violent political clashes with the Burning Spear at his coming.

Though unacknowledged, Seaga's control of the area was not simply borne out of aggressive tactics but more profoundly, he attracted many of the original PNP activists to his fold. He maintained their support, by his legendary attention to details and concern for his constituents. Claudius Massop, whose father was a fervent PNP supporter, became an early convert as did Veronica Carter-Brown, his constituency secretary who was one of the mainstays of the PNP's Iris King organisation in Denham Town.

Mrs King, representing the PNP, entered the politics in 1947, winning a seat on the KSAC Council, serving from 1947-50 and 1956-59. Denham Town was then a part of her council division. In 1958, she created history with her appointment as the first female mayor of Kingston and St Andrew. She later contested at the national level, won and served two terms as MHR of Kingston West Central (1959-1962) and (1962-1967).

In his book, My Life and Leadership Volume 1(91), he emphasises this reality:

“My public credentials did not match up well with Dudley Thompson's but my hands-on experience of living in West Kingston....and ….I had endeared myself to the people by constant effort on their behalf, helping them to overcome problems and building a solid organisation. The young people especially identified with me, a young man of 31 years, a mere youth myself among political elders.”

'Fya fi fya and blood fi blood'

There can be no debate that violent enforcers were used to maintain and protect his constituency. In this, he paid a heavy price. And yes, he did decide to meet “fya fi fya and blood fi blood”, but the transformational ethos he engendered as Member of Parliament was the predominant force behind his peoples' undying loyalty. He had a call to make and made it. He sought not another path nor did he walk away; his political reality told him he could not and so became identified with a tribal conflict that has spawned the proliferation of political garrisons islandwide.

Although his West Kingston people rewarded him with 45 years of unbroken confidence as their member of parliament, the wider Jamaican public gave a harsh verdict on his national stewardship, one victory in six general elections. But then, in his writings he seems to have consoled himself with the thought that in a democracy the people have the right to be wrong.

At the same time, the impressive list of his accomplishments not only tower beside his socio-political vicissitudes but, when juxtaposed with his searching intellect and deep understanding of the have-nots, unquestionably, an unflinching and perhaps one of the most misunderstood political leaders of our time emerges.

The Verdict — An afterthought

Moved by Michael Manley's soaring oratory, we did not stop to look at Seaga's record, nor did we care. As finance minister in Hugh Shearer's Administration of 1967-1972, he coordinated record GDP cumulative growth of 38.8%, which Professor Trevor Munroe and Arnold Bertram in their seminal work, Adult Suffrage and Political Administrations in Jamaica 1944-2002, remind us that it was:“...the highest overall and per annum growth achieved in comparison to all administrations between 1962 and 2002.”

That record was, however, undermined by unbearable increases in total unemployment which, the Department of Statistics reports, stood at 22.8% at the end of his first tenure as finance minister in 1972. This included female unemployment of 33.3% and male unemployment at 14.4%, classifying the period as one of 'growth without equity'.

Inevitably, the socio-economic anomalies compounded by the widening inequalities between the haves and the have-nots, led to Michael Manley's massive victory in 1972.

In his book, Edward Seaga, My Life and Leadership, Volume 1, Seaga himself has pointedly cited the words of a hit song at the time, Everything Crash by The Ethiopians:

“Look deh now…Everything crash

Firemen strike …Watermen strike

Telephone pole men too

Down to the policemen too

What gone bad a morning

Can't come good a evening

Everyday carry bucket go a well

One day the bucket bottom must drop out

Everything crash.”

Critically also, for many of us, he was on the other side and we had long since decided not to love him. We were going to the mountain top with the tall, charismatic 'Joshua', regardless of what the cold 'Eddie' and the 'Labourites' or 'the wicked capitalists' had to say. After all, Michael told them, if they didn't like our 'revolution', there were always “five flights to Miami daily”.

Michael had promised us a new and better Jamaica and we would not be denied. He took us to the slopes of the mountain, with grand social legislations that lifted the self-dignity of the masses but failed to fashion short-term strategies to change their economic status. In his 1972-1980 tenure of struggle and turmoil, Jamaica's GDP fell by 16 per cent. By 1980, undermined by sabotage and mired in desolation, shortages, depression and our own incompetence, the masses could bear no more. With bitter acceptance, we bowed to the will of the people and left the State for Eddie to fix.

Despite the world recession of the mid-1980s and Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, Eddie again oversaw instances of growth, boosted by over US$1billion in support from the United States. He gave his all, but he ran out of time. As was the case at the end of the 60s, with the social gaps widening and rigid class divisions reappearing, in addition to a closing debt to GDP ratio of 164% in 1989, from a high of 212.4% in 1986, he sought another term which, in such a situation, we were unwilling to give.

Love affair with Michael re-kindled, we returned Seaga to the wilderness in 1989.

Michael came back, a chastened wiser elder statesman, bedevilled by ill-health, pursuing what he called 'market socialism', his 'Third Path' to the elusive just society he had promised. He never found it. And when Patterson came in 1992, we signed on to his carefully plotted course that thrice won the people's vote, with towering advances in education, telecommunications, land reform and physical infrastructure development.

In that long 1992-2005 Patterson dispensation, we continued to blame Eddie for every evil known and gave him not a second chance.

Now in the winter of his years, away from the political stage, we can at least be fair and set the record straight. In the early days, before Michael and PJ came to centre stage, it was Seaga who studied the world of the common people he called the have-nots and swore to change their circumstance. “It takes cash to care” he declared. And yes, he did find growth, but very little of the allied wealth trickled down to those he said he cared about. At the end of his 1980-1989 Administration, his party argued that another term was needed to undo the damage done by the PNP. Although the actual economic performance of both parties over the period presents some merit to the JLP's position, the Comrades often counter, that it was the rising poverty indices experienced during the JLP's tenure of the 1960s and 80s which led to his fall. Moreover, they have maintained that in both cases, a decade in power offered enough time for policies to work and if the JLP were allowed to continue, the socio-economic order would have been irreparably breached.

There will long be varying views and analyses on whether the additional term he sought, would have brought us the prosperity that has so far eluded our troubled State.

Undoubtedly, his growth-oriented policies pointed in a positive direction, but that could have been undermined by a return to the trickle-down policies he practised in his tenures as finance minister and prime minister. On the other hand, his later dogged conviction to peg our currency to the US dollar in the face of our chronic indiscipline, destructive criminality, high propensity to consume foreign products and anemic export earnings, could have led to a dangerous run on the NIR, significant funding gaps and eventually, intolerable shortages, economic dislocation and a national crisis. It is also clear that even with a managed monetary regime to protect our pegged dollar, only real increases in production will ensure the viability of such a mechanism.

At the same time, if there was less polarisation and greater equity under his watch, along with some of the policies he now promotes — such as a national cultural mobilisation of our human resources and talents; alternate energy production to reduce our reliance on oil imports; a sustained focus on early-childhood education, scientific research, technology and a revolutionary programme of highly specialised skills training for value-added production, we could have been closer to the modern and just society our people have yearned.

Unfortunately for Edward Seaga, men write their history only once. His time is done.

Sadly, it will record the bitter rejection of the people. Now, as the sun goes down on his remaining years, he will begin to understand why we were so harsh, as despite his significant contributions, it was he and he alone, who set the stage without apology or regret, for the people's damning judgment on his troubled time. But perhaps, looking back, historians will take another view and render a more favourable verdict on the totality of his work, at last.

(Taken from the book Jones Town Trench Town The Journey Back, in light of Seaga being recognised tomorrow at the Grand Gala at the National Stadium by the Government as “the only living member of the committee that established the Constitution of Independent Jamaica and the Jamaica Festival 1963”)




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