How great can Brogad be?

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How great can Brogad be?

Kevin Obrien
Chang

Friday, September 11, 2020

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The 'Brogadisation' of Andrew Holness, seemingly spearheaded by Robert Nesta Morgan, was one of the most successful brand-building exercises in Jamaican history. Incorporating street lingo and slick social media suggestiveness, it transformed a likeable, hard-working prime minister into an almost folk legend leader. Not since Michael ''Joshua'' Manley has a prime ministerial nickname so entrenched itself.

While Joshua was a primarily political sobriquet, Most Honourable Brogad has became a social phenomenon. It makes Andrew Holness seem not just an elected leader, but someone people can genuinely identify with as ''one a we''.

Brogad apparently started on the streets and moved into song as a reference to the ultimate 'brother' or 'bro', a friend you are always comfortable with and can depend on to look out for you. It, in essence, encapsulated the tremendous trust most Jamaicans seem to have in Andrew Holness, as evidenced by his remarkably high favourability ratings.

You can't create a brand from thin air. Holness may not have delivered on all his 2016 promises, but the impressive number of houses built and roads fixed and water pipes installed, the lowest unemployment rate ever, and a pre-coronavirus 40 per cent drop in poverty, were all proof to the public of the hardest working prime minister in living memory.

Alongside this were well-publicised scenes of him wearing Clarks shoes, walking rivers barefoot, eating patty and coco bread, juggling footballs, and hitting cricket balls for six— activities we have never seen any other prime minister engage in so naturally.

All this combined to create an impression of someone doing their very best to improve people's lives, and also fully comfortable with the masses, having grown up as and still being at heart one of them— in short, a maximum Brogad.

Some say the recent 48-15 election was primarily a People's National Party (PNP) loss. No doubt, an unpopular leader, a weak campaign, and muddled manifestos made things worse for the Comrades. But most 70 per cent to 80 per cent favourable incumbents win big. As a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) field worker told me: “Is not JLP people voting for, is Andrew Holness!''

Facing the greatest health and economic crisis in a century, the main question most voters asked was: Who will keep me and my family safer in this COVID-19 crisis, Andrew Holness or Peter Phillips? The answer, as polls predicted, was clear: It was a Brogad election.

The JLP's 2020 win is only the fourth most one-sided, after 1993, 1980 and 1997. But in 1980 the JLP was up against a still popular Michael Manley. In 1993 and 1997, the PNP confronted a resolute Edward Seaga.

In 2020, with Peter Phillips having announced his resignation, we don't even know who the next Opposition leader will be. The Comrades and 'socialists' also have a serious brand modernisation challenge on their hands. But a full PNP analysis requires a long article.

So Andrew Holness is possibly our most powerful elected leader since Alexander Bustamante in 1944. Abraham Lincoln supposedly said, “If you want to test a men's character, give him power.”

Lord Acton famously wrote: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Let's hope Holness has pondered history.

His 2016-2020 Administration governed well, but his slim majority made him perhaps vulnerable to party infighting and limited his scope of action to undertake fundamental change.

There are no such excuses now. With 48 seats and a weak Opposition he controls his own destiny. He has often talked of being “new and different” and invited us to hold him to higher standards. Well, he will, without question, be held to higher standards than any prime minister in history.

Jamaica's economy has struggled for decades, but Holness has the political space to rebuild properly, and once and for all put Jamaica on a sound footing to achieve economic independence. The digitisation of the economy, universal Internet access, reliable water supplies for citizens and farmers, educational reform, transforming our workforce while creating new jobs, and diversifying the economy: All these would certainly create a more resilient and prosperous country.

For decades Jamaicans have considered crime the country's biggest problem. We have the world's second-highest homicide rate, with 20,000 plus having been slaughtered in 15 years. Crime costs an estimated five per cent a year in gross domestic product (GDP) growth, and “5 in 4” will remain a fantasy until we drive the murder rate down.

It may be multi-factorial problem, but dons, political gangs and garrisons are obvious root causes of our obscenely high murder rate. No politician has admitted this as frankly as the prime minister himself.

“Zones of political exclusion are incompatible with freedom, and aspects of our politics are an affront to liberty. Both political parties have it within them to mutually agree to end the social construct of the garrison... Let us start the process by getting the leaders to walk together in these areas of exclusion... Hopefully, this small step will lead to other steps that will eventually remove garrisons from our political landscape.” —Andrew Holness, 2011 inauguration speech

“What would be incomprehensible to Sam Sharpe would be the organised violence of gangs and dons against their own people. Yes…the new oppressors, denying our people their freedom, the new slavery masters who use the gun instead of the whip to extort hard-working people of their earning, to demand daughters as tribute from their mothers, and recruit our sons into the murderous gangs, to drive fear into entire communities through threat of pain and the enforcement of death.” —Andrew Holness, 2018 Emancipation Day speech.

On August 3 the Government, Opposition, civil society, the churches, labour unions and the private sector all signed off on a National Consensus on Crime designed to “transform Jamaica into a safe, secure and investment-friendly society”. There has never been such a coming together in Jamaica of all the important national groups around a specific basket of detailed policies with deadlines, and an independent oversight committee with real authority.

Naturally the public is cynical. We have heard many such fine words before, but never seen them translated into action. It could only come to pass if the prime minister, as he has promised, puts every fibre of his being into implementing this National Crime Consensus's long-agreed-upon recommendations, such as police reform, evidence-based social intervention, and justice reform.

Numbers say Andrew Holness is the most popular sitting prime minister ever, and when Bluedot polls recently asked 'Which prime minister has done the most to benefit Jamaica', his 21 per cent trailed only Michael Manley's 38 per cent.

If this prime minister is able to get murders below 1,000 per year, and then to the 500 level, that would give us a 'normal' Latin American rate of 16 per 100,000. Does anyone doubt he would rank number one in any future prime minister polls?

The fundamental question is this: How great a prime minister does Most Honourable Brogad want to be?

Kevin Obrien Chang is an entrepreneur and public commentator. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or kob.chang@fontanapharmacy.com.


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