Are you a patriot or a parrot?
Now that Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Mark Golding have publicly vowed to work in unity with respect to the cancerous issue of crime and violence in the Jamaican society, it behoves all well-thinking Jamaicans to step up to the plate and stand and be counted. Indeed, the time has come for citizens from all walks of life to put their country first and not their party.
Needless to say, there will be many sceptics out there who see this latest “road to Damascus” experience by our two major political leaders as just another sideshow orchestrated by a naïve but well-meaning set of church leaders. Given the fact that this country is so sharply divided into two tribes that are perpetually at war — more verbal than physical these days, thank God — these two leaders will have to display much courage and testicular fortitude to withstand the rabid cynicism that is likely to emanate from their followers who persistently see everything through either green or orange lenses.
To begin with, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader may be seen as surrendering to the inevitable realisation that his Administration’s efforts to tame the crime and violence monster have failed, so in a last ditch effort he is seeking to come across as being consensual and accommodating by welcoming the People’s National Party’s (PNP) president’s input in this ongoing fight, thus deflecting some of the political fallout that has been dogging him and his seemingly hapless National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang.
Where is he in all of this? Will Chang ultimately be the sacrificial lamb based on public opinion which continues, in my opinion, to see him as the worst minister to have held that portfolio to date should there be a Cabinet reshuffle leading up to the general election?
Golding, on the other hand, may be hard-pressed to explain to his not-so-easily convinced Comrades that working hand in hand with “Brogad” may turn out to be a kiss of death, which is defined by the Concise Oxford English Dictionary as “an action that ensures failure”, especially when apparently benign. Of course, in the final analysis, Holness does bring to the table a great deal of political baggage relating to his credibility based on previous utterances and his persistent “hugging up” of the states of public emergency and, to a lesser extent, the zones of special operations that have seen limited but no sustainable successes, not to mention the burning issue of corruption which hangs like an albatross around his neck. Against this backdrop, Golding comes across as almost squeaky clean which is why wary Comrades may hesitate to support this well publicised détente.
But, let us face it, when all is said and done, is there any other way to tackle crime and violence in this county? Problem is we are now approaching an election cycle with the local government elections most likely to be held next month, and which, for intents and purposes, will be a referendum on the Holness Administration.
To what extent will both leaders be able to “hold their tongue” when it comes to tackling crime and violence issues when, more than likely, their “tongues will be drawn”, especially on the campaign platforms?
Here is where the role of the political ombudsman could prove to be most pivotal. But will both men be willing to see this as part of the overall approach to defusing the spate of violence of words and possible actions that is likely to emanate from the hustings? In this vein, other civil society groups, as well the Church and private sector organisations which wield tremendous influence, must come to the fore and act as mediators as well as conscience prickers.
In all of this, the highly touted but ignored Vale Royal talks must become a regular feature as part of this historic holding of hands between these two leaders. It is well known that when push comes to shove party supporters will push their leaders into certain directions that may not be in the best interest of the nation at large but actions and utterances that satisfy narrow partisan objectives. And there’s the rub.
Even as this relatively fledgling nation approaches its 62nd year of having attained political independence, there is a sense that we continue to be on the verge of becoming a failing State, a kleptocracy, or a banana republic. In this context of wrestling to find our true nationhood, the most inhibiting factor remains that of too many voters simply “parroting” what their leaders say or do. We still have a political culture in which a Jamaican will proudly say “up to the dog inna mi yard is either a Labourite or a Comrade”. In essence, their leaders can say or do no wrong and must always be idolised and put on a pedestal of immunity.
Unfortunately, many politicians adhere to this destructive practice which can only help to further alienate the thousands of Jamaicans who are wanting to be patriots, not “parrots”. Regrettably, as in the animal kingdom, birds of a feather flock together, and in the case of our politics, too many parrots abound.
In all of this, a way must be found to chart a new course for a new Jamaica, beginning as all patriotic citizens are insisting with a Values and Attitudes campaign. Such critical areas of self-love, good attitude and conduct, acceptable mannerisms, integrity, character, self-control, self-respect, self-branding, and conflict resolution must be inculcated in the minds and of every Jamaican from an early age so that in the long run they will not be susceptible to be just chirping, “follow fashion” parrots, but true patriots.
Even as we face the challenges of a new year fraught with many possibilities and pitfalls, let us all vow to be patriots and not parrots. Which one are you?
Lloyd B Smith has been involved in Jamaican media for the past 48 years. He has served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica, where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.