The root of the problem
As African and Caribbean nations grapple with the issue of increasing crime rates, many solutions are being put forward to help these governments wrestle crime and violence to the ground.

Dear Editor,

In the movie Trading Places starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, two Caucasian business tycoons make a bet that under the right circumstances a street smart criminal (Eddie Murphy) could be transformed into a successful business executive and that a certain set of circumstances could change a successful business executive (Dan Aykroyd) into a violent criminal. The experiment involved providing Murphy with new opportunities to succeed and taking away the conditions of success from Aykroyd.

Murphy was pulled from the streets and given and good-paying executive job, while Aykroyd lost his executive job, his money, and his fiancé. As the movie plot progresses a metamorphosis occurs in both men as each, based on the new set of circumstances confronting them, started making a different set of life choices. Murphy becomes a successful executive, while Aykroyd buys a gun and goes off the deep end.

The plot of Trading Places has stayed with me over the years because it raised in my mind the possibility that there is a hidden hand that influences success and failure in the modern world. Two powerful men made a bet and then proceeded to engineer circumstances that would favour success for one man and failure for another. The movie also set me thinking about how life circumstances can influence the choices we make, both positively and negatively.

As African and Caribbean nations grapple with the issue of increasing crime rates, many solutions are being put forward to help these governments wrestle crime and violence to the ground. Solutions include the reinstatement of capital punishment; longer prison sentences for gun-related criminality; a gun amnesty followed by stiffer penalties for illegal gun possession; tougher tactics by the police against armed criminals; greater policing of air and sea ports to reduce the entry of illegal guns; and more prosecutions directed against those financing the importation of guns and drugs.

According to a Global Finance Integrity report, transnational crime rakes in approximately US$ 2.2 trillion annually. Surprisingly, the counterfeiting of money and goods is the greatest revenue creator for transnational criminals, followed by drug and human trafficking. With so much money involved in transnational crime, a PhD in quantum physics is not necessary to figure out why crime and violence is escalating worldwide.

The increase in crime and violence globally is compounded by rising inflation, low wages, and high levels of unemployment, especially among the younger demographic, which also happens to be the demographic targeted for recruitment by organised crime syndicates. Young men who have failed in the educational arena will find the dangerous but lucrative rewards offered by organised crime to be far more appealing than minimum wage jobs that are incapable of adequately paying the bills.

The havoc being created by young men in African and Caribbean societies seems to be suggesting that far greater emphasis needs to be placed on the socialisation of boys in African and Caribbean societies. If the male energy is not harnessed to the wheel of production in support of family and society, this energy will be experienced in varied antisocial forms. Criminality is just one of the ways in which societies negatively experience unharnessed male energy.

Boys, perhaps more so than girls, need to be immersed in vocational skills programmes that will equip them with marketable skills in addition to whatever number of Caribbean Examinations Council subjects they are able to attain at the secondary level of education. It may be too late to do this training after our boys leave secondary school as the crime syndicates are clearly not waiting to recruit them after they graduate high school.

Internship programmes can also be created for secondary school students that would allow them to get some hands-on experience and apply the vocational skills acquired. Youth entrepreneurial schemes that provide both training and financing would also be a boon for young people with a desire to launch out into the world of business creation.

Since it is becoming increasingly more difficult for governments in Africa and the Caribbean to provide employment for our growing army of young people, the least that can be done is the creation of an environment that supports young people who wish to launch their own business enterprises.

Any hidden hands that promote the success of one group while simultaneously inducing failure in another group need to be brought into the light and broken publicly. Nothing will sap the creative energy of the masses more efficiently that the realisation that there are hidden hands which open doors for the few while slamming the same doors shut in the face of the many.

All the solutions put forward may have some merit, but ultimately the root cause of crime and violence is poverty combined with ignorance and a lack of opportunity. Just as a starving man will risk punishment to gain access to food that will satisfy his hunger pangs, so, likewise, will financially deprived men and women resort to crime to get the money they need to survive in today's world. Many educated people will more often than not prefer to be without a job rather than work for the minimum wage. The same is true for many uneducated people who would chose unemployment rather than working for starvation wages.

Governments have a role to play in providing people with options so that they do not have to turn to the world of crime to survive. The masses also have a role to play in the crime-proofing of themselves and their families. Since education has proven to be the quickest way for the masses to experience a bit of upward social mobility, it would make sense for young people to take advantage of every educational and training opportunity made available to them.

Lenrod Nzulu Baraka

founder of Afro-Caribbean Spiritual Teaching Center

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