It's time to fight for Jamaica againMonday, May 28, 2018
The early history of British rule in Jamaica is one that was punctuated with barbaric oppression and violent conflict. Had it not been for the indomitable spirit of slaves — who rebelled against the evil institution of slavery, and later their descendants rebelled against social injustices — the shackles of slavery and colonialism would have taken a longer time to dismantle.
It was African slaves and their descendants who forced the British crown to slowly make changes that were less oppressive. Those changes began with the abolition of slavery in 1834, full emancipation in 1838, adult suffrage in 1944, and climaxed with independence on August 6, 1962. It is worth noting that when Britain relinquished their hegemonic control of the island they left the new nation with a sound economy, functional infrastructure, and little to no social or political problems. Today, Jamaica struggles with problems that emanate from a corrupt and what some would say an inept political system.
No one could have foreseen that after the first decade of Independence, Jamaica would become a violent society with a high murder rate that is one of the highest in the world. This murder rate is one that has grown exponentially with little to no indication that this trend will be reversed any time soon. To compound the problem, it seems as if the feeling of optimism and the sense of national unity and pride that Independence ushered in all faded away.
Jamaica's transformation into a violent society started to evolve with the political rivalry between Michael Manley and Edward Seaga in the 70s. Their rivalry would change the political landscape of Jamaica's politics — a change that is visible today with the erosion of the social milieu, the body politic, and the economy. It was also a rivalry in which both leaders got negative help from foreign influences — Manley from communist Cuba and Seaga from America — that introduced gun violence and corrupted the political system.
Like their ancestors, who faced the barbarity of slavery and the oppression of colonialism, Jamaicans today are experiencing the oppression of violence that comes from young, Jamaican men who have opted for a life of crime and violence. Since 1972 these young men have been organising themselves into gangs and, with their illegal guns, have inflicted terror, death, and destruction on the people.
Unlike their ancestors who fought valiantly against their colonial oppressors, Jamaicans today are not doing that against their contemporary oppressors. For the most part, they stand on the sideline observing and relying on the Government and the police to deal with the problem. Unfortunately, with the inept and corrupt political system in place, the Government has not provided any confidence vis-à-vis guaranteeing public health and safety from the violence of gunmen. The dire consequences of this failure is that violent crime is at the critical point (or near to it) at which Jamaica could spiral into anarchy.
For Jamaica to reverse itself from the bloody path of violent crime it has been navigating, two requirements must be established:
1) engage in the game that is played in the political arena to defeat the crime monster, and
2) summon the indomitable fighting spirit of their ancestors to fight the evil monster of violent crime, just like their ancestors did to overcome their oppression.
The former was recognised by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen in his throne speech for the 2018/19 parliamentary year: “The fight against crime is one that we all must be a part of. It is one that we cannot afford to lose, and one that every Jamaican who wants to see a brighter day must be encouraged to join.” Sir Patrick is right, but it will require Jamaicans becoming more proactive and doing things like forming effective social movements. The latter requirement is more a factor of the psyche as it will need Jamaicans to draw on their will and patriotism to help them transcend their blind political allegiance, which does not help to achieve positive results.
Whether Jamaicans can summon their ancestral fighting spirit will in some measure depend on their ability to free themselves from the tentacles of a political system that breeds corruption and tribalism. This is essential because it is the corruption of the political system (as manifested with garrison constituencies, political scandals, and political tribalism) that has rendered the politicians ineffective in performing their governance duties effectively. The unprecedented violence and high murder rate cannot be separated from these political problems, as they have helped to create a fertile environment for various forms of criminality — violent crime, political malfeasance, extortion, scams, gangsterism, and other negative elements.
Despite the albatross of violent crime that hangs around Jamaica's neck, there are encouraging signs of Prime Minister Andrew Holness mustering some bold actions to control the crime monster. Earlier this year, the he implemented the zones of special operations (ZOSO) initiative and states of emergency in St James and St Catherine North police divisions. These measures, however, are more Band-Aids to stem the haemorrhaging and do not eradicate the endemic source or nature of the problem. Furthermore, from a political perspective, fighting crime has to be a non-partisan effort.
Jamaica is a country with enormous potential and it's time to stop squandering that potential and put the country on a new path of sustained growth and development. Yes, it is time for Jamaicans to summon the indomitable spirit of their ancestors — Nanny of the Maroons, Captain Cudjoe (leader of the Maroons), Tacky, Samuel Sharpe (the Baptist minister), and Paul Bogle who fought against slavery and the oppression of colonialism — to fight the crime monster and destroy it.
Jermel Shim is an author. He most recent book is The Long Road to Progress for Jamaica: The Achievements and Failures Since the Post-colonial Era. Send comments to the Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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