Kingston Central: The result of poor political leadershipWednesday, June 23, 2021
What is happening in the Kingston Central constituency is nothing short of disgraceful. The recent flare-up of violence, with its resultant deaths and destruction of property, has left many citizens fearing for their lives. As they become psychologically traumatised, there is a feeling of abandonment, a creeping sense of hopelessness that there is no controlling authority to which they can turn as criminals are able to operate with abandon and impunity.
The Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang recently led a tour through sections of the community to assure the citizens that the Government is cognizant of their plight. This is after the People's National Party (PNP) caretaker for the area, Imani Duncan-Price, has been literally begging the authorities to establish a zone of special operations (ZOSO) there.
At the time of writing, there has been no definitive response from the authorities other than Prime Minister Andrew Holness saying that a state of public emergency is not on, and that a ZOSO calls for greater planning.
Meanwhile, the killings continue and the people live in fear not knowing who might be killed next. We will see what unfurls. Whatever measure is taken will give some welcome relief to residents that at least something is being done to address the problems. They know that time is not on their side, and that any further delay in dealing resolutely with the rampant criminality will result in further loss of lives and property. They need to be given hope, to be treated with dignity, and must be made to feel that they are not just pawns in a self-serving chess game among politicians or chained “hogs” in the ongoing warfare among criminal gangs.
The communities in Kingston Central live the horror to which all inner-city communities in the Kingston and St Andrew metropolitan area are subjected. They are characterised by poor economic development, social blight arising from a lack of robust investment in social capital by successive governments, and control by warring factions struggling for turf which are able to sow fear and mayhem as a result of the easy availability of high-powered guns.
Those that are definitely garrisons are ruled by dons who exercise local power with impunity over residents who are expected to pay them fealty. Thus, there is an abysmal breakdown in law and order in these communities. The failure, so far, of a robust response from law enforcement in the face of the ongoing violence in Kingston Central tells the story. The seeming impotence of the state in light of the continuing carnage will certainly embolden criminals and further depress the law-abiding.
But this is just one side of the coin. What we are seeing in Kingston Central and some inner-city communities is the abject failure of political leadership from both sides of the political fence to deal resolutely with the presenting problems. What is clear is that these communities did not arrive at this level social and economic blight overnight. They have suffered from malignant neglect from both major political parties, whose members have courted the votes of the residents over the years without showing any real interest to liberate them from the impoverished conditions in which they live. This is called disrespect.
This has been evident in Kingston Central, which has been largely a PNP constituency and once the political home of the socially sensitive and consummate defender of the poor and oppressed masses, Michael Manley. Not even he, as prime minister, was able to move the needle much in arresting the urban decay that was evident in the constituency. His successors did not fare any better. Not even the redoubtable Rev Ronnie Thwaites, who served as Member of Parliament for many years and who has a definite regard for the poor and oppressed, was able to raise the dignity of the people in the light of the tearing of the social fabric.
It is not difficult to conclude that getting and maintaining power was the essential passion; that the constituency has been seen as a mere conduit for political power; and once that was achieved there seemed to develop an absence of will to deal with the people's problems.
Not much has changed since the departure of the good reverend. There is still the characteristic rotting zinc fences and houses, dilapidated buildings, broken sidewalks (where any exists), and poor social amenities. There is also the continued “cass cass” among political rivals in the area. I listened to a recent interview on Nationwide Radio between the PNP caretaker aforementioned and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) councillor for the Rae Town Division Rosalee Hamilton. The interview left a lot to be desired. One got the impression that, outside of the usual political rivalry between political parties, there seems to be a mountain of ill-will between the political leaders in the area. It was more a tracing match than an interview, and you were left with the distinct impression that there is something fundamentally wrong with political leadership in the area.
I kept asking myself the question as to how can anything be done to help the people with this level of discord existing among, those who purport to love them, and who should have their welfare as the centre of their concern. Political leaders would be well advised to stop the bickering, seek to heal the wounds, and create a worthy template of concern that will redound to the best welfare of the people they serve. Tearing each other apart, spewing bile and vitriol at each other may win a tribal political fight, but the people will be left poorer for it. For not only is this injurious to good social discourse, but it leads to further despondency among the people who are desperate to see real, meaningful change.
They must become a part of the solution or cease the hypocrisy of trying to impress the people that they do care about them. There is an urgent need for a comprehensive plan to develop and re-invigorate the communities they lead. This will entail billions of dollars being spent, but no one politician in any of these areas can do the comprehensive and far-reaching work that will be required. The urgent call is for all hands to be on deck. This will necessitate a paradigm shift in the behaviour of political leaders which seem very absent at this time. Can we dare to hope for a change?
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books: Finding Peace in the Midst of Life's Storm and Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.