For around 70 years, including nearly half a century as an independent country, Jamaica has been in the capture of two gangs. Officially, they are political parties – the Jamaica Labour Party, which currently forms the Government, and the People’s National Party, which is the Opposition.
Over these seven decades, these gangs, sometimes after violent competition, have alternated in the rule of the country and their control of the lives of its citizens.
The two political gangs, or large swathes thereof, have themselves been captured by, fallen under the influence of, or made common cause with, gangs of another type: those engaged in organised crime and violence that help them to maintain their capture.
In other words, the politically aligned criminal gangs are praetorian guards of the parties that are themselves exceptionally good at advancing their own interests: the pursuit of power.
We will, of course, be told that things have changed. Maybe. But not by much.
What, however, is beyond doubt is that our political parties have not been good at the pursuit of the interests of the Jamaican people and the advancement of the country.
For instance, for more than a quarter of a century, Jamaica has, essentially, faced economic stagnation. Our average yearly growth has been hardly more than one per cent a year.
By and large, there has been a breakdown of law and order, unless we take into account the order violently imposed by the praetorian gangs and their offshoots in those zones of political exclusion for either party that we call garrison communities.
Indeed, despite the sharp decline in homicides in recent months, compared to a year ago, Jamaica’s homicide rate, of around 55 per 100,000 of population, is among the world’s highest.
Each year, no more than a fifth of the high-school ‘graduates’ have done well enough to matriculate to university, or compete for quality jobs, of which there are few.
But perhaps the most damning verdict on the state of the country, and the lack of confidence in its future and low levels of trust in its leadership, is that up to 80 per cent of all university graduates emigrate.
Looked at another way, Jamaica faces a profound crisis whose repair demands a revolution of thought, and a willingness of those in leadership and with power to admit to the situation and to take a stand in favour of change. We believe that this should start with the political parties and their leaders.
Charting a new path
The parties, in this regard, must:
- Commit to reforming themselves, starting with a break in their relationships with criminal gangs and/or their many senior members and close adherents who are connected and aligned to gangs and other criminal elements.
- Become transparent in their operations, in particular about their sources of finance.
- Open their integrity processes to public scrutiny.
- Go on a drive to recruit new and competent talent, in particular people with skills in management and business.
- Reorganise themselves at the ground level, ensuring a process that attracts not only those whose main assets are that they are uncritically loud and tribal, with much time on their hands. This may be the easy way for those who lead, but not a good way to develop informed, accountable and progressive leadership.
It is urgent, we feel, that the parties and their leaders stand up for Jamaica.