Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Key to Dismantling Garrisons: Empowering the People, not the State.

- Ruel Cooke

The Distinguished Fellow, Mr. Edward Seaga, has claimed on two occasions in my presence that academics are not capable of understanding political tribalism. And the Most Honourable gentleman is known for not suffering (educated) fools gladly. He could well be right, which explains the Babel coming out of the babble of voices since the events of Labour Day prescribing solutions to our political crisis ranging from a quasi-military solution to the problem of crime & violence, to cleansing the political deck and replacing the politicians with (not yet corrupted but soon to be) young politicians, or strengthening the hand of “civil society” to exercise control over the political system.

What is hidden from the wise and prudent is a simple truth revealed to the daily victims of political tribalism: the link between crime and politics can never be severed by our political leaders and power brokers – because it is the very basis of the system that perpetuates their political and economic power within a divided, under-developed society.

Those genuinely interested in political transformation – the current buzz-word of all and sundry – need to understand the nature of “political clientilism” and its root in economic deprivation. The person who coined the term, the late Professor Carl Stone, uses it in his book, Democracy and Clientilism in Jamaica, to describe a system where politicians “privatise” state benefits such as housing and employment and build clienteles of electoral support among the poor. In Electoral Support and Public Opinion in Jamaica, he explains that this is the device used by Government to gain mass support for policies and programmes which serve primarily middle-class and upper-class interests.

Based on this definition of the problem which has now blown up in our faces, the simple truth is that the politicians and leaders of civil society, whose interests are served by political clientilism, should not be expected to dismantle the system, no matter how sincere their protestations of concern. They may dismantle the garrisons which they have wittingly or unwittingly put in place to preserve their power (with unavoidable wanton destruction of life and property) but they will have to replace it with a more direct and repressive system of “law and order” – unless they are prepared to share some of their power with those who are deprived of it.

This is the truth that Mr. Seaga correctly points out that our middle-class intellectuals will never be able to fathom – garrisons are necessary for the preservation of the prevailing economic and social order. Speaking of a few “garrison constituencies” is a gross over-simplification of the problem. Our system dictates that there be an ever-increasing number of garrison communities of the urban poor of both stripes (green or orange) within constituencies.

Jamaica’s modern political system came into being as a result of the struggle of the poor around our first Labour Day in 1938 to change our economic system by any means necessary so that they could have a share of the economic cake. Ever since being given the power by the British to share up this cake our political leaders took the decision to share only that portion of the cake that its foreign and local owners were prepared to give up to preserve social peace. There just wasn’t enough to go around. Our politics thus became a struggle among warring tribes for state benefits. Those who had would have to be depended on to keep those who had not under heavy manners. And so Tivoli was born as the first institutionalization of this system into political garrison enclaves strong enough to preserve the political One Order throughout the entire constituency.

Clem Tavares soon caught on and built his own garrison community in Tavares Gardens (since captured by young Portia Simpson and reverting to its original name of Payne Land). Then Wilton Hill built his Wilton Gardens (Rema). The PNP caught on by the 1970s and not even its public rhetoric about the need for radical change of the system could prevent their cynical engagement in a massive programme of garrisonisation, beginning with Arnett Gardens. By the 1980s, the political enforcers woke up to the fact they were the real source of their political bosses’ power and of the continued ability of the owners of productive resources to conduct business in relative peace. Enter the don and his (masculine) system of donmanship.

The don emerged out of and eventually replaced the community youth clubs into which the corner crews were organized in the 1970s. When those who monopolised power in the land refused to empower these and other community organizations, their desperate leaders sought, in the 1980s, to empower themselves by seeking the voluntary payment of “survival taxes” by the owners of businesses operating within their respective communities. Since the authority of the democratic community structures were not recognized and legally enshrined by the state their authority had to be imposed through “badness” – the rule of benevolent terrorism of the don.

The solution to the rule of donmanship in the inner-city communities ought to be able to be simply and logically deduced, but is complicated in the tortured minds of those whose power depends on political clientilism but is now threatened by its offshoot - the disempowerment of the don can only be effected by the empowerment of the democratically evolved community organizations.

Effective empowerment means the politicians ceding the power to dispense state benefits (less, not more, MP-dispensed Constituency Development Funds); it means the people, through their democratic community structures, being given and accepting the responsibility for the productive utilization and development of idle or under-utilised human and physical resources within the borders of their community (including land); it means the people taking responsibility themselves for the security, welfare and development of their community and not depending on the benevolence of occupying external forces (including the state); and it means Government accepting its new role to be that of strengthening of the democratic authority of the community structures and the economic and social empowerment of all its citizens – (which cannot happen under the imposed regime of financial control by the globalizing power of the IMF).

Are we really ready for what it takes to effectively “dismantle the garrisons” and institutionalize the new political order that we now so glibly talk about?
Are we ready to stand up and fight the right revolution?
Are we ready to stand up and fight it just like soldiers?
Many are called, but… (Finish it for Brother Dennis Brown.)

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