Playing Politics With Jamaica’s Future
Editor’s Note : The views expressed below are not my own. Javed Jaghai returns to Veritas with his take on Jamaica’s current political realities. Read. Reflect. Comment.
Jamaican politicians may be terrible leaders, but they are masters of political strategy. They understand our culture very well. They know how to appease us, they know how to mistreat us (and get away with it), and they know that we are familiar enough with each other to privilege loyalty and character over intellect and effectiveness.
Our past and present politicians must be held responsible for the state of Jamaica today. By the time the stalwarts who have served since my birth die, their obituaries will tell of how long they served and how dedicated they were to public service but will say nothing of how poorly they governed.
Jamaica is a very small island with a correspondingly small population. The interconnected webs of social and familial ties breeds familiarity, which, I believe, violates and degrades traditional means of guaranteeing accountability. We trust our elected representatives and we continue ‘fi gi dem a bly’ even though their record of accomplishment speaks volumes to their incompetency. When they consistently perform less than satisfactorily and especially when they fuck up, we excuse their ineptitude with superficial considerations like their so-called ‘good moral character’ and ‘commitment to the community’.
I believe this is why Jamaican politicians maintain such strong relations with the church. The illusion of moral uprightness provides cover for their transgressions. “Him a good man who care bout di community so mi ago vote fi him again,” his constituents will say. So he’s a good man. Who gives a shit? Is he effective as a representative of your district in the house of parliament? Did he fulfill his duties as a minister and advance national development? Whenever the answer is no, elected representatives should never be rewarded with a second, third or fourth term in office. The fact that we continue to elect the same impotent bunch over and over illustrates the perverse nature of the political system that we contend with today.
When it comes to politics in Jamaica, I am decidedly non-partisan. My parents were indifferent to politics and so I was never fed even a moderate dose of orange or green Koolaid. In America, I would belong to the much-touted constituency of ‘independents’, but there’s no such category in Jamaica because we don’t vote on issues, we vote for personalities. If I should vote, I would be helping to sustain a system that I believe is rotten at its core and which does not serve the interests of the majority of Jamaican people.
I sometimes get the feeling that our politicians think governing Jamaica is a game. The fact that we allow them the chance to try their hand at fixing Jamaica every five years, despite evidence that they are incapable of doing so, affirms this notion. But we are not fictional characters. And no you cannot simply start over each time you fail the same level because we have high-level needs. At least, you shouldn’t be able to.
We need to start holding our politicians accountable and when they fail to live up to our expectations they need to know that there will be consequences. Some might say, “But dem know how wi feel. We complain all the time and demand better leadership!” Sure, but complaining is not the same as taking action and holding someone accountable.
What do I mean?
When you murmur your disappointment with the performance of the government, they can’t hear you. When you scream and rant on Twitter and Facebook, yeah, they still can’t hear you. I find that the political culture which nurtures our politicians supports egotism. They almost never accept fault graciously and there is no limit to the errors they can make with impunity. You can write letters to the press until the Lord comes, they are too assured of their invincibility to give a fuck about what you think.
The frustration I feel is a collective frustration. Yet, our exasperation isn’t being felt in Gordon House. I don’t think our elected representatives understand the OUTRAGE I feel when I think on the reality that my country cannot learn to grow itself out of this abyss of mediocrity. Until we make our concerns real by literally screaming so loudly that they can no longer ignore us, we will continue to think we are powerless.
All of us must take responsibility for having allowed successive governments to violate the implicit contract between citizens and elected representatives.
Supporters of the PNP mostly fall into one of two categories: they are either mum on political matters to assuage their guilt or they are cheerleaders for the PNP, forever urging the rest of us to come together and rally behind every wishy-washy policy or intervention the government proposes. You will often see them tweet or post that they are “disappointed in Portia”—never outraged. They lament the performance of the party they voted for but console themselves with the convenient thought that things would probably be worse with JLP leadership.
Supporters of the JLP are equally hilarious. Of course, they always knew ‘Portia and the PMP’ would mash up the country. They’re the most vocal critics of the PNP and they almost always have a smug ‘I told you so’ tone that is rather self-serving. They lament that Jamaica is ‘PNP country’ and affirm that they simply must win the next election to put Jamaica back on track. They are usually the first to expose the transgressions of the PNP, which should be a good ting, yet you get the sense that in doing so they are trying to legitimize their leadership potential and increase their chances at winning the next general election. Their constructive feedback is usually preceded by bitter criticism that is not in the spirit of bipartisan collaboration. Merely demanding better leadership from the overlords of Jamaica’s government bureaucracy—that they themselves are part of—for the sake of our collective welfare would asking for too much.
I belong to the third group that doesn’t vote in elections and has only a passing interest in the political affairs of the country. Last election cycle we were about 50% of the electorate. We literally have NO faith in what we see as a broken political system and culture ‘weh tek people fi eediat.’ We curiously observe the back and forth between JLP and PNP aficionados while furthering our disillusionment with politics. We are the people on the Titanic who knew the ship was sinking, that there weren’t enough lifeboats to deliver everyone to safety, and so cuddled under their bedsheets and waited to drown in the rising seawater.
Who amongst us then is holding the government accountable? Who are the ones who have had enough and will march on Gordon House every day until our elected representatives and their minions remember that they are not our masters but our servants? There are a few prominent voices in civil society who consistently speak out against government excesses and ineptitude, but they do not speak for the population at large and we aren’t rushing to join them in what seems like a futile attempt to instigate change.
Whatever your misgivings about the PNP, despite your disillusionment, and in spite of your tribalistic urge to heap adulations onto and withhold criticism of the PNP, every Jamaican should be outraged that despite having a stable democracy for the last three decades, our country is stagnating. The profligate excesses of our inefficient government will continue if we do not act decisively. Civil disobedience is our only recourse—literally, nothing short of a revolution will do—but we are too cowardly for that. We are the slaves who grew accustomed to a life of servitude and who, fearing punishment, couldn’t bother to challenge their assumed masters.
To those who will cynically tell me the government can’t do everything: STOP finding excuses for the government. Yes the private sector, civil society and citizenry have a part to play, but we must work in tandem with our elected representatives, not in spite of them.
To the members of the intelligentsia who support these corrupt, power-hungry political parties: you are holding Jamaica back. I understand you are the beneficiaries of government contracts, waivers and concessions. I understand that you are the ones who fill the numerous public sector political positions. I get why you are so invested in preserving the status quo. But the way we do politics in Jamaica is untenable. It does not serve the interests of the vast majority of Jamaicans. Those of us who understand this truth must voice it incessantly and loudly.
Half the voting age population kyaahn bada. Wi done. We have ZERO faith in the system. We are the people who’ve crawled our way out of the JLP-PNP whirlpool of oppression. It is we who will have to rise up and demand better leaders who understand their obligation to the citizenry.
I know my vision is an ambitious one given our apathy, self-interested natures, and doubts about whether we have what it takes to achieve meaningful change in Jamaica. Nevertheless, I’ll settle for being the crazy guy who truly believes that the next generation deserves better. I remain convinced that if ‘mi naa lik out gainst di sistim’ then I’m helping to sustain it. I don’t want that burden on my conscience. Do you?
This year I turn twenty-four. The only Jamaica I have ever known is mired in poverty, crime and held hostage by poor governance. When it becomes painfully obvious that the Vision 2030 National Development Plan is a pipe dream, the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) will release Vision 2050 and ask us to continue dreaming. I am tired of dreaming; I am ready to live and fight for the future of my country. While we bicker about whether to trust the JLP or the PNP, our politicians carry on with business as usual and the country hurtles toward failed-state status.
My people, wake the fuck up.