Ending Jamaica’s Tribal Politics
Curtis A. Ward
(01 Jan 2017) — Taking time to assess 2016 and contemplate what’s ahead for 2017, my thoughts turned to Jamaica and some of the intractable issues which ails our beloved country. I searched my mind for the one issue that perhaps could create a paradigm shift in the political, economic and social architecture of Jamaica. An issue that could effectuate transformational change that is fundamental to move Jamaica forward. Several troubling issues affecting human security came to mind, including the abject poverty and societal marginalization of many of our citizens; the lack of equal access to quality education; the lack of access to quality healthcare for the vast majority of the people; and the seemingly intractable conditions conducive to recruitment to crime and violence, which have plagued Jamaican society for so long.
I thought about all of the progress we have made as a country; where we are today and where perhaps we should or could be at this stage of our development. I am cognizant of the progress in infrastructure development – our highways, airports, and sea ports, and the first class tourism product we offer to the world. I thought of the breath-taking beauty of our land and the wonderful diversity of our population. I thought of individual achievements of our citizens on the national and global stages in all areas and disciplines throughout our post-colonial history. I thought about the great achievements of Jamaican entrepreneurs, scientists, and members of Jamaican sporting fraternity.
But I kept ending up with one issue in mind; an issue which was introduced into Jamaican society before independence in 1962, and which has plagued our society over the 50+ post-independence years; an issue that has been most damaging in every respect. That issue is political tribalism in Jamaican politics and Jamaican society. This is not to be confused with fervent political Party support.
We applaud ourselves for our practice and defence of democracy. We are praised by others for our constitutional transfer of power following elections. I recognize there have been periods in Jamaica’s young political history when political campaigns have been associated with undesirable rhetoric and even violence. We have moved beyond the latter. However, a tremendous amount of work is still needed on the former. But, we have put in place measures and mechanisms to protect and ensure integrity in our democratic process that makes it easy for winners and losers to accept the outcome of our elections. Even in the “greatest” of democracies around the world, this is not always a given. Jamaica is well ahead of most countries in the world.
Yet our progress is inhibited due to the overzealousness in the Party-political support during election campaigns and the expectations and beliefs of the vast majority when their Party wins. They expect to be treated with special favours while discriminating against supporters of the losing Party. If we continue along this path, there can be no winners; we are all losers. The blame for this static affair lies squarely with the politicians who promote these unwarranted beliefs and expectations in order to advance their selfish political ambitions; all to the detriment of Jamaica’s progress.
For change to come to this unwholesome political practice, political leaders must speak out and act against political tribalism. If they love Jamaica, as they profess they do, then I summon them to action, to openly start the process now to end political tribalism in Jamaica. The future of our country demands it! The people must demand it! Political leaders, and so-called political leaders, must act upon it. Civil society must see this as a priority and push the politicians unhesitatingly.
For starters, you are not more of a Jamaican patriot if you wear Green or Orange. Wearing or displaying Party colours should only be appropriate at political campaign rallies, meetings, and conferences; never at non-party political pubic functions. A Party leader or any politician among the leadership ranks of his or her Party should not be wearing Party colours at non-political functions and occasions. I have seen this occurring. Events that are governmental, or otherwise in the public interest, should be devoid of any semblance of being Party-political. The men of either Party should refrain from wearing ties or other dress that are distinctly representative of their Party. The women should also dress appropriately. I find it to be deplorable when a Government Minister displays Party colours in his or dress at any time while acting in that capacity. Once in government a Minister represents all the people.
While visiting Jamaica members of the Diaspora have told me they have to be cautious of what colours they wear in public. I too have given thought to my dress, no matter where in Jamaica I may be. This is a sad commentary on the perceptions of the dangers of wearing the wrong colour in the wrong neighbourhood.
Good ideas, no matter the source should be discussed without consideration of credit to one political Party or another. It’s for the benefit of the country. Too often you hear a political leader declare he or she has the solution to fight crime or build a better road. Well, let the country benefit now not five or ten years later when your party is in power. If you have a better way to fight crime and you keep it to yourself, you share responsibility for every murder committed that could have been prevented had you shared your “crime-fighting solution.” On the other hand, the Government of the day must be receptive of a “better way” or be as guilty of crimes as the criminals themselves.
Only the people speaking out fearlessly can change the current mind set. But, the people cannot do so without a media that is impartial and unbiased and willing to give voice to the people who have something good to offer. The media must, without fear or favour, be inquisitive and probing, ensuring the truth is told. Too often because of political bias politicians and followers make up their own facts with total disdain for the truth. This may work in the short-term but it has long-term negative effects on our country. It is the role of the media to separate truth from fiction, facts from opinions.
I am reminded of a quote from the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan:
“You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”
And that of American writer Harlan Ellison who took this a bit further:
“You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”
Let’s go forward in 2017 and beyond as one united Jamaica and make our country a better place for all.
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward, B.A., J.D., LL.M., is an attorney and international consultant, and Adjunct Professor in the Homeland Security Graduate Program at the University of the District of Columbia. As former Ambassador of Jamaica to the United Nations he served two years on the U.N. Security Council. He was Expert Adviser to the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee for three years. He specializes in terrorism/counterterrorism legal and policy frameworks; anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT); sanctions implementation; crime and security; human rights, rule of law and governance.