Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Jaevion Nelson | Government has failed West Kingston

Published:Thursday | September 8, 2016 | 9:44 AM

West Kingston is evidence of government's ineptitude to fulfil its obligations to its citizens, and the kind of devastating impact governmental negligence can have on families, communities and the society at large.

Every so often, the plight of residents in these communities remind us about the critical need for more structured, coordinated, holistic and sustained social programmes - not merely police and military interventions - that ensure residents will benefit beyond acquiring knowledge or new skills. We need assurance that there will be an improvement in their livelihood and well-being.

Together, Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town make up West Kingston which has been subjected to neglect year after year. Approximately, 10,000 people live in Tivoli Gardens in just about 2900 houses. In 2012, nearly 60 per cent of residents were 24 years or younger. 76.4 per cent of household heads had no academic qualification and over 60 per cent of others in each household has no qualification as well. High levels of youth and adult unemployment, low skills levels, limited or no opportunity for training and employment and high levels of high school dropouts are among the most pressing challenges residents faced. More than half of persons in the community are unemployed and, on average, nearly 30 per cent of household heads earn less than $20,000 per month. In fact, 41.8 per cent earn less than $80,000 monthly. Only 14.8 per cent of household heads receive additional support from government.

Denham Town is not so different. There are about 6300 residents in 1610 households. About 70 per cent of persons are below 30 years with children 0-14 years being 40.7 per cent and youth 15-24 years, 23 per cent. More than 70 per cent of persons 14 years and older have no academic qualification and less than one per cent have attained vocational, associate degree or other qualification beyond high school. Over 70 per cent of household heads are employed with 52 per cent of them being self-employed. Only 9 per cent of them receive additional assistance from the government.

 

WITHOUT THE 'BREADWINNER'

 

Too many of our communities are in a similar position. Too little is being done to lift our people out of poverty and give them an opportunity to fully benefit from and contribute to our development. It is time we lay much of the blame for the state of affairs in these communities at the government's feet.

The recent incidents of violence bring to fore the plethora of challenges bombarding residents in these communities. As Milton Tomlinson of Peace Management Initiative (PMI) said earlier this week, "The State has failed West Kingston". Before 2010, when Christopher Coke was arrested, the community "solve their problems on their own", he said as he discussed one of the ways in which this failure is manifested.

I think it is simple: if you remove alleged criminal elements from a community, you have to put lots of resources there to reduce their utility. West Kingston's order was disrupted by the state when its 'President' was removed and barely anything was done to facilitate and maintain a new order. Government's needed to become current and dependable - to fill the void. You have to reduce people's need to depend on criminals. You have to provide for them. Help them know how to live without the 'breadwinner' they've depended on (this is why anti-gang legislation won't work). You have to do everything in your power to ensure no other leader emerges and, most importantly, prevent gangs from fighting to control 'the turf'. It's really not difficult to understand. The doing might be more difficult but you have to try.

Criminals wield a lot of power in our communities by filling the gaps left by the government. They thrive and are protected by communities because of Government's failure. You can't remove dons and forget about the community. If that is the practice, then leave the don there.

Solving crime and violence requires more than the paramilitary approach we have become accustomed to and resigned in doing. We found millions to finance a Commission of Enquiry (CoE) which was necessary, but couldn't do for much needed interventions. The CoE concluded, its report published and we have heard barely anything since. Government has again failed the citizens of West Kingston. It is incumbent on all of us that people in inner-city communities are treated fairly. We can start by ensuring that they get the help they need.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.