Mark Wignall | It's true, thugs fear obeah
Minister of National Security Bobby Montague reminds me in many ways of Joe Biden, Obama's vice-president. He is a good guy and his heart is in the right place, but every now and then, his own mouth trips him up.
"Mi nuh know weh him mean by dat," said a budding DJ of 39 when I pointed out to him that the security minister had said in jest at an anti-crime presentation that he has an uncle who is an obeah man. "Missa Montague look like a Maroon, so maybe is true."
Years prior to the 2010 Tivoli incursion, there was a gang allied to Dudus and his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Tivoli militia operating at various communities along Red Hills Road. The gangsters there had just about every business under a 'tax' regime where, weekly, a 'contribution' was made, ostensibly for protection from break-ins and to fund the gangster leadership that lived in the economically depressed garrison pockets mostly to the north.
One man owned and operated a small bar and shop complex. He was known to be a lodge man and quite proficient in the 'spiritual science' of obeah. The extortionists never once approached him because, as immersed as they were in the superstitions that governed their lives, they were deathly scared of upsetting 'di obeah man'.
A few top-ranking policemen and some criminals possess and wear guard rings, supposedly having the power to protect them from those who would be their enemies. It's all a bunch of nonsense, of course, but it's the belief in that which empowers the obeah man and the ring maker.
It may have been a knee-jerk response by Montague to the breadth of the violent crime problem facing this nation, or maybe he is more than subtly using sociology to tout a tradition that potentially will allow 'dutty criminal' to be fearful of his intentions in 2017. Or maybe he was just having a Joe Biden moment, Jamaican style.
When the minister said, in response to the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee of Parliament, "It is estimated that 600 weapons of varying calibres are illegally transported through 1,022km of unmonitored sections of Jamaica's coastline annually," and announced the arrival of state-for-the-art aircraft, ships and telecommunications that was more powerful than obeah, but it probably would have not occupied the prime time as obeah would.
In making reference to the destructive drugs-for-guns trade between Jamaica and Haiti and Colombia and Honduras, he said, "The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Coastguard's seizure of a load of cocaine being trans-shipped through our territorial waters in 2016 was the first such major bust in 14 years."
That is also much more effective than obeah.
In the 1980s, on my way to MoBay, I overnighted at a luxurious mansion owned by a lady called Miss Dolly, who lived in a fast-growing, swanky community in Westmoreland.
Miss Dolly could not read or write, but she was able to tell me that "di house cost bout one million fi build". In a coastal trade that ran at various inlets and coves close to dangerous honeycomb rocks, wooden canoes powered with outboard engines took pressed ganja out to sea where, at planned locations, submarine vessels would surface and US dollars exchanged for the drug.
Many people in that swanky community had satellite dishes, the ultimate creature comfort for the wealthy at those times. Living right beside Miss Dolly was a police constable in another million-dollar three-storey mansion.
The times have shifted from some people in St Ann and Westmoreland getting super rich off the illegal trade in ganja. For many years now, the focus has moved from owning a big house and two fancy cars to the explosion of gang activity involved in the drugs-for-guns trade, especially along the open south coast.
Certainly more important things than obeah were on the mind of the minister when he also told the committee, "These acquisitions will make the Jamaica Defence Coastguard far better equipped to detect and intercept illegal vessels farther out at sea. This enhanced capability for the JDF Coastguard will significantly reduce the landing of illegal vessels on our shores, choke off the supply of weapons to the criminal underworld, halt human smuggling, protect our fishing banks, and ultimately reduce the pressure on local law enforcement, while creating safer spaces in our communities and on the streets."
FIGHTING CRIME ON
It has never been a greatly held secret that throughout just about every regime of a commissioner of police, the weakest link has been the inability of the security agencies to plug up the coastlines and stem the flow of guns into the island.
Let it sink in that Minister Montague told us that 600 guns of various calibres gain entry to Jamaica through our porous coastline. That is, by any standard, a catastrophe for such a small country like Jamaica.
The police could engage gunmen for weeks and months and years in all the densely packed inner-city pockets throughout Jamaica, and if they seize a significant amount of firearms, the futility of it all will dawn on us as a new cache of arms to replenish that seized continues to come in.
Journalists and the general public should take heed of what the minister said and hold him to his words at the end of this year, namely, "Over the past 10 years, the Government of Jamaica installed only 110 CCTV cameras. The ministry intends to install a similar number of 110 CCTV cameras in targeted locations between now and December 2017."
Again, it all begins to come together as the JDF patrols the coast, the urban centres are fitted out with CCTV, and the trouble spots across the island are given not just more police presence but an effective policing infrastructure capable of better intelligence-gathering and high-tech detective work.
But a police force is only as good as its ability to swiftly respond to the calls of the public and to other emergencies. He said, "Over the past five years, the Ministry of National Security has spent, on average, $280 million annually to procure motor vehicles for the JCF (Jamaica Constabulary Force). For the 2016-2017 fiscal year, the ministry intends to spend $400 million to increase the mobility of the JCF."
I have already criticised the minister on his playing to the gullible gallery in seeking divine intervention in crime fighting. I did the same with the previous minister when he, too, bawled out for divine assistance.
It appears to me that the security minister intends to operate on all cylinders this year 2017. In fact, he has no choice. The continued political relevance of this JLP administration rests on the success of the Ministry of National Security.
From calling on God for help, then inventing an uncle who dabbles in the dark arts, all in an effort to figure out just how he should fit in the wider conversation on crime and finding solutions, Minister Montague seems to have settled on plugging the coastline, giving wider protection and crime prevention to citizens in towns and parish capitals and making the JCF a more effective agency.
So, you see, Minister, there are enough people already praying and the man with the two flags flying high by the old train line is still in business. You know the reality, Minister. Leave the fanciful to stand-up comedy.
When he said in his New Year's message to the JCF, "Do not listen to the doubters. This is your year. This is Jamaica's year," we took that at face value.
So as long as Bobby continues to walk the talk and get the desired results, many will likely forgive him when he goes off on another comedy call.