Ewart Walters | Category 7!
It was my friend and colleague the late journalist Carl Wint who, in a fit of despairing exasperation at the escalating corruption and crime, once called for "one God Almighty earthquake".
Carl would know. Things were getting worse. Several years before, he had faced death at the hands of a half-dozen boys hardly into their teens when a turn on to Gem Road in western Kingston that, with an impassable excavation right across the road, was a death trap. The boys who could hardly be seen behind their guns somehow allowed him and his passenger to leave with their lives after stripping them of their money. Now, many years later, things were indeed much worse. An earthquake would probably do the trick.
Carl died in 1999. Long before someone stole a beach. Long before a political party accepted millions of dollars from a foreign company seeking a contract for shipping oil to Jamaica. Long before buildings were constructed with more storeys than were permitted in stark defiance of the regulations. Long before a prime minister held a country to ransom by stonewalling a US extradition request for his most notorious constituent. Maybe one earthquake would not be enough!
Like hurricanes, earthquakes are measured on a scale of ferocity. Both are destructive elements. But they are also both elements of construction and reconstruction. Repairs and new buildings and new growth follow the destruction caused by hurricanes and earthquakes.
And it will indeed take something ferocious like a Category 7 version of either of these two events to change the culture of crime and corruption into which Jamaica has allowed itself to descend these past 55 years. That descent did not happen overnight.
COMMENTARY IN MUSIC
Many people, myself included, found it important to pay attention to the commentary our singers made on records. The seventies (with a few years tacked on at either end) was the heyday of the socio-political commentary in popular music. Indeed, the 1972 election campaign revelled in songs like Lord Deliver Us, Beat Down Babylon, Dem Haffi Get a Beat'n, Better Must Come, and Rat Race. But it was the Mighty Diamonds that pressed on towards the end of the decade with Roof Over My Head and When the Right Time Come, which latter included the prophetic words:
Time a go dread
Every gully a go run red.
Bear in mind that this was after the bloody half-decade 1975-1980 in which nearly 2,000 people were murdered (over 650 in 1976 alone and over 850 in 1980, both election years). But the Mighty Diamonds' most plaintive and compelling song was the 1981 Heads of Government in which they lamented the loss of the playful innocence of school days, noting that "heads of government are friends", and asking, "Why can't you and I be friends?"
Pretty innocuous stuff, don't you think? But who were these heads of government? The song went on to give a hint:
Ain't no place that you can go
Where the badness do not flow
You haffi run like beast outta East
You haffi chuck like the best in the West
You haffi walk wid your boss uppa North
Down South you haffi run up your mouth
Living in New York at the time, it was impossible to escape the pounding rhythm of the song. And then it was that I suffered shock because the album cover, in graphic detail, spelled out what was meant by the unusual phrase 'heads of government'. It was not anything that I expected.
The album cover depicted 12 'heads of government' around a conference table. They were individuals named as: Rema, Rockfort, Wareika, Jungle, Angola, Waterhouse, Judge F, Bunny, Toby and, at the head of the table, Prime Minister Edward Seaga holding hands aloft with Trench Town and President Ronald Reagan
There could be no mistaking the meaning: these were the people who "run tings!" These were the heads of government, and each one had a territory to govern! And this was Jamaica. In 1981. Or so the Mighty Diamonds saw it.
I have no idea how people on the ground in Jamaica interpreted all this. But to me it was a clear indication that it was not governance as usual. It was a stark warning that our culture had changed. Drastically. And that a price would have to be paid.
Immediate action is the drastic medicine we need to demolish the drastic sore of crime and corruption. It must include a pact by the political parties to discard partisan politics and embrace national development by agreeing to fight crime together.
It must include the prescriptions enunciated in the columns: a) 'Less prayer and more fire' by Dr Orville Taylor, and b) 'Pressure criminals, liberate communities' by Ian Boyne, which has drawn adverse attention, not to the content and gravamen of his piece but to the section where he says he is willing to give up some of his rights as quid for the pro of a peaceful life.
Immediate action must include the social development of urban centres that have been so grossly neglected and which have fuelled and embedded a culture that is completely alien to what the builders of the nation had in mind in the first half of the 20th Century. And this must be retained short, medium and long term.
Immediate action must include the technologies of DNA to overcome the reluctance and fear of potential witnesses and the 'informer fi dead' mentality.
Several short-term actions have been presented. These must include increasing the numbers of police and improving the conditions under which they work, and adjusting the training they require to meet the expectations of today and tomorrow.
So when we talk glibly now about "crime plan" and "curbing corruption", we have to know that it is not a breh-breh thing, or a dibby-dibby thing that can be solved with mere talk of plans. The culture has changed. It has to be countered with a massive culture change to shock the system. And this will require Category 7 hurricane magnitude - a turbulent shock to the system. A clearing out so we can rebuild. Are we up to it?
- Ewart Walters, CD, is a diplomat, author and journalist. His most recent book is 'We Come From Jamaica: The National Movement 1937-1962'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com