Thu | May 23, 2019

Mark Wignall | Can one make a case for donmanship?

Published:Sunday | February 18, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Jamaican gang leader Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke is being led away by federal agents in the United States.
'Dudus' supporters demonstrate along Spanish Town Road on May 20, days before a bloody clash between the security forces and a private militia hunkered down in Tivoli Gardens.

They came in 2010 and they took him away. When Christopher Coke, aka Dudus, was taken by the Americans in 2010, he was the absolute boss in Jamaica.

Big politicians took his calls even if it had to mean that they had to bolt out of important meetings and speak in hushed tones on the other phone line.

Dudus was more than just notionally Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). He grew up in the whole idea of the JLP as the good guys and the People's National Party (PNP) as the epitome of evil. As he moved exponentially from the 1980s open, proud, and defiant violence of his father, the late Lester Lloyd Coke, aka Jim Brown, the young heir to what political violence had given birth to arrived at a place where his raw inflows of cash made the politicians the chaff and he the boss of the estate.

In the years before 2010, when he was taken, he had done what no other person who was non-political had done. He had melded the street forces allied to his JLP side of guns, drugs, extortion, murder for hire with those in the trenches of the PNP involved in the same criminality. PNP and JLP politicians were livid.

It would never be stated in the extradition papers shipping him off to the powerful USA, but the number-one concern among a significant percentage of politicians in Jamaica at that time was the extent to which the moves of Dudus could render redundant the power of those politicians who needed tribalism to maintain their power.




So, in 2010, both JLP and PNP politicians wanted him gone. How dare he, they thought, usurp what is only ours and not having 'honourable' attached to his name!

From the late 1990s into the 2000s, the power of Dudus grew to the point that one source inside Tivoli contacted me and pleaded with me that Dudus was then focused on 'business' and he was quite anxious to get the young members of his armed militia on to that mindset.

They literally begged me to write that as one of the fears they had was that a certain policeman named Mark Shields was bringing too much focus on the operations behind the power that Tivoli Gardens wielded nationally.

When dances were kept downtown, the cars of uptowners were guaranteed safe - courtesy of the power of Dudus. Vendors in the market were safe from robberies, and their young daughters had less fear of rape - courtesy of the power of Dudus.

Large construction sites only had to let it be known that 'Tivoli connections involved' and other independent gunmen and part-time thugs would back off - courtesy of the power of Dudus.

It is, therefore, useful to ask the question now: They have taken him away, so why can the State not maintain the peace?




In the 2000s when a number of politically connected druggists from the north coast were extradited, a politician told me that problems were going to crop up.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Nuff a di yout in dis country have no skills and can't last a day outa road if dem can't get a likkle work fi sweep up a place or mix cement. When a woman know dat is all yu can do, she nuh want yu. Dem yout know dat."

According to him, when those druggists were extradited, something had to give. "Di lottery scam came about because of the whole heap a yout who get involve wid di brighter yout dem who push it."

Kenley 'Bebe' Stephenson eventually became the face of the lottery scam in the western end of the island, with a focus on St James. He was colourful, proudly gay, and he never cared to hide his more than notional connections with the PNP and its politicians in Montego Bay and environs.

Indeed, it is a truism that in Jamaica, no criminal enterprise or individual can exist for long without it being linked to one of our two tribal factions, PNP or JLP. Therefore, those druggists who were extradited and who gave way to Bebe all had their attachments.

No wonder Dudus had to go. He was in the process of showing the street elements that they did not need those political encumbrances to stay alive and to thrive.

The druggists were removed from MoBay and it gave rise to the scammers. Bebe was shot dead, and the lottery scamming found itself like a washing machine with the door open. Scammers spreading out all over. Now, St James can only be socially viable in lockdown mode.




One of the harsh realities behind the power of Dudus was the chainsaw at night and the courts where rapists were found guilty and despatched to the soil, and common thieves had their limbs violently misshaped.

The drug dons in the northern and western end of the island had their violent sanctions, too, and the fear empowered them and drove the people into a submissive whole. I am certain that Bebe was no nun operating in some hallowed cathedral.

The question is, why can the state machinery not guarantee our people some acceptable state of order? Must the State be like the early days of all dons in this country and go on a wild rampage that drives fear into the population?

The truth is, that is what gave dons their power: others people's fear of their violence. A week ago, a close friend of mine told me of an experience he had the week before in the heart of downtown but slightly to the eastern side.

"It was a dance. No nasty music, but real dancehall. At about 10:30, the don sent out a message that all children should leave. At the same time, he used the mike to inform mothers of their responsibility to their children," he said.

"Certainly, you are joking with me," I said.

"No. He then used the mike again to ask people to go and check their cars and report to him if anything was wrong. As the police came by, he invited them to speak and say a word to the people. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised."

"How old is he?' I asked.

"Oh, I figure he is about maximum thirty-five."

My uptown friend, who is a stockbroker living uptown, told me he left at about 2 a.m. "At that time, he told the people that the police had reported a complaint, so he was asking them to go home."

The ZOSO in Denham Town is trying to contain what may prove to be impossible to contain. That is, unless the 'powers' at street level are involved. The reality is, the politicians who have spent years representing violent inner-city pockets have gained votes and power by it, and they do not have to live there and have no intention of ever doing so.

The solutions exist inside these troubled communities and not from some external saviour entities. The police on the ground in St James and in Denham Town are patchwork for the moment. The community leaders need to be given all the assistance possible to make the full quilt.

They know the people and their pains. They know that the politicians have grown powerful from those very long seasons of pain. Those leaders in the community sit beside the people, eat with them, and pray with them. They have seen the tears and the generations of hurt.

They know how to get it right. But they need to be shown the jumper cable to start the process immediately after the military trucks drive out.

- Mark Wignall is a commentator on political and public affairs. Email feedback to and