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Stabroek News

Political tribalism and garrisons
published: Monday | April 3, 2006

Beverley Anderson -Manley

WHEN MICHAEL Manley and I first met Eric Williams, the eminent historian and late Prime Minister of Trinidad' in the early '70s - the conversation was instructive for a number of reasons.

I mention two aspects of that conversation - one - he warned our newly- elected Prime Minister that politics is not a 100-metre dash, but a long-term race. The second was that in his view, partly because of the high levels of expectations among Caribbean peoples - Caribbean Prime Ministers often died of a broken heart. I think this was true of both Norman Manley and Michael Manley.

Not so with former Prime Minister P. J. Patterson, although he has already expressed some disappointments. A strategic thinker, PJ chose his method of leaving long in advance and stuck to it, no matter what the circumstances.

He is happy to have served and equally happy to get on with other aspects of his life, including his commitment to write about the history of politics in Jamaica. It is useful to analyse the transition in the People's National Party and perhaps use it as a model, particularly but not exclusively for political leaders.


Being a political leader is often traumatic, particularly in emerging countries with problems like the ones we have in Jamaica, where expectations are high as mentioned earlier.

In Jamaica, when a tribal template is placed on the Westminster Adaptation System of Governance - we end up with the kind of results that we are getting - low levels of economic growth; the 'garrisonisation' of our politics; high levels of crime and anti-social behaviour, as well as levels of corruption permeating the entire society. This corruption is both at the institutional and individual levels.

The results include elections that end up with the winner taking all - no matter how small the margin of victory. The surprising thing is that in spite of these facts, our people still have enormous expectations of our political leaders and high levels of dependency on them. "If we keep on doing what we always do, we will keep on getting what we always get."


One of the disappointments of the Patterson administration must be its inability to deal with tribal politics in a fundamental way. The number of garrison constituencies remain (with more garrisons on the PNP side than on the JLP side) - but they remain.

There was some amount of optimism among certain elements of civil society when on 30th August, 1996, then Prime Minister Patterson "announced that after consultation with the three major political parties and other organisations, he had decided to appoint a broad-based National Committee on Tribalism to consider and recommend practical steps to reduce political tension and violence".

In keeping with the broad-based nature of the committee, members included representatives from the political parties, the Association of Women's Organisations of Jamaica ((AWOJA), the Jamaica Council of Churches, NGO's , Youth representative, security, Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) the trade unions and the Bar Association. The committee was headed by the late Hon. Justice James Kerr - the Political Ombudsman of Jamaica.

The then Prime Minister, the Hon. P.J. Patterson noted, inter alia, that the broad-based committee was expected to provide the knowledge and intuitive insights that can help to reduce social tension and political tribalism, thereby making crime and violence less prevalent.

The committee did just that. They provided the "knowledge and intuitive insights that can help to reduce social tension and political tribalism".

Unfortunately, not much has happened since then. We need to urgently address this vicious system of political tribalism and its major manifestation - the garrison.

What will it take for our political leaders on both sides of the House to act, especially those who are Members of Parliament for the garrison constituencies, located in Kingston, St. Andrew and St.Catherine.

In focusing on crime, the new Prime Minister would do well to focus on this excellent report from the broad-based Committee on Political Tribalism of 1997.

Beverley Anderson Manley is a political scientist and broadcaster. Email:

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