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EDITORIAL - Tivoli after Coke

Published:Thursday | June 3, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Dwight Nelson's pledge that the Government will repair and/or replace homes damaged or destroyed during the Tivoli Gardens operation is an important undertaking in any effort to reintegrate the community into Jamaica.

But Mr Nelson, the national security minister, must know that is a matter over which the administration cannot dither if it is to have a chance at winning the trust of Tivoli Gardens residents, weaning them away from years of dependence on the recently overthrown parallel criminal authority and rebuilding the legitimacy of the Jamaican state.

And as the repair crews are at work, refitting doors and windows or replacing furniture, Mr Nelson must ensure that they are closely followed by crews removing garbage, cleaning drains, trimming verges, and so on. Donations of a couple hundred gallons of paint and a general sprucing up of the buildings would also lend to the sense of renewal in the west Kingston community.

Challenge of reintegration

However, it will demand far more than an enhancement of Tivoli Gardens' façade to ensure its engagement of a society from which it has long been psychologically estranged. And herein lies the great challenge for the Government and civil society - fashioning a future for this community that might serve as template for rescuing other inner-city communities.

There are, however, a number of immediate priorities to add to those already mentioned. For example, the authorities must urgently find a mechanism for families to, in a dignified way, identify or trace members who were killed or have gone missing during the mission by the security forces to retake the community from reputed drug fugitive Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

The maintenance of a strong security presence to prevent the regrouping of Coke's organisation is necessary for now. But this paramilitary operation must transition soon to a programme of community policing, so as to build citizen-police relations and to demonstrate to the community a process other than Coke's rough justice.

One thing that is stark after the routing of Coke's militia is the absence of males in Tivoli Gardens. It is now largely a community of women, children and old men.

Rebuilding family life

Some of the community's young men may be in detention; others may think it better to stay away. A way needs to be found to lure back law-abiding young men who want to be there and whose presence is important to healthy community relationships and family life.

Other matters require longer-term solutions, but must start now.

For instance, Tivoli was nurtured by its creator, Edward Seaga, as a political fiefdom founded on dependency - a context of paternalism that was usurped and expanded by Coke. The community is largely devoid of economic life, outside of 'hustlings'.

In this regard, there will have to be programmes of skills training, projects to keep children in school, parent support initiatives, the consistent delivery of social services and, where feasible, investment in economic activity.

While the State must take a lead on these, the Government cannot manage, or afford, it all. Civil society and the private sector must embrace a partnership, seeing the Tivoli project as an investment with a return: preventing a challenge to and possible overthrow of the Jamaican state that seemed so probable a little more than a week ago.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.