Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Community development: the solution to garrisons

Published:Tuesday | January 22, 2013 | 1:00 AM

The community of Tivoli Gardens. Robert Buddan says between 1967 and 1970, the first garrison was established in the west Kingston community.

THE JAMAICAN political system is judged daily by citizens who live their lives in the over 780 communities across the island. In fact, two concepts of 'community' compete for dominance: the political-electoral constituency of Westminster democracy and the community as a network of free-acting neighbourhoods.

The difference is important for understanding the conflicting character of politics in post-Independence Jamaica.

Community neighbourhoods are geographical areas where people have the freedom to live their lives through shared political, social, economic, and cultural facilities, and where residents bond around common objectives, interests, and needs.

Communities are, of course, parts of constituencies. A few constituencies, however, have become, not development areas at all, but overly politicised and criminalised zones, or 'garrisons', as have some communities within them.

Jamaica's Independence Constitution recognises constituencies for voting purposes; however, 50 years after Independence, the Constitution has yet to build the spirit of community, or a communitarian basis for development. Hope rests in entrenching local government in the Constitution and reviving community democrac.y (See the 2012 sectoral presentation by the Minister of Local Government and Community Development).

two-sided democracy

Jamaica's two-sided democracy has produced two community traditions existing in contradiction to each other. The idea of community neighbourhoods is a positive and developmental one. The monstrous idea of garrison communities, on the other hand, is authoritarian and non-developmental. It conflicts with the ideal of neighbourhoods being spaces where people identify as one community sewn out of diverse ethnicities, religions, and political persuasions.

In the language of Vision 2030, communities are to be places where Jamaicans can live, work, play, and raise families and where the village shares in raising the children.

A healthy democracy assists this process. By requiring election of representatives of the people from constituencies and communities, there is incentive for these representatives to improve those constituencies and communities.

The second tradition, however, is the authoritarian one. It contradicts the first. It 'underdevelops' communities. It is supported by undemocratic politics. Politicians in these areas who put power before people put votes before development. The outcome is the 'garrison' constituency and community.

These authoritarian systems often embrace extremes, including rule by force and severe restrictions on personal freedom and political and civil rights. They are command, not consensual systems.

The idea of 'community' here is different. It is a forced community held together by patronage, personal loyalties, violence, and a siege mentality. In this siege mentality, the community's security, leadership, and organisation are protected at all cost from 'the enemy'. The enemy might even be the State, or another gang, or some political party.

The term 'garrison' fits the category of 'authoritarian' because it is analogous to a military garrison. The rules of the community are enforced by paramilitary-like gangs that operate as political tribes. Their activities overlap with those of criminal gangs. The constituency or community in which they operate often represents geographical boundaries that coincide with overzealous voting patterns and practices.

Different kinds of Jamaican communities developed along organised lines, or sprang up spontaneously after slavery. Well-known ones are Maroons, free villages, fishing villages, peasant, Rastafarian, urban inner-city, slum, and middle- and upper- class residential areas right up to the recent gated communities.

The democratic neighbourhood model and the garrison constituency model have existed in many of these, but the garrison has existed mainly in urban inner-city communities. From the 1930s to the 1960s, the neighbourhood model was dominant and is probably now making its resurgence. The garrison form became dominant from the 1970s to around 2010. It suffered its most serious blow during the 'Dudus Affair'.

These communities are really the products of something deep and complex in Jamaica's history, namely development and democratic bottlenecks of the 20th century. It is simplistic to see them purely, or primarily, as party creations.

The failure of the old colonial plantation economy led to large-scale rural to urban migration from the 1920s on. Kingston and lower St Andrew - and other urban areas like May Pen, Spanish Town, and Montego Bay - could not absorb the newly arriving population fast enough despite high national economic growth rates from the 1950s to the 1960s.

The newly democratising two-party system from 1944 could not absorb these people into a culture of democratic citizenship fast enough either. These new arrivals were too poor, uneducated, desperate, and not yet used to democratic norms. Jamaica still displays this contradiction of pre-modern and modern lifestyles, habits, and outlooks.

'rude boy' culture

A spreading 'rude boy' culture glamourising toughness quickly attached itself to Kingston life by the 1960s. Patronage developed in the meantime between some politicians and their rude-boy clients (future 'dons') in constituencies being overrun by this new wave of itinerants and migrants to secure personal and party loyalties. Ironically, without this mutual accommodation, Jamaica's new and fledgling democracy might have broken down. Development and democracy have their contradictions.

The deep poverty of communities, highlighted by riots in the 1930s, also produced a largely rural community neighbourhood movement led by Norman Manley through Jamaica Welfare Limited (1937). This metamorphosed into the Social Development Commission (SDC) (1965). Its purpose was to build self-reliance, impart local and personal skills, solidify community bonding and pride, and inspire movements for 'bottom-up development', or 'development from below' since development did not trickle down.

Manley believed that if the colonial State would not do anything for the people, then the people had to learn to do things for themselves. Jamaica Welfare was the first organised civil society movement operating through community-based organisations to promote jobs, skill training, literacy, crime watch, and so on, and build better villages. The Social Development Commission today remains critical to these forms of community empowerment and self-reliance.

A complementary stream to community development was local government. The first Norman Manley administration in 1955 established the Ministry of Local Government and Housing. The Jamaica Labour Party administration later introduced a separate ministry for (youth) and community development in 1967. Local government and community affairs were eventually combined in 1997 and subsequently consolidated under local government ministers Portia Simpson Miller and Noel Arscott.

The current local government reform programme (Ministry Paper 8/93) actually goes back to 1993. Local democracy was to be rooted in all the communities through parish, community, and district development committees; and more regions were to choose their municipality status. Out of this came the direct election of the mayor of Portmore. The reform programme further aims to entrench local government in the Constitution.

The community-development and garrison traditions actually came face to face between 1960 and 1970, the very first decade of Independence. The SDC had seen the need to develop the communities of western Kingston, which were quickly becoming overcrowded and tragically violent; but it was too late. Between 1967 and 1970, the first garrison was established in Tivoli Gardens. The constituency system of 1944 had unintentionally spawned its antithesis there.

By the end of the 1990s, different estimates had put the number of garrison constituencies/communities to between eight and 13. When compared to 60-63 constituencies and 783 communities, this is a small number. But their impact has been out of proportion to their size. These authoritarian enclaves were often violent, practised their own forms of justice, became criminalised, and sometimes conducted businesses like gun and drug-running transnationally.

A special committee was convened to consider the garrison phenomenon, producing the Kerr Report on political tribalism in Jamaica in 1997. Its conclusion was that garrisons were anathema to democracy and development.

A major assault by the security forces in May 2010, disrupting the Shower Posse operations in Tivoli Gardens, has put this and other criminal gangs in garrison communities on the defensive.

The next fifty years

Despite the damage they have done, garrisons have forced positive action. Electoral reforms have brought freer, fairer, and more peaceful elections. Social interventions are being undertaken in troubled communities through peace management and other initiatives, most notably the SDC. New community-policing initiatives are being introduced. The National Housing Trust has taken the politics out of housing. Then, there was the recent rejection of a regime too close to garrison politics.

The society must now replace inhuman slum communities with decent ones where Jamaicans can indeed raise families with pride. There must be local economic development zones. Planned communities and townships must emerge around development areas like the much- talked-about Vernamfield, Milk River Spa, Port Royal, Downtown Kingston, Spanish Town, and other projects and redevelopment plans. The Ministry of Local Government must be a catalyst for local investments. Sophisticated management bodies of town and city managers must emerge.

The good thing is that all of these are on the table in this post-May 2010 revival of community development. Good must drive out bad. Neighbourhood communities must displace garrison communities. People must join in participatory governance and contribute to regional development plans. Jamaicans want benefits to their communities to believe in their political system and in Independence.

Robert Buddan lectures in the Department of Government, UWI, Mona. Email feedback to