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Mark Wignall | The hypocrisy of the garrison holder

Published:Thursday | July 6, 2017 | 12:00 AM

If you are numbered among the 15 MPs who were elected in February 2016 or re-elected numerous times, there is bad news and there is good news.

Let me give you the bad news first. It is more than likely that at some stage you were approached by the community thug, endearingly called the don, who draws on the history of his guns having strong notional attachments to your political party.

You may not have formally signed on the dotted line in agreement, but it is more than a possibility and probably more likely that the don has offered you his gun support, just in case an urgent need crops up - and you did not express your strong disapproval.

One big chunk of the bad news concerns the extent to which the don has whittled away your social and economic standing among the constituents while knowing that you are not very interested in creating national or local policy to liberate the constituents from their poverty, brutishness, and endless days of hopelessness.

How else to explain its free run and long maintenance since its political construction? In moments of public appeal, you will have formed words designed to convince many that the continuation of the garrison is antithetical to the spirit of democracy, but they were only words coined specifically to bring calm to society's do-gooders and give you political breathing space till the next election.

Like the old oil that came with the promise of a new lamp, you have found that your initial attempts to build your people are not just onerous, but unnecessary. And you will have recognised that you are more a boss man of a constituency of people held in socio-economic incarceration instead of the change agent they hoped you would have become.

Onerous, but unnecessary? Well, that leads me to the good news. You are always guaranteed a win in the party's colours because the people are psychologically hooked on the political culture of the constituency.

Plus, they are choked off from leaving the area. To do so for many would mean that they would have to begin paying for light and water and rental rates that their uncertain income could not bear.

So, you, the politician, would ensure that at Christmas time, if your party is in power and close to the nation's coffers, some key party workers are taken care of. The same spirit would trip in at election campaign time.

The longer you remain political head honcho is also the more you gain expertise in navigating the constant pleas for school fees, lunch money, a few sheets of zinc, and funding the monthly drug prescription. Making promises is very important, in addition to making yourself scarce in between elections.


Garrison glory


Many people living in garrisons have found that the best time to leave the garrison is during one's teens. To delay far beyond that is to feel the heavy drag of the ghetto as social and economic factors trap them inside.

It is a fundamental contradiction to, and blot on, our democratic ideals that the garrisons have been maintained for so long. In its initial incarnation, the political holder was the earthly god to the people as they were housed along party lines. Then the politician could direct the socio-economic trajectory of the chief community thug. And even provide him with guns.

The tables have long turned, and now you, the garrison holder, are helpless in controlling the criminality within. When the don and his soldiers prey on a commercial area nearby and eat into the profits of transport operators, you are forced to remain silent because the ill-gotten loot is used to feed some in the community, and you can't replace that.

There are many stories of garrison MPs assisting bright young people to attain their utmost through funding their education. It always makes for a positive piece of good news when it is determined that an MP assisted a poor but bright child to become an engineer, doctor or lawyer.

Many MPs, garrison holders or no, do this and keep it to themselves. The fact is, as harsh as it sounds, it is much easier to convince poor people of future help because one little promise drives their expectation levels into overdrive. The fact that a few bright children are assisted can in no way mean that most of the bright kids will be helped.

That forces many who are now in their adulthood and who missed the education bus to vicariously revere those in their constituencies who made it out via the assistance of the MP.

It is quite likely that many garrison holders will have made the examination and come to the early conclusion that solving the socio-economic, security and infrastructural problems in the garrison is an impossibility. So it's better to help a handful and have the satisfaction that that handful was saved.


Uptown influence, garrison consequence


It is a given that there is a symbiotic relationship between shady uptown connections and many garrison constituencies. First, all of the original thugs of the 1970s and 1980s are now either dead, peacefully (?) retired, or long deposed.

The choice of residential communities for those having any connections to those times is on the fairly steep inclines of the St Andrew hills. Also on those hills are men with no inner-city residential ante-cedents but whose specific form of criminality requires that they may need the occasional assistance of gunmen.

Whether it is drugs, illegal imports, operating an extortion enterprise or engaging in murder for hire, most guns lead to the garrison, where the 'soldiers' are to be found.

In 1986, Carl Stone coined the term and described it as '... a military stronghold based on political tradition, cultural values, beliefs, myths and socialisation'. And they demonised those supporting the other side.

Today, the tribal nature of the garrison has been radically altered, and there is more an exercise of independence not just among the thugs (community leaders), but also among the people. The people will still support the only party they know, but to them, the vote no longer has the importance it once had.


An independent Dudus was dangerous


As the level of strife and gunplay increases in places like West Kingston and the constituency of the prime minister, it is useful to recall two matters. First, it is in West Central St Andrew that the majority of the political gun murders took place between July and October 1980.

Second, prior to, and during, the tensions and the tragedy of the Dudus extradition, there was a sense that both sides of the political fence were agreed on his ultimate removal. Why was this so, seeing that Dudus was notionally attached to the 'mother of all garrisons', the JLP's Tivoli Gardens?

Both sides saw the danger in Dudus actively trying to meld the street elements attached to both the PNP and the JLP. Many were saying that once this was complete, Dudus would wield more power than any Jamaican prime minister.

Although it was unstated, that factor was at the heart of - if not on the signed documents authorising - his extradition. Today, the concept of the ruthless don with spirochaete-like attachment to the political representative has been watered down, but the politician no longer needs that strong connection.

The people are psychologically hooked, and where unemployment among young men in garrison settings may reach as high as 70 per cent in some instances, there is increasingly a tightening of the economic release valve. The garrison holds them firmly within.

In the symbiosis where the people need to cheer for their local party colours and the politician needs another easy win, the rot continues.

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