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EDITORIAL - The relevance of Dudley Thompson

Published:Tuesday | January 24, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Last week's death of Dudley Thompson, aged 95, was another indication of the rapid closing of the era of a group of outstanding Jamaicans, some of whose influence and impact transcended this country.

Before Mr Thompson's death, for instance, was the passing of David Coore, the politician and lawyer - a man of sharp intellect, who was one of two surviving framers of the Jamaican Constitution. The other is the former prime minister, Edward Seaga, who is now in his eighties.

Mr Seaga recently published two volumes of his memoirs. We are lucky, too, that two decades ago Mr Thompson published a short retrospection of a period of his life, in the early 1950s, spent in East Africa.

For a man about whom a younger generation does not know enough and who, insofar as they are aware of him, would likely be seen through monochromatic political lenses, this brief account of Dudley Thompson's life in what was then Tanganyika (modern-day Tanzania) and Kenya is important.

Unfortunately, Mr Thompson, in the absence of broader availability of the knowledge, has been defined by too limited a span, and view, of his long life - mostly the ideologically divisive period of the 1970s.

So, he is more likely to be recalled as the national security minister in the People's National Party administration who quipped that "no angels died at Green Bay", in response to the 1978 incident when soldiers lured presumed criminals/opposition political activists to the military firing range and shot five dead. To Mr Thompson's credit, he, during the last decade, tearfully apologised for that remark.

But any political intemperance that may be claimed for Mr Thompson's politics of the 1970s neither masks nor diminishes his greater relevance and larger achievements - especially as a pan-Africanist and subscriber to the ideals of non-alignment. Indeed, from this perspective, the presumption of Thompson as a rabid socialist intent on helping Manley steer Jamaica into Soviet-style communism was as invalid then and as it is now.

Significantly, Mr Thompson, in the Second World War, volunteered for the Royal Air Force, becoming a flight lieutenant and navigational bomber.

Later, as a Rhodes Scholar, he studied at Oxford, became a lawyer, and was part of the post-war anticolonial ferment among students gathered in London and elsewhere. Among his close friends was the future leader of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta.

Work in east africa

In Tanganyika, he practised law in the town of Moshi, near to Kenya.

When a Koinange old senior chief of Kenya's Kikuyu tribe faced a trumped-up murder charge from the Kenyan authorities, Mr Thompson organised for Sir Dingle Foot, the brother of one of Jamaica's last colonial governors, Sir Hugh Foot, to lead Koinange's defence.

Later, when Kenyatta was secretly arrested, accused of being behind the Mau Mau rebellion against Kenya's apartheid-style colonial rule, Mr Thompson got word from Mr Kenyatta. Mr Thompson pulled together an eminent team of Commonwealth attorneys, with support from India's Jawaharlal Nehru, to defend Kenyatta.

In Tanganyika, Mr Thompson was a friend of the country's future leader, Julius Nyrere, whom he notably advised against moving towards a single-party political system in his plan for independence.

The fuller stories and achievements of people like Dudley Thompson can be inspirational in a country wracked by doubt. These stories ought not to be lost, but collected and told.

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