Thu | Nov 30, 2023

The raging failed state debate

Published:Sunday | November 16, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Ian Boyne, Columnist

Based on the unusually large number of responses to my last column on whether Jamaica is a failed state (65 at last count and climbing), I can assert confidently that Jamaicans feel passionately about their country. And it seems they are largely pissed about its direction, as the Bill Johnson polls have confirmed.

There is a strong, overwhelming sense that Jamaica's Independence dream has been betrayed; that it has become a nightmare, with many wishing they could turn back the clock. There is a high degree of political disillusionment in the country, and this is not confined to disappointment with the present administration, but with the political system and political class in general.

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), meeting in annual conference today, has enough things to whip up emotions about, but the party, amid all the histrionics, should not lose sight of the fact that large numbers of Jamaicans are turned off from both parties and have retreated from the political project. This is frightening and is a threat to democratic order.


Blog comments to my column last week, as well as calls to 'Cliff Hughes Online', highlight the depth of the disenchantment with Jamaica. The journalist's role in this sea of emotions and despair is to keep a calm head; to have a sound head in the first place; to help to steer the discourse to rational, dispassionate engagement. It's hard with all the shouting and commotion, but it has to be done.

Journalists don't have the luxury — or should not be afforded the luxury — of reckless, idle chatter. We can't just blow off steam and engage in 'ray-ray'. We must leave that to others and resist the temptation to trade professionalism and intellectual rigour for cheap popularity and sensationalism. I blew the whistle on Cliff Hughes last week, for I believe he is one of our finest in the profession. He must not lower the bar - as Observer cartoonist Clovis did last Friday - however seductive that is in an environment where ray-ray has much currency and where cynicism is both cheap and easily available.

It was refreshing to hear him devote so much time on his programme last Monday morning quoting scholarly sources on the concept of a failed state, all of which reinforced my point of the primary characteristics of a failed state. In the end, Cliff had to concede that in its classic definition, Jamaica does not fit the category of a failed state. He then went into a non sequitur: "But if you say we don't have a failed state, can you say it has succeeded?" The fact that Jamaica is not a failed state does not mean we have a successful state. It's not a matter of semantics. We in media have to be precise and use words in ways that people in the international community know them.

It's not a matter of quibbling over words or of splitting hairs, as some uninformed respondents implied last week. When we refer to a failed state, that phrase has a particular meaning and if we use that in reference to Jamaica, we are being irresponsible and polemical. On Monday, Cliff said the fact we were so dependent economically meant we were a failed state. Cliff, don't embarrass yourself. If you use the category of economic dependence to define failed states, the overwhelming majority of countries are failed states! That is why we have to use the term in ways which make it intelligible, for we enter a slippery slope if we just toss that phrase around.

Thriving democracies

There are many thriving democracies that are dependent on loans and exogenous factors to drive their development, but they are anything but failed states. I had pointed out clearly in my column last week that: "A state is not a failed state simply because it has social, political and economic deficits." Jamaica has many such deficits, but that does not define us as a failed state.

And it's not a matter, as Cliff stated on his programme last Monday, that I am "comparing Jamaica with the worst" when I point out that South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen are failed states. I am simply showing him what failed states do look like. For if we decide to arbitrarily define failed states, we could include the mighty United States of America — the wealthiest country in the world. This is precisely what America's leading left-wing intellectual, the MIT's Noam Chomsky, does in his book Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy.

Our parochialism blinds us to the realities of what is going on in other countries so we tend to have a jaundiced view of what is happening here. I grant, for example, that our garrison politics makes us a fragile state. The fact that many people live under donmanship and criminal rule of communities does make it tempting to compare us with failed states that have ceded parts of their territory to terrorists. The problem is not so much that our state does not have the capacity to challenge and crush terrorist control of certain communities — as failed states do. But here there is little political will to deal with those garrisons under the particular control of the particular party that controls the state. Except when it has to.

The Jamaican state demonstrated — and with decisiveness — that it most definitely had the capacity to deal with terrorists who had for long taken part of its territory when, facing a clear and ominous challenge, it stormed into Tivoli and drove out the terrorists. The state always had the capacity to do so, but only when pushed by eternal forces and civil society — including Jamaicans for Justice, incidentally - did it decide to take back that mother of all garrisons. Our state has the capacity to take back any territory controlled by dons and shottas. All it needs is a push from powerful people outside and inside Jamaica.

If our business class decided to cut off all political financing until all links with garrisons are broken, the political class would be forced to do so. Left to the JLP administration alone, Dudus would have remained in Jamaica and his criminal enterprise would be thriving. But thanks to the United States, The Gleaner, other media houses and civil society, Bruce Golding was forced to give up Dudus and send security forces storming into that formerly sacrosanct territory.

All People's National Party and
Jamaica Labour Party garrisons must be dismantled. The human rights of
decent citizens must be protected in the process, but there is no
greater violation of human rights of those citizens than donmanship
which results in our little girls and boys being raped by these
ferocious, dog-heart criminals.

The power of connected
people to the political class is another factor that impairs our
democracy, while we are not a failed state. We often focus on the
corruption of politicians, but to often neglect to mention those
private-sector power brokers who use their money to corrupt. Cronyism
and benefit politics is not just something that takes place at the grass
roots. Don't just focus on the small man who gets his little bly
through his curry-goat politics and proverbial gully work. Focus on
those at the top who, through their political connections, broker deals
and get their big bly. That is a blight against our

Vibrant civil

There is much that is wrong with Jamaica. But
let us not be sensationalist and talk about failed state. We have a very
active and vibrant civil society. That does not exist in failed states.
A major problem that Western states find is that even when they engage
in regime change, there is sometimes no civil-society movement nurtured
to foster democracy, so that states usually slide back into

Jamaica has a well-developed civil society. A
strong, vociferous press that is about to celebrate its Journalism Week
under the theme of democracy while one of its leading practitioners is
calling this a failed state. We can have a rousing, raucous debate on
the use of National Housing Trust funds because our democracy is alive
and well. We have an Access to Information Act that tells us how much of
our money is being burnt up by our politicians on cell

Our Opposition party meets today in total,
uninhibited freedom to lambaste this Government — with absolutely no
fear of recrimination. Our social media communication is not interfered
with. We can cuss any politician or political leader and even slander
them online freely. We can't truthfully say, "Jamaica, no problem;" nor
can we truthfully say we are a failed state. We must stop slandering

Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working
with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to and