For the purposes of an article he was writing for a British journal, a Jamaican friend asked for my answers to the following questions: “What kind of influence, if any, do you think Jamaican politics has had on the Eastern Caribbean” and “What would you say is the most telling impact?”
I’m not sure I know specifically how Jamaican politics have influenced the rest of the region. It is however undeniable that the Saint Lucian voter learned a long time ago how to turn his vote into a bargaining chip, if not fast cash. I remember expressing during a talk show my disappointment with one of our political leaders who had not delivered on his campaign to work toward certain attitudinal changes where the electorate was concerned.
I referred specifically to the fact that he had chosen conveniently to swim downstream, that is to say, gone with the flow, rather than tackle the still relatively new problem of vote vending.
Some fifteen years later there is little reason to believe the situation will improve any time soon, not when our politicians share the same primary goal of getting himself or herself elected at whatever cost, to nation and to self—whether by paying for the arcane loyalty of ghetto lords or by doling out dollars to whoever approaches with a sob story. As for the most telling impact, I would cite the increasing polarization, so evident when citizens “contribute” to call-in radio programs.
My Jamaican friend inquired about how young people feel about discarding older leaders in favor a younger variety, considering the man being touted as a replacement for his country’s retiring prime minister is all of 39 years old. My friend also wanted to know about cronyism.
My response: From my vantage, younger politicians predictably follow the beaten party track laid down by their predecessors. Young politicians openly admit they are learning on the job. Learning what? Learning to be like the older politicians, obviously. Which is to say, they embrace and perpetuate the same self-serving policies and attitudes that brought us where we are today. Stale fish freshly wrapped. Bearing in mind that what politicians most care about is getting elected, rocking the boat is simply not an option.
I am not sure cronyism is related to age. Rather, it has everything to do with the “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” syndrome. Bear in mind that, especially in the smaller territories, the prime minister and party leader is god. He chooses his Cabinet and members know only too well that what god gives god can take away. To be kicked out of Cabinet, well, is to be deported to political Coventry. And no one wants to go there. Then there is that old matter of Cabinet consensus that discourages dissention in the ranks, perpetuates mediocrity and stems the natural flow of new ideas.
Especially in small-island politics, to disagree with the prime minister is to invite being equated by his followers with Judas.
As for my friend’s question about term limits, I acknowledged being a strong believer in the idea. Julian Hunte, when he was leader of the St Lucia Labour Party, put in place the mechanism to prevent a prime minister after holding office for two straight terms to carry on as party leader. Kenny Anthony helped Hunte put together that particular clause.
But in his own time Kenny rewrote the constitution to make him effectively leader for life. To challenge his leadership is to declare yourself a traitor and deserving of banishment. The same applies to the United Workers Party.
The youth are not likely to be calling for younger leaders, if only because they know no one in his right mind, regardless of age, will challenge the leader—for reasons already gone into. We’re in a lot of trouble in the Caribbean and not only because of the politicians, nearly all of whom are considered corrupt, either overtly or tacitly, and waiting to be caught with their hand in the till. It’s a given, it’s the public image. Which is why corrupt entrepreneurs have no trouble approaching our politicos. Birds of a feather!
Then there’s the general attitude around these parts that young people cannot be trusted, at any rate, not as much as their seasoned colleagues who have had years to establish their blinkered support bases. Of course our biggest problem is the quality of citizen produced in these islands, undoubtedly the result of ever increasing poverty, lack of useful skills, lack of employment opportunities, kids growing up without parents—or with parents who are themselves lost souls—and drugs drugs drugs.
Come to think about it, perhaps the real influence of Jamaica transcends politics. For not only did Jamaica make ganja glamorous, there is also Jamaican music that is synonymous with marijuana smoking and tends to encourage a certain behavior among the most vulnerable young citizens. Count on it, today’s vulnerable youth—without appropriate intervention—are doomed to be tomorrow’s Dudases or prime ministers—or both at the same time. And that, my friends, you can take to the bank!