A PNP loss or a JLP win?

On October 30, 2017 the Jamaica Labour Party won what Cliff Hughes, one of Jamaica’s leading journalists, called the most “consequential by-election in Jamaica’s history.”  The by-election was a critical one, the PNP’s President and Leader of the Opposition Dr. Peter Phillips described it as a referendum on the performance of the JLP government. For the JLP Leader and Prime Minister Andrew Holness, this was an opportunity to increase a razor-thin majority and put the government in a more comfortable position.   For political pundits, it was the first electoral outing for Dr. Peter Phillips in his new role as Leader of the Opposition and President of the PNP.  For those who believe Dr. Phillips’ moment in politics has passed it would certainly indicate whether comrades saw his leadership as viable. For these reasons and perhaps more, the by-election in St. Mary South Eastern  was a litmus test for the current state of party politics in Jamaica. It was an assessment of the leadership of both parties and a potential assessment of the work of the JLP as government.

Jamaica is blessed with academics, opinion makers, and experienced commentators (on all things politics) who share their opinions on a regular basis on all forms of media platforms – new and traditional media.  Much of the conversation since the publication of the preliminary results of the by-election have centred on what the PNP has done wrong, why the PNP lost and will continue to lose and what is wrong with the PNP’s machinery and leadership.  There has been very little assessment of why the JLP won, what the JLP got right, the JLP’s particular brand of electioneering and their strategy in  St. Mary South Eastern.

It would seem that many are smoking the “Jamaica a PNP Country” weed.  There is generally an unspoken agreement among so many in traditional and social media that the PNP is the legitimate ideological leadership force; when they have won they have done so through the classical ‘beauty of politics’, good organization, skillful communication, graceful charisma, and of course located in the ideological wisdom of the 4Hs. It would also seem that the JLP, on the other hand, has won through brute force, bully politics, unsophisticated ideas and a power hungry focus that is almost uncivilized. This is the narrative that permeates the Jamaican political landscape.  To say both parties are the same then is to imply that in some way the PNP has descended into ‘gutter politics’.  Generally, the PNP’s complaint after an election loss points to theft, thuggery, intimidation, violence and vote buying.

It is the same cynicism that meets an assessment of the leadership of Andrew Holness; there is a hesitance to engage him as a complex leader, who has evolved and grown through time and who demonstrates a keen understanding of the political moment and the current political culture.  To many, he is baby Seaga and at any minute the  rank and file of the JLP will challenge his leadership and be once again caught up in political battles and uncertainty. The argument goes further to suggest that Andrew should not be trusted as he leads people of questionable character, the PNP on the other hand has within its ranks some of the finest politicians in the country, all believable, bright and trustworthy.

There are two narratives emerging then out of this election, the first explains that the PNP is no longer listening to the people and as a result are losing their ability to connect and influence, they are out of touch and are only listening to each other.  The second is that the JLP spent ‘a bag a money’ in  St. Mary South Eastern and that they imported thugs and bad men to intimidate the people of the constituency.  In any case what it adds up to is that Jamaicans either have to be intimidated into voting for the JLP or they are ‘vexed’ with or have ‘fallen out of love’ with the PNP, hence the PNP loss.

I believe that by leaving this false, uncritical narrative unchallenged we are missing a grand opportunity to really speak to the truth of our politics.  If we continue to represent the Jamaican state as possessing just one legitimate political party, then we miss the mechanics of the JLP, we miss the intricacies and specifics of political change and the maturing of our political leadership and culture.


Calling it for Andrew

The by-election in St. Mary South Eastern is for all intents and purposes an assessment of the leadership of Andrew Holness and Peter Phillips. An examination as it were of Andrew’s perceived authenticity and rootedness and Peter’s relevance and survivability.   The sub-conversations that are being had are focused on the leaders of the two parties and their ability to lead their respective parties.  How the leaders are handling the challenges of this by-election is  seen as a litmus test for how they will manage at the helm of the party.  After Monday’s election we will most certainly know which party leader will more than likely face dissent and a challenge to their leadership.  Both parties have handled this particular litmus test in very different ways.  One caught on the back foot too often, the other managing to set and control the political narrative with much skill and competence.

I would never have imagined that the ‘Born Yah’ narrative would have resurfaced in Jamaican politics.  I never experienced it, but I heard about it as the narrative which was an important phenomenon in the relationship between Michael Manley and Edward Seaga.  Only, in its early use, it was the albatross around the JLP’s neck.  For the St. Mary South Eastern by-election it had the same effect on the young Dr. Alexis.

The ‘Born Yah’ phenomenon was one of the important moments of this election. Perhaps the PNP did not anticipate the impact of Dr. Shane Alexis’ nationality. The fact that they didn’t, was to their undoing. When they started to peddle their sweet shiny new Shane – young bright doctor – it looked as if they had the formula for victory. Dunn did not look as sweet or new or shiny, but within a month, Dr. Dunn became the writing on the wall , the ‘Dunn deal’ or as others have suggested, the ‘argument Dunn’, because he so easily fits. He is a part of the community,  he is a son of the soil.  A perfect foil for Dr. Dunn, the candidates were sold as polar opposites in respect of their connection to the community.

The JLP narrative was simple – one fit, the other didn’t, one knew the community, the other didn’t, one could relate and had connections to the community, the other didn’t.  For a number of the people in St. Mary South Eastern, Dunn the hometown boy had proven himself; he ran in the 2015 election and he lost, but he stayed and worked.  He grew up in the community, went away to school and came back home; he didn’t move to Kingston, he stayed.  The people knew him and had come to see him as a man who would stay and work in the constituency win lose or draw.

Shane’s initial response to the citizenship issue was not smart.   He had commented that he had wanted to apply for Jamaican citizenship but he was too busy and the lines were too long.  Firstly, he trivialized the issue, and once again the PNP misread the political moment.  This was an issue that Jamaicans were paying attention to.  It could not be trivialized or downplayed.  Dr. Alexis and the PNP walked right into the set up.   The arguments for this particular intervention were already developed and were already being peddled.  Secondly, he clearly does not understand the rural/urban dichotomy which defines Jamaican life and how rural people respond to people from Kingston and their sense of importance.    In either case, he gave life to the idea that he was not ‘born yah.’

What I now know is that the JLP is mastering the art of  controlling and defining  the political narrative.  They won the social media battle, they won the mainstream media battle, and for all intents and purposes they might have won the on-the-ground battle. The PNP has not managed to keep itself in the news in any sustained way for the entire election season.  When they did manage to make  the news in a positive way, their ability to sustain positive attention was almost non-existent.

Of note though, is the fact that Dr. Alexis made it to mainstream national media after issues of his nationality was brought to the fore.  Even though their tends to be agreement that no-publicity is bad publicity, Dr. Alexis’ presence in the media was not positive and in many ways led to a questioning of his legitimacy. For a while his candidacy controlled the media, but it was with a narrative that served the JP more than it did the PNP. On the other occasions where the PNP had some presence in the media, they seemed to complain excessively about everything.

I fear that in many ways the PNP does not believe that the typical Jamaican voter understands the political game, and go to the polls as a lamb to the slaughter.  But Jamaicans are much more politically savvy than we give them credit for.  I suspect, that at the close of polls tomorrow, we will see that the JLP ran a solid campaign.  Andrew Holness would have further solidified his lead of the JLP and Dr. Peter Phillips would now be forced to re -strategize.

New Zealand’s ‘Jacindarama’

While the USA has been engaged in “navel gazing” of the most intense kind, caught up in buyer’s remorse over President Trump, the British have been caught between a “rock and a hard place” over their Brexit referendum at the same time Jamaicans are contemplating citizenship and elections, New Zealand elected its youngest prime minister, a woman, 37 years old Jacinda Ardern. The matter of youthfulness and political leadership is a constant on the agenda of political leadership since a relatively young Barack Obama at 47 years was elected to lead the United States. Since then Canada’s Justin Trudeau at 45 became Canada’s youngest prime minister in 2015. In many ways political leadership had become the purview of old men, and in Europe and neo-Europe, the purview or old white men. Jacinda Ardern, at 37 years old is in many ways a revolution. Young women do not traditionally inspire the confidence of the patriarchy, her election is therefore interesting and certainly an exciting new development for women’s leadership and for political leadership generally. In fact she succeeded Andrew Little, who resigned at 52 years old; under his leadership the party’s popularity dropped 23%. Little represents the traditional, the ideal of who a leader should be. Interesting that he had to resign to give the party a chance at leading the government.

Jacinda Ardern is among a group of only thirteen women heads of state. Less than 7% of world leaders are women and certainly she stands as the youngest among them. She is a rare occurrence, not just in New Zealand, she is also global rarity – a woman leading a sovereign state at 37 years. I am not sure if we can predict any global trend or change with her leadership but certainly, this is an important moment in women’s political leadership.

Ardern describes herself openly as a feminist who is putting issues of equal pay and supporting women in whatever role they choose, on her political agenda. She is passionate about issues of the environment, attends Pride rallies and has spoken openly about her own problems with anxiety connecting with a mental health crisis that New Zealanders are grappling with, her open show of emotions connected with an issue that most men leaders would perhaps ignore, she is inspiring many and humanizing her leadership in profound ways. Her political agenda is leftist, humanist and exciting. She is committed to a fairer New Zealand and has indicated that she will have a referendum on personal use of Cannabis by 2020, and to exploring the historic abuse of children in state care and to ensuring that rental homes are warm and dry. I like the the issues she has put on her agenda, sounds like the classic tagline for putting people at the centre of politics.

The New Zealand electoral system is a mixed member proportional representation (MMP) system. They had previously been a first past the post, two party entrenched system but this was changed in the early 1990s. There are about one hundred and twenty (120) seats for contestation in each election. In an MMP representation system smaller parties have the potential to become ‘king makers’ if the larger parties do not win an overwhelming majority of the votes. In the case of New Zealand even though the incumbent National Party won more votes than the Labour Party, neither won a clear majority; by themselves they could not therefore have formed the government. Two smaller parties won enough of the votes to ensure that the two major parties would need their support to form the new government. To form the coalition government The New Zealand Labour Party joined forces with the New Zealand First Party and the Green Party to form the government. With all their seats combined – Labour party with 36.9% of the votes and 46 seats, New Zealand’s First Party with 7.2% of the votes and nine (9) seats and the Green Party with 6.3% of the votes and eight (8) seats joined forces to form the coalition government, which now has a sixty-three (63) seat majority and 50.4% of the votes. Though her party did not win a majority of the seats so that she would have had her own mandate, her leadership of the Labour Party was what pulled them back from the brink of political obscurity after languishing under the leadership of Andrew Little. She has been described as convincing and charismatic and the ‘Jacinda effect’ became the highlight of the election.

If we look closely enough and if we think hard enough about it, this wave of election of younger politicians to leadership: Macron at 39, Trudeau at 45, Holness, 43 and now Jacinda Ardern at 37; could be interpreted as a rejection of the staid, boring and status quo preserving politics of old men. Can I conclude that voters are tired of political leadership that is more focused on the preservation of traditions, institutions and systems and less on people and the politics of well being and progress? Patriarchy is typically hostile to younger men and women in general, would it make sense for me to ask if this could be a ‘middle finger’ in the face of patriarchal leadership and perhaps a decisive indication that voters are tired of ‘muscular’ politics which is tough on talk and soft on action. Are voters asking for a more responsive looking and sounding government? The jury is out, but there are a number of factors which can be assessed in an attempt to arrive at a true assessment of what is at hand. what I know for sure is that no one saw ‘Jacindarama’ coming. She took the world by surprise, perhaps when we stop being amazed at the lows to which American politics can go we will look to places like New Zealand and find a woman leader who in her own indomitable style has put a serious crack in the women and political leadership glass ceiling.

Crime, Zoso and Jamaican Politics

It is a fact that crime is Jamaica’s biggest development challenge. My adult experience as a Jamaican is built around a consciousness of a worsening crime situation and an acceptance that in my lifetime I will not see any significant change in the reality of crime and in particular Jamaica’s murder rate. I have accepted it, we cannot break the back of the crime monster in Jamaica.

Like most Jamaicans, I know that the solution to the crime problem is not solely located in improved policing, or an effective judicial system. It is in fact a combination of several critical influencers, chief among them a response to poverty, and all its attendant evils. Like most Jamaicans I have also come to recognize that the work needed to ‘break the back’ of the crime problem is not one that government and oppositon is willing to do. Jamaica’s history, tells an intriquing tale of political parties and politicians being critical players in the perpetuation of the intractable crime problem. They are players because they benefit, it keeps them in power. How can a political leader justify the existence of garrisons in the ways they have emerged in Jamaican politics? Better yet how can they lead such a constituency and not know they have lost credibility?

So my take on the recent Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO). I like most Jamaicans hoped and prayed it would work, it would result in less murders and violent crime. I was particularly excited by the social intervention plan and wanted to be excited at the prospects of a social intervention plan that would strike at the heart of poverty, marginalization, hopelessness and would re-inspire those of us who have learnt that it is perhaps best to stop hoping.

ZOSO is strong on the policing part, even if it is not the kind of policing that would help to solve the problem. But it is weak on social intervention, I am still waiting to be impressed, it cannot be a fair or an expo where the government agencies go into a ZOSO and hand out pamphlets and make powerpoint presentations.

I am waiting on the social interventon plan this is what will make the difference, but it will only make a difference if it speaks to transforming people’s lifes.

Bolt’s Last Race

He didnt cross the line in front and way ahwad of everybody else this time.

In this race he looked more human, more like the rest of the pack. He struggled throughout and you could see the agony on his face and feel the pain in his spirit as he crossed the finish line. This is not how he finishes his races, when he runs he has joy in him, you didnt see joy in this race you saw struggle and pain.

I have been watching birds in the wind. How they fly with the wind, they never struggle, they allow the wind to carry them along, with no resistance you see them allowing themselves to be swept along, falling easily into being carried by the wind. At points when the wind fades a little, they stretch their wings and fly for a little, but just a little because as soon as the wind picks up again they release their struggle and are again carried along. Clearly, their purpose is aligned with the wind.

As I saw Bolt in his last race I thought of the birds that I have been observing and I said to myself, he had to retire at this point because he was no longer being carried by the wind. His body was not allowing him to glide through the run the way we are use to seeing him get up out of the blocks and run. Bolt’s power on the track is the joy in his run. The way he uncomfortably gets up out of the block and gets his body to the point where it can run. He use to be able to run anybody down and past them because he was being carried by the wind. In this race he struggled, he couldnt run down his competitors the way he use to.

So he finished third and we didnt know what to do. Somehow third doesnt suit him. It really doesnt, he should be in first place. Somehow Bolt’s first meant more to us than we had imagined because when he defied gravity, when he defied the mechanics of his body, when he defied the limits of humanity and ran at inhumane speeds we were convinced of our own super power. He reminded us that we were not ordinary, but more than anything else he reminded everyone that we were not ordinary. Bolt was our message to the world, our announcement of arrival, so when we walked into a room, his prowess and progress explained who you would get, what and who the Jamaican was about.

Our hero stumbled tonight, he met his kryptonite, his body. We cant always stay on top, we stumble and fall sometimes, in the final analysis we can dance with the wind for only so long. We must know when to bow out gracefully. When to leave the stage and exit. Bolt saw it coming. He is leaving at the right time.

I was humbled by his spirit in this last race. There was no defeat in him, just an awareness that he hadnt won, but he was still celebrating, still aware of his hold on the crowd. Still aware that when he ran he ran with our love and our pride. I love Usain Bolt. I am sure that yet again he will allow the wind to carry him on his next assignment and there again he will defy laws of human possibility and through him we will learn more things about us.

The Process of Emancipation

Emancipation is a process, a journey. For us in Jamaica it began in 1834 with Apprenticeship, but the enslaved Africans knew that Apprenticeship was but a kind of freedom. It wasnt full freedom, so for this reason within four years Apprenticeship was discontinued. ‘Full free’, that was the requirement for freedom. Freedom is qualified, it always is, whenever we discuss the concept we must consider that wherever in the world freedom is manifested it is negotiated by significant variables. Colour, class, education level, address, etc. How much freedom we are able to access is very much dependent on the privilidges we have access to.

Freedom is complex, some years ago I attended a meeting in South Africa and eavesdropped on, participated in a discussion on the state of freedom in that country. At that time a number of young people took issues with the freedom that was won by Nelson Mandela at the end of Aparthied. In their minds South Africa had only achieved a ‘kind of’ freedom. Economic and social freedoms were still inaccessible to Black South Africans.

Certain kinds of freedoms are inaccessible to some people. In 1834 Jamaicans were given a kind of freedom, it wasnt what they wanted or anticipated, and so they rejected this form of freedom. Substantive freedom speaks to one’s ability to be in charge of his or her destiny. Buju Banton’s invocation “I wanna rule my destiny” speaks to that call. But how do we rule our destinies in the face of unbridled inequalities, and lack of respect? But more importantly in respect of lack of access to financial resources.

1n 1865 Jamaicans once again rejected the form of freedom they were handed. The rejection came at great personal sacrifice. The consequences of that rejection were devastating. Over the years we have articulated different expectations from our freedom. I think we have a far way to go to achieving freedom, our next struggle has to do with economic freedom. Perhaps we have been too late to this conversation about economic freedom, but it is perhaps the untouchable discussion that we needed to have from 1834, that we need to ensure that we understand. Political freedom is a kind of freedom and it needs to be bolstered by economic freedom. Without this freedom will be suspect and tenuous.

Freedom is a process, Emancipation began in 1834 but we have more to do towards achievement of full freedom

Glimpses of Hope

I imagine myself





Not this

Sad and desperate replica

Former glory gone

Lost to a fearful and anxious heart

I dont like myself here

I preferred the sharp,  witty, woman 

She laughed readily

Always had good words on tbe tip of her tongue

She wore flowers in her hair

And had plans to walk in the rain

She spoke words of healing 

Her eyes had light and fire in them

She had dreams too, though over time she had forgotten 

But she had plans to find them again

Now she is not sure where she is where she left herself 

Where did this boxed in, caged, anxious, desperate creature come from?

Do over need to be possible.

Waking Up 

I woke up this morning with a new awareness. Life is this thing, that presents the same face to everyone at 6am and it is how we look back at it that will determine how it will respond for the rest of the day. So today I have to choose lenses to look at life through, perspectives that will help me to understand and know that for the most part I can determine my day.

So today I am choosing clarity and focus.  I am choosing purpose and positivity.  We get to choose and to accept and to know that we have the capacity to impact each day so that in the unfolding it becomes more of what we want it to be.

I choose to be happy about my current choices and realities. I refuse to believe that life is happening to me. Life must be happening for me. Somehow I must have chosen the right thing. I believe that the principle of karma will make sure that things work out in my favour.  I am not afraid for or of tomorrow. Life is unfolding as it should. There are no mistakes.

I walk then into the promise of a new future. Where things will be and look different. Where my choices will be more meaningful.  Where I can live my lifes passion and where I can be purposeful and enthusiastic and excited by the possibility of each new day.  

Mind Meandering

There has to be a place from which you navigate life where you get to face your fears and be who you know you are. How do we become who we were meant to be? How do we reconcile people’s expectations of us with who we want or know ourselves to be? 

How do we find our voice and keep it in the face of overwhelming expectations? Its hard to face and navigate change. Its easy to tell people to face their fears. Its easy to dismiss the other persons slow walk to freedom when you imagine yours was a sprint. 

I usually watch how people give at church, some can give a lot others hold their fist tightly and give what little they have, almost in embarrassment. I always feel more for the person who gives a little from a place of sacrifice and despair sometimes. That person who gives knowing that they might not have anything after they have given.  They gave all they had.

Sadly, people dont notice the difference, or very few do. There are some people who are facing life with such deep knowing, from a place of such intense recognition that each gift they give or accept must come with deep personal sacrifice.  They know that opportunity cost, in this dark cold world and they hestitate and wonder and ponder, not just because they are fearful but because they know and appreciate the value of sactifice.  They take on the difficulties of life knowing that when they give the world will not stay the same, they will not be the same.  They know that their perspective changes lives and people and situations and circumstances.  They can see the value of theie sacrifice and they also know the cost.

Navigating Life

I have been very hesitant and cautious about life lately. I am learning some valuable lessons about people, all of them including the ones I am connected to by blood.  The lessons are sometimes heartbreaking, there are moments when I absolutely lose my courage and my faith in humanity. I cant and dont, perhaps find it hard, to trust everyone, absolutely everyone. I am learning to find happiness in this new state, I absolutely have no desire to develop this capacity to trust anymore. I want people as far from me as possible. I cant risk it.

I have learnt that when you meet people they have very little genuine interest in you, they are sizing you up in the moment, deciding if it makes sense to keep you or add you to their cache of friends, to be used and discarded later on. Only after they have taken all they possibly want.

I lost a couple “friends” this year. Thank God I havent gained any. Those that I lost I genuinely loved and thought they had my best interest at heart.  In fact another important lesson I learnt is that sometimes the people around you want you to be who they want you to be.  Dare you do anything they dont approve of, then you are chided and chastised and clearly the intention is for you to fall in line and do whats expected.

I still have some friends, genuine, caring and totally have my best interest at heart. I feel thier love and commitment when we talk or when we connect in any way possible.

So as I navigate this life, as I walk through the sometimes dark and imposing alleys, as I learn to listen amd to pause. I celebrate my friends.