Whatever else he may be, Edward Seaga is unique. He must be the only non-native born white man ever elected prime minister of a predominantly black country. And has anyone else in recent times played such prominent roles in both the cultural and political development of a nation? A pioneer in Jamaican anthropology; a driving force behind the popularization of ska; an originator of Festival; arguably our best finance minister; the prime minister with the second longest term in office; the longest serving parliamentarian ever - no one else has influenced modern Jamaica in so many ways.


Yet for all his accomplishments, many associate Mr. Seaga primarily with political violence. Now since 1962 Jamaica’s homicide rate has gone from 3.9 per 100,000 to a current rate of over 40, a 10 fold increase probably unmatched by any country not at war. Much of this has been indisputably politically related. And only Mr. Seaga has been politically actively throughout this period. So the question must be raised - “Is Edward Seaga the chief originator of violence in Jamaican politics?”


Now you hear many stories for and against. But in Jamaica “Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear” is a better guide than “If it no go so it go close to so”. So in search of some factual perspective I approached the country’s two senior practicing journalists, Wilmot Perkins and John Maxwell.


According to Maxwell “A lot of [the violence] traces back to Edward Seaga in very direct ways”. He himself ran against Seaga in West Kingston in 1972 and says he and his supporters were brutalized and shot at. But Perkins says “I don’t think Edward Seaga is more an instigator of violence than any other politician in Jamaica.” He argues that while we will probably never know who initiated the 1960s gun violence in West Kingston, Seaga was an incumbent who had done much for his constituency, and so had less need of guns than his challenger Dudley Thompson. Well, you pays your money, and you takes your choice.


I next consulted the written historical record. Now the two best known works on Jamaican political violence are probably Terry Lacey’s 1977 ‘Violence and Politics in Jamaica: 1960-1970’ and Laurie Gunst’s 1996 “Born Fi Dead”. Lacey’s book is solidly researched and admirably impartial. But though harshly critical of Jamaican politics, he blames a flawed social and economic structure rather than specific individuals.


Gunst seems to think Seaga is the main culprit. Now her book is well regarded by some. Its front cover Washington Post blurb says it is “A remarkable accomplishment… With clarity and power Gunst tracks down a complex, harrowing and elusive reality.” Yet Mutty Perkins calls her “dishonest” because “she quoted me saying things I never told her.” He is probably referring to this passage - “… I asked [Perkins] for his theory of Jim Brown’s death. He would not say Seaga was behind it, but his description of the death scene made it clear that he knew the fire had to have been ordered by a power higher than the prison guards.”


Then there is the hilarious story about her book title. “… taped to the wall behind [Perkins’] desk… was an astonishing dub poem from a ghetto bard who had signed himself only as “Wayne”. It had been obviously written by someone who spoke the language of the sufferers...”


She quotes the poem, which includes the phrase “born fi dead”, and continues. “[Perkins] raised his bushy eyebrows in gleeful affirmation of the poem’s excellence… when I was searching for a title… I remembered the poem.”


Well the “ghetto bard” was Wayne Chen, president of Superplus Foodstores, who grew up in that well known inner city community of Godfrey Lands Mandeville. Clearly Gunst has a vivid imagination and is not one to let reality get in the way of a good story. These might be virtues in a novel. But to me they render her book virtually worthless as factual history. Who can have any confidence in a writer so careless of facts?


None of which means Edward Seaga is innocent of all charges made against him. There may be no verifiable evidence that he was or is the main propagator of political violence in Jamaica. But given this country’s post independence explosion of murder, it is difficult to believe that any major Jamaican politician of the past 30 years has not been guilty – either directly or indirectly – of shameful acts.


Now it may well be that Mr. Seaga has acted no worse than his adversaries. But his confrontational language and attitude continue to stir up antagonisms, and render many of his enemies’ charges plausible. Take this recent tirade from a PNP stalwart.


“How could political violence possibly benefit us? Every murder makes the government look worse! But now Seaga is leading in the polls he is desperate to have them held as soon as possible, even if it means wrecking Jamaica to force them. That’s why he keeps saying elections are the only solution! That’s why he keeps rejecting all talk of joint efforts to cut crime! Look man, if it acts like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck!”


Well Mr. Seaga’s decision to join Mr. Patterson in prayers for peace has gone some way to counter such arguments. But though this is a good first step, surely they can go further. Suppose for instance the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader issued a joint statement unequivocally condemning all acts of violence by either PNP or JLP supporters, read it together on television, and marched with the Governor General and all 60 members of parliament through every troubled section of the corporate area. Would this not lessen the tension on both sides and so reduce the violence?


Even if it did not help, how could it possibly hurt? At least our leaders would be showing that they do care about the hundreds of Jamaicans murdered this year, and are willing to put aside their differences to try and end the madness. Some would brand it mere hypocritical symbolism and an insult to the memory of those who have died. But this is nonsense. Surely even a hypocritically symbolic act is better than doing nothing at all while people continue to be slaughtered. And the real insult to the dead would be not do to everything in your power to make sure no more innocent blood is shed.


I would love to see a proposal like this thrown on the table with no strings attached. Then we would see if both our leaders truly want to provide examples worthy of emulation. By his deeds shall a man be known.

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