The Garrisons of Gordon House
Published: Sunday | November 13, 2011


Kevin O'Brien Chang, Contributor

"Both political parties have it within them to mutually agree to end the social construct of the garrison ... . Let us start the process by getting the leaders to walk together in these areas of exclusion ... . Hopefully, this small step will lead to other steps that will eventually remove garrisons from our political landscape."   - Andrew Holness, October 23


Andrew Holness' potentially historic end-garrison-politics inauguration address has spurred much debate about what a garrison is, which constituencies are garrisons, and even if garrisons exist. Few have referenced probably the most significant document produced on the topic, namely, the 1997 Report of the National Committee on Political Tribalism, often called the Kerr Garrison Report.

Here are some excerpts:

"26. Political tribalism, the use of violence in political activities, the creation of political garrisons were not a natural outgrowth of a political process, but, rather, they were nurtured and nourished as strategic initiatives to secure or retain political power... .

28. At one level, a garrison community can be described as one in which anyone who seeks to oppose, raise opposition to or organise against the dominant party would definitely be in danger of suffering serious damage to their possessions or person, thus making continued residence in the area extremely difficult, if not impossible. A garrison, as the name suggests, is a political stronghold, a veritable fortress completely controlled by a party. Any significant social, political, economic or cultural development within the garrison can only take place with the tacit approval of the leadership (whether local or national) of the dominant party.

Garrison Proximity

32. Garrison communities are created by:

i) the development of large-scale housing schemes by the State and the allocation of the houses therein to supporters of the party in power;

ii) homogenisation by the dominant party activists pushing out the minority from within and guarding against invasion from outside, and,

iii) the expelled setting up a squatter community.


34. The following extract from Mr Mark Figueroa ... speaks eloquently for itself ... .

"... I am linking the presence of the large-scale garrisons such as Jungle, Payne Land, Rema, Tivoli and other less-known strongholds, to a political culture. This political culture extends well beyond the boundaries of the communities that have come under the tight control of politicians, their thugs, and/or local enforcers.

"Those who promote the garrison process seem intent on extending its dominance over larger and larger sections of the country ... . To focus on constituencies alone is to miss the significance of the garrison phenomenon as a whole. The presence of a relatively small garrison within a constituency, or the presence of a garrison in a neighbouring constituency, can fundamentally alter the course of an election in a constituency that is relatively garrison free ... .

38. "There is a link between garrison forces and the party's political leadership ... .

i) It provides the main conduit for accessing and distributing scarce benefits. The top rankings thus become the main brokers between the members of parliament and the local communities;

ii) ... the member of parliament is sure of retaining his territorial support, while the rankings are able to acquire wealth and local power as well as protection from the forces of law and order." - Dr Chevannes.

41. Mr Figueroa's more detailed method by assessing electoral results on a polling station-by-polling station basis ... points out that consistent homogeneous voting in certain rural areas may be based on a legitimate preference of long standing ... Dr Sangster and Mr Figueroa both agree that the following eight constituencies have dominant garrison communities.

They are: Kingston West; St Andrew South; St Andrew South West; Kingston East and Port Royal; St Andrew West; St Andrew East Central; St Catherine Central; St Catherine East Central.

44. ... Party politics was not the only ... cause of the record number of homicides in 1996 ... . It is, however, beyond debate that party politics ... remains a major cause.

45. Criminal gangs tend to identify themselves with particular garrison communities and remain affiliated or aligned to their particular party. During the election period, they surface as perpetrators of political violence and election malpractices.

81. The politicians are, to a great extent, responsible for our type of party politics and the resultant factional conflicts ... and, therefore, have a special obligation to join in the efforts to put an end to political tribalism ... .

85.5. MPs representing garrison constituencies or constituencies in which there are areas of political violence must, by example, exhortation and rebuke, inculcate political tolerance and respect for the constitutional right of freedom of association."

Does this 14-year-old report reflect current realities? Well, in 1996, Jamaica experienced 925 murders. In the past 12 months, we have suffered more than 1,150. Dr Henley Morgan recently pointed out that "In 2005 ... 20 per cent of the political constituencies with strong garrison features accounted for approximately 73 per cent of the murders." So garrisonism unquestionably remains a vicious blight on Jamaican democracy.

The recent movie Ghett'A Life was perhaps the most compelling depiction of garrisonism to date, and probably as close as most Jamaicans living outside these areas will ever get to the phenomenon.

I recently asked a senior Kingstonian parliamentarian if he had seen it. His answer was: "Yes, but it reflects the past." Well, when participants of the YUTE programme were shown the movie, many broke down in tears at seeing the reality they have lived so graphically depicted. Some said it was like reliving their experiences during the last general election.

If our corporate powers that be really want to help end garrisonism, a powerful first step should be for the private sector of Jamaica to sponsor a free showing of Ghett'A Life on television. No Jamaican seeing it could fail to be ashamed of their country tolerating such injustice.

Political parties as gangs

Earlier this year, The Gleaner ran a 'Gangs of Gordon House' series that outraged politicians on both sides. But to quote the July 5, 2011 Gleaner editorial: "... Pretty much the entirety of the adult population [91 per cent of those polled] agree ... with this newspaper's characterisation of the country's major political parties as gangs."

Inexplicably, The Gleaner's campaign ended before concrete steps were taken by any politicians to - in its editor's words - "if they have the capacity for shame ... embark on an era of reform". Surely, now is the time for the Old Lady of North Street to finish what it started by renewing the drive to rid Gordon House of gangs and garrisons.

Frankly, it's now or never for the people, media and civic groups of Jamaica. For the first time, a prime minister has publicly pledged to do what he can to end garrison politics. It may be mere political grandstanding. But having heard him talk the talk, we must pressure Andrew Holness and every other parliamentarian into walking the walk.

Multifaceted solutions

We must keep urging our prime minister and all recalcitrant backsliders in both the JLP and PNP into ending political zones of exclusion. Yes, the garrison problem requires multifaceted social and economic solutions. But the change has to begin politically, and even a thousand-mile journey starts with a step.

The National Integrity Action Forum has run some very powerful anti-garrison ads on radio. It should now join with other prominent civic groups - such as Jamaicans for Justice, Families Against State Terrorism, Jamaicans United for Sustainable Development, the Jamaica Council of Churches, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, Jamaica Civil Society Coalition - and amplify the call. Let all Jamaica shout with one voice, "End garrison politics now!"

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