When people speak of Jamaica, the immediate association most people will make will usually have to do with ‘sun, sand and sea’, Bob Marley, dancehall music and, once in awhile, cricket. The poverty, crime and drugs [save for marijuana, which is a huge draw to young reggae lovers] do not figure in most minds of most people.
For the sake of Jamaica’s tourist revenues, let’s hope that most prospective travellers were not paying much attention to the news coming out of Kingston all of last week.
The story? An attempt by the Jamaican government to apprehend a Mr. Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke ended up involving 1000 members of the security forces taking on a lot of armed gangs in the rough neighbourhood of Tivoli Gardens with an estimated 70 people dead at the time of writing.
Christopher Coke, widely known as ‘Dudus’, is wanted by the United States for drug and gun charges as a result of his leading a criminal gang known as ‘The Shower Posse’.
The gang’s name is not a result of their sanitary habits but rather their excessive use of ordinance in shootings, as in ‘showering’ a victim with bullets. A nasty bunch to be sure. Jamaica is a major conduit of narcotics from South America to the United States and is the largest producer of consumed marijuana.
The Americans contend that Dudus and his Shower Posse handle a large part of these drugs, distribute it to junkies in the US and often engage in armed gang warfare.
Long story short, the US decided that Dudus should face trial on drug and gun charges and in August of 2009 made an extradition request to the Jamaican Government.
Jamaican politics has since the 70s been in an amoral embrace with the criminal gangs on the island with Parties using them to mobilise voters, intimidate opponents and gain protection from the gangs of rivals with the criminals getting government tenders, influence and a lot of indulgence from grateful politicos.
However, as Dudus’ profile began to rise and public discontent over government tolerance of gangs such as the Shower Posse began to threaten his political standing, the Premier made a volte-face and ordered the arrest of Dudus.
Dudus is viewed as a Robin Hood figure in the Tivoli Gardens due to his benevolence towards his poor neighbours. Additionally, he had a huge arsenal of weapons at his disposal.
So when 1000 members of the Jamaican police and military showed up in Tivoli Gardens they were in for a huge fight. Gang members attacked police stations, placed barricades all over the neighbourhood and constantly sniped at the security forces. The result after a week? 70 dead and Mr. Christopher Coke is still at large.
Last year, I recall reading about how some states in West Africa are turning into narco-states and only last week, a Nigerian politician was caught at the Lagos international airport with 2 ingested kilos of cocaine, a worrying trend.
Africa is becoming an ever larger conduit for narcotics due to the rampant corruption of authorities. The lessons of this week’s events in Kingston is that corruption is quite capable of coming back and biting a country in the rear and that there should be no tolerance of crime, however beneficial it may seem to the politicians at the time.
Oscar Kabbatende is a lawyer