See and blind, hear and deaf…

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The following is my unedited Gleaner column of March 22, 2017. Because it goes directly against the anti-Latoya Nugent and anti-#saytheirnames position adopted by the Gleaner this column wasn’t even shown in the Commentary lineup today (the sidebar showing columns published on a particular day), and you would have had to search hard to find it, very odd considering the number of views it has attracted. Anyway, thank the various gods for blogs…i can easily remedy the situation by posting it here.

The latest is that Nugent’s case which was to have been heard today has been postponed to March 31 because DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) Paula Llewelyn has announced ‘an interest’ in the case. We shall see when the time comes what this ‘interest’ means for issues of libel and defamation in cyberspace. Meanwhile the fate of Latoya Nugent aka as Stella Gibson on Facebook (the name of a hardcore police detective who’s an unapologetic feminist from the British show The Fall) hangs in the balance.

As I pointed out in an earlier column, Jamaican men cry rape every time women say, “Yes, let’s say their names.” A kind of hysteria breaks out because somehow they hear this as women demanding the right to falsely accuse men of raping them. But this is not what women are demanding at all, particularly in the new activism around violence against women.

According to Latoya Nugent, one of the founders of Tambourine Army, most of what has been said in both traditional and social media about the#saytheirnames movement is a damaging and gross misrepresentation. She clarifies that the movement is emphatically not about recklessly calling names without any context:

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When we encourage survivors to say the names of perpetrators we are not telling them where to say that name, when to say that name, we are telling them that if they are ever ready to say the names of their perpetrators in private and/or in public that support is available. Whether you want emotional support, psychological support or legal support, it is available for you. I want folks to appreciate that this is about facilitating the empowerment of survivors and about shifting the blame and shame away from survivors and placing it squarely at the feet of perpetrators and institutions which have allowed folks to abuse their positions of authority and trust because they are aware that we as a society silence our victims and our perpetrators. Our first response when a woman or girl says to us that they have been sexually assaulted or raped is that we don’t believe them and #Saytheirnames is about saying to such women, ‘we believe you, if you decide to come forward we believe you, we will provide the support that you need and if we can’t provide it, we will point you to the entities, or the agencies or the individuals who can give you the support that is needed.’ (Transcribed verbatim from an interview with Nationwide’s Cliff Hughes the day before Latoya Nugent was arrested)

Basically there has been a ‘see and blind, hear and def’ or “see not, hear not, speak not” policy in place in Jamaica for decades. There is widespread buy-in from civil society, the media, the Church, the University, the legal fraternity, you name it. It is enforced by an army of prim citizens, whose first reaction when you speak out about an injustice is to raise their finger to their lips in the universal gesture that means ‘halt your speech’ or ‘stop your noise’ as they say here.

People are socialized to believe that it is fundamentally wrong to ‘call someone’s name’ in public, especially in the media. This should only be done after accusations have been proved in court they say. But court cases take years to be completed in Jamaica and even when they do, often fail to deliver justice. Take the case of the Reverend Paul Lewis, accused of raping a 14-year old girl in Sav-la-Mar, in the presence of another 14-year old girl who testified in court to the rape. Despite the Reverend’s semen being found on the child’s underwear, despite the testimony of an eyewitness, a Jamaican court saw fit to hand down a ‘not-guilty’ verdict.

More often than not rape victims don’t report the crime or give up during the extremely painful, invasive process of going to court to prosecute their attackers. A senior lecturer at UWI says: “I’ve watched helplessly while one of my (now former) students went through 4 years of appearances, delays, and postponements in the courts for the prosecution of two young men whom she had been able to identify as being among her assailants in a gang rape. She eventually decided to pull out of the case. As she put it, they had taken enough of her life, and every time she was required to make another court appearance, she relived the experience. She needed to move on. Justice denied. I wish the perpetrators could be named.”

“Every year, an average of 5,500 people are reporting sexual violence to Canadian police, but their cases are dropping out of the system as unfounded long before a Crown prosecutor, judge or jury has a chance to weigh in,” reports the Globe and Mail. The use of the term ‘unfounded’ to describe cases that the police have dropped due to the inadequacies of their own methods of interviewing victims, taking statements etc has been identified as highly problematic. The article goes on to state:

“True unfounded cases, which arise from malicious or mistaken reports, are rare. Between 2 per cent and 8 per cent of complaints are false reports, according to research from North America, the United Kingdom and Australia.”

There is no reason the numbers would be markedly different in Jamaica. Why then the moral panic about the mere possibility of libel in cyberspace? And why is there not a similar outcry about the out-of-control rape culture here?

‘Nah mek dem win’: The rise of the Tambourine Army

The following is the unedited version of my March 15, 2017, column in the Gleaner

March 11, 2017. Tambourine Army’s emotionally charged, moving survivors’ march from the Moravian Church at 127 Molynes Road to Mandela Park in Half Way Tree Square was one of several held across the Caribbean that day. It was probably also the most heart-wrenching one, organized as it was mostly by survivors of rape and abuse, for many of whom this was a cathartic experience. Impressive also were the number of men who participated in this 700-strong march, a record number for non-political or religious public protests in Jamaica.

Heralded by dissension on social media and fallout with earlier generations of feminist activists the Tambourine Army nevertheless prevailed on March 11, their well-orchestrated, rootsy, Rasta drum- and pan-driven procession moving at a nimble pace through the streets of Kingston. Led by flag woman Taitu Heron, gloriously clad in Orisha-inspired white and expertly manipulating a large white flag in front of purple-clad marchers the procession packed quite a visual punch. Such a pity that neither of the two TV stations in Jamaica seemed to be there (recalling the famous words of Gil Scott-Heron “The revolution will not be televised…”) so that it fell on social media to disseminate the colourful images.

A truck with a sound system accompanied the procession, pumping out the doleful but mesmerizing song ‘Nah Mek Dem Win’ with lyrics telling an all too familiar Jamaican story. Young girl being abused by her father, tries in vain to bring it to the attention of her family, yet:

Mama neva listen
Aunty neva listen
Mi try tell mi sista but…. She neva listen
But this is healing time…
An you don’t have to do it on your own
Just Stan Firmm.

Nah mek dem win
Nah mek dem win…

Keisha Firmm, author and singer of ‘Nah mek dem win’ is the survivor of a horror story herself. After her mother’s death her relatives sent her to England to live with a man who claimed to be her father. The inevitable happened leaving young Keisha full of anger and pain with nowhere to turn for help. Questions kept swirling through her mind. Why had this happened to her? How could society leave children to the mercy of predators with no protection whatsoever? Would she ever be normal again?

I asked her how participating in the march had made her feel. Less empty, said Keisha, less alone. A student in UTECH’s USAID-funded Fi Wi Jamaica arts residency programme, sharing her story and turning it into song has been therapeutic for Keisha, who hopes that it will help other young women like herself. During the march the truck would stop along the way allowing different survivors to share their stories, the singer Tanya Stephens, among them.

Leading the march, right behind the flagwoman, was a row of black clad women, in armour-like. outfits. They were members of En Kompane, the dance troupe started by virtuoso dancer Neila Ebanks. When the procession reached Mandela Park to find that the generator had packed up and there was no sound, the rag tag live instrumental band struck up and Neila danced a powerful ‘cutting and clearing’ dance.

Cutting and clearing space for themselves was what this march was about for the women and men who participated in it. The unseemly pre-March kass kass between older feminists who should know better and younger activists whose zeal and passion at times made them hotheaded and confrontational was unfortunate. The public’s apathy made me realize that there’s no culture here of holding protest marches, or protests generally. The Immediate response of too many is—what is a protest going to achieve? They miss the point. For the victims of abuse who participated the march was part of the healing process. For others like artist Deborah Anzinger, who brought her 6-year old daughter, it

“…felt like a valuable step and exercise. As children we never learned of organized demonstrations/protesting as an option for us to show disapproval of any social problem. It felt good introducing this to our daughter and her friend. It was an opportunity to talk to them about how far we’ve come towards basic equality and human rights for all people and how much further there is to go.”

I’ll close by quoting Kashka Hemans whose Facebook status said it all:

“… Respect where respect is due. I’d like to congratulate the Tambourine Army on their fearless and, in many ways, peerless activism in the cause of ending gender-based violence in Jamaica. I am discomfited by some of their strategies and harbour doubts about the long term effectiveness of the contestational stance they have at times taken but, you know what? So what? I stand with them on the basis of what they stand for. I also stand with others who represent a more staid approach to activism. There is space and a need for many voices and approaches. But the present moment belongs to the Tambourine Army, they are giving a platform to many women to tell their stories, to vent, to ‘gwaan bad’ and cuss claat in a country where claat cussing is the only language many in officialdom seem to understand. More power to you sisters, may your movement grow in strength and impact.”

How to thwart the Gay agenda

My Gleaner column of February 8, 2017. Reactions to it ranged from amusing to predictable to baffling. 

You are the head of a self-appointed coalition to foster a ‘healthy society’ in Jamaica. You are also a medical doctor. Or you are the head of an assembly of churches, a Reverend. No, not one of those going around molesting young girls. No, no not one of those. You are both dedicated to the policing of gender boundaries in Jamaica. Men are men and women are women and there shall be nothing betwixt or between.

You are duty-bound to police the borders of Jamaica against interlopers and unwanted immigrants. Why, even Donald Trump is taking a leaf out of your book! Those who ignore or show lack of respect for gender boundaries are not welcome in Jamaica. It is your solemn duty to make this clear to every citizen. You have to be particularly vigilant against the Gay Agenda, a global conspiracy involving institutions at the highest levels—the UN, the World Bank, the EU—whose goal is to destroy the world (and inter alia the Jamaican family) by legalizing gay marriage.

If, God forbid, gay marriage is legalized in Jamaica  it will be the beginning of the end. For all and sundry will take up with their own gender, setting up same sex households all over the country, and soon procreation will grind to a halt. There are no examples, as yet, of this happening in countries where gay marriage has been legalized but so what? Reality is not a shackle. Keep stressing the following point. How can we have a healthy society without children?

As for feminists. They too must be kept from invading Jamaica where we like to do things in old, time-honored ways. It is a pity that slavery was officially abolished two centuries ago. What is wrong with slavery? Nothing at all. Slaves are essential to healthy families. Women are meant  to cook, clean, raise children and provide sex for heads of households at no pay. Also the sex part is non-negotiable, women must deliver when the subject is broached. Shop must remain open 24/7. Think Open Access is a new sumpn?

It’s just that slavery must be gender-based. This is why it’s so important to distinguish between the sexes. There can be no ambiguity about this. Men and women who break these rules must be enslaved by our cultural rules. Either they conform to these or they leave. It is for the benefit of the nation. Our good name is at stake.

Also, it is to be noted that rape is a crime that can only be inflicted on women for Jamaican law defines sexual intercourse under the Sexual Offences Act as “penetration of the vagina of one person by the penis of another person”. Rape occurs when there is sexual intercourse without the consent of the woman. That is, for rape to happen, there has to be penetration of a vagina. By a penis.  If a man buggers a boy or man that is not rape; if a man thrusts his penis into your daughter’s mouth without her consent that is not rape either; nor is penetration of one’s orifices, vaginal or not, by the forced intrusion of an object, considered rape.

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This actually means that homosexual men who bugger other men or boys get away with a lesser charge of grievous sexual assault, with much milder punishment compared to rape but so what? “Anal penetration is wrong in 2017 and anal penetration will still be wrong in the year 3000.” We can’t let ourselves be fooled by such tactics.  Sometimes the truth is inconvenient…but let that not stand in your way. Redefinition of rape is a Trojan horse to bring in gay marriage. The Gay Agenda must be stopped at all costs. It’s the Al Quaeda of the god-fearing world, the ISIS of virtuous, law-abiding countries such as Jamaica.

What about all those women who keep turning up murdered, you ask? Like the one in the barrel in St Thomas? Ignore them man. More than likely they were asking for it. Its just the work of feminists. That is why we have to oust them too. There is too much sensationalizing of crimes against women, the media gives them too much space. “Men die everyday . Boys are molested and sexually assaulted in every community. But what? No one cries out, protests, chastises government or prays about it. Male lives matter too.”

Hat tip to the brilliant Nigerian satirist, Elnathan John.

‘Tis the Season to Protest

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Correction: This teach in was on Feb 17 which was last week. No wonder the Gleaner removed the information. Mea culpa…have made the necessary adjustments to tense.

It’s time to resurrect Active Voice. My column in the Gleaner today was pruned of most of the last 2 paragraphs which talk about the planned Teach-in at UWI this Friday concerning the review of the Sexual Offences Act (#SOAReview). Since this is a very important example of the kind of citizen participation I’m talking about, I thought it important to carry the unexpurgated version on my blog.

My first visit to the United States since Donald Trump became president of the country was uneventful. New York City was bustling with activity as usual, as was the conference I attended. The College Arts Association is the largest association of art professionals in the US–including artists, art historians, critics, curators, art writers and publishers. Their annual conference attracts 4000 attendees and each of 5 time slots a day might have up to 18 concurrent panels. The mammoth conference runs for four days.

Landing at John F Kennedy airport in the afternoon there were no lines at immigration. In fact everyone had to scan their passports at kiosks, then photograph and press their fingers on screens themselves before proceeding to an actual agent who engaged minimally to retake fingerprints and photographs. Kiosks are always unnerving, even for someone as technologically literate as I am so i wondered how others with less experience were faring.

Then I was off to my airbnb room in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, by public transport, the air train to–where else–Jamaica, in Queens, and then the E train which took me within a block of my accommodation. Unlike hotels, airbnb accommodation in the city might often be in 3-or 4-storied buildings without elevators so packing lightly is a must. My room turned out to be very comfortable though i never fail to be amazed at how constrained for space many New Yorkers are. I had never seen such a tiny bathroom till then. My hosts were incredibly thoughtful and pleasant which more than made up for the cramped quarters.

On the up side i was in the middle of an avenue of good restaurants, a block away from Broadway with all its glitz and glitter and a healthy walk from the Hilton where the conference was. What are conferences and why do people go to them? Those who pooh pooh them disregard the exchange of knowledge, ideas and concepts that occur at such events. The world is not a mechanical place: beneath the technology, the geopolitics and the surface of the societies we inhabit, lie webs of ideas, theories, and hypotheses.

Knowledge is a communal enterprise, not the product of individuals sitting cocooned in their castles. The cross-fertilization that occurs simply by listening to new points of view on the same subject you might be researching is invaluable. The arc of the scholarly enterprise may be long but it bends towards insight. And insight is essential in these dark times.

An unusual addition to this conference was a wall of protest for people to display posters and slogans on behalf of their cause, whatever that might be. Quite a few of them addressed the Trump presidency. Jostling a sign for the Society of Contemporary Art Historians was one saying, “Trump is the symptom, capitalism is the disease.” “Germans against walls and white nationalism” announced another. “NOT MY PRESIDENT”. “This is not normal”. “Make American kind again.”

One of my favorites just said TRUST WOMEN. On the eve of possibly having a female police commissioner for the first time, and a few weeks before March 11 when the Tambourine Army plans to mobilize women onto Kingston’s streets to protest the unremitting violence they face this is a good slogan for all of us.

The Tambourine Army is asking people to wear purple on March 11 and join the protest. “Bring your friends, your family, your colleagues, your neighbours and let’s march in solidarity as one Jamaica against sexual abuse, against rape, against all forms of sexual violence against our women and girls.”

Also on Friday, February 17, the I’m Glad I’m A Girl Foundation partnered with UN Women and the Tambourine Army to host a full day teach-in on the Sexual Offences Act. A presentation on the Act and related Acts was made by Tracy Robinson (Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UWI Mona) in the morning, and discussions with advocates about how folks can contribute to the current review of the Act followed in the afternoon.

Citizen participation is the name of the game, WE have to become the change we want to see. Purple is the colour of power, let’s put it on and take to the streets come. To all the men out there come show your support for us, with or without tambourines, on March 11 and we’ll reciprocate by joining the one for violence against men whenever you choose to organize it. Deal?

Civil Society and Economic Leadership by Don Robotham

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Dr Alfred Dawes. Photo: Rudolph Brown, Gleaner

This is a guest post by Professor Don Robotham of City University of New York, previously Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Mona. He urges civil society in Jamaica to “take the reins of leadership of the society directly into its own hands.” In the wake of Dr. Alfred Dawes’ calmly articulated, spot on denunciation of the state of the health sector (The Third Tribe Will Not Be Silenced) and the damaging effects of political tribalism, partisanship and cronyism on it, Robotham’s essay has added resonance. Do let us know what you think by leaving comments.

Demoralization has settled over large areas of Jamaica. Problems multiply—in our health services, in the rising murder rate and in growing youth unemployment. Amidst this sea of troubles, our political leadership seems lost. One political squabble follows another—jockeying for advantage in the upcoming general election. But what’s the point of winning if you can’t govern?

There is no vision from either political side of how they want Jamaica to be and how they plan to get there. Consequently, according to the latest Bill Johnson poll, 47% of those in the 18-24 age-group have no intention of voting.

The only way out of this cul-de-sac is for civil society leadership to boldly assert itself. It is not enough for the Uncommitted to be vocal, to demonstrate or even to vote. It is not just a matter of getting off the fence. That is to entertain illusions about what the formal political process—including general elections—can yield. The challenge is greater: civil society must take the reins of leadership of the society directly into its own hands. This is especially true of economic policy—the subject of this article. But as the health crisis demonstrates, our leadership void is not confined to the economy. It is broad across all sectors. The politicians on both sides have lost the plot. When this happens, ordinary citizens must step in. I repeat, it is not just a matter of voting and then retiring to one’s verandah, or, increasingly, to Facebook and Twitter, to watch and lament as events unfold.

Some will claim that the above is too gloomy. They point to the success of the IMF program in reducing the debt-to-GDP ratio from an unsustainable 144% to about 125% by early next year; the primary surplus has improved to 7% of GDP—J$50.8 billion instead of the targeted J$40 billion—exceeding even the wildest dreams of the IMF. The Net International Reserves have risen to US$2.44 billion. Revenue collection has also improved to J$95.1 billion this September 2015, against a projected J$90.2 billion. Jamaica therefore passed its 10th consecutive IMF test. Further there has been an uptick in GDP growth of 0.4%. Unemployment is also trending down from 13.8% to 13.2%. All of this is true and not to be scoffed at. The problem however is this: at the level of the average citizen hardship and despair stalk the land

‘Growth’ may come but few will ‘grow’

There is no end in sight. Significant growth in the economy continues to elude us. If and when this ‘growth,’ comes, it is likely to have little impact in raising the living standards of the average Jamaican even in the middle classes, let alone amongst the urban working class or rural poor. ‘Growth’ may come but few will ‘grow.’ We are in the grip of trickle-down growth and the Jamaican people know it. No matter which party wins the general election, the IMF program will continue. Our political leadership knows this reality but seeks to evade it by distracting us by a series of sideshow antics. Our civil society leadership seems also at a loss on economic matters. Rosy affirmations of macroeconomic progress are increasingly greeted with a yawn but it ends there.

We have had blazing economic growth before: under Norman Manley in the late 1950s/early 1960s, GDP growth actually rose to an astonishing 14% per annum! But inequality also soared and the upshot was the ‘have-and-have-nots’ debate which first brought Edward Seaga to national attention. This experience was repeated under Seaga in the late 1960s: high growth but even higher inequality. The result was the coming to power of Michael Manley in 1972.

The Quality of Growth: SME Strategy

Yet there are solutions and the leadership does exist in Jamaican society to find them. These solutions do not require an abandonment of the IMF program but do require a different emphasis. All the talk has been about ‘growth.’ But the issue is not simply ‘growth.’ We have had growth before yet poverty and the murder rate increased. The key question is the quality of growth. Who benefits and is the growth sustainable? Our present growth strategy is to emphasize macroeconomic stability and large investments. This is necessary but not sufficient. What we urgently need is an emphasis on Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to supplement this. We cannot walk on one leg.

Our economic leadership needs to get off its macroeconomic high horse and down into the grassroots trenches where incomes are earned—or more usually not—in the real everyday life of the Jamaican people.

It is not a matter of replacing one strategy with another: that the two are complementary becomes clearer if we consider the case of the Mount Rosser bypass. This highway is already opening up opportunities for families in St. Ann and St. Catherine to offer bed and breakfast lodging to tourists on Airbnb. As is often the case, the people are ahead of the government and have grasped that, with the Internet, immense opportunities exist for attracting large number of tourists to stay in small homes all over rural Jamaica by direct low-cost global marketing techniques. Our beach-based tourism needs to be migrated into a hills-based tourism. This would put the US dollar directly into the hands of the Jamaican people—no trickle down here from some large all-inclusive to its hapless underpaid employees. No foreign exchange leakage either. Yet our Tourism Ministry has not taken significant steps to spearhead an aggressive movement in this very obvious direction.

Civil Society must rise to the challenge

This is only one example of what is possible—there are others. All of this carries huge security, social, cultural, environmental and other risks—no free lunch. But, as Arlene Harrison-Henry—our new Public Defender—is demonstrating, Jamaica has many committed and capable persons (and private institutions) from all walks of life and political tendencies capable of taking the lead in this more bottom-up approach to our development. Civil Society must therefore take direct proactive leadership of economic policy and make it central.

Reparations, the Prison Industrial Complex and David Cameron’s whirlwind visit to Jamaica

Some thoughts on Cameron’s visit to Jamaica and the UK proposal to contribute towards building a new prison here.

The Gleaner, Oct 2, 2015, Las May
The Gleaner, Oct 2, 2015, Las May

In a superb blogpost titled “Slavery’s ghost: Prison imperialism, Jamaica, and the UK” author Scott Long provides the context for the UK’s extraordinary offer to pay for a state-of-the-art prison to be located on Jamaican soil. He details the tortuous twists and turns of a global prison industrial complex founded, funded and fostered by countries such as the UK and the USA starting in Guantanamo Bay and reaching all the way to Somalia, Somaliland and the Seychelles. Utilizing elaborate ‘prisoner transfer agreements’ and the building of maximum security prisons in other countries that largely benefit the UK (or the exporting country in question) a global trade in prisoners is in swing and its routes and circuits are not far removed from those of the slave trade two centuries or so ago. As Long says:

The enslavement of the human being; his reduction to a rightsless cipher; her extermination once her economic use was exhausted — these are extreme cases, absolutely not typical of all incarceration. But they’re possibilities inextricably latent in the modern prison: because buried under the prison is the slave camp.

Although the links between Cameron’s offer of £25m towards the building of a prison and similar experiments in Somalia and elsewhere haven’t been discussed much in the Jamaican media Long suggests that the Jamaican government was well aware of the geopolitics of the deal and cannily acted in its own interests. In fact a 2013 article in the Observer chronicles a Senate debate between the Jamaican government and Opposition on the subject. To return to Long however:

WIth all this going on elsewhere in the world, Jamaica knew there was money in the prisoner-transfer business, and drove a hard bargain. The deal Cameron announced had been in the works since at least 2007; but it’s easy to imagine that, as Kingston saw other countries profiting, its own price went up. Britain paid to import chained humans to its territories for several centuries. There’s a certain justice that, as the whirligig of capital brings round its revenges, it must now pay to export them. Of course, for the humans in question, “justice” may not be the right word.

Long pinpoints the UK’s interest in the matter:

The UK’s reasoning is clear: if we have to spend that much on prisoners, which we don’t want to, let’s spend it on our own, not foreigners. “Deporting foreign criminals would free up prison places,” says a UKIP politician, letting us abuse and humiliate more of our own kind. There’s no reason the logic should stop there, though. Already the UK is figuring out ways to scrap the formality of a trial; Cameron’s government has come up with “Operation Nexus,” to simplify deporting foreigners charged with crimes but not convicted. And isn’t there a deeply buried message: Look. We would deport our own citizens if we could. Can a mere ID deter ostracism and eviction? With a West desperate to export crime and get rid of immigrants, why is birthright belonging more than a friable, disposable defense? Donald Trump already wants to scrap it. If the UK could find a penal colony, a Botany Bay, to take its suspect and unwanted nationals, how long would it cling to them over legal sentimentalities? As non-citizens become criminals, an insidious mirroring begins; the possibility — the fissure — of turning criminals into non-citizens opened, after September 11.

As for the claim that the UK’s investment is somehow going to improve the antiquated, inhumane state of the country’s prison system Long is doubtful:

It’s improbable that the UK money will do anything to change overall prison conditions in Jamaica, much less the beliefs and policies that produce them. It’s not meant to. At best, Cameron’s bargain will create a two-tier prison system: lucky UK exports will enjoy the cutting-edge prison’s comparative comforts, along with privileged dons and barons who can pay for it, while everyone else swelters in the old inferno. And this is fine with Britain. Given the UK’s desperation to slough off unwanted inmates, there’s little chance they’ll seriously inspect even the new facility’s standards. It’s fine with Jamaica too. Already the government is talking about this not as a rights issue, but a real estate one: the possible superannuation of one old penitentiary means that “Downtown Kingston will have the opportunity for a large redevelopment on the 30 acres of waterfront land now occupied by the prison,” the National Security Ministry told the press. “A similar opportunity for redevelopment would be provided in Spanish Town.”

The rest of this long but informative post can be found here and is well worth reading in its entirety.

The Gleaner, Oct 3, 2015, Las May
The Gleaner, Oct 3, 2015, Las May

The overwhelming reaction to Cameron’s prison proposal in Jamaica has been one of outrage and skepticism. Tweeter @BigBlackBarry summed it up:

Export our qualified citizens who are forced to leave to build their country. Import criminals for integration in our failed state.

There is a widespread feeling of insult added to injury in Cameron’s refusal to countenance any discussion of reparative justice suggesting instead that Jamaicans join the British in looking and working towards the future.This is the very same impulse that led light-skinned governing elites in Jamaica to jettison Emancipation Day as a national holiday and focus exclusively on Independence Day for the first 3 decades of independence. ‘Let’s forget the past and move forward’ was the too frequently proffered advice of the ruling elites who feared that frequent references and memorialization of the slave past would render the population mutinous and ungovernable. Cameron’s exhortation that Jamaica should join the British in ‘moving on from the painful legacy of slavery’ therefore has unpleasant resonances for Jamaicans and should have been avoided.

We gave a nation… They give a prison.. That’s a sick reparation joke…tweeted @Occupy_Jamaica

Journalist Yolande Gyles-Levy was moved to start a blog expressing the rage she felt:

No sooner had he said the words “move on”, I became enraged. I was sitting at my desk in the office, listening to Mr. Cameron and I leapt up and stood before the television set glaring at him while muttering every single profanity I knew in both English and Spanish and I’m sure I probably made up a few new ones.
And then my anger grew to rage as I watched the sons and daughters of slaves who are now parliamentarians allow the descendant of a slave owner to get away with the comment. There was not one single visible note of objection. Not one.
My anger turned to unimaginable shame though when the President of the Senate, the visually impaired Floyd Morris genuflected into the perfect “house slave”. His vote of thanks after Mr. Cameron’s speech sounded something like this: Thank You Massa for coming to speak to us Niggers. We have never been so blessed. Thank You Massa! Thank You! Thank You!
As I write this blog piece on Friday, two days later, they, the sons and daughters of slaves, who now occupy the Parliament still haven’t objected.

As the above video shows most Jamaicans were unhappy with the UK’s prison proposal.

Local entertainers also rejected the idea, claiming that the money should be invested in education and development infrastructure. Patrick Gaynor of the duo Twin of Twins had this to say:

“Let’s say a man is born in Jamaica but leaves immediately to the UK, commits a crime at age 40 and gets deported to Jamaica. Where does he go after he serves his time?”

Wayne Chen, a businessman, politician and erstwhile poet, seemed to be one of the few seeing the prison proposal as a useful opportunity. His proposal is one worth considering:

The British government’s proposal to spend the equivalent of four billion Jamaican dollars to build us a new prison highlights important issues, raises troubling questions, and presents an opportunity.

First, it reminds us that Jamaica’s prisons are a terrible blight on our aspirations to being a ‘civilized society’, as they are dank, overcrowded barracoons; more universities of crime than centres of rehabilitation.

Second, the high numbers of our citizens in British and other foreign prisons are unacceptable, and symptomatic of local problems that need urgent fixing if we are not to become international pariahs.

The tone, timing, and content of the announcement displayed a level of insensitivity that has rightly outraged many of us, but we need to see past this.

I have no instant quarrel with the British for acting in their own self-interest by getting rid of foreigners who are a burden on their taxpayers, but wonder whether our own government is willing to accept a two-tiered prison system that will see one set of prisoners, ‘lucky’ enough to be convicted in a foreign jurisdiction, housed in a modern 21st century facility, and another set, convicted in their home country, living in a 19th century hellhole.

Since the British seem determined to spend the money, has our own government considered negotiating a compromise that would use these funds to help to modernize Jamaica’s entire prison system?

This coupled with the current commitment to stop locking up people for minor drug offenses would allow us to focus on incarcerating and rehabilitating violent offenders.

Where is our government on this?

That Jamaica Film Festival…

A critical look at the inaugural Jamaica Film Festival

Celebratory cake designed for Jamaica Film Festival
Celebratory cake designed for Jamaica Film Festival

In the weeks leading up to it JAMPRO (a government agency whose role it is to promote trade and investment), promised that Kingston would come alive with the Jamaica Film Festival (JaFF) (July 7 – 11, 2015), “a dynamic cinematic and cultural event, featuring both local and international movies” and showcasing “the talents of the best and brightest in the Jamaican film industry.” Instead the highly hyped film festival, though occasionally (and quite erratically) hitting the mark, was largely a damp squib of an event, marred by shoddy programming, less than ideal venues and a complete failure to keep to schedule.

Just as with the JCDC’s Independence Gala of Galas (which according to the media failed to live up to its billing though JCDC’s Director and the Minister of Culture both deemed them more than satisfactory) JAMPRO and the Film Commissioner have declared the film festival a great success. Of course organizers of events (much like fond mothers) are notoriously, perhaps even wilfully, blind to the faults and shortcomings of their progeny but when public money and time are involved it becomes imperative that we demand not only accountability but best practices from those responsible for spending both. While the media raised questions about the quality of the Grand Gala it completely failed to do so regarding the inaugural Jamaica Film Festival, even lending itself to the myth of  the event’s success. This needs explanation.

The Gala is reputed to have cost $47 million dollars to mount and though exact figures are unavailable the sum of $39 million was being bandied about as the sum needed to mount the Film Festival. It is unclear how much of this was to come from JAMPRO and how much from private sector sources or even how much of the desired total was raised. I’m sure some of the glitches experienced during JaFF may be attributable to funding that failed to materialize but others could have been avoided had a different mindset been adopted. Not everything is dependent on money–good planning, innovative programming, keeping to schedule, targeting audiences to ensure attendance–these are things that can be done even on a shoestring budget.

Films an afterthought at inaugural Jamaica Film Festival

For starters, even though Jamaica is officially entering the film festival circuit rather late (Trinidad celebrates its 10th edition next week) Festival planners failed to make use of the many templates for successful film festivals that already exist. Not only that, the organizers failed to grasp the basic fact that a film festival is about films–that films, actual films or movies—are, and should be, at its epicentre.

Regrettably films were an afterthought at the Jamaica Film Festival. One searched the JIS press releases in vain for any mention of the films to be screened. If you went to the festival website and clicked on ‘Schedule’ what you got is the programme of industry workshops and seminars that usually are a subsidiary offering at film festivals (while the workshop schedule was well laid out and readable the film schedule when you finally found it was poorly designed and impossible to read on any device even a desktop). Maybe JAMPRO was trying to break the established mold and come up with its own path breaking product on its maiden venture into film festival land but what JaFF turned out to be, was actually a series of how-to talks, workshops and panel discussions on film and TV production with a random selection of–mostly short–films thrown in for good measure.

But workshops, seminars and discussions do not a film festival make. The financing of films, scriptwriting, new technologies, distribution and marketing –the nuts and bolts of film-making–are all important but as one regional veteran in the film business said, “You can’t make good films unless you watch good films. The key to any good film festival is the quality of the films they show.”

Thus most reputable film festivals put films at the front and centre of their annual events using the opportunity to showcase new and innovative offerings particularly ones that have some connection to the location of the festival. A film such as Destiny which had already played in the theatres here (and which was  panned by critics) would not have been included in the programming which would have been reserved for new films or outstanding films that had not yet been shown in local theatres. TTFF follows the standard format for film festivals showcasing new material and a choice selection of older classics chosen for their outstanding qualities. “There is enough good work from the entire Caribbean and the Diaspora to ensure a quality lineup of films every year,” said a spokesperson for the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (TTFF).

The Jamaica Film Festival seems to have relied exclusively on submissions to its competition, designed mainly for new and upcoming film-makers, for its programme. The lack of a filmic intelligence at work to curate a compelling lineup was palpable, for in addition to submissions by aspiring filmmakers, there are films by established, even celebrated directors, that must be curated into the mix as examples of filmmaking taken to its acme, its most creative. If such films in addition to being excellent also happen to have a local connection, why then the stars are all aligned for the work to not only be included in the offerings but to have top billing.

The Stuart Hall Project

In 2013, a year or so before Stuart Hall died (please see my earlier posts on who Hall was and his connection to Jamaica), a film was produced called The Stuart Hall Project. Directed by acclaimed film-maker John Akomfrah the film skillfully captured Hall and the worlds he lived in and influenced. A review in the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound magazine described the film in glowing terms:

…the overriding impression left by The Stuart Hall Project is of a sparkling meeting of minds and creative disciplines orchestrated by one of our most gifted non-fiction filmmakers.

So outstanding is John Akomfrah’s work as a film director (He was also Governor of the Board of the British Film Institute for several years and is generally considered a stalwart of Black British Cinema) that the TTFF headlined him as a special guest in its 2013 edition.

The festival events come to a close with a retrospective of the films of John Akomfrah hosted by Dr Gabrielle Hezekiah. Several of the acclaimed director’s works will be screened, including his newest film The Stuart Hall Project.  Akomfrah himself will attend the retrospective and will discuss his career and films with Dr Hezekiah.

You would have thought that a film featuring the most distinguished intellectual Jamaica has produced (that even Trinidad considered important enough to feature. Storm Saulter, one of Jamaica’s best young directors who was conspicuous by his absence from the JaFF told me he was astonished to learn of Stuart Hall at the TTFF which he attended as a representative of New Caribbean Cinema), itself the creation of one of the most creative directors would have been high on the list of the artistic or programming director of the inaugural JaFF. But alas my most fervent efforts to interest the JaFF in premiering The Stuart Hall Project in Jamaica came to naught. Although the Film Commissioner, Carole Beckford, agreed to include the film in the JaFF line up, even featuring it on its programme, she only contacted the producer of the film on June 23rd, a mere two weeks before JaFF to make arrangements to acquire the necessary permissions and a copy to be shown at the Festival.

Needless to say this did not go down well with the makers of The Stuart Hall Project. Responding to the belated effort to include the film in JaFF, Lina Gopaul, the producer and a Jamaican citizen, wrote:

…it’s been a hard slog, five years of our lives trying to get this film made, trying to raise money to make a film on a Jamaican intellectual/cultural theorist is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, we did  it out of our respect for him and wanting to place Jamaicans on the map in this vital and import arena and it’s baffling when we are treated in this manner, especially for me as a person of Jamaican heritage.

When belatedly contacted by the film commissioner the makers of The Stuart Hall Project insisted that the organizers of JaFF follow the normal protocols for acquiring a copy and rights to show the film at the festival, something JAMPRO was either unwilling or unable to do. I heard once again from the producer Lina Gopaul:

After much discussion here we will give permission for the screening as long as it’s not screened on dvd!   I am waiting for screening formats – I do not think they realise just how much damage they have done by doing things in this manner- The Stuart Hall Project has agents, distributors – all of which I will have to smooth over – anyway let’s see what happens from here on… it saddens me that this has happened this way — but we have agreed only because of Stuart and a wish he made for it to been seen there.

Despite the express wishes of the film-makers that DVD was not an acceptable format the organizers were scrambling to find a DVD copy the evening before the film was to be screened (I even received a call the night before from the Film Commissioner asking if I had a copy) which needless to say did not materialize. No explanation or apology was offered for the non-showing nor was any announcement made to let attendees know that the film, although on the schedule, was not actually going to be screened. I had to personally inform parties who were asking for details on Twitter and Facebook, about the no-show.

Jamaican director Perry Henzell, who famously made The Harder They Come, on left
Jamaican director Perry Henzell, who famously made The Harder They Come, on left

Similarly Perry Henzell: A Filmmaker’s Odyssey, a biographical film about the father of Jamaica’s film industry, was listed in the schedule, but not shown for somewhat similar reasons; my understanding is that the JaFF failed to buy a copy designed for festival viewing (Needless to say the documentary has been invited to be an official selection, in competition for People’s Choice Award, at the 2015 Trinidad + Tobago International Film Festival which seems to be way ahead of Jamaica in recognizing outstanding films on Jamaican subjects). The non-observance of normal protocols and payment of required fees to show films in their optimal format make a mockery of JaFF’s much touted slogan: Where art meets business. It betrays a surprising lack of knowledge about how the film business works, about the fees that need to be paid to agents and distributors, about royalties and appropriate formats for festival showings. This is shocking especially considering utterances in the media from no less than the president of Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), Diane Edwards, in the lead-up to the inaugural Jamaica Film Festival:

“Film is a business. Players must understand the business behind the creativity, and that is why we have organised a really serious film festival. The creative side is not enough, what must happen is a full understanding of the industry to create long-term businesses,” she told the Jamaica Observer.

She said stakeholders must make themselves professional in order to create world-class standards. She further said an understanding of distribution, copyright, and intellectual property issues are also critical in moving the industry forward.

Yes, an understanding of distribution, copyright, and intellectual property issues are indeed critical but there was little evidence of this in the manner in which films were programmed and shown at the JaFF.

No Programming Director?

What JaFF badly needed was a programming director or someone with a deep knowledge of film and film culture to curate a compelling selection of films and ensure that industry protocols were followed in acquiring them. To have spurned or dropped through sheer carelessness, two films such as The Stuart Hall Project and Perry Henzell: A Filmmaker’s Odyssey, the latter about the pioneer of film in Jamaica, which would have anchored the inaugural edition of JaFF most memorably, is baffling to say the least.

Film Commissioner Carole Beckford with Hollywood film and TV professionals
Film Commissioner Carole Beckford with Hollywood film and TV professionals

For reasons best known to itself JAMPRO seems to have left the planning and execution of this important festival up to one individual—the film commissioner– who with the best will in the world was not equipped to deliver a high quality film festival on her own. Any successful festival whether film or literary or musical requires teamwork. The point of having a competent team, including a programming director or committee, is precisely to avoid limiting a festival to the conceptual map or limited resources of any one individual.

Carole Beckford, the film commissioner, is not known to have a background in film. Her specialty is public relations—most famously she was for a time Usain Bolt’s publicist. The appointment of an outsider to the industry, and one with so little experience or knowledge of film as film commissioner was a move that JAMPRO should be asked to explain. Predictably it offended the Jamaican film-making community who turned their backs on the Commissioner and her film festival.

Thus even though Beckford managed to pull together quite an impressive array of workshops and seminars, tapping Black Hollywood (such a pity Black British Cinema wasn’t also seen as a resource) for industry professionals, some of whom delivered good sessions, the turnout was sparse and the effort somewhat wasted because the film industry by and large stayed away and the students who could afford the steep ticket prices were few and far between. Sessions often started more than an hour late while organizers waited in vain for crowds to turn up. In some instances JAMPRO staff were asked to fill the seats so that the Courtleigh Auditorium could give an appearance of decent attendance.

Interestingly JAMPRO and the film commissioner did borrow certain features of  standard film festival templates (although you might argue these were much less crucial or necessary components than the basic one of putting films at the centre of the film festival). So for instance there was a very large media launch, a grand invitiation-only opening ceremony, a glitzy after-party and a uniformly high price of entry to attend workshops and films of variable quality, with unpredictable timing and location. These are all elements that would have made sense if the festival was a top class, streamlined, beautifully executed one but a little ‘previous’ for a brand new festival stumbling its way into being.

The Prohibitive Price of Entry

As it was, University of the West Indies Film Studies lecturer Rachel Mosely-Wood had to buy a season ticket and share it with some of her students, none of whom would have been able to afford to attend otherwise. I spoke with two of Rachel’s students. Demi Walker, an enthusiastic young visual arts major with a minor in film  studies, who attended seven of the workshops said she found the festival “extremely informative and entertaining once you got past the high cost”:

But this… might not have been the general consensus. I was mostly grateful for the new experience. The prices, like the staircase leading to the screening area, were noticeably steep. The theatre itself, from what I was able to observe, had many vacant seats during the workshops. Perhaps some more university/film students could have benefited from the gathering if there was a special offer in place for them.

So eager was Demi for film-related information that she was willing to overlook the numerous repetitions during the workshops she attended that had many others exclaiming in annoyance. “I didn’t exactly mind the repetition because I was eager for opportunities to commit as much as possible to my memory. I got the impression that others wanted the most for their money & repetition of questions directed at the panel (though structured differently and often arising in separate sessions) was seeming to take up their valuable time.”

Another student, Cornel Bogle, a Literatures in English (Major) and Film Studies (Minor), missed most of the workshops but attended a screening on July 9th. He said the only reason he decided to go that day was that:

I had been eagerly anticipating the Derek Walcott film by Ida Does, and The Stuart Hall Project by John Akomfrah. However, to the best of my knowledge, neither of these films were screened at their scheduled times.

Note: I say, ‘to the best of my knowledge’, because according to the schedule The Stuart Hall Project was scheduled to be screened at the JAMPRO Business Auditorium.To be honest, after the realization that the Derek Walcott film would not have been screened for the time that it was scheduled for, I was far too despondent to make the trek to JAMPRO to see if The Stuart Hall Project was being shown. (Apparently the Derek Walcott film was shown after I left, which was quite late and not the scheduled time.)

I actually believe that screening The Stuart Hall Project would’ve been an amazing act considering the ignorance of many Jamaicans of Stuart Hall’s very existence. I actually came to know of him by means of your blog. I then went on to read his work, and watched and listened countless video and audio of him. My personal favorite is his interview with the BBC’s Desert Island Discs…Anyway, my point is that this was a great opportunity that was missed.

Cornel was particularly disappointed not to see two of the films he wanted that evening because this time he had paid for his own ticket:

As for the cost, I believe Demi’s quip about the staircase is the best way to characterize it. If it were not for Dr. Wood’s offer to share her tickets, I would not have decided to attend. Moreover, Demi and I both purchased tickets for the Thursday screenings (we couldn’t share the tickets that night because Dr. Wood was in attendance), and as I mentioned, the only reason I chose that night was because of the two aforementioned films.

Do I feel as though it was a waste of money? Not at all. It gave me an opportunity to enjoy a night of Jamaican films and enjoy the company of friends. My only regret is that more friends who were equally interested in attending were unable to because of the cost. A film festival, especially in a region that does not have a strong market, should be aimed at creating and expanding a community of individuals interested in filmmaking as opposed to creating added barriers.

Inadequate venues and overblown promises

Another sign that the JaFF and JAMPRO had lost the plot was in choice of venues. Two sports bars were pressed into use as screening locations despite their obvious unsuitability for such events. This was another instance when it became clear that JAMPRO and the film commissioner were making it up as they went along instead of sticking to tried and true festival best practice. Predictably the directors of films shown in these noisy settings were not happy with such  conditions. One of them expressed his ire on Facebook:

My film was shown in a sports bar with patrons sitting at tables eating, some watching sports on other screens, the lights were not dimmed, there was talking and eating going on, you could hear the blenders mixing drinks, the sound was atrocious so that people couldn’t hear part of it.

All in all it was an insult to filmmakers. I had suspected things were not all right from up front, when there was a level of disorganization about the preparations. Established Jamaican filmmakers were ignorant about what was going on, and the organizers preferred to pay for foreigners to come down to hold workshops rather than use those more experienced Jamaicans who helped out in the preparation.

It seems to have been just another exercise in the worst of Jamaica, which is croneyism and nationalistic and class bigotry….Come on Jamaica. You have a rich tradition in film, tremendous talent and experience residing in your country, which you have turned your back on. Come on, you can do better than that.

If only the ignominy ended there. In a textbook case of over-reaching the JaFF had grandly announced in February 2015:

Thirteen top Jamaican Directors/Writers have been selected by The Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO) to screen their films at the Jamaica Film Festival 2015, scheduled to take place July 7-11 in Kingston.

The list of filmmakers include well-known music video and film director, Gerald ‘RasKassa’ Hynes; award-winning writer/producer/director, Chris Browne; Theatre writers/directors/actors, Dahlia Harris and Aston Cooke; educator and producer Franklyn St Juste; make-up artist extraordinaire/director, Cecile Burrowes. The list also includes talented newcomers, Kyle Chin, Donovan Watkis, Sabrena McDonald, Audrey Williams, Kevin Jackson and Alison Harrison. Jamaican & Hollywood actress, Shauna Chin, who made her recent debut on CBS’ Criminal Minds, has also made the short list.

The festival will include 15 pieces that will need a collective investment of US$200,000. Both private and public investment is welcomed for the 15 pieces. The project will create some 300 temporary jobs and will include Jamaican actors.

All entries will make their first appearance at the Jamaica Film Festival and will be a part of the international circuit from as early as September 2015.”

Four months to raise funds for film-makers to produce films in time to be shown at the Festival? Really? Surely JAMPRO was jesting. Anyone could have told them that this was a completely unrealistic timeline. Instead eager young film professionals were strung along with promises of funding which partially materialized for some a week before the Festival, far too late for them to produce anything. Is this any way to encourage and foster film production in Jamaica, one of the stated goals of JaFF? What message are you sending young Jamaican film professionals with this kind of bungling?

Film industry benefits from film festival” trumpeted yet another JIS release portraying JaFF as the success it wasn’t. Reading the release reveals that the so-called benefit is “an opportunity for Jamaican practitioners to participate in FOX Audience Strategy Group’s  Writers and Directors Intensive Programme”. This is laughable. This merely allows Jamaicans to compete with about 400 others for a place in the Fox programme. It would have been far better if JaFF had asked the Fox Audience Strategy Group to help them boost their workshop audiences if this is the kind of pitiful drop in the ocean JAMPRO is claiming as an achievement of their inaugural film festival.

Anything but world-class…

So in conclusion, one or two hiccups in a festival’s maiden edition are only to be expected, but there is no way a seemingly endless series of miscalculations and hubristic over-reaching should be overlooked or given a bligh by the public. In the wake of the recently concluded World Championships in Beijing, the outstanding performance of Jamaica’s golden athletes aroused a much needed discussion at home: why can’t the country replicate the successes of its atheletic team? How can the excellent example set by the athletes be applied in every sphere of life in Jamaica? Alas the discussions were all too brief, lasting no more than a day or two but in my opinion the JaFF is an excellent case study or illustration of why there is such a divergence in performance between our athletes and some of our national endeavours.

Jamaican athletic success is predicated on raising the bar of human speed globally whereas national institutions such as JAMPRO are allowed to get away with setting the bar low enough to accomodate their own lack of expertise, knowledge and competence in the area concerned. The inevitably shambolic  product that ensues is then declared a success and the mess covered up with the assistance of a compliant media that seems disinterested in asking the right questions or offering the necessary critiques.

Jamaican athletes got to where they are today by following international best practice and then setting it. They perfected something they were already good at by working extra hard, competing against the best and responding to critiques of their performance. But you can’t excel at what you don’t know and what you’re not willing to invest the time and effort in learning. This is an elementary rule that is ubiquitous. When you blatantly and systematically flout that simple fact you’re not going to achieve even a millionth of what Jamaican athletes do–the inaugural JaFF could have been launched with a lot less fanfare and a lot more substance, and that is just the plain and simple truth of the matter.