A stunning poll recently commissioned By Jamaica’s The Gleaner newspaper revealed that while the vast majority of J’cans would love to see the end of Christopher “Dudus” Coke’s influence within his personal Tivoli Gardens fiefdom, many locals are worried that without his presence, crime will escalate. The reason? Like Mafia crime bosses, the drug ‘dons’ provide a measure of protection for those living within their respective turfs. With the continued failure of the Jamaican government to throw the dons in jail, the local citizenry has gradually lost faith in its ability to protect them. Thus, they turn reluctantly turn to the very purveyors of the ruinous drug trade for some modicum of personal safety. How ironic is that? Citizens turning to criminals for protection against crime. The situation reminds me very much of Africa’s ‘Big Man’ era, which is thankfully fading away, where countries put their collective faith in charismatic rogues to lead governments, and the focus was on a particular personality in leadership, rather than on the proper process of designating a governing body. To me, no one embodied that sad state of affairs more than the cane-waving Mobutu Sese Seko, president of Zaire from 1965 to 1997. His totalitarian regime and its mismanagement of the country’s economy, as well as the absurd levels of personal enrichment gained for himself and inner circle, has made Mobutu’s name synonymous with African kleptocracy. Currently, only Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe could be put in this category, and his time is clearly winding down. A nation can only grow when its citizens get past the ‘cult of personality’ and devote their energies to ensuring that the duly elected government lives up to its responsibilities. It is far better to have an effective administrator at the helm than a charming rogue who is skilled at using words and money to ‘bamboozle’ the people. The biggest challenge now facing the Jamaican government as an institution will be to permanently distance itself from the drug lords and restore the country’s confidence in its ability to provide safety and just administration. Doing so will mean that all of the remaining ‘big men’ will have to be dealt with. As it stands, there are doubtlessly many more local dons who could be viewed as a ‘Dudus-in-training’. It must be the head of government who has the most important voice in local matters; it must be government agencies that are providing food and other basic necessities; it must be Jamaica’s police force that is solely responsible for ensuring safe passage to every area of the island. The drama of seeing the security forces pitted against the Dudus cadre of gunmen has caused a cratering in support for two of the country’s two leading politicians. In a recent poll, 56 percent of Jamaicans expressed their disapproval of Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s performance, with his ratings plunging By 20 points in April and early May. The leader of the Opposition, the PNP’s Portia Simpson-Miller isn’t faring much better, with approval ratings that are essentially flat, even as Golding suffers politically for his perceived inept handling of the Dudus extradition matter. In short, she apparently hasn’t done enough for the populace to see her as a viable alternative to the current Prime Minister. It has been shocking to see the level of power attained By an unelected drug lord, along with the implicit acceptance of the situation at the highest levels of government (allegedly). Right now, it appears that the Dudus era is over, as he is on the run with a reward for his capture. However, many feel that the bounty of US$20,000 needs to be beefed up considerably, and few Jamaicans will breathe easy until he is in handcuff and headed to jail, then to be extradited to the United States on drug and gun-running charges. It is good to at least be able to conceive of seeing the era of the ‘big man’ in the rearview mirror. Africa, for the most part, has already moved on, and if the Jamaican security forces can follow up on their victory over the gangs, which still remains shaky, then the island nation will have taken a major step in regaining control and curtailing the powers wielded By local drug dons.