In search of an African and Jamaican theory of Justice and Justice System


“East Africa has been experiencing more than a decade of nearly consistent economic growth, and for some countries the goal of middle-income status seems within reach. Yet, large-scale poverty continues to prevail, and the region remains among the most deprived in the world. Not only is the gap between rich
and poor extremely wide, justice systems are often inaccessible, especially to the poor; rights and entitlements are unknown to many. Civic, socio-economic, and political rights are therefore frequently flouted, and conflict is rife.”

“In the early Platonic dialogue, Crito, Socrates makes a compelling argument as to why he must stay in prison and accept the death penalty, rather than escape and go into exile in another Greek city. He personifies the Laws of Athens, and, speaking in their voice, explains that he has acquired an overwhelming obligation to obey the Laws because they have made his entire way of life, and even the fact of his very existence, possible. They made it possible for his mother and father to marry, and therefore to have legitimate children, including himself. Having been born, the city of Athens, through its laws, then required that his father care for and educate him. Socrates’ life and the way in which that life has flourished in Athens are each dependent upon the Laws. Importantly, however, this relationship between citizens and the Laws of the city are not coerced. Citizens, once they have grown up, and have seen how the city conducts itself, can choose whether to leave, taking their property with them, or stay. Staying implies an agreement to abide by the Laws and accept the punishments that they mete out. And, having made an agreement that is itself just, Socrates asserts that he must keep to this agreement that he has made and obey the Laws, in this case, by staying and accepting the death penalty. Importantly, the contract described by Socrates is an implicit one: it is implied by his choice to stay in Athens, even though he is free to leave.”


Georgia looked disturbed as she told me about the video she was watching. It was the story about how Eric Garner had been murdered by the Police in New York. She kept repeating that it was only about 10 mins from his initial contact with Police officers that he had died and he didn’t have to die. We continued to reason  about justice and death and the way people are and the way we threat each other.  I mentioned to her that i saw a tweet from a Jamaican Lawyer saying they would love to be on Mario Deane’s legal team. Mario Deane was beaten to death in a jail cell in Montego Bay, St.James. The Layer explained in the tweet that she would defend him for free, with a hastag #justicemustbeserved. I told Georgia that I found this kinda crazy because “justice is not really when you win a court case”. She agreed and we began to look at the different sides of the problem we have with the idea of justice.



 Justice then, he says, is the conventional result of the laws and covenants that men make in order to avoid these extremes. Being unable to commit injustice with impunity (as those who wear the ring of Gyges would), and fearing becoming victims themselves, men decide that it is in their interests to submit themselves to the convention of justice. Socrates rejects this view, and most of the rest of the dialogue centers on showing that justice is worth having for its own sake, and that the just man is the happy man. So, from Socrates’ point of view, justice has a value that greatly exceeds the prudential value that Glaucon assigns to it.”

Yesterday newspapers reported that ” 3 cops and 2 civilians were to be charged with the 2009 death of entertainer Robert “Kentucky Kid”. Since Hill had made public video recordings of police assaulting him at his home, the police were guilty and the verdict was just and justice had been served. Proccedings are beginning in the Mario Deane case and already the conclusion is the guilty must be charged. We are still waiting on justice for the family of Kayon Thompson the pregnant woman who was shot in St. Thomas, Vanessa Kirkland,  Dwayne Jones or the 4 women and baby who were raped in St.James.  If systems and conditions create people and people create systems in a decaying system with damaged people what ideas about alternative Justice are we beginning to embrace and engage?  There is a kid who comes to the ISL ( Di Institute for Social Leadership) he is about 13yrs old, literate and has great academic potential. He is also very problematic. How do we make a definition of justice for him because he will make mistakes and he will likely be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Western theories of Justice must be questioned 

What do we know about Justice? Where have the ideas that have made the Justice system which we rely on come from? This is where it becomes obvious that we as “Africans in the diaspora” and Jamaica a 90% majority African population with a diversity of different ethnicities, have never thought about Justice from a different historical cultural, racial or ethnic perspectives to make a system that is in us already.

It is important to use the history of where we come from, and who we are  to interrogate and create systems that govern our lives.  We have left that to the realm of European thought and philosophy and blamed colonialism on the systems and ideas we have inherited in Jamaica and the Caribbean, for example the Justice system.  It is not a matter of whether African systems are better than European systems but definitely a matter of a lack of theorizing or engaging with African ideas on social, economic and political organising of society.

“Hobbes’ political theory is best understood if taken in two parts: his theory of human motivation, Psychological Egoism, and his theory of the social contract, founded on the hypothetical State of Nature. Hobbes has, first and foremost, a particular theory of human nature, which gives rise to a particular view of morality and politics, as developed in his philosophical masterpiece, Leviathan, published in 1651. The Scientific Revolution, with its important new discoveries that the universe could be both described and predicted in accordance with universal laws of nature, greatly influenced Hobbes. He sought to provide a theory of human nature that would parallel the discoveries being made in the sciences of the inanimate universe. His psychological theory is therefore informed by mechanism, the general view that everything in the universe is produced by nothing other than matter in motion. According to Hobbes, this extends to human behavior. Human macro-behavior can be aptly described as the effect of certain kinds of micro-behavior, even though some of this latter behavior is invisible to us. So, such behaviors as walking, talking, and the like are themselves produced by other actions inside of us. And these other actions are themselves caused by the interaction of our bodies with other bodies, human or otherwise, which create in us certain chains of causes and effects, and which eventually give rise to the human behavior that we can plainly observe. We, including all of our actions and choices, are then, according to this view, as explainable in terms of universal laws of nature as are the motions of heavenly bodies. The gradual disintegration of memory, for example, can be explained by inertia. As we are presented with ever more sensory information, the residue of earlier impressions ‘slows down’ over time. From Hobbes’ point of view, we are essentially very complicated organic machines, responding to the stimuli of the world mechanistically and in accordance with universal laws of human nature.

In Hobbes’ view, this mechanistic quality of human psychology implies the subjective nature of normative claims. ‘Love’ and ‘hate’, for instance, are just words we use to describe the things we are drawn to and repelled by, respectively. So, too, the terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’ have no meaning other than to describe our appetites and aversions. Moral terms do not, therefore, describe some objective state of affairs, but are rather reflections of individual tastes and preferences.”

The Social Contract begins with the most oft-quoted line from Rousseau: “Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains” (49). This claim is the conceptual bridge between the descriptive work of the Second Discourse, and the prescriptive work that is to come. Humans are essentially free, and were free in the State of Nature, but the ‘progress’ of civilization has substituted subservience to others for that freedom, through dependence, economic and social inequalities, and the extent to which we judge ourselves through comparisons with others. Since a return to the State of Nature is neither feasible nor desirable, the purpose of politics is to restore freedom to us, thereby reconciling who we truly and essentially are with how we live together. So, this is the fundamental philosophical problem that The Social Contract seeks to address: how can we be free and live together? Or, put another way, how can we live together without succumbing to the force and coercion of others? We can do so, Rousseau maintains, by submitting our individual, particular wills to the collective or general will, created through agreement with other free and equal persons. Like Hobbes and Locke before him, and in contrast to the ancient philosophers, all men are made by nature to be equals, therefore no one has a natural right to govern others, and therefore the only justified authority is the authority that is generated out of agreements or covenants.

The most basic covenant, the social pact, is the agreement to come together and form a people, a collectivity, which by definition is more than and different from a mere aggregation of individual interests and wills. This act, where individual persons become a people is “the real foundation of society” (59). Through the collective renunciation of the individual rights and freedom that one has in the State of Nature, and the transfer of these rights to the collective body, a new ‘person’, as it were, is formed. The sovereign is thus formed when free and equal persons come together and agree to create themselves anew as a single body, directed to the good of all considered together. So, just as individual wills are directed towards individual interests, the general will, once formed, is directed towards the common good, understood and agreed to collectively. Included in this version of the social contract is the idea of reciprocated duties: the sovereign is committed to the good of the individuals who constitute it, and each individual is likewise committed to the good of the whole. Given this, individuals cannot be given liberty to decide whether it is in their own interests to fulfill their duties to the Sovereign, while at the same time being allowed to reap the benefits of citizenship. They must be made to conform themselves to the general will, they must be “forced to be free” (64).

Social democracy is a political ideology that officially has as its goal the establishment of democratic socialism throughreformist and gradualist methods.[1] Alternatively, social democracy is defined as a policy regime involving a universal welfare state and collective bargaining schemes within the framework of a capitalist economy. It is often used in this manner to refer to the social models and economic policies prominent in Western and Northern Europe during the later half of the 20th century.

 What are the African Theories of Justice 

I think this is where this article really starts. I tried to do some online searches to come with some resources but the only thing i cam across was the notion of Restorative Justice. The kind of African theories i am talking about come from different ethnicities all across the continent, for example the Bantu Congo People, the Waq Waq, what did they think?

 Restorative Justice and Jamaica

RJ is being used internationally and has been effective in other jurisdictions.

The report of a commission of Enquiry pointed out that healing the deep-rooted harms and conflicts in Jamaica was needed as sometimes legal outcome was inadequate in ensuring sustainable peace and conflict resolution.

The Government of Jamaica in 2004 mandated the Ministry of Justice to develop policy to support the development of a RJ programme. The policy is currently being revised for Cabinet submission.

“The programme has established seven restorative justice centres, which are serving the volatile communities, and we intend to open another centre to serve West Kingston,” Senator Golding told the Senate in a statement Friday morning.

He said that, since the policy was approved by cabinet in 2013, the programme has been implemented in 11 inner city communities —Tower Hill, Nannyville, Trench Town and August Town in Kingston and St Andrew; Granville in St James; Effortville and Canaan Heights in May Pen, Clarendon; Homestead, March Pen Road and Ellerslie, St Catherine; and ‘Russia’ in Westmoreland.

Golding explained that a comprehensive automated case management system, which is critical to the successful implementation of Restorative Justice, has been acquired. He said that the system was extensively tested and is in use, allowing the capture of case data.

The restorative justice programme also collaborates with the Victim Support Division of the Ministry of Justice, he said. The counselling services of the division are utilised before victims face the offenders.

Senator Golding said that since the unit started taking cases, arising from disputes in the communities, in April, 2013 it has received 46 cases. Many of them have been resolved, while others have been referred to the formal justice system.

February is Restorative Justice Month, and the Ministry has planned a number of activities to celebrate the event, including an international conference on the subject later this month.

Justice can’t be about the legal system

Our legal system is overburdened and laborious. It often hijacks ‘justice’ and takes on the persona of the offended party. Victims are usually relegated to tools that are used to prosecute transgressors (against the State). This leaves the real victims sidelined, disempowered, muted, losing out badly, and with lingering or interminable ‘unresolved hurt’. Consequently, some employ vigilantism, or seek vengeance or the intervention of ‘alternative governments’ for justice.


 Further reading

African Perspectives on Social Justice  

How will Restorative Justice work in Jamaica

These 10 Countries Have The World’s Highest Murder Rates


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