After attending Wolmer’s Boys’ School in Kingston, Seaga returned to the US to study social sciences at Harvard University. Back in Jamaica, he developed an interest in folk music while working on a rural anthropology project and set up a record label for ska music.
He later criticized how Jamaican music developed into dancehall, saying: “If you can’t whistle it, it is not music.” He sold the label after being appointed to the legislative council that was preparing for independence. At the age of 29, Seaga was its youngest member. Once self-rule arrived in 1962 he was elected MP for the impoverished constituency of West Kingston for the Jamaica Labour party.
Nicknamed “Blinds” due to his fondness for sunglasses, as well as criticism that he failed to see the needs of ordinary Jamaicans, Seaga built a bedrock of support by replacing the “Back-o-Wall” slums in his constituency with the Tivoli Gardens housing development. The area later deteriorated into a police no-go zone and gained notoriety in 2010 when hundreds of armed officers swooped in search of local gangster Christopher “Dudus” Coke, wanted by the US on drug charges. The operation left 74 people dead.
As a minister, Seaga set up the Jamaica stock exchange and Jamaica Citizens Bank, the country’s first locally-owned commercial bank. After becoming JLP leader in 1974, he shifted to a more conservative stance — setting up a bitter battle with Manley’s firebrand socialism.
Campaigning victoriously on the slogan “deliverance is near” he was lifted on to the shoulders of supporters chanting “Ah Eddie, we ready”. In power, he reversed the nationalisations, exchange controls and higher taxes of the Manley regime. He severed ties with Cuba.
Seaga’s policies revived the Jamaican economy, yet he was accused of being aloof after the devastation of Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 and of failing to fix the inequality of Jamaican society before his defeat in the 1989 election. A workaholic, he later expressed regret for giving “seven days a week to work”. He had three children with first wife Marie “Mitsy” Constantine, a television presenter and Miss Jamaica. After they divorced, he married Carla Vendryes in 1996 and had a daughter.
Seaga’s political influence persisted long after he lost power. Seth George Ramocan, the Jamaican High Commissioner in London who worked closely with Seaga when he was in office, said: “Today there is little difference between the two big parties and a lot of that is down to Eddie.”