The Diaspora Matters. But Should We Engage in a Different Way?

There is much ado about the Jamaican diaspora this week, with the launch of the biennial Diaspora Conference tomorrow (April 4th) at the Office of the Prime Minister, Jamaica House. However, the Canadian Delegation (the Jamaican Diaspora Canada Foundation) has decided not to attend the Conference, because of the short notice and a change of date. It says it is “dismayed” that its members cannot participate. The Canadian Jamaicans say it takes time to prepare; they seem to have been thrown out by the fact that the Conference normally takes place around Diaspora Day (June 16). I didn’t know there was a Diaspora Day, did you? Be that as it may, the Conference will take place from July 23 – 26 at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston with the theme Partnership for Growth.

The Jamaica 55 Diaspora Conference 2017.

The aim of these conferences has always been rather elusive, to me. The idea was conceived by former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson in 2004. After that, all sorts of boards were set up and lots of meetings held. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade was the hub for activities, with the State Minister being responsible for Diaspora Affairs. However, there is now no State Minister in that Ministry, under the current administration.

We know the Jamaican diaspora is quite engaged, supporting families with remittances and old schools and communities with generous donations. But it’s all a bit here and there; and perhaps that’s the only way Jamaicans’ relationship with Jamaicans living abroad can work, in practical terms. Contributions and support from the diaspora add up to a lot, already. So is there a need for an expensive conference? If the Jamaican Government foots the bill, is it worth it?

Yes, partnership is a lovely word and we all love partnerships. But, practically speaking, what do the partnerships consist of at a national level, as far as Jamaica and its diaspora is concerned? Is there a structure, or is it simply more board meetings and speeches? Rather than a grand conference every two years and little in between, perhaps a series of meetings (many of them virtual, to save cost and airline pollution)  – on specific topics and leading to action plans and projects (large or small) – would be more effective? I’m just wondering.

Mayor Delroy Williams (official photo).

Meanwhile, the Mayor of Kingston Delroy Williams is doing some diaspora stuff himself, this week. He received an official invitation from Mayor of Miramar, Florida (population 122,000) Mr. Wayne Messam, to address the residents of that City with Jamaican descent. He would also like to discuss the possibility of a Sister Cities Agreement. The Mayor and his team were guests at the Friends of Jamaicans Charity Gala on April 1, and this evening they will address a town hall meeting at the Miramar City Hall, where Mayor Williams will be sharing his vision for Kingston. By the way, in 2000 the town of Miramar had the fifth highest percentage of Jamaicans living in the United States (15.4 per cent) and black or African American residents make up close to half of the population, roughly twice the average for Broward County.

“After being elected Mayor of Kingston and following a close Local Government election, I initially stated that I would be focusing on strengthening the bilateral ties of Kingston and engaging the Diaspora in contributing to the development and restoration of the capital,” Mayor Williams says.

Earlier this year the Mayor signed a Sister Cities Agreement with the City of Birmingham, Alabama; discussions are already underway regarding student exchange programmes and cultural exchanges. With Miramar having a much higher concentration of Jamaicans, the Mayor is seeking to engage them on investing in the growth of the City and becoming a part of what he sees as an emerging tourist market for Kingston.

It’s all looking to the future, and that is good. I just hope that we can get past the speechifying one day, and brainstorm effective ideas for closer links between Jamaicans and their dear relatives, friends and business colleagues overseas. Keep it simple and streamlined. It’s been thirteen years. Let’s get on with it.

Tonight’s Town Hall Meeting in Miramar, Florida.

 

 

 


4 thoughts on “The Diaspora Matters. But Should We Engage in a Different Way?

  1. Totally agree. I fail to see any tangible policy decision that has been made and which benefits the ‘Diaspora’ in supporting Jamaica. Outside of the charity and remittance elements, there is nothing else that the Diaspora has actually influenced or changed for the betterment of Jamaica. It’s one big talking shop!

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  2. I think the major problem with Diaspora Conferences, is that one cannot put your finger on what has actually been achieved and who they actually represent.

    I’m not aware of any Diaspora groups set up in the UK, USA or Canada, where one can obtain advice or information on how one invest in Jamaica.

    Their seems to be no useful networks that allows the potential investor to obtain information of suitable contractors, lawyers, Architects, banking etc. Information that would help those of us from Diaspora have confidence in investing and therefore creating jobs in Jamaica.

    I am probably a good example of someone who resides abroad and owns valuable land on the North Coast (inherited). We came up with an idea to consider the idea of pushing rural tourism. We were lucky that a well established UK TOURIST company was very interested.

    However we could find no real information/advice both within Jamaica or the Diaspora sites that could advice on the best way construct or take the project forward.

    We were more often and not told that such a business/project could not work in Jamaica, due the level of corruption, violent crime and the lack of skills on the Island.

    If the Jamaican government and those who claim to be the voices of the Diaspora are serious about partnership and growth, they need to do the basics like putting together a accessible network, information and advice packs.

    Recommended professional that can be used by those from the Diaspora who would look to invest in the future of Jamaica.
    If they do not take the next step conferences will simply be seen as talking shops.

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    1. I absolutely agree – that was my point. We need to see “success stories” coming out of these Diaspora Conferences. I am looking at things from your perspective Marlan, and what you say makes sense to me. I always have the feeling that the Government should just be a facilitator, provide the right economic environment (including training people, reducing crime etc), provide a platform and then allow partnerships and connections to flourish. For individuals such as yourself, it’s hard to get the right kind of advice from Government agencies. It’s connections, and realistic advice from people on the ground, that matters. But yes – I agree, ACTION is needed. Plus a continuously updated “go to” information package. Things are changing quite fast here and despite the crime issue, which cannot be overlooked, I believe we are heading in the right direction. Thanks very much for your comments!

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