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 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.
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.