MIAMI, Florida – The way the Jamaican Government will relate to and engage with the Jamaican diaspora is about to see its first major facelift since the formal relationship between the Jamaican government and its diaspora began in 2004.
While the three main countries where expatriate Jamaicans reside are Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, Jamaicans reside, in various levels of concentration, in several other countries.
The Global Jamaica Diaspora Council (GJDC)
Arising from decisions arising from the June 2019 biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference The Global Jamaica Diaspora Council (GJDC), the successor of the current Diaspora Advisory Board was endorsed, to be constituted in January 2020 following the related elections and selections and of council members, now underway have concluded. The GJDC will consist of 28 Jamaicans (14 elected and 14 appointed) drawn from Africa; Asia and the Pacific; the Middle East; the Caribbean; Latin America, Europe, USA, Canada and the UK. Registrations of voters commenced on October 25, 2019 to be followed by nominations of candidates and elections next month. Members of the GJDC will serve for a term of up to 3 years.
The objective of the Council
The stated objective of the new Council is “to create a more inclusive, expansive and collaborative consultative and advisory body to reinforce the critical partnership between Jamaica and its Diaspora.” A desire to formalize the relationship between Jamaica and the diaspora has been long in the making, and this may not be the final product. Absolutely, the Jamaican government has the right to create a channel through which it can seamlessly and effectively relate to the diaspora. While this good-faith attempt by the government (through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade) to create a broader platform for interaction and interfacing with the diaspora should be lauded, there is, nonetheless, some disquiet among the community in various regions.
The relationship with the Jamaican Diaspora and the home country has always been complex. However, the main concerns now relate to participation in the development of the terms of reference and the control the new structure creates. More particularly, the issue is how diaspora representation is determined, empowered and adjudicated. One of the criticisms is that the Jamaican government is unilaterally making decisions that will impact how members in the Diaspora represent themselves. These are important concerns, and the extent to which they can be allayed will determine the success of the new structure.
Diaspora should have autonomy
Several people in the diaspora including myself, strongly believe there’s a misconception that a unified, functioning diaspora is the responsibility of Jamaica’s government. These people also believe the Jamaican Diaspora must establish some level of autonomy to be effective. To be fair, however, if there’s criticism that the government has overreached in its attempt to create a more formal structure to relate to and with the diaspora it’s important to note, firstly, it did this in consultation with current serving diaspora representatives. Secondly, the fault must be attributed to those in the diaspora, who have been engaged in the process over the years, but who failed to bring the community together in a meaningful way by creating an organization to be proud of and addresses the needs and interest of the broad Jamaican Diaspora.
Someone will always make plans for you if you don’t plan for yourself.
Much work to be done
There’s much work to be done. There’s still a need for inclusiveness, and an organization that functions in the diaspora as a galvanizing agency to nurture the deep and abiding interest of the individuals who want to stay engaged and participate in Jamaica’s development. Many people are frustrated that responsibility was abdicated over the years partly because of self-interest and lack of leadership. Having arrived at this juncture, however, it is difficult to not appreciate the new structure, even as proposed, indicates the Jamaican government’s seriousness about engaging with its diaspora.
Notwithstanding, the government’s proposed initiative should be viewed as a starting point that should be accommodative to critique and subsequent modifications.
The GJDC, coupled with a rebalancing of diaspora objectives in the various host countries, a recommitment to service within diaspora communities, and an effort to collectively and responsibly mobilize diaspora efforts as an effective asset of Jamaica, could be the place from which to build a more robust, meaningful, and representative movement that serves Jamaicans at home and abroad.
Oliver M. Falloon-Reid was appointed Alternate Board Member – Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board (Southern USA), 2017 -2019. He is also president of Jamaica United Relief Association, and president of Goldstar Mortgage Loan Services, Corp. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org