Jamaica Diaspora Conference: Really Jamaica’s conference

The 8th biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference held in Kingston, Jamaica closed last week, and like many past conferences, there is some grumbling that the conference didn’t meet expectations.

This grumbling originated from past conferences, which resulted in delegates who attend the conference regularly in former years, staying away this year. A report in a Jamaican newspapers on the eve of this week’s conference indicated people were fed up of insistent talking, and the relative lack of action with the outcome of these conferences.

This dissatisfaction among some delegates is sourced in a great misunderstanding by some within the Diaspora

Doesn’t help the Diaspora

Most of the criticism is that these biennial conferences are fruitless, because very little results from the conferences that helps Jamaicans living overseas – the Diaspora.

Some regard these conferences as “nothing but a vacation” for delegates attending from the US, Canada and the United Kingdom.

The misunderstanding surrounding the conference may lie in its title. There possibly would be less criticism if the conferences were named, The Jamaican Conference for Diaspora Assistance.

Essentially the conference is a forum and correlated exhibition of Jamaican private and public businesses, to attract investment and marketing support of Jamaican overseas,
The conference is not a Jamaican Diaspora Conference in the real sense. It’s not a conference organized to address problems and issues that afflicts Jamaicans living overseas. Frankly, it would be impractical to place these issues on the agenda of a conference planned by Jamaicans and focusing on issues directly related to Jamaica,
Reference is often made to the Israeli and Irish Diaspora as ideal examples of Diasporic organizations. A closer look at these two Diaspora depicts organized units that function autonomously. They effectively cope with the issues related to their respective Diaspora primarily in the US, through strong infrastructures. With their unified organizations, these Diaspora are better able to relate positively and pragmatically with their respective homelands.

Jamaica needs help from its Diaspora

It’s no secret that Jamaica needs tremendous help in various areas. Most Jamaicans living overseas are comparatively better-off financially than those residing in Jamaica and are definitely in a better position to provide assistance in Jamaica’s continuous development. Therefore, one understands the Jamaican government making overtures to target this assistance, and a conference in Jamaica with members of the Diaspora as honored guests is one such method.

Initiative rooted in Jamaica

Historically, the attempt to formalize relationships between Jamaica and its Diaspora, solidified in 2004. This was the initiative of the then Jamaican government led by Prime Minister Percival J. Patterson. It was never an initiative rooted within the Diaspora.
The first Jamaican Diaspora Conference in Kingston in 2004 approved the establishment of a Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board. The members were perceived as advisors to the government on how the Diaspora can assist the Jamaican government and institutions in meeting their objectives.

Diaspora has its peculiar issues

However, the Diaspora has its own peculiar issues to deal with. These are not issue falling under the portfolio, or are the responsibility, of the Jamaica Diaspora Advisory board as it’s constructed. This board has little resources or terms of reference to solve matters directly related to the Diaspora.

Delegates from overseas who attended this week’s conference expecting to find solutions to issues within the Diaspora would have been disappointed. This is not the purpose of the conference.

Over recent years there have been discussion among Jamaicans in South Florida re the needs of the Diaspora in the US which revealed a litany of complaints. These include: The Diaspora not having its own television or radio station; the Diaspora not owning its own financial institution – bank or credit union; the absence of a unit to help Jamaicans migrating to the US assimilate into the America community; the absence of a focal physical unit that addresses the myriad issues that impact the Diaspora. Most of the complaints are valid, and if realistically addressed could serve to unify the Diaspora. The passionate expressions of need to address these complaints indicates there’s much work to be done within the Diaspora.

Need to build formidable organization within the Diaspora

This work is not the responsibility of the Jamaica government, nor the Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board. This work won’t be implemented successfully until the Jamaican Diaspora find it possible to build a formidable organization within the Diaspora with relevant leadership, human and financial resources.

The great irony here is that if the Jamaican Diaspora communities were better organized, they could likely find themselves more able to coordinate and provide the support so badly needed by the Jamaican private and public sectors.

While the recent Jamaica Diaspora Conference deliberated on ways in which the Diaspora can invest its resources to aid Jamaica’s development, the time is long overdue for the Diaspora to determine how it can be strengthened, and in turn improve the support it gives to Jamaica.

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