Commentary Jamaica Magazine

Define “Diaspora”?

The term ‘diaspora’ is currently in fashionable use, but in the context that we use it – what does it actually mean?

By ‘diaspora’ are we referring only to persons of Jamaican birth resident outside of Jamaica or does the _expression include say persons who qualify for a Jamaican passport through maternal/paternal heritage – i.e., the second generation Jamaicans. Basically, is birth place alone the only criteria?

The definition of Jamaica’s diaspora used to be straightforward; it basically comprised of those persons who emigrated to England, US and Canada.

Social politics of the 1970s aside, most diasporians emigrated for economic reasons. They took the decision to resettle in another country or at least work there long enough to financially secure themselves before returning to Jamaica. If, however, they became citizens of their adopted countries this could in some cases involve them having to give up their Jamaican citizenship.

Currently the diaspora is at the peak of its financial bloom; it has ‘pride of place’ as the source of Jamaica’s foremost foreign exchange income. Money talks – it is multi-lingual, and if the diaspora’s cumulative remittances are accounted for as a sum total, then the diaspora speaks volumes. Indeed there are some in the diaspora who argue that the diaspora’s contribution to Jamaica is such that it equates to an entitlement for expatriates to be given a vote in Jamaica’s general elections. I do not agree with this point of view. A degree of careful analysis is needed as to the purpose of remittances and their sources. Its level would almost suggest that remittances are subsidizing the cost of living or lifestyle of many Jamaicans. If so, this calls for an evaluation of Jamaica’s internal social politics, not another tier of external voters situated across the globe.

The diaspora did not present itself to the Jamaican government as an organized international force. The international organizing was in fact done at the instigation of the Jamaican government, as it sought to harness the best of what Jamaicans had come to represent overseas. Of course, with the diaspora’s remittances boosting Jamaica’s economy, it would have been an act of governmental negligence to leave the diaspora without Ministerial interest. So no surprise here.

But the lingering question remains; what is the common definition for the diaspora? We know of the old school diaspora, who are the legal immigrants to first world countries. But now there is also the ‘informal’ immigrants, some of who comprise those who financially support Jamaica’s so called ‘barrel children’. These informal immigrants, too, are no doubt substantial contributors to the foreign exchange revenue attributed to the undefined ‘diaspora’.

Whatever definition may emerge, the diaspora is clearly regarded as Jamaica’s overseas family. In my humble submission however this does not translate into a right to vote in Jamaica’s elections.

Within the ranks of the diaspora we know that there are Jamaicans who have proved there acumen in various fields of commercial enterprise. In Jamaica there is a keen appetite for modernization and the benefits of state-of-the-art development. Therefore overseas based entrepreneurs bringing first world technology and skills to Jamaica can in most cases expect to find a ready market place.

Apart from the promising prospect of healthy returns for investors, for Jamaica, such international commercial trading activity means the creation of local employment opportunities, which in turn translates into providing taxation revenue for the government to build hospitals, schools, roads and social housing. Unlike private remittances, the commercial investment approach represents a dependable and cohesive strategy for Jamaica’s long term economic and social building programs.

In some form or the other there will always be a diaspora, but its economic impact will not always be the same. The success of Jamaica’s economic future must depend on a considered policy which will recognize the importance to prioritize the stimulation and maintenance of Jamaica’s commercial and trading opportunities. This is the area where the diaspora’s long term engagement should be encouraged.

Hamilton Daley is a practising Attorney-at-Law in Jamaica, Solicitor Advocate in England and Managing Director of T.R.A.D.E. Ltd . Entrepreneurial Diasporians Jamaica calls you to duty. Please contact T.R.A.D.E. Ltd to facilitate your contribution. TRADE exists to facilitate trading bridges between Jamaica and the rest of the world.

About the author

Hamilton Daley