Editorial: How Yvette Clarke might help - again
A little commented on, but quite relevant, aspect of Barack Obama’s visit for Jamaica was revealed immediately on his landing at Kingston’s Norman Manley Airport.
Right behind him, as he stepped out of Air Force One, was a woman wearing a broad smile and a gold blouse and white pantsuit. That was Representative Yvette Clarke of the 9th District of New York. Ms Clarke was part of Mr Obama’s delegation not only because she is an important Democratic congressional ally of the United States (US) president, but also for her close connections to Jamaica.
Mr Clarke’s district is home to a large number of Jamaican and other Caribbean residents, and before her election to Congress, she was a member of the New York City Council for its 40th District, where many Jamaicans live. Significantly, too, Yvette Clarke is the daughter of Una Clarke, a Jamaican woman of great influence in New York City politics, and whom she succeeded in the council seat.
Herein lies the relevance of Yvette Clarke’s presence with Mr Obama. It has to do with what Audrey Marks, who served as this country’s ambassador to the US during the Golding administration, proposed should be among the outcomes for Jamaica of the president’s visit: as a platform for a deepened engagement of the Jamaican diaspora in America. Indeed, that suggestion is congruent with this newspaper’s often-declared idea of a Greater Jamaica, encompassing those of us living on the island and those in the broad diaspora.
Ms Marks’ immediate concern is for Jamaica to leverage the strength of those of the country’s people who live abroad. Yvette Clarke, a second-generation Jamaican-American, is a prime example of how the competencies of the diaspora can be leveraged.
In his remarks in Kingston, Mr Obama several times acknowledged Jamaica’s ongoing efforts to fix the long-standing problems in its economy, bitter though some of the prescriptions might be. But those prescriptions, administered under Jamaica’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), might have been even more onerous had it not been for people like Yvette Clarke.
Using influence for good
Indeed, Ms Clarke was at the forefront of members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who, when Jamaica was on the economic precipice, impressed on the Fund the urgency of arriving at an agreement and on terms that, even though difficult, were reasonably palatable.
There is something else specific that we believe the Jamaican Government should ask Ms Clarke to pursue with Mr Obama’s imprimatur. While he insisted that the Simpson Miller administration is “wise to abide by the IMF agreement”, Mr Obama acknowledged to university students that this has to be underpinned by economic growth. He also made it clear that America’s fiscal constraints ruled out grand development aid projects of the past from Washington. In other words, private capital is the new driver of growth.
In Jamaica’s case, much of that capital has to be via foreign direct investment, for which it is in competition with many others. Three decades ago, another US president, Ronald Reagan, seeking to get capital to Jamaica, established a committee of Fortune 500 leaders, chaired by David Rockefeller, to jump-start that process. We believe a similar group would make sense now. Ms Clarke, who has the president’s ear, might get him to endorse a similar initiative.