Diaspora lobby in transition - As veterans bow out, calls made for fresh blood; some expats opt out, citing policy inaction
When the eighth Biennial Diaspora Conference opens today, some of the standout figures from previous editions who have spearheaded advocacy will be missing, signalling that the lobby movement is in transition and beckoning new leadership to fill the vacuum.
A number of expatriate representatives will be absent – some rankled by years of much talk and policy inaction and others dispirited by political polarisation – while two of the country’s most seasoned advocates have retired.
The conference has lost Irwine Clare, who headed the Caribbean Immigrant Services in New York, and Phillip Mascoll, who was a Jamaican organiser in Canada, both admitting that they are passing the mantle to the next generation.
Opposition Spokesman on Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Lisa Hanna acknowledged that concerns about the uncertain scope of the conference had been telegraphed to her from some diaspora members, and expressed disappointment at the turn of events.
Speaking at a Gleaner Editors’ Forum recently, Hanna expressed concern that elements of the conference had turned political.
Despite the misgivings of individuals, she encouraged Jamaicans based overseas to attend the conference. The business end of the gathering kicks off Monday.
“I am encouraging persons to come to the conference. It is better for individuals to come, and although it might seem long, consensus can be found and the dialogue is important,” she told the forum.
ALL HANDS ON DECK
She was also disappointed that Clare and Mascoll, who have spent decades working on Jamaica’s behalf, were no longer involved. However, she believes renewal is necessary.
“I think you need all hands on deck, institutional memory, and experience in the diaspora, particularly those who have strong linkages in older communities. But I also think we need renewal in the leadership,” said Hanna during the forum. “Irwine Clare and Phillip Mascoll are great resource persons, and you don’t want to lose them, but even as they go, the next set of rulers must get ready to jump in.”
Some representatives of the overseas community told The Sunday Gleaner that they were “not in the mood for meet-and-greet and drinking tea at high noon”. And reps of three bodies in the United States, one from Canada, and another from United Kingdom described the “conference talk” as “constipating and rabidly political”.
The members say they will not be sending a delegation – nor will they come.
“We were not here for the last conference, and we are not coming to this one. It’s all about talk, talk, talk ... . Supporters of both parties live in the diaspora, and there is no greater turn-off than people behaving that if you don’t give them your money for their various projects, that you are somehow unpatriotic …” another expatriate told The Sunday Gleaner.
Professor Neville Ying, who heads the Jamaica Diaspora Institute, said that since his retirement, he has assisted the Government with crafting the agenda for the biennial conference.
In 2003, the Government brought together a small group of 20 persons from the Jamaican diaspora in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, out of which evolved the first conference in 2004, according to Ying.
He told the conference that the Diaspora Institute was one of the structures that emerged from the discussion, but its future was now uncertain.
“It’s kinda like they are waiting to make some decisions about it,” Ying said of the institute, which was the operating arm of the Diaspora Foundation.
However, The Sunday Gleaner later learnt that the institute has collapsed, and had not been functioning for years.
The National Diaspora Policy Working Document, dated March 19, 2019, will also be presented at the conference.