Category Archives: Diaspora

What does it mean to be a citizen?

A number of commentators in various media have focused on the possible legal action against some of the victorious candidates in the recent general election in Jamaica, because of allegations that they might have made pledges of allegiance etc. to foreign powers. This comes from a requirement in the Jamaican Constitution (1962) 40 (2 a), which states that:

No person shall be qualified to be appointed as a Senator or elected as a member of the House of Representatives who-

is, by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign Power or State;..

This restriction raises a number of interesting questions about what it means to be a Jamaican citizen. Most commentators have seen this as an issue related to dual citizenship, and I do too.

Dual citizenship is recognized by Jamaica. A useful website on dual citizenship (see http://www.constitution-and-rights.com/dual-citizenship.html) gives the following information:

A person who was born outside of Jamaica before August 6, 1962 and whose father or mother would have become a citizen of Jamaica on August 6, 1962 automatically became a Jamaican citizen. See Section 3A of the Jamaican Constitution.

A person who is married to a Jamaican citizen is entitled to be registered as a Jamaican citizen, regardless of his prior citizenship. See Sections 4 and 7 of the Jamaican Constitution.

Every person born in Jamaica after August 5, 1962 is entitled to Jamaican citizenship, regardless of whether he/she is entitled to the citizenship of any other country. See Section 5 of the Jamaican Constitution.

A person born outside of Jamaica after August 5, 1962 is entitled to Jamaican citizenship if his father or mother was born in Jamaica. See Section 6 of the Jamaican Constitution.

Many of the countries to which Jamaicans have emigrated also recognize dual citizenship, namely Canada, the UK, USA. Many Jamaicans who emigrated have done nothing to change their nationality or citizenship from just being Jamaican, even though they have the option for dual citizenship. Many Jamaicans who emigrated took the opportunity to acquire a second citizenship in their host country for a range of reasons. I do not have figures on either group, but it would be interesting to see what the numbers are. Let us simplify by saying that some of those who obtained dual citizenship have also returned to Jamaica and have the right to vote; again, I have no figures for this group. However, if you can vote as a dual citizen, why does the Constitution make the distinction it does when it comes to holding a position as a Senator or in the House of Representatives?

If there is some concern that those with dual citizenship will somehow serve their constituents and country less than those with only Jamaican citizenship, then take away their right to stand for election completely. Why waste time? But if that is the belief, then also do not let those who are dual citizens vote. Returning residents are being sought and more outreach is being made toward the Diaspora; many of both groups may have dual citizenship and have very strong desires to help Jamaica. But for that overtures to them to make sense then the dual citizenship issue needs to be rethought.

There are also Jamaicans who live abroad who have never obtained dual citizenship but have lost their rights to vote in Jamaican elections. When this issue has been brought up, the general impression I have is that politicians in Jamaica do not want to extend the right to vote to all “Jamaicans” outside the country. I can understand partly this resistance, because in many ways it can complicate the election arithmetic, not least by greatly expanding the electorate, but also giving votes to a body of people who largely do not then reside in the country and have to deal with the immediate consequences of their voting behaviour. Other countries that have given the right to overseas voters tend to be much larger, and their overseas population does not tend to be greater that the population within country. Many Caribbean countries, by contrast, have overseas citizens whose numbers could be close to or greater than the home population.

I think the issue of citizenship and eligibility for political office needs to be rethought, not least to reflect some aspects of current realities.

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Trying to embrace Africa

 bp43919.jpgBeginning August 23, Barbados will be the venue of a 10 day Bicentennial Global Dialogue, an African Diaspora conference that will include discussions on economic, political, historical, social, and cultural issues that link the Caribbean with Africa (see report). The conference is supposed to help preparation for interministerial meetings of the Caribbean and African Union in South Africa, November 16-18.

Many ideas are circulating about how stronger connections can be built between Africa and the Caribbean, and the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade provides a good symbolic anchor for these ideas. However, the discussions and debates sometimes occur in various states of confusion.

I lived and worked for three years recently in Guinea, west Africa; I have also worked in several other African countries. I know that Africa is not one place, with agreed views and attitudes. Continue reading

Conference on the Caribbean: A Participant’s Perspective

caricomheadssmall.gifDuring June 19-21, Caricom heads of state and its secretary-general attended a conference in Washington DC, hosted by the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and the Organisation of American states (see conference web site). The heads of state had an historic summit with the US government (see White House statement); long overdue many agreed, but it had been a long time in the planning and fell well in Caribbean American heritage month. The White House statement makes most of the right political noises on issues such as protecting democracy and enhancing security, expanding trade and building the services sector. Whether Caribbean citizens will feel that any of this really has them in mind will be for time to tell.

The conference and summit have left those present in Washington with some sense of optimism because Caribbean issues were put in front of American government officials as well as offiicals from important multilateral agencies. That optimism, however, needs to be set in a realistic context: the Caribbean is small and is not amongst the US administration’s highest priorities (one can judge this by the ease with which US officials absent themselves from proceedings). With President Bush coming to the end of his 2nd term, he may be seen as a lame duck, so whatever “commitments” his administration made could be added to the litany of promises yet to be fulfilled.

The conference also showed that there are plenty of leaders in the extended Caribbean community, not just amongst those who have assumed political leadership positions. Successful and striving would fit many of the women and men present at the conference who are in business, non-profit organizations, studying, or whatever field they are in. That should be a good signal because we have seen in recent months some startling lack of leadership, decision-making and vision within the region and things associated with it. Continue reading

Conference on the Caribbean: Into the Briar Patch

During June 19-21, in Washington, DC, Caribbean leaders, academics, activists, entrepreneurs, and others will mingle with members of the US government, representatives of international and regional financial institutions, and others with an interest in the region (see link). There will be two side forums on private sector development and the Diaspora.

The Caribbean region has many issues to face. Whether politicians see the issues in the same way as their populations is not clear, but the democratic process will be a guide as elections come along later this year. To me there are several thorny problems that could derail the region’s vision for itself.

First, is the burr of intraregional trade. It has been clear for some time that each Caribbean nation does not view neutrally the arrival of investors from another country. I will cite just the recent reaction in Barbados to the proposed take over by Trinidad’s Neal and Massy of Barbados Shipping and Trading. Generally, people don’t see these moves as strengthening the region’s ability to compete in a broad international environment, but merely as the loss of an important national player to a foreign entity, and as such a bad thing. The economic and financial explanations of possible merits rarely sink into most people’s minds. It is little different, when we consider the movement of labour between the countries. The movement of skilled or other workers from the larger countries (Guyana, Trinidad, and Jamaica) is often seen negatively in the smaller countries such as Barbados. And these movements quickly get tinged with emotive and racist language, citing themes such as “invasions” and “aggressiveness”.  So, what future for regional intiatives such as CSME? There does not seem a readiness to share a common economic space, especially if it means an influx from poorer, more violent, and apparently less stable countries in the region.

Related to this is the prickly question of regional air travel. The region may not really be able to support its own stock of air operators. We have seen the demise of Caribbean Airlines. The merger of Liat-Caribbean Star is underway. Air Jamaica’s future has been called into question, not least by the recent selling of its Kingston-London route to Virgin Airways. The other problem is the high cost of travel within the region, with its related negative impact on tourism. Liat-Caribbean Star charges too much for travelling short distances within the region: the Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Vincent Vanderpool-Wallance, has recently called these high fares the “silent killer” of regional tourism. The fact that some of the shareholders (Antigua, Barbados, St. Vincent) in the regional airline also own their main airports, puts a contradictory twist to how to price for international travel, given that the airport investment needs to be recouped. St. Lucia’s government has recently announced that it will no longer finance Liat, and has contracted with American Airlines to provide services between St. Lucia and Barbados. A little friction between the governments over these moves will be no surprise!

A complex and growing issue is the relationship with China. This has the double dimension of which “China” countries decide to work with. Some Caribbean countries are for a “one China” policy and are building deeper relations with the People’s Republic (see Barbados’ PM’s recent visit to Beijing, for example). Others do not wish to follow that road and are deeping relations with Taiwan (see St. Lucia, for example). Some (like St. Lucia) seem to switch with a change of government (see article in Broad Street Journal). The People’s Republic of China has an interesting position at present. It is a member of the Caribbean Development Bank (see link), with its own Director and seat on the Board of Governors. It is becoming a major source of financing in the region, especially of prestige construction projects (such as stadiums and highways). The People’s Republic of China is taking a fast-extending role in the development of poorer countries worldwide (especially in Africa, where this help can also mean access to valuable primary commodities), and has the resources to fulfill this role. It has also become an important source of labour to the Caribbean to help with construction projects. But this latter aspect is coming at a price as local opinion quickly turns hostile when it seems that local labour is being pushed to the side (whether due to proper procedure of suspected underhand dealings). Whether local labour has the skills to compete well against Chinese workers, it is often hard to compete with Chinese companies on price: anecdotal stories of Chinese workers getting US10 a day and having to rumage around to find food and live in what are seen as squalid conditions do nothing to enhance the image of the Chinese worker. The presence of Chinese workers and contractors is not a singular problem in the Caribbean, but part of the emerging impact that the People’s Republic is having on economic developments. It is becoming the dominant international force. Mix this with the pre-existing sense of invasion from foreigners that some are feeling and one does not have to look far to see an unhappy road ahead if somehow the apparent large influx of Chinese workers is not controlled, especially in the smaller islands.

The politicians and others will have more than these issues to think and talk about and I will try to see if some of these reflections can be quickly incorporated into this blog.

Finding out the good news: positive stories about the Diaspora

In trying to think of ways in which the Diaspora can be drawn back into national development, one idea that struck me was the need to see, hear and read about good things that sons and daughters from the region are doing. So, I was pleased to see in The Jamaica Gleaner today, a story and interview with Muna Heaven, who recently featured on US television in Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice”. flleft_1_po3aqmunaheaveam.jpgYes, she has been fired from the show, but she has made much of Jamaica and its expatriate community proud. Her story is worth reading and let’s urge our media to find and publish more image-building stories like this.