Reflections from Chris Tufton Article written by Dr Chris Tufton (Jamaicaís present Minister of Agriculture) to the Jamaica Society newsletter while a student at University of Manchester. Feature from August 2002 Magazine.
Jamaicans in the UK: Towards a strategy of engagement
Chris Tufton University of Manchester PhD Student and University of the West Indies, Mona lecturer
During my first few days as a student in Manchester England, back in September 1999, I was made to believe that Moss Side should be avoided at all costs and this was partly because of drugs and gangs, also involving Jamaicans. Needless to say I was disturbed and concerned at that suggestion. My experience here has suggested differently. I have found that Jamaicans in general are important positive contributors to British society. Teachers, nurses, politicians, academics, civic leaders, or tradesmen, all make up the approximately 450,000 persons with Jamaican linkages living in Britain. Together they comprise a mix of talent and influence at the community and national levels.
The challenge seems to be how to leverage our strengths towards highlighting the positives, while neutralizing or isolating the negatives. This should be possible because after all is said and done, there are alot more positives than negatives. It is how we organize and communicate that is our immediate task. Addressing this challenge is particularly important at this time, partly because of the negative publicity associated with the few who are involved in the drug trade, but more generally because of an upsurge of rightwing sentiment across Europe blaming immigrants for the ills of their societies.
Coping with this challenge is as much a responsibility of the law abiding Jamaicans living in Britain, as it is of the Jamaican State. Taking a proactive stance should not just be viewed out of loyalty to country, but out of self-interest. For the facts are that given public perception of Jamaica, it is only a matter of time before public pressure is brought to bear on legislators to restrict access of our nationals. Likewise this reputation is likely to affect our chances of taking advantage of opportunities in England, such as jobs or education.
To begin with, there must be greater mobilization by Jamaicans in the UK towards forming community based organizations that are actively engaged in networking, and in the process, highlighting the positives of our culture and people, and establishing a public voice to air our concerns at the community and national levels. There are currently just under forty Jamaican community based organizations, many doing excellent work; however, it seems that their agenda and structure requires re-examination towards a greater focus on national networking and lobbying.
A Role for the Government
Here, I believe our Government can play a role. Working through our foreign mission, there has to be a renewed focus on community relationships, working with these associations, where they exist, towards national identity management and promotion. Basic structures like having a community newsletter, a media relationís officer, periodic meetings of heads of various community associations to discuss wider issues and strategies, are important parts of any modern structure. And in clusters of Jamaican communities where these associations do not exist, there should be renewed effort to get them established. This can only be possible if there are the necessary resources to coordinate such activities. In the context of budgetary constraints the government should look at making this type of activity a priority, particularly because our reputation in these markets is likely to have economic consequences for our island. This approach should be extended to other important markets such as key states in the USA.
More generally, the time has come for our Government to develop a more comprehensive strategy towards our migrant communities. Too many Jamaicans live outside of Jamaica, representing resources of one form or another, for us not to have a comprehensive program of engagement or re-engagement. This holds true for the Government as it does for the private sector. We must begin to view those who choose to relocate as potential assets, and provide them the opportunity to constructively engage in the country. Whether as investors, foreign based consumers, tourists, or unofficial ambassadors. Progress dictates that they are courted and engaged.
As my time here in Manchester draws to a close, I am thankful for the experiences. To those Jamaicans, living here, who made me feel welcome, I say thank you, good luck and God Bless!
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