BY ANDREW CLUNIS
Senior staff reporter
CALLS are growing for the Government of Jamaica to re-establish a diplomatic mission in the United Arab Emirates.
This follows Jamaica’s successful showing at the World Expo in Dubai last Friday, with the celebration of Jamaica Day.
The event saw a large delegation from the island led by Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett, and Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Senator Kamina Johnson Smith showcasing the country’s culture and attractions at the Jamaica Pavillion, which was voted one of the best from among more than 190 countries that have been participating in the six-month-long Expo which kicked off on October 1, 2021 and continues through to March 31, 2022.
For Jamaicans living in and around Dubai, Jamaica Day brought sentimental feelings that they have longed for, living just over 8,000 miles away from home.
But for President of the Jamaica Diaspora Middle East Association (JDMEA) John Warren sentiments won’t do it, and it is time for Jamaica to re-establish a diplomatic mission in the region.
“We see about five of our smaller Caribbean neighbours having diplomatic missions but we have no representation on the ground. We are told that we are under the auspices of the High Commission in London but that is just not practical.”
Jamaica closed its mission in Kuwait in 2019 much to the chagrin of the hundreds of Jamaicans who reside across the region.
Public relations officer of the JDMEA Lennox Christie said: “One of the first big calls that we made as an association was that our mission be based in the Dubai or Abu Dhabi because this is the centre on the new world. We had been advocating for the mission to come here for more than five years. But instead of moving the mission here, it was closed and we don’t know for what reason. People ask us on a daily basis, ‘how do we get a Jamaican visa, how do we travel to Jamaica, how do we do business in Jamaica?’
“We really want to see some movement on this matter. This region is teeming with trade opportunities and Jamaica needs to capitalise. We need a mission in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, the capital, because the community is growing and people need representation,” said Warren.
The UAE comprises Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar but Jamaicans are spread all across the Middle East, including Jordan and Azerbaijan. “We are far away from home and we need to not only remain connected but we need the mechanism for us as Jamaicans to be able to give back to our country through the experiences we have gained out here,” said Warren.
Upon closing the mission in 2019 Johnson Smith said: “The decision was taken to close the facility only after careful consideration and deliberation. Regretfully, despite the support of the Kuwaiti Government, keeping the embassy open is no longer feasible.”
She added that her ministry took into account the important role that the embassy played in providing consular services to Jamaican nationals living in the region since 2010, including passport and authentication services. As a consequence of the move, it reverted to the arrangements that were in place prior to the opening of the embassy, with assistance to be primarily provided by the Jamaican High Commission in London.
She was scheduled to meet with members of the Diaspora and business interests in Dubai yesterday, Saturday, February 19 when the matter was expected to be placed on the agenda again.
Jamaica’s stellar showing at the World Expo was the result of the combined effort of ministries and agencies, with the Jamaica Special Economic Zone Authority (JSEZA) leading the charge in taking Jamaican culture and the creative industry to the Middle East market by securing business, trade and investment opportunities for the country.
JSEZA’s Manager, Business Facilitation and Acceleration Services Kevon Farquharson, said that, from students who participate in school tours of the Jamaica Pavilion to high-level officials and everyone in-between, Jamaican culture resonated with visitors.
“Especially for the school tours, the history section and the cultural aspect of things are very important, and the kids appreciate it. Sometimes you will see a visitor come in and you are looking for them to move to another section and they just won’t move…we engage them, ask them a few questions and they [will say], ‘You guys are a small nation; you guys went through so much; you guys have this huge impact…you have the Bob Marley, the Usain Bolt, the Chris Gayle,’ ” said Faquharson.
JSEZA’s Senior Director, Regulations, Policy, Monitoring and Enforcement Ainsley Brown highlighted the examples of an all-African e-commerce platform and Dubai’s All Africa Festival, which could provide multifaceted benefits for Jamaicans.
“On their platform there are already a few Jamaican products that we have seen but there is room for growth, and this is a mechanism through which this market can be accessed. The All Africa Festival is another business opportunity because there’s opportunities for vending and showcasing of Jamaican-made products, our cuisine, culture, artistes and all kinds of different things,” Brown detailed.
The all-African e-commerce platform targets the African Diaspora with their products while the All-Africa Festival is a celebration of the continent and its diaspora that allows tourists and residents of Dubai to enjoy African cuisine and performances, which in the past have included Jamaicans.
Brown said the response to Jamaican pepper sauce, Blue Mountain coffee and candles from Blue Mountain Aromatics, all available inside the Jamaica Pavilion, was an indicator of the demand for Jamaican products.
Similarly, JSEZA’s ‘Sustain-a-livity’ brand, which is a harmonious living philosophy developed through the awareness and expansion of workstyle, lifestyle and spiritual interests, has garnered interest from potential investors.
“They instantly love it and eat it up. They say ‘You guys are ahead of the game because you’ve clearly integrated sustainability within what you do.’ From application reviews right down to facilitation of business, we integrated it in everything that we do,” explained Brown.
The Jamaica Special Economic Zone Authority will continue to engage potential investors and business operators at World Expo 2020 Dubai until its end on March 31, 2022.
Teacher Marsha Harrison-Nembhard attended the expo and said she enjoyed the occasion. “I found it most exhilarating. I enjoyed the concert with everybody singing Bob Marley’s music; it made me feel at home for the first time. To have your culture come out to you and to see everybody enjoy it and feel what you feel on a daily basis, it took me beyond words.
“The Jamaican community is very close-knit and this event has taken Jamaica to a plane where so many more people will appreciate the island and the culture. We are respected here and the citizens of the UAE are quite enamoured with us. I expect that a lot will happen out of this and that people are not just talking, but they will make good on their plans.”
As far as coping with life in ‘the desert’ Harrison Nembhard said: “We are not missing anything but the feeling of home. We have Jamaican restaurants here and Jamaican food is taking off in a big way. We may not have ready access to all the items we need but we are doing well. The Arabs love our jerk chicken and other menu items are growing in popularity as well.”
One prospect that she would like to see come readily to fruition is better transport links between the UAE and Jamaica: “We would be able to come home more frequently. Presently we have to travel through various countries and it can be a tedious experience, especially when you are travelling as a family. We would like to be able to hop on a plane and come home more often.”
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