Columns

Hurricanes, Caribbean racism, and why we need a foreign aid agency

Franklin Johnston

Friday, October 13, 2017

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Jamaicans are strange, wonderful people. We are innovative in areas, backward in many; generous to a fault, yet niggardly. We love peace and war and organise everybody, but not our own country. We were spared this hurricane season, but it will get worse. And, while we have local giving under control of sorts, we should put State aid abroad on a planned basis in a vehicle such as JAMAID or link with the Dominican Republic and start CARIBAID, an aid agency for the Caribbean (not just Caricom) akin to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Please note our private sector is doing a great job in foreign hurricane aid without State help; congrats!

Jamaica is a world brand but should raise its game in foreign aid. Ideally CARIBAID would be led by islands near to us and centrally located in the Caribbean, with critical mass and credibility on every shore washed by our great sea. We received foreign aid before and since Independence (an oxymoron?) so we should help others in disaster and with regular problems. Giving may make us better people, less self-absorbed and entitled; we eschew victim mentality and be accountable for our actions.

The last time we bruited JAMAID they said we were too poor and ridiculed the widow's mite as we can't give until our people are fat and happy. Giving is healthy; it makes friends and opens us to blessings. A hurricane knows no race, colour, ex-colonial master, or language, but aid has been skewed as blacks give to black islands. USA usually gives to all, but current US President Donald Trump needs birth papers of his Borinquen crew, so let's help them.

We need a CARIBAID actuated by need, not politics, language, or colour, and Caricom is of no use here. In the West Indies Federation we turned backs on neighbours and created a union of black majority, black ruled, Anglophone countries, even those far from each other. This virus is in the Caricom Single Market and Economy.

The racial (racist?) adhesion was painful for Jamaica, as in our backyard are the large multi-racial islands who gave outlets to our poor and we refuge to their revolutionary leaders who beat the Hell out of French and Spanish rulers and won independence. We ignored this glorious past to embrace a black union-gifted independence. Caricom, the sequel to the federation, took the same tack; included black Haiti, excluded brown and white Dominican Republic and Cuba. Guyana is far away, but these are our neighbours, so we must repair the damage, and Prime Minister Andrew Holness's visit to the Dom Rep suggests he listened and business is on the move. We can break the racial, language, neo-colonial lock which segregates friendship, business and governance in the Caribbean. Let's start in our backyard.

CARIBAID should be based in Jamaica, the fulcrum of the Caribbean, near the most successful islands, and we have history with Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica, etc, on the shoreline. Imagine St Kitts, Dominica, Turks and Caicos, Nevis wrecked and our big nations have no united foreign aid response? For weeks a USA colony is stressed and the mayor of Kingston sent no water to the mayor of Ponce? Any pole line crews for Dominica or Nevis? Great nations used foreign aid to entrench their people, products and tastes all over and reap dividends forever. We can do the same via JAMAID; it is scalable. Yes, we are poor, but the great USA has people who sleep on the warm grates in Washington, DC, yet it feeds millions abroad. Giving should bless us; where has selfishly hoarding all for ourselves taken us?

Why JAMAID? The prognosis for disasters in the region is dire, and even in normal times small states need aid. We are a poor but mature nation, and a well-oiled aid agency would help the needy and us — new jobs, production, better wages; burnish our brand, so let's go! Prime Minister, no more seat-of-the-pants gifts; refer aid requests to JAMAID and obligate funds for its work.

What do we have to give? With prudence we can have surpluses or curb corruption, then we will have billions for aid. But we are also otherwise blessed. California is in the throes of its worst fire with many exhausted firemen and we just want to sell them ganja? Did the mayor of Mobay offer their mayors a team of firefighters? They would help, learn and still play domino well. We are near a million in the USA, yet we do not help one troubled state. Why? Puerto Rico has no light for weeks; will we help Yauco or Guayama (small towns nearer Port Antonio) to erect light poles? Can we send 500 containers to Nevis and Dominica, plus three teams of welders to retrofit them and house families quickly?

We have good human resources, so our engineers are assessing hurricane damage abroad. We have experts in plant pests, diseases, weeds, nutrition; best livestock in a region short on protein; and expert marketers. They would be useful from Cuba to Carriacou. Also, people in education, media, logistics, peacekeepers and electoral experts could be shared via JAMAID. The UK, EU may also use it to deliver projects and voilà profit. We got tens of billions of foreign aid and built capacity, so by formalising our foreign aid we win.

Despite protests in London, the British continue to give aid, as does the USA; but Trump is a wild card. The millions we spent on political bushing is a large part of a national budget of many small states, so we can afford foreign aid. We need to start planned giving back. Let's make JAMAID a ring-fenced foundation and morph to CARIBAID when others come aboard. Stay conscious!

 

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager. Send comments to the Observer or franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com.

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