COMMENTARY: Nation building from abroad?

The recent formation of the diaspora-based Coalition in Defense of Democracy (CDD) in Dominica and recent articles in this medium has brought into sharp focus what role Dominicans living overseas have to play in the development of the nation.

On one hand many people living at home think that the diaspora should not get involved in what is happening “on the ground” in Dominica because they don’t face the day to day reality of life and hence they have no idea of what is going on. After all “who feels it knows it.” Members of the diaspora beg to differ.

I confess I write this from the diaspora myself hence my opinion might be seen as biased, but I have struggled with this very issue for years. Although I left the island as a student in 1991 I have maintained a strong attachment to home, visiting regularly and keeping my Dominican passport. I have never applied for citizenship in any other country.

Within the global economic context it is unlikely that the country’s economy will grow fast enough to absorb the scores of highly educated and unemployed/underemployed Dominicans living at home and the hundreds of students leaving school every year. Migration outwards in search of opportunities by Dominicans of all ages today and in the distant future seems to be one possible outlet for some of the country’s population and unemployment pressures. Hence one can safely conclude that the diaspora is here to stay.

It is beyond doubt that the diaspora is playing an important role in the development of the nation. Remittances from Dominicans living overseas has made Dominica among the world’s top recipients of this form of finance relative to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and serves as a major source of external financing. As a matter of fact remittances have far exceeded direct foreign investment and official government transfers and by 2004 had peaked to a whopping EC$124 million.

Despite this massive flow of foreign exchange many (not all) Dominicans at home appear uneasy about an organization such as the CCD, which is solely diaspora based, and some are even questioning its true intentions. In an internet conversation I had with a friend in Dominica a few days ago, Dr. Thompson Fontaine, founder of the CCD, was labeled as a “UWP activist” who has grossly mislabeled the idea that democracy is under threat in Dominica.

“Look at the amount of media houses we have in Dominica and they are not being shut down. I am not prepared to have people who have not been to Dominica in 10, 15 or 25 years dictate to me who have lived all my life in this country that democracy is under threat or anything else,” I was told.

Whether the description of Dr. Thompson as an “activist” is correct or not, I don’t know, but the last part of the conversation raised probably the most vexing concern, in my opinion, of the diaspora issue.  The term ‘diaspora’ is broad covering anyone who left the island’s shores one year ago to 50 years ago. I know people who have left Dominica for over 15 years and have never returned. Do these people have the right to “dictate,” using the term of my friend, to people who have lived all their lives at home on what is happening on the ground? Does the frequency of visits to home make any difference? Are diaspora Dominicans and at home Dominicans equal partners? The debate rages on.

It is my opinion that diaspora’s role in nation building goes beyond remittances and organizations such as the CDD, important as they might be. However it walks a very fine line. One of my disappointments with some members of the diaspora is that they have become involved in the mudslinging and divisive tactics that have become the hallmark of politics back home. I believe that the diaspora have all the right in the world to point out and critique the political, economic and social challenges facing the nation but it has to be done in a manner that is non-partisan, non-divisive and neutral. The diaspora should serve as some sort of fence-mending and bridge building entity, not the opposite. Furthermore expatriates should respect the sensitivities of their fellow Dominicans who, for one reason or the other, have stayed home and should not make it appear that they are smarter or more intelligent.

Having said this let me offer some suggestions for possible exploration by expatriates if they are interested in contributing to nation building. People who have migrated to other countries, especially more developed ones, have a great opportunity to build, develop and maintain fruitful linkages and networks between Dominica and their country of residence. Professionals should maintain extensive relationships between institutions in Dominica and in the country where they work through which knowledge and expertise flow freely in a cooperative manner.

One way in which knowledge and expertise can be transferred and links and networks maintained is through short targeted visits to Dominica by highly skilled emigrants. This is what the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has sought to do with the TOKTEN (Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals) scheme. TOKTEN aims to reverse patterns of brain drain by encouraging expatriate nationals to volunteer their expertise in the service of their homelands for short periods. Are any highly placed professionals in the more developed nations even aware of such program and how much it can actually benefit Dominica?
Another network-based program, although not geared exclusively towards the diaspora, but seeks to operate similar knowledge networks is the “Visiting Scientist Program”. This program, co-sponsored by the International Council for Science (ICSU), the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS) and UNESCO, supports visits by senior scientists of a minimum stay of one month to institutions located in developing countries.  Such a program, if explored and utilized, could provide invaluable knowledge transfer to professionals at home and be of great benefit to Dominica.

Highly-trained members of the diaspora can also make contribution to the development of Dominica through the use of technology. Using advanced information and communication technologies and other means of communication, highly-skilled expatriates may form professional networks to accelerate knowledge transfer to home. UNESCO’s “Virtual Laboratory Toolkit” provides such a platform. It provides scientists and other professionals in developing countries to establish and participate in so-called “centers without walls” with their counterparts in first-world nations. It is a kind of electronic workspace for distance collaboration and experimentation in research or other creative activities. Again this can be of great benefit to Dominica if expatriates exploit it to the maximum.

The contribution of the diaspora to the development of our nation cannot be underestimated and should not be ignored. The challenges Dominica faces are enormous and we need all hands on deck.

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24 Comments

  1. Hey just giving my two cents
    January 5, 2011

    Very nice and objective article. This is the kind of commentary I would like to see on DNO.

  2. Samstone
    January 5, 2011

    Two thumbs up…Very nice article… :-D

  3. Did You Know?
    January 5, 2011

    A very encouraging submission.

    Now, let me invite you to the mission and objectives of an organisation, which started ten (10) years ago. It is the well-known DAAS at http://da-academy.org.

    Wish the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs would begin to operate seriously.

  4. Dread!
    January 4, 2011

    Non-partisan, non-divisive and neutral… just what we need… not more people seeming to be looking for themselves! Great article!!!

  5. anonymous
    January 4, 2011

    Wow. DNO I just could not resist commenting one more time. I believe this is one of my past students so I just wanted to say to him “Hats Off”. Well said.

  6. Patriotic B
    January 4, 2011

    WOW Finally an article that has some concrete examples of how we can move forward as a people. It actually got me thinking of what is it that I can do to contribute to the development of my country. If we let the change begin with us then every Dominican has something of value to give back. It may be small but it is the small things that matter in life and can lead to bigger and better things.

    Thanks for such a wonderful article and let’s all use this as a platform to make things better. Dominicans we are talented, bright people and we must begin to show it.

  7. Avorka
    January 4, 2011

    for the first time in our history we have a minister in charge of diaspora affairs but yet still it is very difficult to link dominicans living abroad and those living in dominica. i am not sure why the locals feel threatened because in my opinion most of them are doing better than those who are visiting. i don’t even like the term “poor” when refering to dominica and dominicans because i don’t see it.

  8. Garrick Fingal Williams
    January 4, 2011

    With that kind of commentary,it is really heart warming.I’m one of those people who left Dominica over 30 years ago,but been coming home more often than I can even recall.It’s true I usually visit around the time of festivities,but always stay after all the Sewo is done,that way I can absorb as much of the Dominica scene after.I’m really glad Mr. Sanford wrote this letter and really hope it helps open up the eyes of all Dominicans.Thanks again for such an uplifting level of commentary.
    Dekarwat. 8)

  9. Reader
    January 4, 2011

    This is the kind of commentary that is needed and yet, lacking, in our daily discus.

    The diaspora indeed plays a crucial role in the development of the country. To often than not though, they come across as dismissive of those who leave on the island, seeing themselves as the saviour of the nation … Our Great Hope! Rather than trying to engage in activities to bring meaningful change to the island, they engage in the mudslinging and name calling. That is very off-putting to many, including me.

    If CDD and other entities want to make a mark on the island than it should be with their deeds and not the nonsense that they write on their website and furnish to media outlets. I may be wrong, but I believe that people work speaks for itself. You won’t even have to write a ridiculous article or hold a press conference. Your work should distinguish you! Your work should make you a leader among your peers and countrymen! Your work should speak for itself … and I guarantee, many will listen!

  10. Okay...
    January 4, 2011

    @ 365 Rivers,
    its CDD, but your point is well taken. I would like to know if there are meeting places where people are informed and where strategies are discussed…that would be a good start. Is there a web site?

  11. maindesk
    January 4, 2011

    These are truisms with which no one can argue. Yet some diaspora Dominicans have tried and have been ignored. Also is the diaspora not to be concerned about corruption when our island has taken a nose dive on the corruption list to be proclaimed by transparency international as more corrupt now than ever? It is not about just putting icicng on a cake it is also about inquiring into the quality of the cake.

  12. king man
    January 4, 2011

    this sounds much more balance than those who want the diaspora to do all sorts of things here but not to vote.

  13. My2Sense
    January 4, 2011

    Well this is one of the best articles I have read on DNO; non-partisan, unbiased and constructive.

    That being said, I agree with the author 100%. While remittances are very important to Dominica’s continued growth, if members of the diaspora want to be taken more seriously and hope to included in matters of national importance, then their contribution must be more substantial than monetary stipends to parents or barrels of groceries for the family.

    Indeed, Dominica must have scores of professionals living and working abroad, and I think that the first step should be the organization and coming together of foreign nationals. Yes, we have hundreds of nationals in other countries, but who are they? Where are they based? Do they want to participate? With social networking/media playing a large part in many lives, maybe a Facebook page for Dominican professionals in the Diaspora can be started up.

    Professionals in the diaspora would then need to organize themselves into sub-networks – either regional, by skill, vocation, etc – and then seek to tackle pertinent issues affecting at-home nationals. This type of action will certainly build respect and show that members of the diaspora aren’t only interested in politics and stirring divison; they are concerned with the well-being and general welfare of citizens residing at home.

    All this would be a first step in allowing the Diaspora to play a part in the future of our country, a right they are afforded at birth.

    That is My2Sense.

  14. Reon
    January 4, 2011

    Well said bro!!! you got me thinking

  15. 365 Rivers
    January 4, 2011

    Can a CDC representative inform us on its location in the US and when or if they are planing to rally folks to call for meetings in the main U.S/ European/ Canadian cities.?

    This is action in progress.Let’s keep it up .

  16. mouth of the south
    January 4, 2011

    well said but i feel much more needed to be said cause all that scientist talk looks kinda far-reaching for where d.a is right now,,,i’d like to see how people in the diaspora can help by getting hotel ceo’s to consider d/ca for business,,,how record label a&r’s can come to scout talent,,,we have tarina n joy stoute drying like panty on ur neighbour line,,,i’d like to see how they can help in bringing engineers to help us make good n safe us of our geothermal capabilities,,,much much more,,,,yeah bring investors interested in an agricultural plant,,,,them kinda tings d.a need for real,,,real initiatives that can bring real results and create real employment

    • dnokries
      January 4, 2011

      you like to talk but you doe like to take talk?

      • mouth of the south
        January 4, 2011

        who tell u that????? i doh think u wanna be my next statistic,,,jus behave ur little self ok bon!!!! :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

    • dnokries
      January 4, 2011

      well said Mr. SANFORD just a pity people see things with colour blinders in Dominica it’s just SAD.

    • gooo advice, but...
      January 4, 2011

      …what part are YOU playing in all of this?

  17. Empress
    January 4, 2011

    Very well written :wink:

    I think that this is the most un-biased piece I have read in a looooonnnnnnnnngggggg time!

    Thumbs up!

  18. linky
    January 4, 2011

    well said bro

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