Formalizing Diaspora–State Relations: Processes and Tensions in the Jamaican Case



In common with many other developing states, the Jamaican government has recently sought to institutionalize relations with its diaspora in order to enhance its development potential. I explore the initiative in this paper. I begin with a definition of diaspora, in which I argue for the need to recognize the multiple meanings of the term, especially as they relate to migrant communities that do not follow the pattern of forced migration. Using Itzigsohn’s distinction between “narrow” and “broad” formations (see Itzigsohn et al., 1999), I argue that analysis of the operation of diaspora–state relations can only occur meaningfully using the narrow definition. This is followed by an examination of recent literature on diaspora–state relations, which provides a necessary context for the Jamaican case study. In the second section, I provide background to the 2004 initiative, showing that there was a clear progression from concern about the experiences of returned residents to an engagement with Jamaicans residing overseas. In the third section, I examine the structures created by the Jamaican government and, finally, I provide a critical appraisal of the process as it has unfolded thus far. I argue that tensions remain regarding the role and functioning of the “new” formalized process compared with the pre-existing bodies, that resources are required to ensure a more equitable functioning of the process and that questions remain about the extent to which the new bodies “represent” the diaspora.