Amb. Joy Wheeler (Ambassador of Jamaica to Germany)

11.06.2010 - Interview conducted by Laura Newitt

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Q1. You spoke about the potential for rebranding, as a result of the championships being held in South Africa. To what extent do you think that the victory of Usain Bolt at the 2008 Beijing Olympics helped Jamaica to promote its reputation internationally?

It provided the world an opportunity to focus on Jamaica. Jamaica has been concentrated on creating industry in terms of investment, trade and especially sports which are an integral part of the whole conglomerate of Jamaica's industry, fashion, entertainment and so on. The level of our sports is such that we train at home. So Usain Bolt's success is also a reflection of what we are doing in Jamaica which translates in to the progress that we're making in terms of development. 

Q2. Usain Bolt's win was seen as a great moment in Jamican history. How can South Africa make the World Cup a great moment in South African history?

There will be many people visiting South Africa and the African region. It will give them an opportunity to see for themselves what Africa is. Yes there are challenges - in Jamaica we have challenges too - but there are enormous possibilities. So it is an opportunity for people to see that Africans can work together to improve on their situation. There is such a wealth of expertise that resides in Africa itself and outside of Africa and this is why I spoke of the diaspora. We have seen similar things in Jamaica and we can harness all that expertise that is out there and direct it towards development. Jamaica is also working with the African Union to explore how we can engage the diaspora in to more concerted action and nation building.

Q3. One of the participants mentioned how she felt that the slave trade had stripped her of her culture. How do the descendants of the slave trade stay connected to their past, their cultures and their past history?

It depends on the experiences in the various countries. In the Caribbean, there is a strong retention of the African culture because on the slave plantations, somehow slaves were not able to be completely stripped. They were stripped of a lot of things - their language, some customs - but somewhere along the line and through aural traditions we were able to pass this on. Aural tradition is very important in Jamaica still. One worry is sometimes about the advent of technology which will probably take away the aural folk tales. When we didn't have television, the height of an evening was to get together and hear tales from the grandparents. We have to really make an effort to keep the aural tradition going. In Jamaica we have a memory plant, where concerted effort is made to keep this alive and safe. 

Q4. Jamaica and African states have a relatively similar history. Why do you think Jamaica has come off as a more stable nation than some of those in Africa?

The Caribbean in general has been a very stable region. In terms of democratic values and so on, we have always said that we can teach in that respect. We have peaceful changes of government and we have political parties alternating. We do have challenges, but we have managed. In who we are as a people, Jamaicans aspire a great deal to achieve. We do not think there is anything we can not do. We think the sky is the limit. Jamaicans have an indomitable spirit to rise above the odds. When we have hurricanes and great devastation, we have a reggae artist who can come out and compose a song about the hurricane. We have the ability to laugh at ourselves at times, even in the greatest adversity. We have this inner-drive to keep an even keel, to rise above our circumstances, and to believe that the sky is the limit. We have had the first black pilot to fly around the world solo. He was Jamaican.

Why is this different to African nations?

I'm not saying it's different. It depends on your historical experience. The Caribbean has had a particular experience. Based on that we have had retention of the African culture which is very strong. We connect with Africa within the diaspora, we're trying to do a lot now. I cannot try to understand why Africans are not doing things this way or that way. The African Union is their charting course, and they have done quite a bit so far in terms of where Africa sees itself going. I believe this is what the diaspora has started to do, because of the wealth that resides out there. This is a very good step in the right direction, when you look at the wealth in Africa and the possibilities. They need help with technology to take advantage of some of the natural resources and so on that are there. Once you start engaging the diaspora, bringing people home to build the country, then certainly great prospects are ahead. There are young people up there who believe in Africa. They have not given up. We can't, I can't give up on Jamaica. We are encouraging the young people in Jamaica to move forward, to build a better Jamaica. The former Governor General has given us praise, a slogan that he has been using for months, "I believe" which means you have to believe in your country, you have to believe that you can make it. You have to believe that it is possible, you have to believe that it can be done. Because ultimately it starts with you. 

Q5. You spoke of the need for constant engagement between the diaspora and the African nation itself. How do you see this working on a practical level? What role can cultural diplomacy play in facilitating this dialogue?

What the icd is doing in convening seminars such as this is great. It will go a long way. Some of the things I said today about what CARICOM and the African Union is doing - I'm sure a lot of people were not aware that so much was taking place at that level. The continuation of seminars such as these is important. It is also important for young people to form their own dialogue so that the future leaders in Jamaica can get together with the future leaders in Africa; the future leaders in Africa can get together with the future leaders in the US - all coming together with a common purpose. The important thing is that you want to build your country. You want prosperity, development and peace. Young people have so many possibilities to do that. They are daring, they can think outside the box, they are enterprising, they are adventurous. This is the kind of thing that we need today to take our dreams forward.