Citizen Responsibility and Nation-building

[Keynote address by Ambassador Curtis A. Ward (3rd Annual Police Ball, 10/26/13)]

On an occasion such as this one, I could find several topics on which to speak. However, for fear of overstaying my welcome at the podium, I will share with you a few of my perspectives on “Citizen Responsibility and Nation-building.”

“What makes this event so special?  The answer is very simple.  This event not only honours and supports the men and women of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, and the work of the St. James Police Civic Committee in seeking to make St. James parish a safe and secure space for carrying out activities we generally take for granted; but epitomizes a significant contribution to nation-building and an exemplary embrace of citizen responsibility.

We take for granted that we are entitled to a safe and secure environment in which to pursue our dreams and carry out our daily activities.  We  fault the government when it fails to fulfil its responsibility to us.  We have every right to expect a first class police force, and, with it, a society where crime is an aberration rather than the norm.  Conversely, we also believe that it is not our responsibility to help create a safe and secure environment in which to carry out our activities.  However, dealing with societal ills is not merely the responsibility of the police, but rather is the collective responsibility of all Jamaicans.  And, while we expect the government to have the primary role in solving these problems, it behooves all of us, and, in particular, those more fortunate to contribute to the process of ending marginalization of large segments of our society, creating a level playing field for all. To him or her that much has been given, much is expected.  After all, we are our brothers’ keeper.

At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that those on whose shoulders we have placed responsibilities for our safety and security are, for the most part, under-resourced to carry out the tasks we have assigned them. We cannot ignore the fact that government does not have the resources necessary to ensure these important objectives are met.  Therefore, we owe it to ourselves and to our nation to contribute as best we can, whatever our individual and collective capacities allow.  It is in this context the work of the St. James Police Civic Committee is so important.  Rather than sit back and wait on government to meet all the needs of the JCF in St. James, which we know will never happen, you have engaged in a practice of civic responsibility which redounds to all our benefits – to those who live, work and do business here, and to those who come to enjoy Jamaica’s hospitality.

We must set and maintain very high standards for Jamaica in order to ensure our competitiveness in a globalized world.  We must face challenges which sometimes seem insurmountable; but our resilience as a people, our determination and pursuit of excellence against all odds has proven time and again that Jamaicans are winners.  When we aim high, we achieve high.  If we don’t give ourselves a chance to succeed then failure is certain.

Having traveled extensively around the world, I find the influence of Jamaican culture everywhere I go.  There is globalization of everything Jamaican.  Some of our political leaders of the past have led regional and global initiatives, and were often held in high esteem abroad.  Jamaicans serve at the highest levels in international and regional organizations, in the political, corporate, and professional worlds in developed countries everywhere; our products, acclaimed for their high standards, are found on grocery shelves and in kitchens around the world.  The Jamaica brand is recognized globally and often poorly imitated; you see products not from Jamaica labelled “Jamaican style;” and internationally re-known chefs poorly imitate jerk dishes on inter-continental flights.  Our global reputation belies our size and population and our resource limitations.

Only a few weeks ago, conversing with Homeland Security graduate students in my counter-terrorism class, as Jamaica prepared to play the United States in World Cup Qualification football, the students were curious as to how Jamaica, a small country, could have such outstanding athletes and such a high global profile.  Of a class of 13 students, one was born of a Jamaican mother, who migrated to the U.S. in an advanced stage of pregnancy; another is married to a Jamaican; and a third has a Jamaican neighbour. The professor is Jamaican.  What are the odds that four out of 14 people in a counter-terrorism class in Washington DC have Jamaican connections?

Ambassador Ward presents award to police officer

As Jamaicans, we harboured expectations that Jamaica should defeat the U.S. in football.  Yet in our calculations we tend to forget that little Jamaica with a population of less than three million at home was going up against the U.S. behemoth with a population of over 314 million; more than 100 times the population of Jamaica, and with virtually unlimited resources at their disposal. We enter every contest expecting to win. Like the biblical David, we expect to triumph over Goliath; but that is not the norm.

As Jamaicans, we bask in the glory of our internationally acclaimed sportsmen and women; we celebrate them, and that’s okay.  We treat them as national heroes and heroines; there is nothing wrong with that either.  But, we should not ignore the fact there are other heroes and heroines that make up the Jamaican body politic.

While I am not against the adulation we shower on our athletes who help boost our morale as a nation, we must not lose sight of other real heroes and heroines in our society.

There are many others who deserve our adulation, both here in Jamaica and in the diaspora.  Many of Jamaica’s heroes and heroines are present in this room.  There are many of Jamaican heritage in the diaspora who have proudly proclaimed their Jamaican roots, and who have achieved greatness in every imaginable field of endeavour.

Jamaicans at home and abroad lay claim to great achievements in every field and discipline.  We are succeeding everywhere and constantly striving to do better. Together we are the Jamaican brand.

Our roots go deep in second and third generation Jamaicans in the diaspora.  One such example is the current National Security Adviser to President Barack Obama, Ambassador Susan Rice. I met Ambassador Rice, several years ago, and she told me then of her Jamaican maternal grandparents.  More recently, speaking at a Howard University Convocation, Ambassador Rice spoke proudly of her maternal grandparents having migrated from Jamaica to the United States; how her grandfather worked as a janitor, and her grandmother worked as a maid and seamstress, lowly but honourable work. Others like Gen. Colin Powell, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, Harry Belafonte, and others, far too many to mention, honour their Jamaican roots.  They too are a part of the Jamaican brand.

As we engage in nation-building, I want us to reflect on the simple notion that, while we bestow much adulation on our athletes, we should be careful not to believe we can build a nation or a country on athleticism.  We cannot.  We build a country on the partnerships for nation-building that we develop across all segments of society: between the public sector and the private sector; with a well informed and engaged civil society; and in a safe and secure environment in which to strive and thrive.  Security is not an option it is an imperative for nation building. And, as we prioritize physical security, we must also prioritize human security

We build a country and a nation in an environment in which we guarantee human security – food, shelter, health and well-being; not just for a few but for all.

We build a country and a nation in an environment that provides quality educational opportunities and access for all; not just a chair and a desk in a classroom, but a learning environment which prepares our students, our young men and women, to be valued contributors to, and participants in developing our communities and our country.

We build a country and a nation in an educational environment from which will emerge our future entrepreneurs, successful professionals, and businessmen and women; not just a mill for turning out world class athletes.

We must be clear about our priorities – those upon which we build our country in the long term, not just for the thrill and glory of the moment.

We won’t get to the level we seek unless we insist on and demand of our leaders in government, business, and civil society the highest level of integrity.  Adherence to the rule of law and exercise of good governance must be the clarion call of our nation.  These precepts should be our call to action – an urgent and inspiring appeal to Jamaicans everywhere.

Our security forces, and in particular the men and women of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, are our shield between those who would seek to harm us; between us and those who act contrary to law and order.  That’s why our police must be fully trained and equipped to engage not only in the rudiments of law enforcement, but in building relationships with the communities they serve; and to serve in a manner consistent with the rule of law. We must ensure they receive the training necessary to carry out their assigned responsibilities; they must be equipped in their operational capacity to protect us, to protect themselves, and to be able to respond promptly when we need them. They must carry out their responsibility with integrity.  That must be their commitment to the nation.  We expect nothing less.

Whether in the inner-city communities of Montego Bay or in rural St. James; or on the famous Montego Bay strip of Jamaica’s tourism mecca; or patrolling the neighbourhoods around the hotels, all of the citizens within the communities served by the JCF must understand that the police are their friend.  That is why the police must be trained and equipped and given adequate resources to effectively change perceptions; and, that is why you, the members of the St. James Police Civic Committee, in stepping forward to support the members of the JCF serving in this parish, can help create an environment which will help them earn the respect of the communities they serve.

We are not oblivious to the real or perceived widely held view that the police are corrupt, distrusted and alienated from communities they are required to serve.  Unfortunately, this perception thrives on the historical reality that there are good cops and bad cops, and it is the deeds of the bad cops that often make the news and influence our perception of them.  However, our history, from the early years of Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle, and George William Gordon, is strewn with triumph over adversity and intractable difficulties, and the resilience and character of the Jamaican people have endowed us with the will to overcome.

The men and women who get up every day and don the uniform of the JCF deserve our gratitude and our support. They are the guardians of our safety and security.  They are often ill-equipped and inadequately trained to carry out their responsibilities.  Yet they put their lives on the line every day.  They know not if at the end of the day they will return home to their families. They are the real heroes and heroines.

Members of the Montego Bay and St. James business and professional communities, many of whom started from humble beginnings, have overcome great odds to build successful professional careers and businesses that help make this city and parish so special for Jamaica. These are the real heroes and heroines of Jamaica; they are nation-builders. They prove that success is not happenstance but the result of dedication, perseverance, and hard work.

Members of the St. James Police Civic Committee have come together to dedicate their time, expertise and resources to assist the Police in this parish. Jamaica needs more heroes and heroines like you, and every parish needs a Police Civic Committee dedicated to doing the work that you do.

While we have travelled far, we still have a long way to go.

Each time I read a report about the police seizing an illegal firearm, I am encouraged; it’s one less gun on the street.  But, I am also discouraged, because it tells me that the security architecture of this country is weak; our maritime borders are not secure; our interdiction of illegal firearms is woefully inadequate, and we are not stopping guns from entering Jamaica.  We blame the United States for not doing enough to stop the flow of illegal guns to our shore.  While the U.S. deserves some blame, it is our responsibility to ensure that our borders are secure and that we have control over what enters into our territory.  The U.S. shares a mutual interest in controlling illicit arms trafficking, but it is our responsibility to protect our territory, our country, not the responsibility of others.

Even as we seek the cooperation and collaboration of the United States, we must also look to any other third country from which these firearms originate to work with us.  We must seek to build our capacity to improve our maritime and border security to prevent illegal trafficking of firearms to our shore.  Yes, the United States has an interest in assisting us, but not the responsibility to stop the weapons from coming here.  The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, a U.S.-funded partnership program, is a starting point for addressing this problem, but it is incumbent on the Jamaican government to act proactively and put together the necessary programs.  We should not wait for the United States to set the priorities for us.  We must set them for ourselves. We must take responsibility for nation-building and welcome international partners who share our objectives and our priorities.

I do not wish to belabour this point, but I am troubled when we cannot guarantee a relatively safe and secure environment for all of Jamaica; a safe and secure environment to live and to raise our children; a safe and secure environment in which to conduct business activities; a safe and secure environment in which Jamaican tourism can grow and flourish.

The business community can help shape appropriate programs and be the catalyst for such initiatives.  By employing the expertise of the private sector, the business community can provide guidance and support to the government.

I will conclude with a few words about one of Jamaica’s most ignored and untapped resource.  Rather than blame our

Ambassador receives plaque marking occasion

failures and our ineffectiveness on a lack of resources, we should seek to use the resources we have more effectively.

A few months ago, a Jamaican Diaspora Conference was held in this very building.  The main focus was to encourage investment in Jamaica by diaspora individuals.  While that is all well and good, the conference did little to harness the expertise of the Jamaican diaspora to address perhaps the most pressing problem the country faces, and a major constraint on investments, that is, the perceived or real lack of a safe and secure environment in which to do business in Jamaica.

The expertise and available resources within the Jamaican Diaspora is overlooked. The Diaspora should be viewed as a vehicle through which technical assistance and guidance can be tapped to provide culturally responsive approaches for effective law enforcement and community policing strategies in Jamaica; and for border security, maritime security, and law enforcement policy development and capacity-building technical assistance.

There are Jamaican nationals in leadership roles in the United States; they have expertise in effective law enforcement, community policing, community empowerment and related areas; and are recognized for their expertise in security policy development and security capacity-building.  There is expertise to help develop an effective security architecture suitable for the uniqueness of this island nation, and to provide guidance in acquiring the necessary resources to implement related programs.

Jamaicans in the diaspora constitute a significant part of the Jamaican brand, and, as such must be seen as a resource, as an asset, and a part of the solution to Jamaica’s problems, and must be engaged as full participants in nation-building.

If there is the political will to tap into these resources, Jamaicans in the diaspora can help develop and execute programs which will help to overcome the many challenges we face in Jamaica in the process of nation-building.

Thank you very much. God bless you all, and God bless Jamaica, the land we love.

[Keynote address by Ambassador Curtis A. Ward at the St. James Police Civic Committee – 3rd Annual Police Ball, Montego Bay Convention Centre, Montego Bay, Jamaica, 26 October 2013.]