By Ricardo Allicock
A number of years ago, I returned from work one day to find our home in a bit of a tumult. It turned out that my son, then 9, was having a disagreement with his mom, and the world at large, over aspects of their research into Jamaica’s history.
The project, which was for the establishment of a timeline of world events and eras, led to a deeper examination of the late 19th century – the Victorian period – during which the British Empire was at its apex. In acknowledgement of this fact and the trope, “the sun never sets on the British Empire”, my wife assigned our children the task of taking a blank map of the world and shading, in red, countries which were under British rule in the late 1800s.
As is customary, I was invited to look over the work which the children had done and, to my amusement and my son’s delight, I discovered that all the relevant countries had been appropriately coloured red, save for Jamaica which remained conspicuously blank!
Upon querying this omission, I was informed by my wife, in the presence of my beaming son, that he had refused to colour Jamaica red, as he simply would not accept that Jamaica had ever been anything other than fully independent for all of its existence. In this respect, he was being a bit facetious in his revisionism, as he knew well enough that Jamaica had, at one time, been colonized by the English for more than 300 years. However, it gave him a thrill to assert Jamaican sovereignty in this small, but symbolic fashion.
I imagine that many Jamaicans feel the same way about their national independence, particularly in light of the perennial issue of Queen Elizabeth II remaining Jamaica’s Head of State, despite relinquishing British ownership of Jamaica nigh on 59 years.
Queen of Jamaica
Whatever our general national perspective, the truth is, Her Majesty, The Queen, remains our sovereign Head of State. In the same manner in which she is the Queen of Barbados, Australia and Papua New Guinea, she also remains Her Majesty, Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Jamaica and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth.
Interestingly, when an ambassador of Jamaica is posted to any of the capitals of the world, she or he must, present Letters of Credence to the Head of State of the receiving country. Until this formality is effected, the new ambassador cannot carry out, with full powers, the tasks to which she or he is assigned. No other set of documents an ambassador may possess is of greater importance than the Letters of Credence as these establish the veracity of the emissary’s identity and mission, while confirming the confidence the sending Head of State has in the assigned diplomat. Letters of Credence are the ultimate letters of introduction.
For instance, when the Ambassador of Jamaica to Japan arrives in Tokyo and is given an appointment to present Credentials to His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor, the Letters she, or he, delivers to the Japanese Head of State are signed by Her Majesty, The Queen, not by His Excellency, Sir Patrick Allen, Governor General nor by The Most Honourable Andrew Holness, Prime Minister. It is Her Majesty who affixes her signature to these documents which state that “We have decided to accredit to You Our Trusty and Well-beloved Mrs. Jane Brown/Mr. John Brown, in the character of Our Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary for Jamaica.” This holds true for any sovereign Head or presidential Head to which a Jamaican ambassador may present Credentials.
However, in the case of a Jamaican Head of Mission being assigned to a Commonwealth country over which Queen Elizabeth II has dominion (e.g. Canada or The Bahamas), that Head is referred to as High Commissioner, the Commonwealth equivalent of Ambassador. Furthermore, because Her Majesty cannot sign Letters of Credence addressed to Herself, High Commissioners present Letters signed by our Prime Minister to the Prime Minister of the receiving country. In this way, Credentials are delivered from one Head of Government to another.
The idea behind this is that it would be redundant for a Jamaican High Commissioner to present Letters of Credence signed by Queen Elizabeth II in say Canada, because Her Majesty is the sovereign Head of both countries. So, you might ask, why doesn’t the Governor General sign Letters of Credence in such cases? Well, Governors General, as representatives of Her Majesty, do not sign Credentials. In any event, whether those authenticating documents are signed by Elizabeth II or not, her dominion very much looms large. An Ambassador is either presenting on her behalf, or is presenting on behalf of the Prime Minister to the PM of the receiving country, who must also defer to Her Majesty as Head of State.
What, then, are we to make of the fact that Jamaica, which celebrates 60 years of Independence in 2022, still relies on the Sovereign of our former coloniser to vouch for the identity and character of our ambassadors before they can be accredited to carry out the business of Jamaica in receiving countries? Is this our idea of self-determination? Is this reflective of our national identity? Are we content in this place? Most importantly, do the people of Jamaica hold any hope for the literal and symbolic representations of our national identity being completely homegrown?
Ricardo Allicock was Jamaica’s Ambassador to Japan (2013 – 2020) He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org