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DIPLOMATIC DISPATCH

Soft Power: Why it matters

By Ricardo Allicock

May 11, 2021 marked the 40th anniversary of the passing of reggae legend, Robert Nesta Marley, OM.  Superlatives describing his musical compositions and performances, his lyrics and philosophical theories, have filled content in print, film and electronic media these past four decades and he continues to rank as the 3rd highest earning, deceased musician behind Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley.

Ricardo Allicock
Ricardo Allicock

As a brand ambassador for his country, Bob Marley likely outshines all the aforementioned artistes. The name, image and music of Bob Marley immediately bring to mind, for those who encounter any of them, the word “Jamaica”.   

And yet, Marley is but one of many performers, athletes, academics and activists who have promulgated Jamaica’s soft power across the world. Icons like Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Jimmy Cliff, Millie Small, Toots Hibbert, Burning Spear, Desmond Dekker, Yellowman, Shaggy, Damian Marley, Sean Paul, Grace Jones, Harry Belafonte, Usain Bolt, Michael Holding, Courtney Walsh, Merlene Ottey, Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce, Orlando Patterson and Marcus Garvey, have helped to heighten the awareness of Jamaica as a place of creativity, freedom, love, warmth, excellence and open embrace.

It is this verve, imaginativeness, high confidence, sensitivity and desire to effect social justice that has earned Jamaica world affection. Consequently, Jamaican personalities, Jamaican talent and the Jamaican spirit have paved the way for its country’s officially appointed ambassadors. 

Any Ambassador/High Commissioner of Jamaica will likely have a story to tell about the warm reception received, even at large gatherings, on being introduced as Jamaica’s envoy. The sheer elation, which generally exceeds the level of enthusiasm expressed by persons in meeting other ambassadors. Although the exact reason for their response is not usually articulated, there it was – a feeling of welcome and delight that comes over persons when they hear the name “Jamaica”.

In a recollection of his visit to Jamaica 46 years ago, the great Lee Kwan Yew, father and founding Prime Minister of the impressive city/state of Singapore, wrote that Jamaica “had beautiful holiday resorts built by Americans as winter homes…  “Theirs was a relaxed culture… The people were full of song and dance, spoke eloquently, danced vigorously and drank copiously… Hard work they had left behind with slavery.”  

I suppose elements of this description may still be true.  Our expressiveness in the arts and spoken word still notably undergirds our national identity.  However, when one considers the industriousness of many Jamaican government employees, private sector staff and entrepreneurs, the notion that as a people we work only when the whip is applied, appears to have no basis in reality.  By contrast, it is the pride, perfectionism, creativity, ingenuity and sense of purpose that we apply to public and private enterprise that has kept our economy afloat despite the challenges of the ongoing pandemic.  As well, our Diaspora, scattered from the Siberian tundra to the nether regions of Australasia and Japan; from the southernmost parts of the African continent to the northern forests of Brazil; from Florida to Scotland, is positively representing Jamaica and building our soft power in places where Jamaicans have a footprint.

That joy-filled presence, pioneering spirit and striving commitment to justice and continual improvement lays, in cascading waves, the foundation for the diplomatic work that Jamaican ambassadors do abroad. 

Our easy gift for extending hospitality and cementing relationships, rooted in those complimentary characteristics which the late Mr. Lee attributes to us, form a significant part of our charm offensive and help to explain the delighted response many Jamaicans receive when they announce their nationality. 

In turn, that magical moment of introduction frequently leads to the easy formation of long- lasting and mutually beneficial relationships by Jamaican diplomats.  When one adds to this mix the reverence persons apply to the exoticism of Blue Mountain coffee, the flavour of jerk, the intoxicating rhythms of our music and the universality of Usain Bolt’s “To the Worl'” pose, the Jamaican envoy’s mandate to establish friendships for Jamaica’s good becomes easier.  This is soft power engagement. This is cultural diplomacy.  Here, Jamaica excels.

Of course, Jamaica is not just about culinary, artistic and athletic delights.  Through friendships and careful articulation of the issues, Jamaica has been at the forefront of intellectual contribution as another effective means of exerting influence though soft power, particularly in multilateral affairs.  

To wit, in the past, Ambassador Ransford Smith has served as Deputy Secretary-General of the Commonwealth; Prime Minister Hugh Shearer successfully proposed at the United Nations General Assembly that 1968 be designated the International Year of Human Rights; Prime Minister Michael Manley received a gold medal from the United Nations for his anti-apartheid efforts; Dr. Lucille Mair and Ambassador Patricia Durrant each served at the rank of Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations; Ambassador Raymond Wolfe spearheaded the Ark of Return and served as Chairman of the related Permanent Memorial Committee at the United Nations; and Ambassador Courtenay Rattray, while serving as Chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Negotiations on Security Council reform, spearheaded the creation of a Working Document on UN Security Council Reform for the first time in 20 years.  This record of international engagement and the exercise of soft power continues, with Ambassador Rattray currently serving as the UN’s High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.

While considerable, this by no means exhausts the list of intellectual contributions made by Jamaica in the multilateral arena. However, it is a fair representation of the capacity our country has for successful delivery of soft power in this sphere.

Our use of language isn’t just eloquent, it is effective.  Whether the consideration is bilateral or multilateral, the export of Jamaica’s unique products, performing and culinary arts, sport, academia, activism and our unmatchable human resource have certainly paved the way for us to pursue the development agenda.  In this fashion, Jamaican diplomats make optimal use of cultural and economic diplomacy, as well as multilateral collaboration in the pursuit of truth and justice.  This is always for the purpose of enhancing Jamaica’s standing in the world, improving conditions for its people and contributing to the advancement of the welfare of the human race 

Ricardo Allicock served as Jamaica’s Ambassador to Japan (2013-2020). He can be reached at [email protected]