by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

A discussion on democratic transitions highlighted the need to include the role of women when examining how world leaders have created democratic societies around the world. 

The discussion took place at the launch of Democratic Transitions: Conversations with World Leaders, hosted on March 31 by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) at the University Club of Toronto. 

“The beauty of the book is that from nine case studies of nine countries, it addresses issues that should be looked at for future generations that get involved in these important democratic processes and transitions that take place all over the world at various times,” said IDRC President Jean Lebel. 

Between January 2012 and June 2013, co-editors Sergio Bitar and Abraham Lowenthal interviewed 13 world leaders on the processes of establishing democratic political systems during times of political upheaval and change. Former President of the Philippines, Fidel V. Ramos, former Prime Minister of Spain, Felipe González, and F.W. de Klerk, the last politician to serve as state president of South Africa during the apartheid era, were among those interviewed. 

“It’s the only book on transitions that have succeeded in four continents,” explained Bitar. “[These transitions] are described not by an academician or by a journalist, but by the leaders and presidents themselves.”  

Each chapter identifies the process and research that was conducted to address topics such as establishing trust, economic management and social mobilization. 

Single chapter on role of women

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The fact that women are not incorporated anywhere in the world is problematic. We are still second-class citizens.”[/quote]

A popular topic of discussion among audience members at the book launch was the role of women in democratic transitioning. 

In the chapter “Women Activists in Democratic Transitions,” Georgina Waylen, professor of politics at the University of Manchester, examines how women supported and enhanced political participation by different social groups and promoted policies that strengthened women’s rights and gender equality. 

“Many women who actively sought to ensure positive gender outcomes during transitions were active in social movements, the bureaucracy and academia – not just in political parties or in the inner circles of men who became democratic presidents when elections were held,” writes Waylen. 

Professor Ana Isla of Brock University said she was confused as to why there was a separate researcher responsible for examining the role of women. 

“Why weren’t these world leaders and representatives able to answer questions when it comes to women?” asked Isla during the question-and-answer period. 

“Every aspect of society is intersected by women’s issues,” she continued. “The fact that women are not incorporated anywhere in the world is problematic. We are still second-class citizens.” 

Isla said there is already a plethora of woman making an impact.  She mentioned the uprising of women organizations and social movements in Latin America as recent examples.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s the power of women that must change politics and change men.”[/quote]

“All these women initiated the transition from dictatorship to democracy,” she said. However, they are the ones who are missing in this book because instead of looking at the women or the social movements, the focus is on the [men in power] who were able to change their minds.” 

Leaders ignore role of women

The book’s introduction notes, “Unfortunately, there are no surviving women leaders of these transitions, and few of our interviewees provided much insight about women’s participation in them.”

Bitar confirmed that male leaders are very reluctant to have a conversation about women’s contributions to democratic transitions. 

“Normally, the response is, ‘These women are coming again with the same story, and we have to listen,’” Bitar said, imitating the male leaders interviewed. 

He went on to explain that the male leaders usually assume the women think they are not relevant to the process of improving democracy, or that if they become powerful, they will not allow men to act or decide on policies. 

“It’s the power of women that must change politics and change men,” said Bitar. “It takes lots of time, but we have realized that better democracies exist when there are more women participants in policies and law-making.” 

Democracy a tool, not a solution

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Democracy is only a tool … It doesn’t solve everything.”[/quote]

Bitar said he and Lowenthal learned that every leader possessed the courage to take risks during times when their families, friends and colleagues were being killed or in danger. 

“All of them had to combat fear – a very important element in the hands of any dictator,” he said. “Fighting against fear was something we found very prevalent.” 

Researchers and influencers like Lebel and Bitar, who is also president of Chile’s Foundation for Democracy, said they know that democracy isn’t the solution to problems such as gender inequality, poverty, and environmental destruction. 

“If we all took on democracy, someone naïve will say the world will be much better,” said Lebel. 

“Democracy is only a tool … it doesn’t solve everything, but it gives the opportunity to have people speaking freely, institutions that are strong and take care of problems, avoid inequity, and transform social problems.”

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Published in Books
Sunday, 10 May 2015 16:01

Protests Follow Aquino Across Canada

by Veronica C. Silva (@VSilvaCusi) in Toronto

From Ottawa to Toronto to Vancouver, protest actions met Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III wherever he went on his three-day state visit to Canada.

In Toronto, protesters gathered earlier than the scheduled opening of doors at 3 p.m. At around the same time, some Filipino guests invited to the ‘by-invitation-only’ event also started to line up to enter the venue.

Groups of Filipino-Canadian protestors, joined by their Canadian supporters, numbered at about 200 by their estimate, turned up to advocate against some policies of both Aquino and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Among the issues that the protesters brought to the fore were Aquino’s alleged human rights violations, the Mamasapano deadly encounter, Mary Jane Veloso’s death row case in Indonesia and the plight of other Filipinos overseas on death row and the policies affecting Filipino temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in Canada, including live-in caregivers.

“Migrant rights, human rights under attack, what do you do? Stand up! Fight back!” chanted the protesters.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We urge you to look deeper in the root causes of our community’s issues. It is poverty, lack of decent jobs and landlessness in the countryside in the Philippines that continue to hold us back as a nation.” - Jesson Reyes, Migrante Canada[/quote]

Dan Harris, New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament in Scarborough Southwest, joined protesters outside the venue as he reiterated the NDP’s opposition to the Conservatives’ immigration policies and the C-51 anti-terrorism bill.

“Good enough to work, good enough to stay!” Harris said, joining in the chant.

“Just this week, both the Liberals and the Conservatives voted in favour of C-51, the anti-terrorism legislation that allows them to infringe on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that’s a disgrace,” said Harris, as the crowd answered with, “Shame!” 

Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne also met with Aquino as shown in the picture to the right. (Photo Credit: Wynne's official Twitter account.)

Migrante Canada, one of the groups protesting, said it was reaching out to the Kababayans (Filipino countrymen) who attended the Toronto event also.

“We urge you to look deeper in the root causes of our community’s issues,” said Jesson Reyes, regional coordinator for Migrante Canada in Ontario. “It is poverty, lack of decent jobs and landlessness in the countryside in the Philippines that continue to hold us back as a nation.”

He also noted that the two state leaders talked about nothing new in their speeches, and he took aim at the objective behind the state visit.

“It is without a doubt that certainly one of the few agendas of PNoy’s visit to Canada is for the Conservatives to secure the votes of Filipino-Canadian voters in the upcoming federal elections,” said Reyes. “By listening to the tone of the Prime Minister, he ensured people yesterday that his government’s ‘promises’ will be kept for so long as he is seated in Ottawa.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“This government is not going to have a policy – for as long as I’m Prime Minister – where we will have a permanent underclass of temporary people who are here forever with no rights of citizenship and no rights of mobility.” - Stephen Harper[/quote]

In a press conference in Ottawa, earlier in the day, Harper defended the controversial TFW program, which affects thousands of Filipinos.

“This government is not going to have a policy – for as long as I’m Prime Minister – where we will have a permanent underclass of temporary people who are here forever with no rights of citizenship and no rights of mobility,” said Harper in Ottawa.

And Aquino responded: “I think that policy should be held proud, not criticized.”

Reacting to this, Reyes said: “It shows that PNoy and his government do not have a clear understanding of the plight of TFWs in Canada and the abuses many of our Kababayans face by not having a permanent status.”

Migrante Canada joins other migrant groups in calling for landed status for foreign workers. The organization also deplores the Philippines’ labour export policy, which is driving many Filipinos to seek employment elsewhere.

The Conservative Campaign

In the weeks leading up to Aquino’s visit media reports reiterated Reyes’ sentiment that the state visit could be a strategy of the Conservatives to try to win over the Filipino community in Canada – estimated to number from half a million to 700,000 – in time for federal elections scheduled in fall. In recent years, the Philippines has been one of the top source countries for immigrants to Canada, next to China and India.

In Toronto, the state leaders spoke to a crowd of some thousands of members of the Filipino-Canadian community at Roy Thomson Hall. While Aquino’s speech was the highlight of the community gathering, Harper brought in his campaign team to cheer for him.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The event, at times, sounded more like an election campaign, with each leader taking turns speaking of each other’s accomplishments while highlighting bilateral ties and trumpeting the Pinoys’ good qualities.[/quote]

National Defence and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney (MP, Calgary Southeast), who was formerly Citizenship and Immigration Minister, wore a Barong Tagalog and gamely posed for photographs with some Filipinos in the lobby after the event.

Kenney has been credited for winning the so-called ethnic votes for the Tories in the 2011 elections.

Not to be outdone, federal Finance Minister and Torontonian Joe Oliver told the crowd: “Jason Kenney may be wearing a barong, but I’ve reached the third level in the Knights of Rizal,” something which drew applause from the crowd.

But it was Harper who got the loudest applause for revealing: “I’m also going to note – with some pride – that on my wife’s side, I now also personally have some Filipino relatives.” He didn’t elaborate though.

The event, at times, sounded more like an election campaign, with each leader taking turns speaking of each other’s accomplishments while highlighting bilateral ties and trumpeting the Pinoys’ good qualities.

Filipinos Integral Part of Canada: Harper

“The President’s visit gives our government, gives Canadians, the chance to recognize and celebrate the success and contributions of Canada’s Filipino community,” said Harper.

As an example of this Filipino success, the Prime Minister proudly recognized the Filipino-Canadian designer who created the logo of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, which will be in 2017, Ariana Mari Cuvin of Toronto.

Harper went on to enumerate Filipino qualities that have become world famous – work ethic, loyalty, and deep faith: “Filipino-Canadians have now become an integral part of every single aspect of Canadian society.”  

Then, there was the reminder of Canada’s multi-million dollar aid to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan struck in late 2013.

“During those dark days, Canada was there for our friends in the Philippines,” said Harper. “Canada was, in fact, the third largest humanitarian donor in the world to the relief efforts, a drive led by Filipino-Canadians that our government was proud to match dollar for dollar right across this country.”

In early 2014, it was announced that individual Canadians contributed over $85 million in eligible donations.

Canada also sent relief teams to the Philippines to help out and has committed more assistance in the reconstruction of areas affected by the typhoon.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Unfortunately for the Filipino Torontonians, Aquino hardly offered the crowd something new. His speech in Toronto was almost identical to the one he gave in Chicago, Illinois a few days prior.[/quote]

When it was his turn to address the audience, Aquino spoke in Tagalog and focused on his administration’s accomplishments during a speech interlaced with jokes.

Unfortunately for the Filipino Torontonians, Aquino hardly offered the crowd something new. His speech in Toronto was almost identical to the one he gave in Chicago, Illinois a few days prior.

For example, in boasting of his administration’s infrastructure projects, Aquino told the Toronto crowd the same joke about the new Lullutan Bridge in Isabela.

Ang tawag kaya, ang buong pangalan kaya nito ay Lullutang at Lulubog Bridge? (Do they call this bridge Lullutang (floating) and Lulubog (sinking) Bridge?),” Aquino asked the audience in Toronto. And like in Chicago, this part of the speech elicited the same response of laughter.

Also like in Chicago, Aquino boasted about his administration’s job programs and economic gains, adding that the numbers he presented were actual statistics.

But there were other projects Aquino mentioned to the Toronto crowd like achievements in the coconut industry and in the Philippines’ weather forecasting capabilities.

Amidst the mix of cheers, standing ovations and protests, both state leaders outlined the gains earned from the state visit.

Canada announced more aid and assistance to the Philippines, which has been identified as a country of focus for Canada’s international development efforts, and initiatives were announced in the areas of free trade, occupational health and safety, development assistance, police and security, and counter terrorism in the Asia-Pacific region.

Published in partnership with The Philippine Reporter.

Published in Top Stories
Friday, 08 May 2015 00:33

President Aquino Arrives in Ottawa

by Priya Ramanujam (@sincerelypriya) in Toronto

Just days after Filipinos worldwide suffered the blow of boxer Manny Pacquiao’s loss to American Floyd Mayweather, the Philippines’ President Benigno Aquino landed in North America, first in Chicago yesterday, and then in Ottawa today, for a three day Canadian state visit.

Though the visit didn’t generate quite the media frenzy as last month’s visit from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Aquino was met with a warm, but fairly private, welcome in the nation’s capital.

The visit, which sparked mixed reactions from the Filipino-Canadian community, is aimed at strengthening the relationship between both countries and their respective leaders.

The Philippines is Canada’s third largest source of immigrants from Asia, right after India and China respectively. And while Winnipeg, Toronto and Vancouver have large Filipino Diasporas, the growing community of 700,000 plus extends as far as up north in the Whitehorse, Yukon and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Canada aims to support the Philippines through a variety of programs and responses. We are good friends and partners, working together to provide humanitarian assistance, development aid, sustainable economic growth, improved investment climate, and more opportunities for underprivileged men and women." - Governor General David Johnston[/quote]

For Aquino, he left his home country making vows that this visit is about establishing closer ties between Canada and the Philippines when it comes to trade and investment, and hopefully increasing tourism to the Asian-Pacific nation.

And while Stephen Harper expressed a similar interest in improving bilateral relations in the weeks leading up to today’s visit, some think both Modi and Aquino’s visits are well-timed attempts to increase support for the Conservatives in the Indo- and Filipino-Canadian communities.

“Canada and the Philippines enjoy a close friendship based on shared democratic values and strong people-to-people ties,” said Harper in an official statement leading up to Aquino’s arrival. “I look forward to meeting with President Aquino to further strengthen the bonds between our two countries, including in the areas of trade, investment, development and security, benefitting the citizens of both nations.”

Aquino’s Stay

It wasn’t all handshakes and trade talk for Aquino today, who met with Governor General Dave Johnston upon arrival.

Following the meeting Aquino took part in a tree planting ceremony – 26 years after his mother, Corazon Aquino, planed a red maple on Rideau Hall, he continued the tradition planting seeds for a red spruce.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The Philippines is an important member of ASEAN, a dynamic and growing region with a GDP of almost $2.5 trillion that offers a wealth of opportunities for Canadian businesses.” - Stewart Beck, President and CEO of Asian Pacific Foundation of Canada[/quote]

"As you know, President Aquino, our two countries have so much in common," said Johnston in his welcoming speech. "Yours is one of the most vibrant and rapidly developing regions in the world, with great opportunities to achieve success and some new challenges to overcome. Canada, in turn, is pleased to support the Philippines’ long-term commitments in areas of security, disaster management, development and humanitarian aid." 

In the evening, a special dinner at Rideau Hall was arranged for President Aquino by Johnston and his wife.

"Canada aims to support the Philippines through a variety of programs and responses," Johnston said at dinner. "We are good friends and partners, working together to provide humanitarian assistance, development aid, sustainable economic growth, improved investment climate, and more opportunities for underprivileged men and women."

Johnston pointed out that the steady growth in commercial ties, with bilateral trade reaching an impressive $1.8 billion in 2014, a 2.5 percent increase over the previous year, adds to already strong "people-to-people ties".

"Your visit goes a long way toward advancing the relationship between Canada and the Philippines. Thank you and the members of your delegation once again for coming. Now, let us raise a glass to the many ties that bind our two countries in friendship."

On tap for Aquino tomorrow is a roundtable in Toronto with prominent members of the Canadian business community hosted by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (APF Canada), with support from Sun Life Financial and in association with the Canadian ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Business Council. Its purpose is to explore opportunities for trade and investment with the Philippines.

“The Philippines is an important member of ASEAN, a dynamic and growing region with a GDP of almost $2.5 trillion that offers a wealth of opportunities for Canadian businesses,” said Stewart Beck, President and CEO of APF Canada.

On Saturday, Aquino will close out his Canadian visit on the west coast where he is expected to hold a reception at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver.


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Published in Top Stories
Sunday, 26 April 2015 13:50

Remittance 'Mega-Flows' to Asia

Remittances to the Philippines reached $28 billion US in 2014, making the country the third largest remittance recipient in the world, a report from the World Bank (WB) showed.

The country is preceded only by India, which received remittances of $70 billion, and China, $64 billion. Mexico and Nigeria followed the Philippines, having received $25 billion and $21 billion, respectively.

Total remittances in 2014 reached $583 billion, representing a 4.7 per cent growth from 2013.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]With new thinking, these mega-flows can be leveraged to finance development and infrastructure projects.” - Kaushik Basu, World Bank[/quote]

“This (total remittances) is more than double the ODA (official development assistance) in the world… With new thinking, these mega-flows can be leveraged to finance development and infrastructure projects,” said the bank’s chief economist and senior vice president Kaushik Basu.

For this year, global remittances are projected to grow by 0.4 per cent, the slowest growth rate since the global financial crisis in 2008.

In 2015, total remittances are expected to reach $586 billion.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and Canada are the top countries where Filipinos work or migrate.[/quote]

“The slowdown in the growth of remittances this year will affect most developing countries…The positive impact of an economic recovery in the U.S. will be partially offset by continued weakness in the Euro area, the impact of lower oil prices on the Russian economy, the strengthening of the US dollar, and tighter immigration controls in many remittance source countries,” the report said.

Slowdown Seen in 2015

For East Asia and the Pacific, the World Bank said the growth will also be slower. From an estimated 7.6 per cent growth in 2014, growth this year is seen to hit 2.8 per cent.

Citing data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, the BSP said 1.6 million Filipinos were deployed last year, while job orders increased by 10.7 per cent to 878,609.

The United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and Canada are the top countries where Filipinos work or migrate.

Published in partnership with Asian Pacific Post.


Published in The Philippines
Sunday, 09 March 2014 18:01

Canada is Now a Diaspora Nation

By Matthew Mendelsohn

Canadians rightly take pride in our country’s diversity. Our collective understanding and definition of the country have been shaped by waves of immigration and most Canadians cannot imagine a Canadian identity that doesn’t include diversity. We happily think of ourselves as a nation of immigrants.

Over a fifth of Canada’s population is made up of immigrants — the largest percentage in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) — and Canada grows more diverse every year. Canada’s prosperity is obviously tied to immigration, but unfortunately, we are not making the most of what should be an enormous comparative advantage. This is especially important as we seek to compete in the global economy. While much of our immigration growth is from countries with emerging economies, our trading and export patterns remain based on demographic and economic realities that existed decades ago.

Today, Canada attracts more immigrants from Asia and Latin America than from Europe. Of our top 10 trading partners, only two are emerging economies: China and India. We remain woefully dependent on trade with the United States.

Shifting ground

But the ground has also shifted beneath us in two important and related ways. First, immigrants to Canada are experiencing poorer economic outcomes than previous generations. And, secondly, the global economy is undergoing a re-balancing, with the rise of emerging economies and new structural economic challenges in OECD countries, including Canada.

In today’s highly-interconnected global society, immigrant communities act as diaspora networks – international networks of shared identity – which, because of their multicultural and multilingual capabilities, can play a larger role in the global economy. Diaspora networks are a dynamic and increasingly valuable but relatively untapped resource in Canada and their effective mobilization would bring significant economic and social benefits to the country.

Patterns of immigration are changing dramatically. Not long ago, immigrants would settle in new countries and maintain sporadic contact with their countries of origin. Today, we live in a world where more people move around the globe, have multiple national identities and have sustained contact with multiple countries.

No room for complacency

Canadians can no longer take for granted that we will be able to attract and retain the immigrants we need in a competitive global market for talent. We must up our game and do a better job ensuring that the economic opportunity that immigrants expect — and that is increasingly available around the world — is delivered.

We currently do not do a good enough job integrating immigrants into the Canadian economy. Our cultural diversity is one of Canada’s strengths but we’re not capitalizing on it very skillfully. This is a large and growing problem because diaspora networks are becoming more and more important to global economic growth.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]A recent study from the Mowat Centre – Diaspora Nation – argues that Canadian businesses that discover how to tap into emerging markets such as Brazil, China, India and the Philippines will thrive in coming decades.[/quote]If Canadian businesses fail to mobilize immigrant talent and expertise, Canada will miss one of the enormous global economic developments now underway.

Diaspora networks

Diaspora networks are increasingly powerful social and economic forces with cultural knowledge and substantial connections to economies and communities beyond Canada’s borders. Canadians are connected to every corner of the world in unprecedented ways. Canada is now very much a diaspora nation.

Diasporas provide linkages. They help information circulate. They provide cultural knowledge where it didn’t exist before. They can help establish trust and deepen social capital.

Their knowledge can lower transaction costs and reduce the time it takes to enter new markets and form new partnerships. They connect people, ideas and understanding.

Canadians have a general awareness of these benefits. When Toronto hosts the International Indian Film Academy Awards or Africa Fashion Week we are briefly reminded of the cultural and economic opportunity that our diaspora networks provide. But it is not consistently a front-of-mind consideration for decision-makers in the private and public sectors.

By not recognizing the cultural knowledge, international experience and global networks they bring, we not only fail immigrants, but also fail Canada as a whole. We can do better.

We need to re-imagine the role that immigrant communities can play in helping to fulfill Canada’s global economic aspirations and support their fuller participation in the Canadian economy.

Capitalizing on our potential

The private sector could deepen its connections with ethnocultural chambers of commerce, professional immigrant networks, alumni networks and immigrant resource groups within firms. All these networks can help businesses better understand opportunities in emerging markets. Successful firms are already doing this.

But capitalizing on our potential requires more than the private sector. It requires governments to ensure that rules and regulations from a half century ago are not undermining our capacity to fulfill our potential as a diaspora nation.

Student and business visas are too frequently delayed. Small- and medium-sized businesses do not have access to the insurance they need to explore new export markets. Unrealistic residency requirements are imposed on immigrants preventing them from travelling for business. There are too many obstacles to global philanthropy. We too often require “Canadian experience” for employment when such a requirement is unnecessary. Those who process remittances are not subject to appropriate regulation and too often take advantage of their clients.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Diaspora networks are playing a larger role in the global economy. Recognizing and acting on this trend should be part of a thoughtful policy response to the shifts in the global economy and immigrants’ declining economic outcomes.[/quote]

Canada is particularly well-placed to benefit from the growing importance of diaspora networks. Given Canada’s successful history with diversity and accommodation, the country – and Ontario and the Greater Toronto Region in particular, given their high concentration of immigrants – should be leading discussions on how to respond to these changes.

Once we put the goal of harnessing our diaspora networks as a top strategic priority for the country, the unintended consequences of many of our rules and regulations become apparent. We need to start to act like a country that takes the opportunities presented by diaspora networks seriously.

Matthew Mendelsohn is the Director of the Mowat Centre, an independent public policy think tank at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy & Governance and Ontario’s non-partisan, evidence-based voice on public policy.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Commentary

by Ranjit Bhaskar

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran will be visiting Canada and the U.S.  to gather information from the diaspora on suspected violations.
Ahmed Shaheed, a former foreign minister of the Maldives, will meet victims and witnesses of these alleged incidents and civil society organizations during his 14-day trip from July 14 to 28.
The result of these findings will be reflected in his report to the General Assembly in October, the Office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner  said Wednesday.
Shaheed has not been able to visit Iran since his appointment in August 2011 despite several requests to the government. However, he expressed hope that there will be new opportunities for dialogue with the administration of President-elect Hasan Rohani and reiterated his continued interest to visit the country.
The Irish gathering
Talking of visits, the Irish government is in the midst of a year-long attempt to lure its diaspora home to boost the country’s battered economy.
Billed as The Gathering, the initiative is made up of gatherings in villages, towns and cities and ranging from the cultural and historic to the sporting, the quirky and the poignant.
“Bring them home. Treat them well. The Gathering is ‘Project Ireland.’ Do your bit,” Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny exhorted fellow countrymen and women when the initiative was launched earlier in the year. Over 70 million people worldwide claim Irish ancestry, more than 13 times the population of the country itself. The Irish are the fourth largest ethnic group in Canada according to the 2006 census — about 14 per cent of the total population or 4.4 million people.
That Ireland seems be handling its diaspora well was evident when Jamaican-owned businesses abroad wanted their home government to learn from the Irish.
The spokesperson for the United Kingdom Diaspora Business Group, Denis St Bernard, wanted Jamaica to adopt the Irish and Finnish enterprise model through which these governments helping their small and medium-size enterprise (SME) owners abroad.
St Bernard said while Jamaican businesses based at home would find it difficult to tap markets such as Toronto, New York and London, Jamaican-owned and -operated businesses already established in these markets have better access. Hence, it would make more sense for the government to help them to boost export, he said.
Saying he was not calling for the abandonment of local SMEs, St Bernard said he was merely pointing out the huge earning potential of the more than seven million Jamaicans living abroad.
The Nigerian diaspora, meanwhile, seemed to do better than the Irish by not just pumping in tourist dollars. The money they sent in was almost thrice the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) last year, Minister of Information Labaran Maku said.
Speaking in Atlanta, Georgia, Maku said while FDI amounted to $8 billion, remittances totalled about $22 billion.
The minister urged the diaspora to invest in the country and listed power, mining, agriculture and the railways as some of the sectors with high potential. He noted that Nigeria had become the leading investment destination in Africa and said the diaspora could link up with companies in their host countries to invest at home.
Indonesians want dual nationality
On the same note of contributing to national development, the Indonesian diaspora wants a favour from the home country.
It wants dual nationality and plans to set up a task force at its second congress on August 18 - 20 in Jakarta to plead with the government and parliament.
Chief of Diaspora Desk in the Foreign Affairs Ministry Wahid Supriyadi said Wednesday that the government could get some advantages, especially increased FDI by granting dual citizenship to its diaspora. "Countries that provide dual nationality or other facilities for the diaspora have enjoyed lots of benefit" he said.
Supriyadi said 31 countries provide dual nationality for their diaspora and have benefited from overseas remittances.
Indonesia has an estimated 8-10 million diaspora around the world but could only attract about $7.2 billion in remittances. The figure is even smaller than that of Vietnam, which, according to Supriyadi, is a “beginner in diaspora networking.” Vietnam receives about $10 billion in remittances per year, he said and wanted Indonesia to study efforts made by India and China in harnessing their diasporas.
Preferred drug mules
While Indonesia wants to network better with its diaspora, its neighbour to the east and a past master in sending its sons and daughters abroad in search of work is feeling the negative heat of its debatable success.
Narcotics syndicates prefer Filipinos to transport illegal drugs for them because many of them go abroad to work, Justice Secretary Leila De Lima said after a 35-year-old Filipina drug mule was executed in China last week. The execution brought to five the number of Filipinos put to death in China for drug trafficking since 2011.
Noting that there are currently about 10 million Filipinos overseas, Ms. De Lima said the Philippines was keen on global advocacy against the death penalty “because some of our countrymen are put in that kind of situation and happen to be in countries where the death penalty is imposed.”
In another blow to the diaspora, Zimbabwe has decided to do away with postal votes for its citizens abroad in the upcoming elections. The Constitutional Court threw out a case filed by an exiled Zimbabwean trying to secure the diaspora vote.
Fear and mistrust of the diaspora seems to cloud the judgement of Zimbabwean leaders and institutions. It was evident when South Africa-based businessman Mutumwa Mawere’s presidential candidature was turned down through a technicality. Earlier, Mawere had won a landmark case on dual citizenship. Some in the diaspora who feel marginalised have now grouped together to form Zimbabwe Yes We Can, an apolitical pressure group based in the UK.
‘Lebanon’s salvation’
Staying on the political note, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai has said Lebanon’s diaspora is its “salvation.”
At the launch in Beirut last month of a book on the diaspora by Antoine Labaki, the patriarch said “Lebanon’s salvation comes from its diaspora,” as those outside the country rejected the paralysis of political life in their homeland.
 “Lebanese [outside Lebanon] are experiencing in their [host] countries how laws and state institutions are respected, and are not subject – like here – to the impact of influential politicians, who violate laws and block the work of institutions, and cover up violations by their supporters,” Rai said according to Lebanon’sDaily Star newspaper.
“They are aware of the value of the judiciary and the law, which should be above everyone ... there is no place for the impact of influential politicians, as we saw recently here,” the patriarch said, in what was likely a reference to the inability of the Constitutional Court to convene to issue a ruling on challenges to parliament’s extension of its mandate.
Elections in Sri Lanka’s north
Talking of mandates, the provincial council election in Sri Lanka's Tamil-dominated north will be held in September as planned with President Mahinda Rajapaksa giving his go ahead.
The election is seen as crucial for the country’s reconciliation with its Tamil minority since the end of a brutal three-decade-long civil war in 2009 when government troops finally crushed LTTE rebels fighting for a separate homeland. The vote is the first since the eastern province was delinked from the north in 2006.
Rajapaksa's proclamation came as his younger brother Basil Rajapaksa was meeting senior Indian officials in New Delhi on the government's plans to amend the 13th amendment to the constitution that will strip from the northern provincial council its control over land and the police force.
The opposition Tamil and Muslim minority parties are objecting to the amendments, saying they violate the powers conferred on devolved provincial administrations by the 1987 India-Sri Lanka Accord.
Nearer home, for the first time in its 26-year history, the FeTNA (Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America) held its first convention outside the U.S. in Toronto last week. With more than 250,000 Tamils calling the Greater Toronto Area home, the convention was a one-stop shop to experience all aspects of this diaspora’s culture.-- New Canadian Media
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