A new era in Caribbean diplomacy: the making of a Diplomatic Academy

4 years, 9 months ago

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The newly launched Diplomatic Academy of the Caribbean has an ambitious mandate to enhance understanding and practice in the field of diplomacy. By Maria Rivas-McMillan.



IT BEGAN – AS ALL GREAT IDEAS DO – WITH A VISION. 
IT WOULD TAKE THE RIGHT LEADERS TO MAKE THE VISION REAL.
 
Every day in this global village, we are hammered by the painful effects of ambition, greed and insularity; of might being right. Every day, somewhere, a diplomat wonders why he or she hadn’t anticipated this development or what more could have been done to avoid that outcome.  For many, diplomacy is their only weapon. 
 
Punching above your weight
 
A map shows you the Caribbean depicted as a trail of dots from the tail end of North America to the eastern part of South America.  Individually, the islands appear as mere rocks in the ocean; collectively, they can be a lot more.
 
Anyone living here can tell you that each island has its own identity and culture – even the names of fruit are often different!  One regionally accepted unifying element, mainly for the English-speaking Caribbean, is The University of the West Indies – one of just two regional universities globally.  Established in 1948 by Royal Charter, it is today the largest and longest standing provider of higher education in the English speaking Caribbean with three physical Campuses in Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Open Campus that offers multi-mode teaching and learning services through 42 virtual and physical site locations in 17 of these countries. It can easily boast that the majority of leaders in every sector of the region – government, the private sector, the professions, and civil society - are "UWI" graduates.
 
In the last 60 plus years, UWI’s avowed mission has been to serve as an engine of regional development by advancing education and creating knowledge through excellence in teaching, research, innovation, public service, intellectual leadership and outreach. In its most recent strategic plan, The University identified seven areas critical to Caribbean development, all linked to priorities identified by Caribbean governments. Among them were agro-technologies and food security; convergent ICT applications, cultural industries, energy efficiency and sustainability, governance and regulatory issues, human security and tourism development management and sustainability.  
 
Yet, even with all the knowledge and expertise in the world, these Caribbean priorities are not achievable in a vacuum.  Caribbean leaders and diplomats have to engage with powerhouses – governments and institutions – that are heavyweight contenders.  In other words, they have to learn to punch above their weight. And so it began – as all great ideas do – with a vision. It would take the right leaders to make the vision real.
 
The Odyssey
 
The Sixties were heady years for many in the Caribbean.  Independence was in the air and the experiences of the next few decades created a class of Foreign Service diplomats who were second to none. Those Baby Boomer diplomats are fast retiring and their departure is causing an inevitable experience gap.  Even so, the world is vastly different from those exciting post-colonial years. The aptitudes and skills needed, not just for career diplomats but also for sector specialists, are vast. Overseas, specialised training is expensive for gasping economies that have to harbour their resources.  
 
Enter Professor Andy Knight minus the white charger. It was Professor Knight who made the point that the Caribbean needs to learn to ‘punch above its weight’. A  Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (FRSC), the highest honour afforded to Canadian academics, he is an internationally renowned scholar of global governance, a prolific author and editor on international relations and international law. In 2013 he took a three year secondment from the University of Alberta, to assume the position of Director of The UWI’s Institute of International Relations, located at the St. Augustine Campus in Trinidad and Tobago.  It was an opportunity he savoured so as to ‘give back’ to the region that had nurtured him.  
 
Professor Knight brought to the table his hard-won credibility and standing. When aligned with a supreme self-assurance, he was able to convince a person of influence that, to be taken seriously, small island states needed well-trained diplomatic representation in multilateral institutions as well as on regional and international bodies. 
 
The Honourable Winston Dookeran, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, was a keen supporter, a champion of the entire initiative. Indeed, he had argued ‘The Case for a new Caribbean Convergence Model’ in the Caribbean Journal of International Relations & Diplomacy, Vol. 1, No. 1, February 2013: pp.127-131
 
"I think the Caribbean as a group and Trinidad and Tobago, in specific terms, has too often opted for the policy of abstention. Abstention viewed as a deliberate act is a good thing but abstention, viewed as an opted out act, is not a good thing. In today’s world we have to change that and we cannot go into the comfort of opting out by abstention."
 
Things progressed from there to a concept note and, most importantly, to an agreement by the Trinidad and Tobago Government to fund the establishment of a Diplomatic Academy of the Caribbean at The UWI’s St. Augustine Campus.  
 
Having begun the Odyssey, there could be no turning back.  Professor Knight became the personal advocate for a Diplomatic Academy of the Caribbean; he would tirelessly talk his way across the Caribbean and beyond – getting the support of governments, the Diplomatic Corps and international bodies such as the United Nations. He tapped his network and mustered the full force of his diplomatic skills in search of potential regional and international facilitators as well as funders.  In tandem, Minister Dookeran worked to ensure that funding became available and helped open the right doors.
 
Their vision became real because of focus and determination aligned with an unshakeable resolve to make it so.
 
One small step
 
See. Believe. Achieve.  
 
In eastern Trinidad, at the St. Augustine Campus, a new era in Caribbean diplomacy was heralded at the formal opening of the Academy on a sunny day in May 2014.  The seal of approval came in the form of a video message from the United Nations’ Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and through the physical presence of nearly the entire Diplomatic Corps in Trinidad and Tobago.
 
The newly launched Diplomatic Academy of the Caribbean has an ambitious mandate: not just enhancing the understanding and practice of Contemporary Diplomacy but, more importantly, supporting engagement on global issues and processes and ensuring diplomats are au courant with the evolving needs and requirements of modern diplomacy.  
 
Professor Knight promises also to take the show on the road. "Several government entities have indicated an interest in the Academy offering courses – such as Protocol – in their respective jurisdictions and, therefore, outside of Trinidad and Tobago. This can save countries the costs associated with air travel, accommodation and ground travel. We want to be able to facilitate the offering of diplomatic training to individuals and groups across the Caribbean and Latin America. The world has changed to the point where even non-independent entities are given the leeway to pursue certain aspects of diplomacy."
 
Certainly, over time, just having men and women from the English, Dutch, French and Spanish-speaking islands training and learning together, in one place, augurs well for cultural understanding and diplomatic collaboration on the macro level.  As the region seeks to secure (in every sense of the word) its space, we can look forward to a re-energised Caribbean diplomacy.
 
Author’s Details 
Maria Rivas-McMillan’s communications career at two widely different Caribbean groups has allowed her to work across territories and cultures. Now back at her alma mater, The University of the West Indies – yet another regional institution - she was fortunate to be part of the planning team that saw the launch of the Diplomatic Academy of the Caribbean.

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The Author

Maria Rivas-McMillan

Maria Rivas-McMillan’s communications career at two widely different Caribbean groups has allowed her to work across territories and cultures.

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