In our increasingly global world it is important for nations across the planet to maintain stable political relations with other governments and societies. Not only do these connections allow for social interaction and exchange, but it encourages investment in developing nations and provides a bridge home for expatriates living outside their homeland.
For the creole people of the world, home can be anywhere from the Caribbean Sea, North and South America and Indian Ocean, to the streets of Europe’s biggest cities. It is the role of individual’s such as Jamaica’s Ms. Aloun Ndbomet-Assamba to both establish and maintain inter-governmental ties, and help connect Jamaican’s living abroad to their homeland. As the High Commissioner for Jamaica in the United Kingdom and Ambassador to several European countries, it is Ms. Ndbomet-Assamba’s role to represent Jamaica across Europe.
By her own admission, Ms. Ndbomet-Assamba is from a typical Jamaican family. Her creole roots are evident in the rich cultural heritage of her parents. Along with her brothers and sister, she was raised by a mother who worked as a homemaker and a father who was a welder. Her mother’s family is originally from India, coming to Jamaica as indentured workers.
Taking on Leadership at a Young Age
Ms. Ndbomet-Assamba’s family moved from rural Jamaica to Kingston during her early teen years, resulting in her attending three different high schools. She credits wonderful teachers and principals at each of her schools for preparing her for her role as a diplomat and leader. Of particular note, she recalls fondly the important role that her Spanish teacher played in her life.
A life in politics and diplomacy is difficult without the ability to communicate effectively. Ms. Ndbomet-Assamba credits her Spanish teacher with not only teaching her Spanish, but also teaching her English and giving her a proper foundation in grammar in both languages.
At each school she attended, Ms. Ndbomet-Assamba showed a blossoming talent for leadership. Though she was admittedly a shy child, she credits those individuals who pushed her into leadership roles at a young age and setting her on the path she travels today. Serving first as a hall monitor in one of her schools, she would eventually serve as a house captain, a prefect, and finally as Deputy Head Girl at the Convent of Mercy Academy.
As she pursued higher education at the University of the West Indies, she served as Chairman of the Law Society while earning her law degree. From there, she would go on to study at Norman Manley Law School where she sat on the Academic Committee representing the students and the University of Pittsburgh as the Heinz Fellow in 1991.
A Life in Politics
After earning her law degree, practicing in Jamaica and managing the largest Credit Union in the Caribbean, The City of Kingston Co-op Credit Union, Ms. Ndbomet-Assamba took an unexpected turn into politics. Serving first a Senator and then representing Saint Ann South Eastern. She eventually went on to serve, while a Senator, as Minister of State in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, and Technology. After winning a seat in the lower house she served as Minister of Industry and Tourism and later Minister of Tourism, Entertainment, and Culture.
Despite so many influential teachers and school officials in her past helping shape who she was, it was the support and push from another individual that sent her down the political path. She credits former Jamaican Prime Minister, P. J. Patterson, with turning her onto a life of politics and diplomacy.
After her initial term as a Senator and serving in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Patterson and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, Ms. Ndbomet-Assamba walked away from political life in 2007. She was no longer interested in serving and her inspiration, Mr. Patterson, had retired early from the position of Prime Minister. But in 2011 she would receive a call from Jamaica’s current Prime Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller.
Prime Minister Simpson-Miller called Ms. Ndbomet-Assamba and said she had a job offer for her. Her initial response to the Prime Minister was that she had a job already, managing her private law practice. When the prime minister told her that she had a job for her to do for Jamaica, Ms. Ndbomet-Assamba recognized the opportunity to represent her country and her culture abroad.
High Commissioner for Jamaica in the UK
In the last week of May 2012, Ms. Ndbomet-Assamba arrived in the capital city of London ready to represent the people, culture, and interests of Jamaica in Europe. While her title is officially High Commissioner for Jamaica in the UK, she serves as Jamaica’s representative across much of Northern Europe.
From her base in London, she represents Jamaica as the Ambassador to Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Ireland, and Cyprus. Diplomatically speaking, her role is to represent the best interests of Jamaica in international organisations. This includes her country’s interests such as commodities: coffee, sugar, and cocoa, as well as political arenas.
The latter includes meetings with High Commissioners from other Commonwealth members. She works extensively with the Caribbean diplomatic corp as well as Ambassadors from Latin America. An additional major part of her role as High Commissioner is raising the awareness of Jamaica’s cultural heritage.
Jamaica has a very large expatriate community around the world. In the United States and United Kingdom alone there are some 1.5 million native Jamaicans living in cities across both countries. London, along with Birmingham in the north, has one of the largest concentrations of Jamaican expats in the world.
As the High Commissioner, it is her job to interact with the community and connect with Jamaicans living in the UK. The Jamaican government has a strong policy of connecting with its people around the globe, no matter where they live. Just last June, Ms. Ndbomet-Assamba gathered together with the Jamaican community in the UK port city of Tillbury to recognize and celebrate the Jamaican diaspora to the UK.
It was in Tillbury 65 years ago that the first ship carrying Jamaican immigrants landed in the UK. Members of the so-called Wind Rush generation, these people arrived in the UK aboard a ship named the Wind Rush following World War II. As High Commissioner, she joined her fellow Jamaicans in honouring those first Jamaican immigrants and recognizing their contributions to the development of the UK over the ensuing 65 years.
Why She Does What She Does
Ms. Ndbomet-Assamba could easily have told Prime Minister Simpson-Miller “thanks, but no thanks” when she asked for her help. But for Ms. Ndbomet-Assamba, that would have been going against the values she sees in her creole culture at home in Jamaica. Jamaican creoles, like creole cultures everywhere in the world, represent a variety of cultural backgrounds. Like her own family, creole people in Jamaica come from Indian, African, Spanish, British, and native Taino backgrounds that create the unique Jamaican culture that exists today.
Ms. Ndbomet-Assamba sees a reflection of her political life in the very culture of Jamaica’s creole people. She emphasizes the nation’s motto, “out of many, one people”, and points to her own family as a perfect example. She sees a people who believe in unity and support for one another.
She told Kreol Magazine the story of a home she bought 20 years ago in St. Anne. A fixer-upper by her own admission, when the day came to move in she found a caravan of friends and family following her moving van as she left to settle into her new home. Those friends and family stayed until she was settled, leaving the house completely organized before the day was out.
In that moment she saw what it meant to be a Jamaican creole. The people of Jamaica are devoted to one another. For that reason, she was always an active member in her community. At home she reached out to help the youth in various programs such as the United Way of Jamaica, and also as a member of the Jamaica Cancer Society, Jamaican Bar Association, and the Lions Club of New Kingston. Her role as High Commissioner puts her in a position to fulfill those same duties on a grander scale for Jamaicans who no longer live on their Caribbean island homeland.
Ask her what she would like to be doing in 10 years, and Ms. Ndbomet-Assamba will give you a humble answer. She’d like to be back at her home in St. Anne, serving the community that gave so much to her in her youth. Above all else, she would like to help the youth of tomorrow realize their dream through education. She believes Jamaica’s youth need only find their special skill and talent, and let education take them the rest of the way. Perhaps they’ll follow a path not too different from Her Excellency, the High Commissioner.