From Kirani to APD
By Debbie Ransome
Ruth Elizabeth Rouse is a public servant who works quietly behind the scenes for her nationals in the UK.
Not one to seek publicity, she finally agreed to be interviewed by Caribbean Intelligence© as her term of office came to an end in August 2013.
Like any diplomat nowadays, whether at the Court of St James's (the formal name for London embassies) or posted to the Caribbean, modern diplomatic work is as much about social media as it is about nationals’ concerns, passports and global trade negotiation.
“It [diplomacy] has changed quite a bit, especially with the increased use of technology,” Ms Rouse told Caribbean Intelligence©.
“Trade has been one focus, but being able to keep your country on the map and to ensure that you stay on top of the game seemed a huge task.”
Today, every Caribbean High Commission in London has to stay in contact with its nationals online, as well as in person when needed.
Most High Commissions operate active websites, with promotional as well as consular information.
One of the challenges for the modern Caribbean diplomat is to engage younger nationals who are now two, three, even four generations away from their Caribbean roots.
Ms Rouse believes that the younger generation of Grenadian roots still seek things Grenadian and are not yet totally English.
“Yes, they do feel a very strong connection, which is displayed in their efforts to volunteer their services for a number of fundraising events which benefit Grenada,” she explained to Caribbean Intelligence©.
“We have struggled a bit with the younger generation and launched a Diaspora Youth Forum to help address this matter. It is sometimes difficult for the second, third and fourth generation, since some of them have parents who are non-Grenadians.
“It is a work in progress.”
A number of events held during 2012 and still running this year sought to raise money for Grenada’s Olympic programmes, which received an obvious boost from the island’s first gold medal winner, Kirani James.
The quiet 400m athlete has become the poster boy not only of Grenada’s sporting programmes, but also for the island’s tourism product.
The High Commission’s Olympic Welcoming Committee, set up in 2011, based itself in north London at a venue dubbed Grenada Olympic House, to which media, nationals and many others flocked.
The focus was, of course, on Kirani’s 400m Olympic final, which brought the official Olympic media sponsors, NBC, to the Grenadian venue.
Caribbean Intelligence© asked Ms Rouse what difference Kirani’s win had made to tourism promotion for Grenada in Britain.
“It was one of the greatest moments of my tour of duty in the United Kingdom. This was history, never to be repeated,” she said.
“The first Olympic medal for Grenada – and the first gold medal at that. It was an honour for me to be Grenada’s representative in the UK when this history was made.
“There was widespread publicity before, during and after the Games,” she added.
“The night Kirani took to the tracks, NBC TV visited the Grenada Olympic House and was able to capture the mood of Grenadians before, during and after the race.
“It was as though time stood still. I received several calls for interviews following his win and it was an excellent opportunity to promote the best of Grenada.”
So how can that success and that profile for Grenada be translated into tourism and other business success for Grenada?
Ruth Rouse says that the global interviews gave both her and the Grenada Board of Tourism the chance to “always mention Grenada and its people”.
“I believe that has gone a long way, much more than our annual tourism budget can afford,” she added.
There have been other events. In July 2009, the Grenadian High Commission introduced the annual Grenadian Heritage Day, aimed at “bringing the spirit of Grenada to Britain”.
This year, the fifth annual event included promotion of Grenadian culture, cuisine, arts and craft at a park in Harrow and attracted thousands.
The UK/Caribbean Forum – at which Britain re-engages with Caribbean countries – took place in Grenada in 2012, with Foreign Secretary William Hague and other cabinet ministers in attendance.
Other highlights included the launch of the Diaspora Initiative by the Grenadian government in 2010.
The idea, says Ms Rouse, is “to seek their [Diaspora] involvement in nation-building and encouraging a strengthened relationship between the Diaspora and Grenada’s economic and social development”.
APD and working together
There have, of course, been low points as well.
Asked about the lobby against the UK’s Airport Passenger Departure (APD) tax, which has raised the cost of travel to the Caribbean by hundreds of pounds, Ms Rouse admits that it’s been a tough battle.
Caribbean Intelligence© asked about the chances of a climbdown on the tax, as governments rarely revoke such levies.
“That is quite true – governments rarely roll back taxes once implemented,” she said in response.
She believes, however, that the Caribbean High Commissions in London still need to collaborate, even while pursuing their own individual nations’ needs.
“I believe it is always time to work together, but be aware of the fact that some aspects of our work may have to be separate,” she said.
Ruth Rouse returned in August 2013 to Grenada’s foreign ministry after her work in London.
“I return to my substantive post as ambassador in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Business,” she explained.
“As a public officer, I can only await my next assignment.”