February 10, 2016

Our Agricultural Class

One peculiarity about Guyana is that the poorest people live in the most picturesque places. Of the tonnes and tonnes of places that I am most familiar with, the Corentyne Coast in Berbice comes readily to mind. It is certainly the Delta and the bread basket of Guyana. Increasing poverty, however, has produced social ills like crime, suicide, alcoholism and domestic abuse which undoubtedly have gotten worse since the APNU/AFC collation wormed itself into power.
Thousands have left the Corentyne for greener pastures because they saw no employment, no money, no future, but there is a working class that has remained – the sugarcane and rice workers. Actually, they have nowhere to go.
These individuals associate themselves with sugarcane and rice cultivation on a daily basis. They cling to this routine and know no other way. They work hard and go to bed early and wake up early. The mood of these working class people has always been strong. The weight of their history has always been noticeable in their faces, in their demeanour, in their clothes and in their dwellings and environment. Their neat clotheslines of drooping laundry in their modest housing and the profusion of greenery that permeate their environment are not only beautiful but something that other regions of Guyana can emulate.
Notwithstanding beauty and magnificence, all of Guyana, including the agricultural belt on the Corentyne, are in a state of immeasurable levels of uncertainly since the current regime controls the grid of power through a controversial election last year. This community is on edge. It is disturbed and is very much concerned about its future.
It appears that the people along the Corentyne coast have been conquered and proof of this is in the consistency of their complaints. Will this regime take a stronger stand on supporting sugar and rice cultivation? If not, what is the alternative other than lip service to the public?
All along the Corentyne, there seems to be a sense of profound loss, despair and wounded pride amongst the working class. They were ignored by the PPP that had lost touch with them and their concerns. They were fooled by the PPP defectors. Now, under the APNU/AFC, there is a sense of surrender. Yet, few outside of Berbice have spoken against the injustices inflicted on the working class.
To rule anywhere in the world today, be it in Guyana, Ghana or Greece, and be callous to one group of people who did not vote for you is like living in Siberia and hate snow.  This sort of leadership is supercilious since these are the people – the working class – that government needs to engage in to achieve nation building and national unity, not ethno-nationalism and witch hunting.
The challenge here is what should be done to at least make the regime listen or even comply with the demands of a citizenry that it does not seem to have at heart.
One would expect Nagamootoo and Ramjattan to have a bigger heart for the mostly 11 per cent of supporters that put them in power. Instead, these men are too busy trying to regain lost ground with their former PNC enemies, displaying egomaniacal confidence.
Meanwhile, voters in the Corentyne region do not have the clout to hold the regime accountable for campaign promises. The strategy of the regime seems to be, without even realising it, not to risk flexibility but pursue unpopular economic policies they did not campaign for (closure of Wales Estate, for example) on the premise that it would receive ultimate support when successful. This has been the pattern of politics all along. Some divergence are expected but not more than 75 per cent of the 100 days manifesto. In the words of one working class person, the APNU/AFC regime “fool up dem people.” ([email protected])

Share Button

What the Norway team should know…

Last week, a team from Norway headed by that country’s ambassador to Brazil and Guyana, Aud Marit Wiig, arrived in Guyana to hold a series of meetings and field visits to project sites in the interior region. The core of meetings and visits revolved around whether or not Norway will continue the Guyana-Norway environmental agreement/pact from 2009 to 2015 for another five years.
While the pact is extended for another five years, it is expected that Guyana will have to demonstrate a more sound environmental stewardship to earn a huge sum of money (at least US$200 million) to limit forest-based greenhouse gas emissions and protect its rainforest to reduce climate change. The destruction of the rainforests is one of the main causes of climate change. Tropical deforestation contributes to about one-fifth of all carbon emissions according to various environmental websites.
Now, on the Guyana side, there was Raphael Trotman and there was Joseph Harmon, among others, and then there was this: Individuals who were leading the talks from Guyana with no practical experience in environmental issues before and after they became Ministers. The team’s first excuse is that the regime has been in power only for eight months which is inconsistent with the 100 days manifesto and promises. Worse still is that nothing new was said at the meeting.
Trotman and his team simply repeated what has been said all along, that is, to practise sustainable development. You would think that the team would show some spine since the new regime is moving away from the dependence on agriculture to the extraction of mineral resources in the interior region to generate growth and development.
At best, these individuals do not only represent but also add to the institutional weaknesses that have permeated and plagued the environmental sector since Guyana returned to the global economy in the mid-1980s.
Moreover, much has been said about the conflict of interest in appointing Simona Broomes to manage Guyana’s natural resources. The regime has pushed this brewing matter to a legal team for advice, and so far, the public has not received any new information.
Do we have to chalk this one up for experience?
What is also worrying is that Guyana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Guyana Forest Commission (GFC) are supported by a host of international agencies: Britain Overseas Development Administration, Global Environmental Facility, United Nations Development Programme, Canadian International Development Agency, German Technical Assistance Agency, Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank, World Wide Life Fund and the Smithsonian Institute.
Guyana is also a signatory to many international environmental conventions and I know a few professional individuals who are preparing to come to the country to help out. Yet, the country has been struggling to control its forest resources effectively.
The reason for this predicament is that Guyana’s environmental sector is: (1) under-staffed, under-funded and under-trained; (2) undermined by the lack of updated technologies and resources; (3) void of a comprehensive plan on land use and supervision of resources; (4) corrupt and inefficient and (5) notorious for foot-dragging.
Meanwhile, forests are exploited through unrestrained logging, skidding, careless mining practices as well as the creation of unplanned new forest communities, especially in the Northwest region. The loss of trees and forests tends to have adverse effects on streams and wetland buffer systems, water and air quality, biodiversity, wildlife and human health. That said, the Norway team must realise the impact of their demands on Guyana to protect its forest. Foremost is that environmental colonialism and the structural adjustment programmes so associated with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank must be avoided. The strings attached to their funding have to be realistic and liberal while the Guyana Government has to be transparent, including on how the funds are spent throughout the course of agreement.
More seriously is that the Norway team have to understand that Guyana does not only comprise forests but also a coastal region that houses over 90 per cent of the population of 750,000. Forests comprise about two-thirds of Guyana but what happens in the coastal region also affects the forest region.
High rates of crime, corruption, suicide and a plethora of other challenges have prevented Government from delivering at desirable levels. That the first five years of agreement between Guyana and Norway to protect Guyana’s rainforest and reduce emissions has produced mixed results is directly related to the challenges listed above and polarised politics. The Government must bring these facts to the table so that funds could be diffused to those areas.
Of paramount importance is that the forest belongs to Guyana and that Guyanese should be placed in positions of leadership so that they will have the experience to become leaders of their own environment.
Using this approach will provide an opportunity for Guyana to build a future that will be free from the exigency of learned dependence and dependent development. Guyana must not bow to unrealistic demands since the ball is essentially in the field of the Guyanese team. Can the Guyana team deliver? ([email protected])

Share Button

The APNU/AFC Coalition’s strange delights

The announcement that Wales Sugar Estate will be closed year-end and more mining lands will be given to small-scale gold miners continues to punctuate the many strange delights of the current regime since it lurched into power some eight months ago. I use the label strange delights because I have been told that I am too harsh on handing it to regime and that I should allow it time to mature. I acknowledge but do not agree with that since I believe the primary function of any government is not to babysit the nation. Instead, government has to deliver constantly and consistently irrespective of the challenges at hand. If not, step down.

Political parties are voted into power based on campaign pragmatism promises, and in the case of current coalition, a promise for positive not the replication of negative change was promulgated. However, the lengthy soliloquies of the coalition campaign have backfired in the first four months in power, which I have dubbed elsewhere, as an inglorious start.

The regime has been crippled, cradled and cabined by its own unrealistic ambitions, not to mention the 100 days manifesto propaganda. We know now that the manifesto is a rag and rogue circular since the front runners of the regime have turned out to be garrulous storytellers. What a shame and a national disgrace! Does anyone of them feel guilty of bamboozling and hoodwinking the public? In the modern and moral world such an offense is a crime, tantamount to the violation of basic human rights.

The ongoing problem for this regime is that it is too focused on sticking it to the PPP while concealing internal fractures and fragments. Internal reverential feelings take centre stage and the slogan seems to be: What goes on in the coalition stays in the coalition. Meanwhile, they forget about the ordinary people. They forget about better wages for the working class. They forget about the deliverance of quality education and health care. You have to be half-crazy to live in Guyana otherwise you would not make it. Do you wonder why so many thousands of Guyanese, including government officials, get drunk any place, anytime?

Much has already been said about the closure of Wales Estate in the media. The stable of analysts and columnists in one tabloid and in another so-called independent daily newspaper takes the position of the regime saying practically go for it, close down the estate. Other options, however, have not been considered at least at the time of writing. Why not sell the estate to someone or a group of investors in Guyana? I would hold off on making any offer to non-Guyanese foreign buyers since that move might bring back colonialism to Guyana in style as well as in substance.

There are many individuals in Guyana, overseas Guyanese included, who would like to buy Wales Estate. The private farmers who are supplying the sugar-cane to the estate are arguably in the best position to buy the estate. They know the ropes and have the finances or the financial connection to do so.

What is puzzling this regime is that putting Wales Estate for sale in Guyana may fall into the hands of one or many rich PPP supporters. What this boils down to is the shifting of power from the coalition into the hands of the opposition.

This may be a mere speculation but what is more certain is that the rational of the closure of Wales Estate runs deeper than what has been paraded and promoted to the public.

The second announcement about granting more lands to small-scale miners last week is absurd. Apart from Raphael Trotman legalising what miners have been doing all along, that is, mining wherever they want in the interior region, the granting of more land to miners would lead to adverse and undesirable effects on the environment. Gold mining and economic growth in Guyana are not environmentally sound or socially just.

The current environmental laws, environmental awareness, ecological standards, and protection have not met the expectations of policy makers. Much of the environmental damage is potentially avoidable, but Guyana’s government lacks the institutional capacity and mechanisms to effectively monitor the environmental practices of miners.

Where we go from here is anyone’s guess but expect more strange delights from the regime.

Share Button

In Guyana, the Past is never past

The recent reports in the dailies that about 15,000 ounces of gold are smuggled out of Guyana weekly is not new. Gold smuggling has been an ongoing activity which became more noticeable in the mid-1980s when Guyana returned to the global economy after two decades of suffocating Cooperative Socialism. What is new is the consistency and magnitude of gold smuggling, although one is sceptical as to how and what methods US agencies have applied or used to arrive at such conclusion.

What is embarrassing is that it took the findings of a foreign entity for this country, this laughably inept regime to accept that gold smuggling has been going on at unprecedented levels. You would think that in preparation of 50 years of independence celebration that the regime would be pro-active and act in concert of being independent. When would Guyana, and this current regime, stop relying on foreign entity to tell them what is going on in their own backyard? Where is the independence? Is this regime in depends?
That said, the challenge now is not only to stamp out gold smuggling since it robs the public coffers of funds that are needed for the monitoring and management of this very activity but also to contain rapacious gold mining practices. However, the appointment of the individuals in charge – MP Raphael Trotman and MP Simona Brooms – have raised doubts as to whether they are capable enough to manage the challenges so associated with gold mining: child labour, prostitution, human trafficking, habitat disturbance and destruction, mercury contamination, environmental degradation, corruption, unsustainable development and gold smuggling, to name a few.

I have written six articles (1999-2007) on environmental issues on Guyana, especially in the gold mining arena, and I have not come across the names Trotman or Broomes then and since 2007. These individuals have suddenly become environmental leaders. My take is that experience is great motivator, a mover of things and if one does not have it, then he or she lacks something to perform at expected levels.
The recent appointment of Broomes in environmental leadership is even more troubling. Arguably, her appointment is a conflict of interest since she has revealed that she has vested interest and investment in the mining sector. The mere fact that she would be allowed to monitor her own mining interest logically implies that she would be partial or reluctant to reporting any irregularities. This is exactly what independent environmental monitoring agencies condemn. Does anyone really think that this individual would be pro-active in reporting anything suspect about her mining relationship to the public?  Broomes’ appointment is a recipe for disaster, mark my words, and I support a private investigation into her relationship with mining into the far flung interior region before it is too late.

The President’s rational for Broomes’ appointment is risible and self- serving. He may be correct when he said that Broomes has a vortex of energy and experience in gold mining as far as she has mining concessions. But what the President did not say is that Broomes lacks environmental leadership skills and her stewardship is lacklustre and less known. Again, she does not appear anywhere in the literature of environmental policies.

What would have been an opportunity for the improvement of the management of Guyana’s natural resources, wasn’t. Instead, the President’s confidence in Broomes’ appointment speaks to a morally blind regime lusting and grasping for glory, and in consequence, revealing a malodorous practice of politics. The Guyanese people have gradually been re-introduced to the residues of the PNC’s vicious past.

The buffoonery of the regime forces me to ask: Is Guyana again becoming militaryesque? The recent Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) on a surveillance operation on National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) seems to support this claim and those who had not experienced the PNC 28 years of rampage and grip on Guyana, I say look out, since the past in Guyana does not seem dead. ([email protected])

Share Button

Small-scale gold mining in Guyana’s interior regions

An investigation into small-scale gold mining in Guyana’s interior regions reveals that it is not guided by safe and sound environmental standards. Instead, small-scale gold mining is reckless.  Rivers, creeks, trenches, and land are polluted with mercury. Large tracts of vegetation are destroyed. Habitats are disturbed and destroyed. Amerindians and wildlife are displaced and poisoned.
From reports in the dailies, the regime is very much aware of these problems associated with small-scale mining and has embarked on a series of programmes, including a conference, to curb predatory gold mining practices. While this move is forward-looking, it remains to be seen what will be done to effectively and efficiently manage the gold mining sector.
In the coming months and years, the regime will have to understand that small-scale gold mining sites and miners are numerous, mobile and hard to reach. The situation is even worse when considering that Guyana’s environmental bodies are weak in controlling bad mining practices.  Poor salaries and poor training leave environmental staff susceptible to bribes and kickbacks, which, in turn, impair their ability to carry out mandated responsibilities.
Meanwhile, Guyanese are attracted to small-scale gold mining because of economic hardships. They are more concerned about survival and less about careful mining practices. The result is that harm to environment as well as to miners continues.
What is even more ominous is that an average Guyanese is not environmentally savvy or benign, because small-scale gold mining happens in far-flung areas in the interior, away from the majority coastal population. A majority of the coastal population believe that environmental degradation do not affect them. However, the Amerindian population continues to face the brunt of environmental degradation and has spoken out but with little effect. Consequently, the regime faces little pressure or resistance – except for the Amerindians – from the public to protect the environment. They see environmental protection as a Government responsibility.
This is a serious mistake since public awareness of environmental degradation, public pressure to solve environmental problems and participation in decision-making are prerequisites for the development and implementation of sound environmental policies. Sadly, Guyana is not there yet.
My finding about this regime so far is that it loves to set goals but does not achieve them. If you disagree, just check the 100-day manifesto. What a rag! The removal of Simona Broomes from one capacity to another is the first sign of an internal coup d’etat in the regime.
Having said this, here are some suggestions for the small-scale gold mining sector. The establishment of a separate department to manage Guyana’s natural resources is commendable. But a new branch within this department to deal with gold mining specifically should also be considered. One of its responsibilities should be to craft a set of Government-monitored incentives and sanctions that would strengthen environmental management and bring it closer to public concerns as well as increase accountability, transparency and participation.
The Government should place environment-monitoring bodies in the interior regions not too far from mining sites and provide them with the technology to be mobile. Train and utilise the Amerindian population, especially Village Captains and Councils, to deal with rules and regulation violations, as well as hold regular meetings with Amerindians to learn and address their environmental concerns.
Environmental education programmes should be available to miners to learn about the negatives and positives of gold mining, and incentives should be given to them as well as staff workers for good environmental performance. Finally, a modern laboratory should be established to carry out metallurgical analyses, geo-chemical tests, and environmental analyses of mining waste. These results must be disclosed to the public. A national environmental fund should be set up to attract domestic revenues and international finance through grants and donors.

Share Button

Is Guyana Georgetown-centric?

My first major encounter with the city of Georgetown occurred soon after I finished high school in the late 1970s. I was moving from the Upper Corentyne region to Georgetown not for voyeuristic reasons but to find a job and some new friends. I eventually found a job with a security service named Property Protection. For over six months, I was a security guard at night guarding private properties in virtually all sections of Georgetown with my bare hands.
Of all the places I guarded, I still remember a private house located a few yards from the former Jim Jones headquarters just beyond Sheriff Street. The house was abandoned but a mentally ill man was living there. The house had an eerie look.
Now and again in the silence of the night, the mentally ill man would make bloodcurdling noises similar to those in haunted houses.
My second encounter with Georgetown occurred in direct contrast to the first one. Instead of moving to Georgetown, the ambience of Georgetown was coming to me in Berbice. There were those who had left Berbice for Georgetown for business and educational reasons and were returning bringing with them some social dynamics of Georgetown. The students, in particular, believed that after God was the University of Guyana and were not shy about expressing their feelings. Their exposure to the Georgetown environs instilled in them an inferior perception of Berbice. Their arrogant and snobbish behaviour, especially towards those who had not done well at the GCE exams, was hard to dismiss. Only after attending universities in the United States did I realise how fudged, fictitious and flapdoodle that elitist behaviour was. It was simply a learned behaviour born out of desperation to meet fanatical and fantasied expectations.
What I have learned from these experiences is that almost everything in Guyana revolves around Georgetown. If you want to pick up a visa or a basic form, attend the best high schools and university, argue a high level court case, be a politician, sell practically anything, watch any national sports, and even leave Guyana, you will have to go to Georgetown. Of course, we live in an urbanized world and most things of importance are generally located in capital cities. Nevertheless, things in Guyana are too centralised in Georgetown even in the age of globalisation. Ironically, this column will be printed in a newspaper located in Georgetown, underlying the Georgetown-centric trends in Guyana. Isn’t it about time that things diffuse from Georgetown to other regions? Arguably, all of Guyana is quintessentially Guyanese not only Georgetown.
What the Georgetown-centric trends have caused is a sort of internal colonialism, a division in ethnicity, in class, in gender, in politics between urban and rural areas. The average urban man or woman believes he or she is better than country people. The current core and peripheral focus on Georgetown and the rest of country, respectively, in preparation for the 50 years independence celebration can only suggest that the pattern of internal colonialism and the marginal treatment of places outside of Georgetown will continue unabated. One example will suffice.
Last year I booked a flight in the US to arrive in Guyana during business hours to pick up a tourist visa in Georgetown to travel to Suriname as required if you have a US passport. The airline staff, however, had other ideas and changed the flight. I arrived in Guyana around midnight and eventually proceeded to my Berbice destination. What is so unsettling about this experience is that I was residing at a home not more than 20 minutes from the Moleson Creek Port crossing from Guyana to Suriname but I had to travel about six hours in the opposite direction to Georgetown to pick up a tourist card from the Suriname Embassy.
Tell me, does this make sense? This might be a Suriname issue but the situation is in Guyana. It would seem logical to give tourist visas to those who want to travel via the Moleson route in Corriverton since it is on the way. Finally, I am about to leave Guyana, and guess what, I have to travel through Georgetown. When would Berbice have an international airport? To remind our policy makers, more than 50 per cent of Berbicians live abroad.

Share Button

Review of Khalil Rahman Ali, Sugar Sweet Allure, London: Hansib Publication, 2013.

In 1838, the British and colonised Indian governments permitted sugar planters in British Guiana to bring Indian indentured workers from India to their plantations. This labour movement was expected to satisfy a labour demand precipitated by slave emancipation. Indentured Indians were required to provide their labour services to the plantations, while the planters looked for a more permanent labour force.

However, the solution to the latter was never found, and Indians continued to provide indentured labour until 1917, when the system was abolished. By the 1860s, the labourers were encouraged to re-indenture for another five years after their contracts expired. By the early 1870s, they were given a small parcel of land to settle in exchange for their entitled return passage to India. The settlement scheme was very successful, and by the 1900s, Indians had become a majority population in British Guiana.

Khalil Rahman Ali situates his novel within the context of Indian indentureship in British Guiana. The story begins when a young male Muslim labourer, Mustafa Ali, from Uttar Pradesh, India, falls in love with a young Hindu woman, Chandini Sharma, from a well-to-do background in the same region. Both characters share a mutual love and respect when they meet secretly.

But when it is revealed that both characters are in love with each other, it becomes a bone of contention between the families. Nineteenth-century India did not allow for affection between people of different religions, and so Mustafa is forced to run away with the expectation that he will come back for Chandini. In his escape for a different life, Mustafa ends up in Calcutta where he is duped into signing a labour contract that takes him across the Indian and Atlantic Oceans for over three months to British Guiana.

Mustafa is a witty individual who is able to acquire positions of leadership while on the depot, during the voyage, and on the plantation. He eventually comes in contact with almost every aspect of indenture. He is exposed to other ethnic groups like Africans and Chinese, who are also working and living on the plantation on which Mustafa is indentured.

During the first five years of indenture, Mustafa has the opportunity to meet and marry someone else but remained faithful to Chandini, even though he fails to make contact with her through letters and messages. When his contract expires he is torn between going back to India and staying in British Guiana. He eventually stays in British Guiana for another five years.
While he never dismisses his love for Chandini, he marries another indentured Muslim indentured woman, and together the couple has two sons. The story becomes more interesting when Mustafa is able to break out of his plantation environment to start his own business and when his sons are ready to get married. At this stage of the plot one is in suspense as to whether Mustafa will ever meet Chandini.

The characters do not meet in India but in British Guiana when they are middle-aged. Their meeting is accidental. In India, Chandini’s family plantation is ruined by disasters and other hardships, and so, like Mustafa, she is forced to look for employment and eventually is indentured to British Guiana on a plantation not too far from Mustafa. But neither character is aware of each other’s presence. However, Chandini is no longer single. She marries, mainly for protection, a gentleman whom she meets on board the sea voyage to British Guiana. They eventually have two daughters.

In maintaining the match-marriage customs of nineteenth-century India, Mustafa is looking for two young women to marry his two sons and is told of a couple who has two daughters on a nearby plantation. It is within this context Mustafa and Chandini meet after thirty years apart. They acknowledge and respect each other’s different routes in life. One of Mustafa’s sons is eventually married to Chandini’s daughter, something Mustafa and Chandini were not allowed to do in India.

The novel is rather interesting in that it covers so many themes in Indian indenturship not often seen in literary works. The author examines the relationships during indenture from the position of the labourers and not from the power holders of the plantations. The end result is some surprising gender, religious, and ethnic relations that are not always tragic.

But the novel also provides a balanced perspective on Indian indenture in British Guiana. One learns about how these individuals were uprooted from their homes, and how this rupture affected them in the depot, during the sea voyage, on the plantations, and in their isolated communities. Yet, over time and through determination, they were able to develop a new homeland in a foreign country without dismissing their past. It is a classic case of cultural continuity and change.

Finally, one gets the sense that despite hardships in British Guiana, it was a better place than India, at least for the working class and social relations. The descendants of indentured Indians in Guyana will find this novel useful in understanding their past. First published in the Journal of Caribbean Literatures (2015).
([email protected])

Share Button

Guyanese migration

There are some things in life people just do not forget. I still remember the hour, day, month and year I left Guyana on December 30, 1982 for Toronto, Canada. That is almost 33 years ago. I also remember three other things about Guyana when I left. The first is that I left Guyana on a warm tropical day and arrived in Toronto under freezing weather. It felt like I had entered into a freezer. I began to wonder if I would survive. The second thing I remember is that everyone wanted to leave Guyana to live in the US, and those who were leaving, were the lucky ones ostensibly going to paradise. There was a sense of envy and dismay amongst those who were unable to leave. The third thing I remember is that my mother gave me sixty US dollars and told me not to come back to Guyana until I had become a “man”.
Space does not allow me to share my life since I arrived to Toronto in 1982 other than to say almost everything that I was changed. I was never the same person that left Guyana. The way I dress changed. The way I think changed. The way I speak changed. The way I look changed.
Of wider significance here is that my migration experience is probably no different from the thousands of Guyanese who departed Guyana before and after 1982. Actually, from the 1970s, an estimated 10,000 Guyanese per year have been migrating mainly to North America, Europe and the Caribbean islands. Unofficial statistics suggest that no less than 350,000 Guyanese live outside of Guyana. The national export of Guyana was not rice, sugar or bauxite but people. For a country that has a population size of around 750,000, this is alarming. If out-migration from Guyana continues, which is likely, then in the next two decades there will be more Guyanese living in the Diaspora than in Guyana.
Why people move has been a central focus to migration analysts. The most straightforward and simplest explanation is that people move because of push and pull factors. In sum, people are pushed out of their place of origin in response to economic, social and political factors/hardships and are pulled by better life opportunities and jobs to specific destinations.
While this theory of migration has some merit, the reality is Guyanese have been on the move primarily because of decades of dirty politics that have transformed Guyana into a cesspool of problems: the breakdown of law and order, inadequate social services, undeveloped infrastructure, polluted environment, rising crime, low economic achievements and educational standards.  What is more unsettling is that the aforementioned maladies will continue.
That said, out-migration from Guyana has produced paradoxical effects. On the one hand, out migration has relieved Guyana from population pressure and poverty reduction as well as the loss of vital skills on the other hand. Nonetheless, migration does not only produce brain drain/brain gain but also brain exchange, namely the transfer of remittances and skills from developed countries to Guyana.
Guyanese migration, however, tells us only what it is but not what it ought to be.  Certainly, we should not stop migration because it is a fundamental right and a freedom of choice. However, the government is obligated to implement policies that will produce great benefits and less harm. To have about 30 advisors in the Diaspora assisting the current regime is not a stamp of sound governance acting in the interest of promoting public good. Moreover, one is forced to ask: Who are these individuals and what have these people been doing to build a better Guyana? The lack of answers to these questions is not only sealed in a veil of secrecy but also obliterates the faintest notion of transparency.  Where is the lean and clean government promised during the campaign?
What ought to be done? First, migration should not be seen as a problem to be solved. Rather, migration should be given the highest priority and be treated as a matter of foreign affairs. Second, the government should foster family reunification ties through various incentives like cheap airfares. Third, there should be swifter but transparent Diaspora engagements. Fourth, the government should explore avenues of cooperation on migration issues with countries that have large Guyanese populations.
What ought not to be done is to construe and restrict migration gains to represent Gross National Product. This is a misguided sense of development. Rather, migration gains must be used effectively to bring about more freedom, better education, adequate health care, gender equality and regular employment.
Meanwhile, there are thousands of overseas Guyanese and visitors in Guyana for the holiday season to experience home and hearth and they must not come unhinged by rising crime like those who are locked in Guyana without migration options.
Happy New Year! ([email protected])

Share Button

Two Christmas wishes, please

Christmas is by far the most popular and celebrated holiday around the world. Individuals from various racial, cultural and religious backgrounds celebrate Christmas, although with varying levels of dynamism and depth. In Guyana, the situation is no different, as demonstrated by the illumination of the Christmas tree at Giftland Mall in Georgetown and across the country. Unfortunately, not everyone will experience a joyous and festive Christmas this year.

Guyana has been reeling and reeking from crime, suicide, political recklessness and a sluggish economy, but its citizens have not been displaced like Syrian refugees. The horrible images of Syrian refugees on television would even break down the solipsist. Since the civil war began a few years ago in Syria, over four million Syrians have been displaced, over 300,000 have been killed, including over 12,000 children, over one million have been wounded or disabled, according to various human rights websites around the world.

My Christmas wish is that the Guyana Government would take in at least 2000 Syrian refugees and demonstrate to the world that Guyana may be a third world country, but its people are compassionate and complaisant. Most countries, including 30 states within the US, have already closed their immigration gates and doors to Syrian refugees in the aftermath of the terror attack in Paris and San Bernardino. The underlying fear is that to accept Syrian refugees would be to accept terrorists.

The last time Guyana entertained the idea of bringing in refugees was in late 1970s under the Forbes Burnham dictatorship. Amerindian leaders, the Guyana Government as well as various religious evangelical groups and agencies agreed to bring about 10,000 Hmong refugees from wartorn Laos and settle them near Jonestown. The plan did not materialise largely due to the refugees themselves who wanted to stay in Laos and fight communism, although the refugees were uncomfortable with the idea of settling close to Jonestown and Burnham was using the refugees as a buffer between Guyana and Venezuela over the ongoing border controversy in that region.

The Syrian situation is different. Syrian refugees are not fighting but rather running away from war. That Syrian refugees would somehow support or become terrorists should not be the stumbling block to bringing them to Guyana. Among the millions of refugees, there has not been one terrorist, an indication that these people are looking for a stable life rather than supporting and promoting fundamentalist ideas. Moreover, Guyana will not have to shoulder all the responsibilities of resettling the refugees since there are a host of agencies and mechanisms in place to help on a short and long-term basis. The Syrian refugees might be a bargain rather than a burden to Guyana, since they are determined to experience a better life through sacrifice. After all, Syrians have been in Guyana for a long time dating back to the indentureship period. Beyond the plantations, they earned the reputation of being hard workers peddling goods and services from door to door.

My second Christmas wish is local, emerging from the proposal of the City Council of Georgetown to rename about 50 streets and places to celebrate 50 years of Guyana’s independence. I do not agree with this proposal since there are more pressing issues at hand such as criminal violence. Given the way things operate in Guyana, the proposal will become a reality and, therefore, it is a moot point to challenge it at this stage. What is of concern now is how the process of renaming street names will be conducted and carried out. For example, who are the individuals on the Council? What is their expertise concerning the historical aspects of Georgetown? Which street names will change and which ones will stay and what is the justification for doing so? Which street names will take centre stage and why?

Having said this, I propose that one street in Georgetown should be named after Bechu. In a nutshell, Bechu was an indentured Indian in British Guiana during the last decade of the 19th century who challenged the ills of indentureship through numerous letters to the Chronicle. Bechu was eloquent, bold and defiant in his cause to reveal the injustices of indentureship. This was remarkable during the days when a majority of indentured Indians were non-literate to even challenge their basic existence much less to write about their experience from a position of resistance. Bechu’s leadership roles also challenged the thought that indentured labourers were spineless in their sojourn in British Guiana. Yet, this individual is practically unknown among Guyanese.

There is, to be sure, many who would like to suggest their favourite names as well. However, I am asking for Bechu, one name, to be chosen to represent and remind all Guyanese of those who endured hardships on those brutal tropical plantations during 80 years of indentured servitude. I might be incorrect, but I think there isn’t one street in Georgetown that is named after an indentured Indian. This seems strange since Indians have been in Guyana over 175 years and have become the majority population, although not in Georgetown. The street names in Georgetown reflect a Euro-African heritage with more emphasis on the former. The renaming of one street in the name of Bechu will be a minor step in correcting a historical wrong.

Share Button

Politically Correct

That we should be politically correct (PC) more often than not is overkill. In a nutshell, the definition of politically correct or political correctness is that one has to be careful what to say to avoid offending, insulting or discriminating against anyone at any time, particularly to those who are considered to be from marginalised backgrounds. Put simply, one has to watch his or her P’s and Q’s when speaking. Of course, some political correctness is fine but is it too much? Is it too taxing?
Political correctness has certainly penetrated the public space –work place, markets and institutions – as well as the private space – family and home – at unexpected speed. Most employers have policies and guidelines outlining what their employees should say to protect political correctness and avoid a tense working environment. Discussing someone’s sexual orientation, for example, is a big no, no.  Parents too are careful about what they say in the presence of their children fearing that their children may repeat what they say at home at their school.
Political correctness is intended to right historical wrongs and to promote equality. PC surfaced in the US in the 1980s and 1990s but has since picked up momentum almost everywhere in the world. PC shows how society has evolved with regard to sensitive issues like race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, political affiliation, etc. Thus, when someone uses an inappropriate label, he or she is politically incorrect or has crossed the line or has violated a basic norm, which in many cases, can be excused with an apology.  But under some other circumstances, one can be fired from the job or even face civil action in court.
In Guyana, political correctness is not as intense as in the United States. One unique characteristic about Guyana is that everyone is given a “right” name or birth name but rarely is everyone recognised by that name, unless that individual is at school or a public figure. Instead, most Guyanese are given “call” names and they are known by that name for the rest of their life. It is not uncommon to hear names like Tall Boy, Red Boy, Fat Girl, Star Log, Mice, Sweet Wine, Spot-the-Ball, Duck Sauce, etc. These names are given according to appearance and actions. One young man in a village in Berbice is called Combine Shaker because he moves his waist like a Rice Combine Harvester when he dances. Of course, some of these names are offensive, inflicting enormous emotional pain, especially when they are used as a source of amusement.
During the 2015 political campaign, political correctness was fanned to a different level when the former Health Minister said that one female social activist should be slapped and stripped. Bharat Jagdeo found himself on the other side of law for allegedly using inappropriate language. The heightened sense of political correctness occurred because of social activism as well as of political motivation and manipulation to gain votes. The aim was to remove the PPP/C from power.
Since the May 2015 general election political correctness has become meaningless as evidenced by the “Coolie” remark by Moses Nagamootoo, the hauled off stage remark by MP Charandass Persaud to former MP Vindhya Persaud and the “Coke in Poke” headline in the Kaieteur News. Had these jaw-dropping remarks occurred during the political campaign, would they have received enormous attention? The mere fact that Ministers have refused to apologise for uncalled and unnecessary reckless comments and have shown little or no remorse demonstrate that offensive remarks, political correctness, have been reduced to personal matters rather than a problem that affects all. This view is complemented by the fact that no one in the current government has uttered a single word on the use of offensive language by Members of Parliament. Whatever happened to the language in the 100-day manifesto that speaks to the protection of women?
The silence is simply shocking especially at this time when women from all walks of life continue to experience violence. Public officials must realise that they are role models and must act in the expectation of that role. To do otherwise will raise questions like: What sort of message are they sending to the younger ones about how women are treated? Is there a double standard with regard to the treatment of women since the regime assumed power in May 2015? It certainly feels like it. ([email protected])

Share Button