As we write this blog, the official results the 2020 Guyana general elections are still pending. All Observer Missions offered commendations to the Guyana Electoral Commission (GECOM) for the scrupulous manner in which it handled the process and to the people of Guyana for their participation in a peaceful democratic process. This Election has attracted attention worldwide and especially in this age of active social media has stimulated much discussion among the Guyanese people at home and abroad. It is the view of GOFAD that whatever the outcome, which ever group emerges as the Government, there will be a need to pay great attention to equality and inclusion. This blog draws of some eclectic remarks made at the University of Guyana’s Pre Conference on the Diaspora (February 28,2020). It was intended to launch an International Diaspora Engagement in late May, 2020 on the theme, "investing in Guyana's emerging business, indigenous women and youth leaders". It coincides with the celebration of its 54th anniversary of Guyana's Independence and provides an opportunity to examine the reality of the Diaspora in Guyana’s development.
The Diaspora at its Core
The word Diaspora comes from the Greek verb 'to sow' and by extension to disperse. More contemporary references illustrate examples of recent initiatives by governments around the world to reach out to “their” diasporas. The primary aims are to include those who have migrated in the national outreach or embrace; to establish new networks of commerce and culture; to tap into the enormous financial, technical and political resources that they can contribute to the national development; and in most cases, fly the national flag and achievements abroad. In this sense we can refer to the UG Diaspora over the past 57 years of its existence, as embracing those graduates and friends in and outside Guyana , amounting to over 40,000. The UG alumni, in particular, must have a vested interest in sustaining the credibility of their certification and therefore must be encouraged to contribute tangibly to this end. And I am glad to note that the University of Guyana’s Division of Philanthropy Alumni and Civic Engagement (PACE) has been at the forefront of coordinating and accelerating alumni affiliates in the England, Canada, and the USA. But the broader catchment of the Guyanese Diaspora that is the focus, is estimated to be over 1.8 Million, double the size of the Guyana population.at home. These are sources of goodwill whose encouraged commitment to the country’s development can make a difference.
The historical molding of our Diaspora
Recall, that one reason for the proliferation of the Guyana/Caribbean Diaspora was decolonization. As countries gained their independent status, it became necessary to forge transnational bonds of solidarity among their scattered populations, globally. For Guyana as for the rest of the Caribbean, many of its citizens, for example, migrated to Britain and have stood astride the colonial experience that produced Windrush, or the stigma of ‘’shit hole” countries rained on us by the current President of the USA.
Especially as Guyana is on the cusp of a new and rapidly developing economy, its good prospects as part of a Pan Caribbean integration movement is attracting worldwide attention. What a time of elevated pride and promise to foster an environment for a dialogue focused on the inter connection with a Diaspora of Guyana in CARICOM. This is indeed a vibrant context for a Diaspora conference that could inspire internationally respected advocates of global solidarity, equity and social justice.
What has Migration got to do with It
In May 2017 I was privileged to witness a memorable exhibition at The Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) in New York by 16 Guyanese artists living in the USA, including Stanley Greaves, former lecturer at UG. Under the theme, Liminal Space, the artists working in various medium illustrated vividly how decades of migration have defined Guyana’s space. The content of that masterful exhibition is relevant to this conversation. It pointed out the relationship between migration and the idea of the “liminal” — from the Latin, ‘limens’, which means “threshold,” a place of transition, waiting, and unknowing. Fully etched in my memory is how that exhibition of creative arts testifies ‘to what drives one from a homeland and simultaneously keeps one tethered to it’.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the massive scale of contemporary international migration estimated at 217 million which has led some commentators to proclaim the last decade as the ‘Age of Diaspora’. So much so, that the UN designated 18th of December as international Migrants Day is conflated with a new configuration of diaspora strands that have proliferated to an extraordinary extent.
The 2020 World Migration Report produced by the international Organization on Migration (IOM), provides concrete evidence showing how the application of the principles of humane and orderly migration benefits migrants and the societies from which they come and those in which they reside. For Guyana and the Caribbean this is a lived experience. The ‘barrels ‘and ‘remittances’ are only one side of the coin. The other more ‘heads up’ side, comprises the contribution of our teachers, nurses, doctors, artists and other distinguished professionals, many of whom were groomed at UG.
Our writers have provided the context
George Lamming, in his 1950’s book, In the Castle of my Skin vividly portrays the colonial entanglement that made for a complex relation between colony and metropole. It is a psychic entanglement that is often beyond the understanding of a third-generation of British citizens of West Indian ancestry. Their relation to England is experienced as a racial assault that allows little space for a dialogue that would humanize the conflicts arising from a perception of ‘the other's’ difference. In another book The Emigrants Lamming explores the alienation and displacement caused by colonialism. It is out of this displacement and alienation, that the late Edward Kamu Braithwaite in his magnificent trilogy, The Arrvants, helps us to understand the amazing reach of our plantation system and culture that enriched the civilizations of the metropole . This is not to mention our music, athletics and (used to be) cricket. But it also makes us aware of the strength of the case for reparation by The CARICOM Commission spearheaded by Sri Hilary Beckles, Chancellor of the University of the West Indies. These vestiges of slavery, colonization and imperialism that disadvantaged our Caribbean societies provide major items for the Diaspora engagement to address
The Diaspora in the future of our development
Our Guyanese or Caribbean Diaspora is connected to these experiences and streams of migration, that manifested themselves in both opportunities and exploitation . Therefore UG’s engagement of migrants and now the children and grandchildren of those who left to better their circumstances in the international communities, must be placed in this context. It is a context that must counter an unfortunate but emerging views of ‘Diaspora fools ‘ in reference to those perceived to have left their homeland in the bad times, now returning to exploit rather than to contribute’. More meaningfully, the context should be interpreted as an attempt to recognize the operational challenges of migration; advance the understanding of migration issues; and encourage social, cultural and economic integration of our migrants in the development of the country and the Region.
Guyana’s new opportunity with continued exploration and recently-started production and export of oil and gas must be seen as bringing a number of wonderful possibilities but also some risks. The dominant perspective in Guyana’s discourse with the Diaspora must be viewed as being one that calls for using its windfall gains to consolidate Guyana’s long-term development goals. The achievements are bountiful. They depend on ensuring good governance and management of all Guyana’s resources. It requires working to stave off the well-known perils of some oil economies. But most of all it means seeking to enhance local content and, equally important, tap the required expertise , investments and collaboration of the members of the Diaspora.
The reality of the Diaspora in Guyana’s development beckons. Let us grasp the opportunity of engagement.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.