Guyana after 46 years
Forty-six years ago today, Guyana lowered the Union Jack for the last time and hoisted in its place, the Golden Arrowhead. The nation was following in the footsteps of Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica. They had gained their independence four years earlier.
In the last days as a colony there were fears that the colony would not have survived as a nation given that everything was rooted in the Mother Country. Every export left for England; the major companies were almost all British with the exception of the bauxite companies and education development was still as British as it could get.
There was already internal self government so the Parliament was intact but the law enforcers were all still answerable to the Monarchy. There were minor obstacles that the country had to overcome. But first there was need to develop in people a sense of national pride. A flag and a national anthem were but mere symbols of nationhood. There was need for people to feel as though they really belonged to this piece of land called Guyana.
It has taken all of four decades but many people are still to see that their destiny rests in Guyana. After all those years people are still designing their education for a life outside Guyana. Even pupils would insist that they are going to work and live overseas. Such is the power of that overseas pull that not only does every Guyanese household have someone living in the Diaspora, but also, the culture has been supplanted by what was the case.
When Guyana became independent it had just emerged from a civil war that lasted two years. There was ethnic distrust and above all property damage in a poor country was huge. The loss of life was also not insignificant.
In the ensuing years edifices that were monuments to the post independence era began to emerge. There were the Pegasus, the Bank of Guyana and the new international airport that is now known as the Cheddi Jagan International Airport. There was this continued rush to develop the country. The government built a highway linking the city with the bauxite community, thus ending hours of tedious travel by boat.
Many things happened in the years after independence. On the administrative front the Queen still had a representative in the person of a Governor General who had replaced the Governor. This remained until Guyana became a Republic and really began to manage its own affairs.
The four decades have passed and Guyana remains poor. Other countries that were at the same level Guyana was when it became independent are now among the richest in the world. Singapore is just one and its history makes for remarkable reading.
Unlike Guyana, it had no natural resources but it had a leader that was nationalistic, one who was prepared to recognize the shortcomings and work to correct them. Like Guyana, Singapore had ethnic problems but rather than let it be a hindrance, the leader made it a significant factor in national development. Unlike Guyana where ethnic differences and conflicts still continue to stultify development, Singapore has been able to use its people to help develop the future generation.
Guyana has had its pluses, though. It kept producing brilliant people but unlike Singapore, it kept losing these people to the developed world. The Guyanese did not develop the sense of nationalism. Singapore was able to keep its brilliant people.
There were many things that worked against Guyana, most of them of our making. There were other factors. For example, the colonial master never gave Guyana the golden handshake that some countries got at independence.
It has been 46 years and not much has changed for the better. The education system has declined, sugar that was once king is now a pauper as is bauxite, cocaine has become a major export, murders are more common, and our political leaders are still not sure that they want to bridge the ethnic divide.