Aug 06, 2017 Letters
My letter last week (Our falling population: Shouldn’t we be concerned about this? – KN July 30) highlighted the issue of Guyana’s stagnant population growth indicated by recent national census reports. This population stagnation and, in particular, its link to excessively high emigration rates over recent decades are fundamental features of Guyana’s post-Independence past. It is, I believe, an issue we must confront and try to understand as we try to turn a corner and fashion a better future for the citizens of this country.
The numbers are startling, but to understand the scale of the human loss the country has suffered, you have to go beyond the numbers, and address causes and motivations.
As I showed last week, the Guyana population declined by 12,611 in the 32 years from 1980 to 2012, but to get a realistic sense of the loss we have to take into account the dynamic nature of the population. Assuming a rate of natural increase (births minus deaths) of 1.5 percent per year, the haemorrhage of persons leaving the country since 1980 is over 450 thousand, roughly 60 percent of the 1980 population. These are conservative estimates, all things considered, so the actual outflow could be considerably higher.
It goes without saying that emigration on this scale is not normal. With all the jingoistic declarations of love and praise for the country, the reality is that for a high proportion of the population, their leading ambition is to get out of the country. This is not because people don’t love their country. It speaks to the failure of the country, blessed with so many resources and educated people, to fulfil the aspirations of its citizens and inspire confidence that this place will be as good as any for the future of your children.
People have been justly concerned about the lack of job opportunities for young people, threats to personal and property safety, inadequate health care (for those who can’t fly their relatives out when a crisis hits), a pervasive sense of corruption, and a general indifference to the conditions of ordinary people. Perhaps most disturbing is a constant undercurrent of political and social instability linked to distorted institutions that few are satisfied with, but all seem powerless to address.
The main target of immigrants has been the USA and Canada which, it seems, have played a duplicitous role in the process. Rather than showing greater commitment to helping the country overcome its fundamental challenges so that Guyanese people could feel more confident making the choice to stay home and build, they have taken to the sidelines attracting our people with their skills and talents, while focusing on opportunities here for their interests.
But our people have gone everywhere, not just to the USA, UK, and Canada. All our neighbours – from Trinidad and Tobago to Jamaica, from Aruba to St. Martin, Suriname, French Guiana, you name the place – have sizable Guyanese immigrants. And our people have contributed in every field you can imagine (and some you can’t) – professionals of every kind, financial, commercial and manufacturing business, academics, teachers, nurses, sugar workers, domestic servants – wherever there is work, there is a Guyanese who can do it. While our country has been stagnating and struggling for decades, we have been helping to lift other countries substantially. And why is that? Clearly, the answer is that other countries have offered better life prospects and better rewards for our work.
As we look to the future, the national discourse cannot afford to ignore this fundamental national experience – large scale emigration.
Desmond Thomas, PhD
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