On Wednesday, the University of Guyana held its Second Professorial Lecture at the Turkeyen Campus. The main lecturer was Professor Paloma Mohamed, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Philanthropy, Alumni, and Civic Engagement (PACE) of the University of Guyana.
The lecture titled, The Fear Factor: Race, Oil and Reforming Guyana explained the influence that race can have on Guyana’s new oil discoveries.
Professor Mohamed compressed thirty years of her work into less than an hour. She examined three questions; what is fear? What is race? What do fear and race have to do with oil and gas in Guyana?
Fear, she defined as an effect or feeling induced by a perceived danger or threat. Fear in humans is perceived through changes in the body which indicate extreme stress. One can learn to fear from past experiences.
People learned to fear themselves, things they observed, or an experience they have learnt somehow. Theorists have indicated that in order for a person to have fear present three conditions must be fulfilled: the person must not know what is going on, the person must feel that there is a threat somehow, and the person must believe that he will be harmed by the threat.
Examining Guyana’s new oil discoveries through fear she asked, how many persons in the audience and Guyanese by extension, know about the oil companies and the oil business? She also asked the audience to consider the differences between Guyana’s culture and the culture of foreign investors eyeing Guyana’s oil.
Professor Mohamed-Martin also queried the differences in resources between Guyana and foreign investors. She further pressed the audience to consider the amount of time that the investors have been in the business as compared to Guyana, and also whether their models are structured to ensure that Guyanese are treated fairly.
Professor Mohamed-Martin brought to light a story she recently learned. She asked an individual about the type of food Guyanese would eat on the ships. She was told that it was a Scandinavian ship so they would have no choice other than to eat Scandinavian food.
She used this as an example to show the cultural impositions that can result when foreigners invest in our land and waters.
Racism is the discrimination of one race against another because one feels as though a race is superior to another.
When she was about eleven years old, just after writing the Common Entrance Examinations, Professor Mohamed-Martin encountered her first incident of racial discrimination. She recalled the day that she was at Stabroek Market when she approached a fruit vendor, “Mango Lady”.
She approached “Mango Lady” to buy a mango but refused a spotted mango that “Mango Lady” attempted to give her. Her refusal led “Mango Lady” to replying “Who I look like to you, eh? Yuh Grandmother? You think that because you red you must get the best of everything?” This led to a realization in little Paloma that she was different.
She realized at that moment that she was different; different because of the color of her skin and the texture of her hair. She said that race barriers still exist in Guyana today but the people can jump these hurdles if we strive to.
The question that an Oil and Gas Consultant left with her has been ringing in her mind for some time. The consultant in relation to Guyana’s motto- One People, One Nation, One Destiny- turned to her and asked “Paloma, what is your nation’s destiny?”
“Much has been written about the oil curse, a complex of political and economic dysfunctions, afflicting all oil producing countries to some degree. The presence of oil in a country can have major benefits and it does not automatically lead to the oil curse.
“But if not managed properly or efficiently by the host government, the massive influx of oil revenues can distort a country’s economic fundamentals, fuel corruption and create conditions that trigger conflict. Countries with oil are twice as likely to experience civil war as those without oil.
“There is a direct relationship between acute corruption and violence that in many places is so severe that it constitutes an international security challenge. Anger and acute corruption helped spark the 2014 revolution in Ukraine; it helps to explain the Iraqi Army collapse in 2014 in the face of Islamic State as well as the growing strength of that jihadist group, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the spread of Boko Haram in Nigeria, and the fall of governments in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen.
In the past decade, historic manifestations of corruption have driven indignant populations to a variety of extreme actions. Corruption can also fuel violent competition among evenly matched kleptomaniac or kleptocratic elites or symbiotic alliances between governments and dangerous transnational criminal organizations…”
Guyana’s destiny is unsure at the moment, and with oil discoveries the government needs to take the right steps to avoid situations like the ones above. With fear of the unknown, a history of racism and foreign investors eyeing Guyana’s oil; Guyana could be moving towards a sour destiny.
“But if our people take the chance to eradicate hate and racism, we can all move forward as One People and One Nation towards One Destiny of prosperity and enjoyment of the benefits of our country’s resources.”
Professor Paloma Mohamed-Martin became a Professor in 2016.
She was awarded the Golden Arrow of Achievement (2015), the Medal of Service (2011), A Cacique Award (Trinidad and Tobago, 2005), a Sabga Caribbean Award for Excellence in Arts and Letters (2014) and she won the Guyana Prize for Literature thrice.
Professor Paloma Mohamed-Martin was named one of the top 5 most influential women in Guyana by the United States of America Embassy in 2014.
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