It is not enough that we have made a national sort, if not religion, of ceaselessly beating up one another. Nowadays, even the foreigners join in the bashing, as the oil discoveries have made us the darling of the advanced world (and its whipping post, too).
The latest embarrassing assault-a real, hard truth-said it all: “The country that wasn’t ready to win the lottery.” That was in the June 19, 2018 edition of the well-recognised Foreign Policy magazine; it has been a continual drumbeat since then. Over a year later, and most Guyanese are compelled to agree: “Dis kuntree ain’t reddy yet.”
“Guyana has just discovered it owns enough oil to solve all its problems -and create even bigger ones.” Talk about problems, “We ain’t see nuthin yet.” Yet we remain as untroubled and uninspired, as if some long distant, long disconnected reality arrived unannounced and knocked on the door. Country and citizens, leaders and society, stand clueless; not knowing what to do; and, from all indications, not really caring much to want to do something to change the situation.
How to greet. How to welcome with embrace and a lasting hug. How to hold on and never let go. It is an awkward time; there is hesitation, even resistance and tearing. The tearing that comes from not knowing what to do or how to make the most of a magical moment. It could be long gone, with nothing left to show for the opportunity wasted. That has been us in those tough circumstances when faced with the unexpected involving family or friends, hasn’t it? Well, so too, has been this country, whether leaders or peoples.
It has simply been the same old way, with the same old antagonisms, leading to the same old places. What a spectacle we make of ourselves before a bewildered world. These people are so lucky, but they know not what to do with themselves. What a pity! What a piteous set of people, particularly in view of their enduring problems.
“That money” can reverse “long stunted development”, as Foreign Policy reminded. Other painful, troubling reminders were quick in coming: “power supply is erratic” and Guyana’s “infant mortality rate is almost double the average of Latin American and Caribbean countries” and “the local “unemployment rate stood at 11.8 percent in 2017, according to the World Bank.”
As if the peoples and leaders of this country need reminders. As if either is going to do anything about those things. What is wrong with us?
Foreign Policy delivered more ‘jumbie’ lashes; there is nothing unknown about them. Guyana is “known for fragile government institutions, ethnic divisions, and little transparency.” And “elected leaders…are moving…slowly in building government infrastructure to manage the oil industry.” Slow is not the word; they are not moving at all. Forget about oil lottery; this is the lottery curse that makes men muddled. They putter along; some pushing forward, objectors pushing the other way in one endless seesawing of sentiments and standings. This has this nation to precisely where it is: in the fears induced by nightmares.
Foreign Policy rammed that home: “oil windfall could easily convert the country’s dreams into a living nightmare, one that leaves it with greater inequality, more corruption, and internal strife.” That living nightmare is here; it thrives now in the forms of all those disturbing elements identified.
Already, there are great suspicions about still more corruption in a rabidly corrupt land; and “internal strife” grows with palpable intensity, as fueled by fears of “greater inequality” and being left out of the rich national picture. Sides have been drawn, they harden.
It is astonishing that the Guyanese races, with emphasis on the major ones, know this, but insist on being immovably attached to what could dissipate the oil treasure: continuing fears and suspicions; and the divisions and hatreds that flow from what could end up being poisoned wells.
It takes outsiders looking on from the best seats in the house to tell us all how sloppy and irresponsible we are, as Guyanese, when going about our lottery winnings. How unwise and unfathomable we are relative to the required profound appreciation of and action towards reaping beneficially all the products and byproducts that come from this once-in-a-lifetime bonanza. Clearly, we stand on the brink of prosperity-inhale it and sense it-and yet, paradoxically, we are terribly poorer for that prosperity. What can be done for such a people, such a society?
Foreign Policy pointed out: “observers fear oil will intensify the longstanding competition between ethnic Indians… and people of African heritage…” Amidst the unending local screaming and kicking, nobody wants to face that and address it. Rather, they rely on a constitution that perpetuates the snakes in the bosom; upon some vague promises and belief, here and there, that thorny things will somehow work out themselves and all will be well. If this is not the height of mindlessness, then what is?
Another kicker, but this time, in a comforting direction: “Beyond the dollars and cents, the contract gives Guyana a powerful new ally — ExxonMobil is now tethered to the country — and that relationship is already influencing Guyanese foreign policy.”Guyana has a ‘big brother’ in its quarrel with a bullying, covetous neighbour. The learned in Guyana somehow pretend not to see this; are determined not to.
Meanwhile, this being Guyana,”Accountability and transparency standards are still lacking” and “politicians have helped themselves to well-located land plots…” Economist Dr. Thomas Singh believes that there will be “a huge fight.”He anticipates clashes. And Transparency International’s Dr. Troy Thomas, warned that “the underdevelopment of these systems [accountability and transparency] is a major issue, given the money set to arrive in Guyana with oil.”
The lottery winnings are here. To the country’s shame, Guyana does not only not know that to with that; it doesn’t know what to do with itself.
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