It is important that we consider some the findings of Guyanese researchers and academics in the past decade. If we are to improve the economic foundations upon which the healing of our social wounds can remain sustainable, we must examine ways of creating optimum conditions that promote the livelihood of people, especially in light of preparing ourselves for the oil and gas economy. These research might have long and at times boring titles, but they are trying to understand some of the main constraints that caused Guyana to under-perform relative to her peers such as Barbados, The Bahamas, St Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Mauritius, Botswana, Singapore and several other small economies since 1965.
A Developmental Civil Service
Jocelyn Williams of the University of Guyana emphasizes structure of production as a hindrance. Her thesis holds that what a country produces determines its ability to innovate and benefit from knowledge spill overs from one sector to the next. Collin Constantine has extended this research in a very important way by studying how income inequality interacts with economic structures to produce poor economic outcomes. Both Williams and Constantine advocate some form of industrial policy, but not classic state planning. They both understand that a developmental civil service would be crucial for implementing these policies. I agree.
I have also published three papers on this issue since the 2008. One of my early works looks at the role of the financial system in intermediating funds from savers to investors. Essentially, I argued in a 2008 paper in Social and Economic Studies that the economy is not large enough for the financial system to spread out the cost of making loans, which includes information cost associated with monitoring and screening borrowers. Screening and monitoring are important because banks don’t have the same information as borrowers, something we call the asymmetric information problem. This monitoring and screening then helps the banks with getting back their moneys, thereby minimizing non-performing loans. To recoup these costs, commercial banks charge high interest rates that unfortunately curtail some investment and economic growth. The banks are not greedy; they are performing within the constraint of economic laws.
A New Constitution
In later published works, I looked at how strategic pro-ethnic voting results in an underdevelopment trap. I used the canonical model from game theory known as the prisoners’ dilemma, which is a game that shows what happens when distrust results in non-cooperation. It is in the interest of one person or group not to cooperate if they are uncertain the other side will cooperate. They are not bad or racist people; they just don’t have an institutional mechanism such as a constitution that enables them to trust and cooperate at the group level.
I then explore using some simple mathematics how cooperation could result from a new constitution, even under the prisoners’ dilemma problem. I have written in Development Watch column in Stabroek News on some specific constitutional changes that could be introduced to enhance cooperation and electoral competition. Electoral competition is necessary if we are going to have a vibrant democracy with swing voters. I will further develop these proposals in a later column for Heal Guyana.
Finally, I published another paper in 2015 that argued that for us to understand Guyana’s relative economic performance with respect to her peers, we have to go back far in history when Dutch settlers around 1760 made the decision to drain the coastal region for agriculture. They preferred coastal settlement even though it required draining swamps to create a polder system of agriculture. Of course, the settlers could take this path of action because they were able to enslave Africans who dug the canals on which we still rely today. Our negligence has caused us to fill up many of them, thus accounting for increased flooding.
The polder system, however, requires heavy cost of maintenance since the canals are soon covered by tropical vegetation and clay soil if not constantly maintained and cleaned. GuySuCo has done this for decades, but at a heavy financial burden partly explaining why it is costly to produce sugar in Guyana’s polder system versus doing same in the higher lands of Brazil, Mauritius or Cuba.
Building a road network on the polder system of canals means more funds have to go into road construction and there has to be a bridge across each canal for linking the roads. Filling up all these canals is also not an option since there will be more flooding and mosquitoes. This adds cost of infrastructure. Other countries that did better than Guyana – Barbados, The Bahamas, St Lucia, etc. – in development indicators do not have to contend with these conditions. The high cost of infrastructure is coupled with a relatively small Guyanese population. This means the per capita cost of infrastructure is going to be very high, thus impacting negatively on the country’s export competitiveness.
As Guyana contemplates becoming an oil and gas economy, it would be helpful for political leaders, as well as public influencers to consider the constraints raised by these academic research. These constraints will have to be addressed as they contemplate restructuring the economy, in ways that create real opportunities for our population to thrive on a fundamental level.
One of the most enduring human attributes is our capacity for hope. At our very core, most of us hold an unfailing belief that things can and will get better, regardless of the circumstances or adverse life events that we face. French author, Francois de la Rochefoucauld fitting concludes that, “Hope is the last thing that dies in man; and though it be exceedingly deceitful, yet it is of this good use to us, that while we are travelling through life it conducts us in an easier and more pleasant way to our journey’s end.”
In light of global and national events, we need more than ever to be hopeful. A cursory glance at any media outlet illustrates a world that is rife with adversity ranging from wars and threats of war, to rising migration and the displacement of millions of people, racism and tribalism, a widening of the chasm between the rich and poor, growing populist movements and a corresponding threat to democratic norms.
What follows is our denigration of each other, the escalation of death, destruction and hopelessness. It becomes both urgent and necessary for people all over the world, who share a deep desire for peace, respect of life, and respect for the dignity and worth of every human being, to find ways to begin to reclaim our common humanity.
In the context of Guyana, there is much work ahead of us. Some 50 year post-independence and we are still mired in an unhealthy mix of racism, ethnic distrust, political exploitation of our differences, systemic corruption, slow socio-economic development and the twin malady of ineffective and inefficient governance.
The question is what do we do, as citizens of this great country? Do we continue to be split into ‘us against them camps’? Do we continue to denigrate and malign each other because we have different visions for how this country should be run? What is at stake for all of us, not just our politicians? What kind of people do we want to be, and more importantly, what kind of future do we want to leave for our children?
There are no easy answers to any of these questions, and no one group or political party can rightly claim to have the solutions to any of the challenges that we face. In fact, it’s all of us, Guyanese, working together, talking to each other rather than about each other, that will likely bring us closer to answering these questions.
Talking, both inter-personally and as political opponents is challenging at the best of times. Too often, even the simplest exchange becomes adversarial, and any difference of opinions is met with racially charged denunciations of an entire ethnic group. One wonders then, where is the hope for us, and how do we begin to have the kinds of conversations that are necessary for healing our national collective, building bridges to the future and restoring our common humanity.
This then begs the question, what would have to be different in the way we do life together in Guyana? What behaviors, attitudes and practices would we have to adopt or let go, in order to be the kind of people and country that we want. These questions are not intended to solicit answers mainly from our politicians. Rather, the onus is on all of us to do our own reflection, both as individuals and as a collective in social groups, communities, places of worship, places of learning, and in our offices.
For starters, it might be necessary to create spaces for dialogue where courage is operating and where our ultimate goal is to bring about reconciliation, healing, trust and respect for each other. Author Steven Fulmer explains that in courageous spaces “we have the courage to face a fear, to confront a demon, to respectfully challenge another, to question authority….and to truly live a new day in a new way.” Courageous conversation or dialogue is about building relationships. We enter into these courageous spaces with a willingness to discuss what author Susan Scott calls the ‘undiscussables’. These are the things that are blocking deep, honest and meaningful conversations from occurring.
The risk of being vulnerable is probably the single hardest things anyone can do. In a courageous space, it’s the willingness to tell the truth about who you are and what you want. It also means letting go of the fear of being hurt, judged or criticized. The responsibility of the rest of us is to hear those truths and to acknowledge the risk it took for others to speak up. We don’t have to agree with all that is said, but at the very least we can let the speakers know they were heard.
One of the most important norms of any courageous space is to know that we can disagree respectfully. Political, religious and racial differences should never cause us to denigrate and dehumanize each other. When we engage in such behavior we rob others of their right to respect and the right to be heard. We can have disagreements but still employ deep respect or recognition of the full humanity of each other.
This is an invitation for us to communicate understanding, compassion, and empathy for the speaker. When we listen only to formulate a rebuttal or to argue and defend our beliefs then we shut out any ideas or information that is inconsistent with what we know and believe to be true to us at the time. Listening differently is a call for us to adopt a posture of openness and a willingness to learn.
Reclaiming our humanity through courageous dialogue (courageous spaces) is an opportunity for all Guyanese to begin to consider how we could be different in our relationships with each other. It’s also an opportunity to develop a new respect for our diversity and to honor the dignity and worth of every human. I remain hopeful!
Guyanese have long been accused of taking the beauty and bounty of their country for granted. But based on my personal observations, there is something else that we do which is far more damaging: We are blind to the good and the opportunities right in front of us. We are trapped in a self-imposed love affair with negativity and we cannot seem to see past this darkness toward the goodness that is. So, we miss the golden opportunities to build on our strengths, in order to catapult ourselves and country toward a more rapid state of development.
The reasons for this self-defeating condition need to be discussed if we are to successfully move beyond it. We assume that it is normal human behavior to seek pleasure and avoid pain, however, in Guyana too many of us appear to only take delight in complaints, accusations and the blaming of others.
This continuous need to seek comfort in the negatives at the expense of ignoring the positives has become synonymous with ‘holding our leaders accountable’ which we know to be a very critical aspect of development. But at what point do we draw the line, as it relates to fairness?
Dialogue based on issues and objectivity no longer seem to apply and there is a complete breakdown of constructive argumentation in favor of personal attacks, misinformation and political bias, on social media in particular.
On the receiving end, the public gets subjected to an inescapable environment of naysaying which ultimately serves the purpose to divide; and no one stops to examine how this cyclical pattern keeps us woefully distracted, nonproductive and doing absolutely nothing to better our personal circumstances as citizens.
Yes, Government must be held responsible for delivering on their promises but we too are responsible for steering our lives in productive directions by working to create better opportunities for ourselves and families. No amount of blaming will change what we must do for ourselves, in order to achieve real benefits in our everyday lives.
So for the purpose of starting the discussion, I have noted some key behavioral observations which are offered as hypotheses to why we seem naturally attracted to negativity:
Observation 1: Insecurities and low self-esteem.
Our over-dependence on Governments which have historically disappointed us have resulted in a deep-rooted distrust. Politicians and their operatives, exploit these feelings of distrust to keep citizens divided based on race, economic profiling and other factors.
Overtime, the cycle of continued disappointment and manipulation has led to an inner sense of us not feeling deserving of ‘good’ in our lives.
So as a collective, we reject seemingly simple solutions and become an obstacle to the very things we wish to achieve such as unity, foresight to economic opportunities, the acknowledgement of national progress in certain areas, etc.
Observation 2: The way we were raised.
Our parental style in Guyana has long embraced the beating of our children into discipline. This is done from a standpoint of parental frustration, ignorance and unrealistic expectations of our little ones.
We have come to believe that this is acceptable behavior but a growing body of research continues to suggest that the practice of beating keeps societies enslaved to a culture of violence, characteristic of various public health issues and negative impacts.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the transmission of violence between generations, with violent behaviors passing from grandparents to parents to children – a phenomenon known as the “cycle of violence” – and the tendency for abuse victims to continue to suffer and inflict violence, as they move through life are long-term consequences of maltreatment in childhood.
Observation 3: A return to what we know.
Stemming from the cycle of violence, some of us have endured lifelong struggles, trauma and other negative experiences which leads to a characteristic condition where there is a need to continuously relive what we know.
Negativity becomes a state-of-mind which we feel familiar with; and as a result, we go through our lives responding to an insatiable need to always lash out in anger, peddle sarcasm and publicly promote exaggerated misfortunes which are used to reinforce self-promoting rhetoric.
Our general lack of understanding pertaining to mental health issues in Guyana lends to an unhealthy breeding ground for persons suffering from these conditions. The negativity of which filters down to citizens on social media. Audiences on social networks then engage the victims of these unfortunate circumstances, in ways that degenerate into casual spectacles for entertainment. In many cases, victims are mocked or ridiculed in private which compounds the negativity and disregards the need for psychological treatment.
Observation 4: The search for realism.
Many of us pride ourselves on being realists. We mistakenly believe that to be realistic, we must constantly focus on the negatives and aim to dispel any signs of optimism we encounter. There are alternative forms of this among Guyanese who are too afraid to acknowledge ‘joy’ because positive feelings are seen as a set-up for disappointment.
These scenarios, along with the custom of complaining, blinds us to the possibilities for growth.
Observation 5: Our history and its wounds.
Too many of us are still consumed by deep feelings of remorse, anger and regret over past experiences or consequences of decisions we cannot overcome. Guyana’s history has resulted in people unconsciously punishing themselves and others for past hurts gone by, especially among those who would have lived through periods of trauma that has unfortunately conditioned them.
We see the effects of this in the form of racism, the fight for property and the promotion of hate speech which the younger generation either absorbs or rejects, depending on their levels of understanding and intellectual exposure.
Now is the time to put an end to our self-defeating love-affair with negativity and focus on our collective development as a nation. Why only now? Now is as good a time as any!
We must look to ourselves for reassurances of hope and a belief in our country, instead of the average politician, many of whom are yet to grow themselves. We must shift our expectations toward a sense of independence, realizing that we have the power to earn results for ourselves through education, hard work and a commitment to personal excellence in everything we do.
We need to research healthy parental practices and reconsider the ways we contribute to the generational cycle of violence. We must understand that the little adjustments made today will significantly impact the quality of life our nation’s children inherit, tomorrow.
Our country is in urgent need of properly equipped clinics offering therapy, qualified professionals, research, support groups assuring anonymity and educational awareness that is dedicated exclusively to mental health issues. We need to advocate for these improvements, while maintaining a sense of compassion for the victims who are suffering in silence. We must not engage their suffering as a form of entertainment.
We must be cognizant of those with a vested political or economic interest in influencing us away from concepts that encourage the fair assessment of issues, racial unity, non-violence, etc. by attempting to bring discredit to initiatives dedicated to achieving change.
The manufacturing and disseminating of cyclical negativity is a tool that is being used every day, year after year, by operatives from both sides of the political sphere in Guyana. We must not buy into the divide. Reclaim your minds and become Free-Thinkers!
Ours is a country that has been plagued with controversial politics for the past few decades which have hindered our social and economic development. If you are looking for the reference or footnote to that prior sentence, look no further since it cannot be found in any article or publication. However, you may find it lingering in the minds of Guyanese like myself who have grown tired and frustrated by the political games we have been subjected to. Note, my intention is not to stroll down the dilapidated and pot-holed memory lane of our political history, nor is it to lambast any political parties. My intention is to look to the future to heal Guyana. For too long we have confined ourselves to the role of pawns in political games, so permit me to do my best at painting you the bigger picture.
For most of our independent life there have been two major political players in the game. While we are a diverse country, we are led by two large ethnic populations: the indo-Guyanese and the afro-Guyanese. A fact which many contend has been transformed into a political weapon to forge division, exploit votes and to cement us into the role of pawns. Argue with me all you want on that, but in my humble opinion, we can only be used as pawns if we choose to remain pawns. When we come into this world, we are but infants, but there comes a time when we must grow up, learn responsibility, and build a life. Similarly, there comes a time when we have to grow up and realise we can no longer be “children” who are told what to think and do when it comes to the way our country is governed. As far as I am concerned, we have suffered as the collateral damage in the clash between two political titans for much too long and turning a blind eye is no longer acceptable.
So for 2018, my goal is for us all to start with a clean slate and take an initiative toward understanding our political landscape:
READ MORE – They say knowledge is power, but do we really know why? I have always believed that it meant the more you know the better position you are in to create change. Find ways to engage in meaningful discussions with other Guyanese and learn new perspectives. A Government in power is a Government for the people, not solely their voters. We are entitled to equality and dignity, notwithstanding our race, creed or political beliefs. Ensure our children are educated enough to understand the same as they are the ones we are going to rely on to positively change Guyana.
We must keep abreast of current affairs and make it our business to understand the conduct and operations of the Government and political parties. Too many Guyanese take for granted the work and operations of these political actors up until elections year where political parties are busy playing political mind games and we cannot think for ourselves.
FORGET RACE – Having only spent twenty-four years on this earth, I won’t pretend to fully understand the deep rooted racial complexities that have no doubt evolved over time nor will I pretend that this article will magically resolve it. Nonetheless, I will encourage you to look at each other as Guyanese and not “blacks”, “chiney” or “coolies”. While growing up, I have witnessed many “cuss-outs” where the race-card has always been played to attack and berate. Social media is constantly littered with racist commentary and offensive words, rendering it an unsafe environment for our children. No one is ever born with hatred, it is taught and learned.
So we must ask ourselves: do we really want to teach our children hatred? Or better, do we really want to keep learning hatred? We cannot condone a society where our children are discriminated against because of the colour of their skin, nor where we blindly follow political ideologies because of racial conditioning.
BREAK THE MOULD – It is no lie that 2017 has been plagued by political controversy; from the recent parliamentary circus show, the GECOM “fit and proper” fiasco to the ExxonMobil contracts. However, one thing that is always constant is the logic (or lack thereof) of die-hard political fans. I am referring to the persons who resurrect the previous indiscretions of a past government administration as a misguided justification-in-disguise for the indiscretions of the current government administration. I refer to them as die-hard political fans because they are essentially victims of the "us versus them" political strategies employed by both major political parties, premised on hypocrisy and creating a brain-washed political divide.
Use 2018 as the year to transform into an independent thinker. Understand that a wrong is a wrong, despite whomever may have committed that wrong before. If we get into the habit of creating excuses for the failures of a government, we are doing ourselves and the future of democracy and accountability in government a significant disservice. Whether you, or anyone else, were vocal in the past or not, have the courage to break out of the mould of “pawn” to stand by what is right TODAY.
As 2017 comes to an end, my wish is to start a new clean slate with an open mind that is receptive to learning new things. We must educate ourselves and our children on how to treat others beyond race and political beliefs. As mentioned earlier, I am not writing this to point my finger at political parties, but to point my finger at civilians like you and I, so that we can realise how important it is to be independent thinkers in 2018 – civilians that understand what we deserve as Guyanese and why we need to hold ALL politicians to strict standards of accountability and transparency as they are put there in power by us to serve us. In other words, I only seek to remind you not to be played in this game of politics, when you are essentially the game master.
Heal Guyana is a registered, not-for-profit organisation which functions as a civil society platform that focuses on empowering Guyanese and influencing citizens toward positive behavior change.
The views expressed herein are those of the Author; they do not necessarily reflect the views of Heal Guyana or its Executives.