That thorny issue of re-migrants, locals and globalisation

by Festus L. Brotherson, Jr.
Guyana Chronicle
September 24, 2000

IT IS easy to empathise with the contents of G. A. Dennison's letter, `Re-migrants are seen as foreigners" (Stabroek News, Sept. 20, 2000), in which the writer recounted his/her experiences and those of others who returned from abroad to serve their country.

They fell upon the soil in patriotism and fellow citizens fell upon them and wreaked exploitation.

My own experiences were similar in 1977 and 1985 when my entire family and I re-migrated. However, "the bad treatment" of re-migrants does not tell the whole story.

There is also culpability on the part of returnees as well as other serious challenges, all of which contribute to an unsatisfactory situation. These make the issue of re-migration a thorny one and make the situation appear hopeless.

In May 2000, at the celebrations to mark the 35th anniversary of Guyana's independence in Toronto, Canada, Professor James Rose (now Vice Chancellor) of the University of Guyana (UG) and I gave presentations on the subject to a very lively audience comprised mainly of former re-migrants and attendees from Guyana.

Dr Rose was persuasive in examining institutional barriers to better relations from the points of view of Guyanese (referred to in this essay as non-emigrants or locals) who have soldiered on in the struggle for development by remaining at home. My presentation was "Mobilising Expatriate Resources towards Development in Guyana."

It identified challenges from the re-migrants' angle of vision under two emphases: how best to use overseas-based human skills; and remittances of hard currency to serve development needs. It pointed to both physical re-migration, i.e., people who serve by resettling and non-physical remigration involving people who remit hard currency, get involved in adopt-a-project schemes but who do not resettle.

Emphasis was on the former but in both cases, the challenges for a good fit in Guyana is how best to make the experience of re-migration, both in terms of process and outcome, work positively for the mutual benefit of re-migrants and all of Guyana in the search for development. The phrase "all of Guyana" includes the overwhelming majority of persons who stayed in the homeland and did not emigrate in search of a better life regardless of cause for their decision.

A clearer sense that re-migrants and locals are both searching for mutually satisfactory outcomes can be gleaned, in part, if we conceive of development as simply the pursuit of human excellence and ask the question: "what are the excellencies or benefits for the re-migrant, locals and state and society if a smoother re-migration policy is implemented and sustained?"

These would include psychological, cultural, scientific and material too numerous to explore here.

What then are the obstacles that make the outcome so elusive?

G.A. Dennison was right in stating, "the country is faced with something bigger than any one person, leader, political party or elected government."

First, there are familiar obstacles on both sides - re-migrants and locals. And then there is a deepening obstacle that the country is ill prepared to handle.

Let us briefly explore them. From the point of view of the re-migrant, challenges to a smoother process and outcome involve bureaucratic delays, archaic rules, corruption and, most frustratingly, unhelpful attitudes of locals born of a sense that "these re-migrants" fled and now are coming back to take our jobs - often by being paid very high salaries in foreign currency.

Non-emigrants really believe, despite factual evidence to the contrary, that they can do the jobs of re-migrants if only because they are closer to problems of development at home by having never left the country. The attitudes of many re-migrants are also similarly unhelpful as well. They tend to be condescending towards locals in behaviours.

Their expectations are too high too soon and this is tied to impatience that social change comes rather slowly because it lags behind the logic that showcases its necessity.

Again, non-emigrants do not readily trust the competencies of re-migrants - sometimes with good reason. The latter are seen as hell-bent on transferring to Guyana in a wholesale manner ideas cuddled in and plucked from the bosom of technologically advanced democracies.

Sufficient distinction is not made about context, affordability, priorities, etc. Re-migrants are viewed with jealousy and suspicion that are often unwarranted in areas of lifestyle, accomplishments and political intentions.

Taken together, these factors injure the remigration process and make opportunities for a more comfortable fit with non-emigrants, whose cooperation is necessary, stagnant. The gridlock makes the common goal of development more elusive while finger-pointing emotionalism escalates and logic is trampled.

The sad fact is that, while this is happening, that other problem that Dennison made reference to as "bigger than any one person..." continues to grow. I call it the unstoppable march of globalisation.

It speeds up activity at disorienting levels, shrinks time and space for ordinary contemplation and reaction in a society which is traditional.

Globalisation thus introduces a new and widening ground of tension between re-migrants and locals. It is the hardest of tensions to resolve especially when both re-migrants and locals do not understand its power over values.

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