Those overseas who really want to help should come home
Stabroek News
February 16, 2002

Dear Editor,

I refer to two letters that appeared in your columns on Tuesday, 12th February 2002.

The first, is Mr Oscar Clarke's response to your editorial of 4th February 2002. I think that that gentleman exercised considerable restraint and yet succeeded in dealing quite adequately with the matter, covering much more ground than I myself might have done, had I got around to dealing with it. He is an accomplished diplomat after all!

I would like to point out to Mr Clarke, however, that he would need to be a bit more patient with Stabroek News. There was a time, for example, when your paper would never have even mentioned the PPP/C without going into ecstacy about that party's virtues and accomplishments democracy restored and that sort of thing. Nowadays, however, you have begun to venture into comments about and make references to some of the numerous failings and failures that have been coming to light with respect to that regime's ambitions, promises and pronouncements.

Of course, whenever you do this, you still tend to find a way to bring in what your paper and others refer to as the PNC's "twenty eight years". As I wrote some time ago, however, that latter serves to cover your sore disappointment with the abject failure of your erstwhile champions of democracy, to even begin to live up to that ambition. As we Guyanese tend to say, "they make you' hand fall".

So Mr Clarke needs to be thankful. Things are coming around. He and others could wake up one morning and discover that a complete somersault has come about.

The second matter that I must discuss from Tuesday's letter columns, is Mr Eric Phillips' dissertation [ please note: links provided by LOSP web site ] on what kind of leadership Guyana needs, now and in the foreseeable future. I would not get into the pros and cons of the group vs the single head. They have both worked and they have both failed, in various places and from time to time. I do concede, however, that Mr Phillips must perhaps know his political theory.

What I disagree upon, however, is this belief among a not insignificant number of commentators, that Guyana must open its leadership positions to aspirants who have not, by practice, displayed a readiness to be home (that Guyana really is their home) to encounter and endure the disappointments alongside the people they aspire to lead. They could not be "over there" and really know and feel how we hurt and how we hope. Those are not emotions and experiences that one acquires by proxy. Sure, they can feel pity, a patriotic sympathy, but what is essential is the firsthand, actual experience of those who stay, who did not/would not cut and run.

Sure, there will be those who, while earning a living "over there", could still, by their frequent visits here, be considered resident in Guyana. It would come as no surprise, however, if even these soon lose that personal appreciation and "feel" of what it is all about. I know, I have, while on vacation from time to time, been among expatriate Guyanese, and talked with them. One actually asked me the other day: "That is the best that they could have done?" with respect to the Demerara Harbour Bridge. Now, from something like that, one could readily appreciate, I hope, the perception that such persons are, unfortunately, out of touch with the reality of Guyana.

They might try, they might still love the Guyana that they left many or even a few years ago. They might be patriotic in varying degrees too, but clearly they would, in the main, have outgrown, that closeness to Guyana and its woes. Most of them would have reached the stage of asking: "How you people can put up with (such and such)?" And, if nothing else, it is the "you people" that tells one that such a son/daughter of the soil is lost to us, would require a world of reorientation (they call it, in various circumstances, "debriefing" or "indoctrination") before such a one can be really fit for a leadership slot in Guyana society.

Those who set that seven year requirement a couple of years back, might of course, have among them, as Mr Phillips suggests, one or more who might wish to limit the competition. I am confident, however, that the majority of those involved have had apprehensions and reservations similar to those that I have expressed here. That seven year requirement could seem a bit long, but those who set it might have done this to be sure whether those repatriates would stay, or cut and run again.

I remember that the late Linden Burnham and Cheddi Jagan jumped into the fray as soon as they came back home from their respective studies. That was, however, quite a different thing. And I recall that Alexander Bustamante got into Jamaica politics similarly, upon his return from (was it Panama?) but even the latter probably came home bent upon just that rescuing his people, and he came of his own accord.

Look, on the other hand, at a certain son of a late President, who would himself aspire to sit in that chair. That aspirant does not, however, demonstrate the kind of patience, that will and fortitude to stay and endure with the people, that marks the potential leader that Guyana needs nay, demands. On the other hand, there could be some, maybe many of our expatriates, who might behave differently. But how do we know them?

Let them come home, if they are so willing and anxious to help in lifting their nation out of the troubles and woes that currently assail it. Sure, we need intellectuals to help in that leap forward that Mr Phillips writes about. But, you know, they have got to be here.

I agree with the late Forbes Burnham when he said that he would not have anyone at the head of any government department or agency, who held a United States (or any foreign nation's) resident visa. If one is sincere about participating in the management of whatever is to make Guyana go, what in heaven's name does one need a foreign resident visa for? Is it, as happened so often, to be able to fly the coop, as soon as some impropriety is exposed? Much less, of course, could we accommodate, among aspiring leaders, persons who hold (onto) external citizenships. We do not want people at the helm, who can be expected to take orders from some foreign ambassador on some matter that might be seen to run counter to the perceived "interests" of that ambassador's nation.

In short, I enjoin upon Mr Eric Phillips not to press this case. I do not blame those Guyanese living overseas, who might be convinced that their own salvation and that of their dependants, abides in their being wherever they now dwell. That, however, is their decision to make. And, as Mr Phillips seems to recognise, we, as a nation, have got to make our own, even in the environment of difficult choices.

Yours faithfully,

Walter A Jordan