Overseas Guyanese have a crucial role to play
Stabroek News
February 19, 2002

Dear Editor,

I would like to take the opportunity to thank Walter A. Jordan for the kindness and dignity with which he responded to my letter about Servant Leadership. Unlike Lisa Rambarran's letter, [ please note: links provided by LOSP web site ] Mr Jordan Walter dealt with the message and did not cast personal attacks on the messenger. Ms Rambarran my record of commitment to change in Guyana since 1991 speaks for itself.

The debate about the role of expatriate Guyanese is central to the discussions on a new model of governance in Guyana. Arguments about expatriate Guyanese having to "feel the pain", be beat up by Black Clothes Police, starve to death or die in the Georgetown hospital because of power outages before they truly understand Guyana's problems lack moral , political, social currency. This ambient myth is another manifestation of the exclusive non democratic nature of the political culture in Guyana that is insensitive to global and everyday realities

The absurdity of these arguments can be looked at in the context of the biggest political and human rights miracle of our generation. By Guyanese political logic it was unwise of South Africans to have Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki as successive Presidents.

Mandela was in prison and out of touch with his people and South Africa because he was isolated for 28 years on Robben Island. Sure, he had the occasional visitor but it was Winnie Mandela who carried out the daily ground struggle.

Thabo Mbeki was in exile for over 20 years and used this time to educate himself in the relatively speaking luxury and without the "feel the pain" syndrome we in Guyana love to speak about. Today and after sponsoring the African Rennaisance theme, Thabo Mbeki is one of the key architects of the New Plan for African Development (NEPAD) which was recently discussed at the World Economic Forum in New York and which the G8 is meeting in South Africa this week to support.

Cyril Ramaphosa who "felt the pain" as the leader of the Congress of South African Unions (COASTU) and who led the negotiations with President de Klerk's apartheid government was not chosen as President ahead of Thabo Mbeki , he of little suffering.

By this same argument, Mahatma Gandhi was also an unwise choice by Indians because he lived in South Africa for 13 years. Luckily, for the world, there was no seven year or fifteen year residency requirement for any of these people

If Guyana believes it has a unique problem that requires the alienation of its expatriate population , I believe Guyanese have not yet understood that 3 million White South Africans controlled and abused 37 million Black South Africans and that a passport was necessary for Black South Africans to move from the equivalent of Kitty to Bel Air .This was only 10 years ago!

The debate on the role of overseas Guyanese cannot be excluded from the broader debate about the need for a political arrangement that is different from the current Westminister model, power sharing and racial healing in Guyana. If it is difficult for local Guyanese to accept their overseas brothers and sisters how is it possible for the two major political parties with their historical hate, mistrust, anger and long memories to accept each other?

The huge Guyanese diaspora resulted from the politics of the past. Guyana was caught up in an international political tug of war, due among other things, to its non aligned posture a status that was not chosen by the general Guyanese population.

Nevertheless, this posture resulted in pressures that had direct economic consequences on the average citizen. Few Guyanese could tolerate these consequences, and the exodus of vast numbers of political and economic refugees became a self perpetuating cycle as the global push pull effect fuelled by internal and external factors led to increased frustration among those who remained at home.

Give me a Laurence Clarke who currently runs the World Bank office in Zambia and who has served as Deputy Governor of the Bank of Botswana, give me this son of Plaisance before any foreign born World Bank representative or consultant if a plan for Guyana is to be developed. At least Laurence would not forget when "neighbour" or aunty Dee kissed him when he was a boy. Neither would he forget the relatives, friends and fellow Guyanese who nurtured him. His strategy or plan would certainly have more depth than an economic development mercenary or transient.

Give me a Jang Baduhadar Singh or a Prem Rai from Canada when we have to deal with our banking system , investment strategy or debt problems. Give me a Jimmy LaRose who is a Dean at Medunsa Teaching Hospital in South Africa if we have to improve our medical architecture. Give Guyana these sons and all of our daughters in the diaspora who can help us. They all still have family here in Guyana and will always be Guyanese. Give us these individuals rather than foreign advisors who know and "feel the pain" in Guyana.

We in Guyana pride ourselves globally as intellectuals and yet there are no intellectual , practical or empirical reasons for the attitude to overseas Guyanese who have paid their own dues to succeed in a difficult world of strangers.

Singapore, Taiwan, India and South Africa are a few examples where expatriates worked and are working jointly with their brothers and sisters to develop their homeland. What part of this simple reality don't we in Guyana understand?

Perhaps in a culture where an Afro or Amerindian Guyanese cannot become the leader of the PPP/C and an Indo or Chinese Guyanese cannot become the leader of the PNC/R there is a different reality borne out of a two party system of mirror like undemocratic organizations.

We cry for excellence and for qualified people yet we criticise Dr. Kenneth King for wanting to help protect our interests in Belgium.

What about those Guyanese who left Guyana after 1992. They also need 7 years to understand and "feel the pain".

One day we will have an Indian fast bowler and a Black golfer. Then again Tiger is part Chinese.

Overseas Guyanese have skills, knowledge, experience, capital, access to technology and markets that must be harnessed to complement those same attributes that Guyanese at home already have. Guyana would be committing economic development suicide if it were to marginalize 500,000 of its people in the same way it has marginalized 50,000 of its Amerindian people.

I hope we in Guyana will one day stop going to a dermatologist for brain surgery. The divide and rule ideology of racially based parties is consistent with that of rejecting the legitimate and critical role overseas Guyanese must play in our democracy and in the sustainable development of our country.

Yours faithfully,

Eric Phillips