Guyana: Reflections on gas and oil discovery: How does the Diaspora fit in? – By Lear Matthews

 — By Lear Matthews

Dear Guyana, you’re now an open door
You are attracting droves of folks to your shores
You’re ranked number one for the eco tours
A lot has changed since oil is dripping from your pores”

(Ronald Daniels, Guyanese-Online 12/24/19).

The question that belies the observation in this opening poetic verse is to what extent does the attracted “droves of folks” include the Guyanese Diaspora? Following the pomp and ceremony of Guyana’s 50th independence anniversary in 2015 attended by thousands in the Diaspora, there has been much reflection on that unprecedented milestone in Guyanese history by those residing within and outside that nation-state. So too is contemplative attention now warranted about the ramifications of recent gas and oil discovery.       

The independence anniversary visit by persons residing in the  Diaspora may have stimulated serious thinking about returning ‘home’ or at least increased their remittance contributions. For some it was merely a fleeting nostalgic moment of euphoric excitement. For others, without rational thought about inevitable changes in old local forms, structures and cultural norms, re-migration may have been seriously considered. Huggins (2015) refers to “an almost mythic energy of the home country that pulls its citizens back”.  For others it could have been their last visit because they worry about the development prospects of their beloved country under any regime. Nevertheless, the imminent burgeoning of an energy sector may influence or modify decisions about diaspora engagement and prospects of returning ‘home’, particularly after President Granger in his Petroleum Day Proclamation declaration: “The good life for all beckons” .

However influenced, motivated or whatever their assessment and decision about returning, there are some important realities regarding the lived experience of those in the diaspora and the concept of ‘home’.  Reported figures such as numbers and rate of emigration represent significant, albeit sobering migration demographics, affirming the need to seriously ponder the role of the diaspora in the anticipated social, economic and political transformation in Guyana. There are some less measurable, but yet important facts and outcomes of the immigrant experience. Perhaps more pervasive than some would admit, there is a deep-seated desire to return to the home country, to ‘give back’. It is a harkening which may have been heightened by prospects of unprecedented change.

Assessing the push/pull paradigm of migration (i.e. factors that cause people to leave their country of origin and those that draw them to the recipient country), presents an opportunity for reflection on the implications for the Guyanese diaspora.  Much has been written about the negative effects of increasing out-migration, and the impact on development. However, the ‘petro factor’ may be the dawning of a new era when Guyanese immigrants, often described as an ‘untapped human resource’, will be drawn back to their homeland, physically or symbolically. Would any of the enthusiastic 2015 Golden Jubilee celebrants become less ambivalent or think seriously of returning to their homeland? Only time will tell. It is to be assumed that while on their brief sojourn of jubilation in 2015, they recognized the gaps, hear the frustrations, see the improvements and potential, gauged how they may be able to contribute and realize that the challenges are not intractable. But that was before the news about the anticipated benefits from gas and oil.

Somewhere between the new reality of foreseeable wealth and the existence of age-old tensions, the diaspora will try to manage an interesting predicament. Some view the impending changes as an unprecedented opportunity to contribute to the advancement of their country of birth, albeit with cautious optimism. However, this could forge the desire to return unconditionally if not impulsively, which may be a function more of sentimental connectivity  (emotional attachment) than practical, rational consideration. In this regard, there have been reports that soon after the 2015 elections some in the diaspora began making plans to return.  It is not clear to what extent any such motivated re-migration occurred, a phenomenon not unusual with the ebb and flow of elections. However, it would be better to have a more reasoned, deliberative  approach involving the identification of needs and skills. This should emanate from both potential returnees and the government, ensuring a clear understanding of skills gap and needs including required certification to work on specific projects. Input from the Guyanese consulates abroad and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs providing coherent policy and procedures, is essential.

For many, the decision to return is deeply personal with economic implications and for some it will be political. One may speculate that Guyanese immigrants have been reluctant to return ‘home’, for various reasons. Many return regularly to visit kin, sustain real estate, to celebrate various events and even as tourists. For some the commitment to return permanently is as ambiguous as the decision to leave ‘home’ in the first place.

We must not lose sight of the fact that a substantive number of (first generation) Guyanese emigrated in their middle or senior years, voluntarily or by “push factors” beyond their control. Notwithstanding the realities of late life financial hardships and other challenges that may cause despair, the decision to return could create a dilemma, having grown accustomed to life overseas, aspects of which can hardly be duplicated at home. Consequently, for those who decide to return, there may be the need for re-socialization to the Guyanese culture, different from the ‘home’ they remember.

An important dimension of the possible success of the coalition government has been the potential power of collaboration between the principal ethnic groups. This intended inclusionary partnership, the likes of which have not been seen in almost a generation, was born out of trust, genuineness and determination to arrest the schism caused by racial divisiveness, notwithstanding some disappointments. However, recent constitutional issues and upcoming national elections render the charting of social and political change unpredictable. Along with the expected economic windfall from the petro-sector, Guyana is at an unprecedented crossroad that will transform its tattered history.

In light of the above-mentioned attributes and perspective, it is reasonable to conclude that regardless of political ideology, the diaspora wants the same things for the nation as people at home – good jobs, equitable resource distribution, affordable housing, quality education and training for the youth, safe roads, a fair and just legal system, adequate physical and mental health care, programs for the elderly, sanitary conditions in both rural and urban areas, security, an effective criminal justice system, clarity, fairness, accountability and the opportunity to invest financially.

Members of the diaspora seem willing to play their part in realizing these goals. Evidence of this is clearly demonstrated by the increasing number of Voluntary organizations among immigrants. This epitomizes an umbilical connection between the diaspora and the homeland, which some may view as potentially causing dependency, while others emphasize the developmental opportunities diaspora engagement offers. But then again, how does the diaspora ‘fit in’ and  what benefits or disappointments from the gas and oil industry are likely to emerge?

An often neglected dimension of the diaspora experience is the role of second and third generation Guyanese immigrants, who tend to exist in a different cultural and identity “space” from the first generation. Race, ethnicity and the country of their grand parents’ birth may no longer be a dominant part of their identity. Although their quality of life may not measure up to earlier immigrant arrivals, some of these young people may be more conscious of the environmental impact of fossil fuel. Could they have a different perspective on the eminent windfall in Guyana? Perhaps!

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  • kamtanblog  On January 1, 2020 at 2:55 am

    Simple Simon Says
    If those who left Guyana were doing badly
    in their adopted countries would they consider
    returning to their mother/fatherland. Doubt it !
    Most are doing better with some even moving
    on to newer pastures. Their next generations
    adopting the culture of their new homes.
    One does not go “backward” in the adventure
    if life but more likely move onward upward.
    That’s life ! its journey an adventure !
    Of course the next generations will wish to
    visit the land of their ancestors but “visit”
    the operative word.
    Have lived most of my life outside Guyana’s
    shores and have returned a few times on visits
    to feed the nostalgia of the experience but to
    return permanently is not an option I wish to
    re-incarnate. My ashes may be scattered
    after my exit.


  • Trevor  On January 1, 2020 at 11:03 am

    What about the racism that is increasing in the ABC countries?

    I’ve got some friends who have some nasty things to say regarding how whites from Poland, Eastern Europe and the far-right affiliations would harass them on the street and assume that they are from Africa or the Mid-East.

    One guy told me that he wished that he could stomp the racist’s head with a steel toe boot and “mash it to a pulp” and also “do as what they are doing in South Africa with the colonisers”.

    And this guy wasn’t like this during high school. He was flighty and non-threatening, but living abroad for a few years has made him mean and angry. This is also occurring among Guyanese males who are being mistaken for refugees due to their complexion.

    I believe that those guys are no better off in the ABC countries. The ABC countries got no love for dem. They usually end up in gangs just to feel a sense of belonging. I pray for my friends who are being discriminated because they are perceived as refugees, though white people flock to oil rich countries in Africa and the Middle East.

    • kamtanblog  On January 1, 2020 at 2:18 pm

      Racism exists in every corner of the globe.
      Often confused with classism.
      In northern EU if you not white you are
      black…if you are not white you are also
      not person of colour….you are considered
      black. Raw racism ignorance based.
      Often racism is confused with prejudices.
      Cultural differences….religiously influenced.

      My first experience of racism greeted me on
      arrival in London in early 60’s.
      When looking for room to rent a white Irish
      landlady on answering her door greeted with
      “sorry no coloureds”….London in 60’s was
      a very racist city….today you could be jailed
      for using the N word or Paki as both are
      considered racists ! Illegal.
      Some EU especially East European countries
      are still racist with no laws to discourage
      discrimination based on race/colour.
      EU playing catch up on their anti
      racist laws and its enforcement.

      Habits die hard !

      On Poland …Britain warned Hitler that if he
      invaded Poland Britain was obliged by
      treaty to come to aid of Poland. Hitler did
      so Britain declared war on Germany. History.

      Google NATO for update on peace/war treaties.


      • Trevor  On January 1, 2020 at 5:52 pm

        “Sorry no coloureds” but why are so many Brits in Southern France and Spain retiring as Kings and Queens?

        The same people who look down on us, especially the Windrush generation, are the ones now imitating Jamaican Patois and using Jamaican music to make billions of dollars for the major record labels and entertainment industries.

        The same racist in the USA who tells Mexicans “We don’t speak poor people language” is now a father whose sons and daughters sing the lyrics of Despacito.

        The racists are hypocrites, and yes, the same landlady who discriminated against you might have a retirement villa in France, Spain, Portugal or Italy.

        Regarding Poland, Hungary and the Eastern bloc countries: They can worship Hitler and perish in WW2 for all I care!

        The Polish racists don’t like immigrants or non-white Poles, yet they misused the EU visa laws to work in England and send the money back to their homes in Poland…Talk of hypocrisy!

      • Trevor  On January 1, 2020 at 5:54 pm

        especially against the Windrush generation*

  • Trevor  On January 2, 2020 at 5:03 pm

    Tullow found another oil discovery, this time in Kanuku Block offshore Berbice!

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