The next 50 years – doing things differently

At the commemoration of our 50th anniversary of independence, there are a few home truths that we would do well to remember.

Even as we reminisce and celebrate with the huge influx of Guyanese returning from foreign lands, we would also do well to consider some of the lessons learned from another foreign country – “the past”, as British novelist LP Hartley described it in The Go-Between.

Ours is, of course, a past marked by too many false starts, empty promises, potential unrealized and progress stifled by the zero-sum game of partisan politics driven by ethnic tribalism and the desire to control the commanding heights of the economy, all to the detriment of overall and equitable development.

We are not a failed state, as the prophets of gloom and doom are wont to pronounce, but, with our various dysfunctions, we are perhaps perilously close to being regarded as stillborn as a nation.

Yet we are an energetic, creative people. And this is a bountiful land, with vast, as yet untapped natural resources and natural wonders. It is therefore imperative that we balance the management of our environment with the sustainable utilization of our natural resources.

Moreover, with the majority of our people inhabiting our narrow, low-lying coastal strip, we must look beyond traditional economic activity and increasingly look to our hinterland, to develop it responsibly. The mythical city of El Dorado may not actually exist but the untold riches of our interior and our diverse ecosystems still offer the possibility of a golden future, if managed sensibly, respectfully and lovingly.

President David Granger reaffirmed his vision of building a “green economy” at the opening of GuyExpo on May 12. Both he and Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman have articulated the need to promote alternative and renewable sources of energy even as the country lives in expectation of huge oil and gas finds.

We believe the president is on the right track when he says, “Guyana therefore needs a sustainable model for its economy – a model of resource exploitation and extraction, in order to check the depletion of its natural assets, so that these assets will also be available to future generations.”

So, even if the oil starts to flow in five years’ time, we must already be in the process of transforming Guyana’s economic base by developing an energy matrix that is sustainable. We must educate ourselves to take advantage of innovations driven by information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the new opportunities  bound to arise in order to build a 21st century nation.

Guyana cannot afford to stand still; otherwise, we will lag even further behind the rest of the world. We need to lay the groundwork now and, if there is to be an oil and gas windfall, we need to be prepared to use it to invest in relevant, high quality, science and technology-based education and innovation, to diversify our economy and become more competitive in the interest of long-term prosperity.

This is but a glimpse into future possibilities. There will no doubt be competing perspectives and additional nostrums. All these issues, though, should be central to our national conversation and collective vision for at least the next 50 years, even as we endeavour to weave the various narrative threads competing for space and supremacy in the national psyche into an all-encompassing, coherent and cohesive tapestry.

We are, after all, a society with a great deal of dissent and division. Thus, in order to build a national consensus, a painstaking process of widespread consultation with the citizenry is required; questions will need to be answered; policies and plans will have to be formulated and reformulated; and open and timely communication with all stakeholders will be an absolute necessity.

The opening of The Go-Between reads, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” We need to turn the axiom on its head and do things differently now and in the future.

There is no reason why, if we honestly confront the failings of our past and the challenges of our present, we cannot embark upon the next 50 years with a renewed sense of purpose, continuously reassessing our options, managing expectations, refining our strategies and adapting to changing circumstances, all with the ultimate objective of finally realizing our great potential and fulfilling a vision for a more unified, happy and prosperous nation – one which we can feel proud to bequeath to the next and future generations.