High Commissioner of Guyana to Canada, Harry Narine Nawbatt, and Sattie Sawh, Consul General in Toronto, Ontario, hosted a New Year’s get-together at the Guyana Consulate office in Toronto last Friday. It was a nice gesture, reaching out to the community.
Canadian-Guyanese gathered to gaff, eat catered Guyanese food and get a taste of Demerara’s range of rums.
The atmosphere – lively, relaxed and friendly – said a lot of who we could be as a people. Canadian-Guyanese of all colour, religion and political persuasion showed up to have a meal together and talk to each other.
It was far removed from the acrimony and strife emanating from the stultifying political atmosphere poisoning Georgetown.
The Canadian-Guyanese community see both Nawbatt and Sawh as political appointees.
Sawh, whose husband, former Agriculture Minister Sash Sawh, was gunned down in a shocking attack in Georgetown years ago, wins the heart and sympathy of the community for the trauma she suffered.
Nawbatt served as Ambassador to Brazil before his Canada posting. He became a diplomat under this Government, which has generated some criticism.
Yet, both Nawbatt and Sawh interact with the community of Canadian-Guyanese with grace, charm, goodwill and a willingness to reach across divides.
Were we to see this same spirit operate in Georgetown, our nation would be on the right track.
Despite criticisms of their competency as diplomats and their efficiency as foreign service personnel, both these officials come across as professional and able.
Few people would dispute the fact that Guyanese function differently overseas, than they do in the homeland.
Nawbatt and Sawh may reflect this fact. Both, moving in the international arena, exude an air of confidence and competency.
Both the High Commission, in Ottawa, and the Consulate in Toronto, however, seem to play too small a role in Canada.
This writer talked to Nawbatt at the get-together, during a meal of cook-up and jerk chicken, and got the sense that the High Commission Office lacks depth of vision, or a clear mandate of its role in lifting Guyana to a 21st century society.
The Consulate and High Commission seem solely interested in small matters, such as official paperwork, passport matters and individual concerns of the Canadian-Guyanese community.
We need a Foreign Service pushing this country into the consciousness of the developed world. We need to shape a global vision. We need to develop a strategic action plan to see our embassies and consulates play a dynamic role in populating the Guyana brand across the 21st century global landscape.
Sawh and Nawbatt both embody the style and finesse to be ambassadors of the Guyana brand. But one senses that the Foreign Affairs Ministry operates without a clear 21st century vision.
So Nawbatt’s role sees him dabble in small things, like working out an agreement between Guyana and Canada for Social Security benefits to be policed efficiently.
As Ambassador to Brazil, he oversaw the opening of the Takutu Bridge, linking Guyana to Brazil.
As High Commissioner to Canada, no such great legacy or historic achievement awaits him. Canada and Guyana have nothing in the works that would define their relations this century. That kind of vision has not yet been developed.
Guyana benefits a lot from Canada, of course – in trade, aid and development grants, skills transfer. Over the 40-odd years of bilateral relations the two nations have become good friends. Hundreds of thousands of Guyanese make Canada their home.
So where do we go from here?
The Canada-Guyana partnership is too promising, the potential too vast, for our High Commissioner and Consular General to be playing such token roles.
This writer mentioned duplicating Canada’s tech innovation programme as a deliberate development strategy, in Guyana, and the idea surprised both Sawh and Nawbatt.
Canada is home to one of the most dynamic innovation cultures in the world. In communities all across the country, Centres of Excellence operate to offer free service to anyone wanting to become an entrepreneur. Innovation coaching centres exist in Toronto, where any Canadian could get free mentoring and resources to launch a small business.
This kind of thinking – to see how Canada developed its society, to learn and duplicate what a developed nation does – has not yet permeated the leadership of Guyana.
We still see ourselves as small, unable and helpless.
On a personal level, most Canadian-Guyanese learn how to live and achieve in a developed world. Most duplicate the lifestyle, thinking and strategies of managing their lives, learning from Canadians how to build and develop.
Why can’t our institutions, especially Government, look at a highly-developed society like Canada, and learn from its path to progress?
It would be very easy to operate desks at the Consulate Office and at the High Commissioner’s Office, with the sole goal of researching, gathering and documenting how a developed society maintains and builds itself.
This intelligence gathering, fed back to Cabinet, or to a State-level think-tank in Georgetown, would go a far way to create a resource base for future planning and for strategic, visionary ideas.
Now the Consulate and High Commission have embarked on the flagship programme for our Foreign Service: the Diaspora project, launched by President Ramotar a few weeks ago.
The Diaspora Project, however, lacks teeth and depth of vision. It aims to build a global online job-bank, a database of overseas Guyanese, whose skills could be accessed for Guyana-based private companies, government and organizations.
The database could be used for voluntary service, or high-paying, critical-skills jobs.
This is our global flagship project in 2013. This is the depth of our vision and strategic thinking. Something is wrong with such a picture.
Nawbatt and Sawh, both superbly nice folks, would never say anything critical of their political masters in Georgetown. But they are both in a position to feed information back there, were the homeland leaders to be receptive and open to new ideas, of how Canada does it, and how Guyana could do it.
Such a process would accelerate our development as a nation.