The leaders of Guyana and Suriname recently were invited by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to attend the 12th Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) heads of government summit from February 6 to 7 in Cairo. This forum presents an opportunity for them to personally engage in economic diplomacy with leaders of some of the world’s richest nations who are members of the OIC. They can then leave the task they initiated to their respective foreign ministers, ambassadors and the private sector, and then nurture the relationship via the OIC, the Arab-South America Forum and the United Nations, managed through their Middle East specialists – Ambassador Liakat Ali Errol Alibux, Dr M Ali Odeen Ishmael and Mr George Hallaq. Putting together these institutions to enhance bilateral and multilateral harmony can effectively raise the countries’ position and prestige in the international arena to attractive Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) and Official Development Assistance (ODA). But this will require the involvement of economists and financial experts, and other technocrats from civil society. Suriname is moving in that direction, but not Guyana. Guyana’s history of race-based politics has retarded this sort of shared governance in a country that suffers from a severe brain drain and which continues to marginalize the best and brightest because of race and party paramountcy. For small states like Guyana and Suriname, with limited resources, diplomacy is the only option they have to ensure that their goals are addressed in the global arena.
Both Guyana and Suriname are members of the OIC, but they have underutilized this forum. Suriname joined the OIC in 1996 and Guyana in 1998. The 12th summit was postponed twice due to the ongoing upheavals confronting the Middle East. Since joining the OIC, neither Guyana nor Suriname have attended a heads of government summit at the presidential level. They have always sent low-level delegations. More recently, Suriname’s President Bouterse initiated stronger OIC ties as he revamps Suriname’s Foreign Ministry.
This 12th OIC summit will draw important leaders from some of the richest countries in the world – Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, especially since the Sunni Arab alliance is keen to keep Egypt from warming up to Iran. They have offered billions of dollars in aid to Egypt. Thus, this forum presents a great opportunity for Bouterse and Ramotar to develop ties with these leaders in their efforts to solicit investments on a personal level. Guyana especially, lacks a visionary foreign policy that works in tandem with economic diplomacy. Economic diplomacy has never been really pursued rigorously by Guyana; it’s merely empty rhetoric that the PPP administration spews. But neighbouring Suriname is being praised for its focus on economic diplomacy. Suriname Foreign Minister Lackin says, “Every time we go abroad, either the President or myself, we make sure we bring representatives of the private sector with us to see if we can make connections happen much faster.” And according to Suriname’s economist and Ambassador to Washington, Subhas Mungra, US President Obama is impressed by Suriname’s economic diplomacy.
Guyana’s sole effort to put together the first Caribbean Gulf Investment Forum in November 2012 failed. This should have been a Guyana-Suriname-OIC effort. The forum didn’t get off the ground because George Hallaq, Guyana’s Middle East Ambassador didn’t get the financial and diplomatic support from Guyana. Guyana’s foreign ministry lacks the human infrastructure to support such a project. Moreover, there is no vision and a master plan in place to attract foreign direct investment. In addition, the government of Guyana has demonstrated its inability to plan ahead like Suriname and spend money in the right place to enhance the country’s prospect of attracting FDI. An example of this ineffective foreign policy was the no show of President Ramotar at the Arab-South America Summit some months ago in Peru, which was mostly a business forum. Neither Mr Hallaq and Dr Ishmael, nor the private sector were brought to Peru.
Wanton corruption and outdated bureaucracy have also been a hindrance in attracting FDI to Guyana. The Ramotar government is preoccupied daily in defending itself from allegations of corruption and withholding local elections which has kept viable investors away from Guyana.
The upcoming visit of the Secretary General of the OIC, Dr Ihsanoglu to Guyana and Suriname is a clear indication that the OIC is serious in forging stronger ties with these two countries, and Presidents Bouterse and Ramotar should also demonstrate their commitment to OIC ties. Dr Ihsanoglu is looking to forge stronger economic cooperation with Guyana and Suriname during his upcoming visit. According to a release from the OIC Mission to the UN, “Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu pays special importance to bringing Guyana and Suriname into the fold of cooperation under the OIC projects, particularly in the field of economic development. Therefore, he has been encouraging the two countries to sign and ratify the new OIC Charter and various agreements, particularly on promoting trade relations, and he is looking forward to his visit to both countries.” The visit will also help to put in perspective the many misconceptions about the OIC.
South-to-South cooperation is a cornerstone of President Bouterse’s foreign policy shift. Since he was democratically elected two years ago, Bouterse has reignited Suriname active participation at the United Nations, Union of South American Countries (UNASUR), the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the OIC by putting together a robust foreign policy that seeks to attract FDI. To make that a reality, he has on his team some brilliant and well-educated diplomats placed in key corners of the globe. And predicting a post-Europe era, Suriname is accelerating stronger ties with the BIRCS nations – Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa. A recent intelligence report concludes, “The world of 2030 will be radically transformed from our world today. By 2030, no country—whether the United States, China, or any large country—will be a hegemonic power.” Thus, this is a prudent move by Bouterse.
While some may argue that the Middle East is currently in protracted turmoil and may not pay dividends, proponents of strong Middle East ties argue that the region is still a major source of capital and energy and that Guyana and Suriname can benefit economically from the region like its UNASUR partners have done. As Suriname prepares to take over the pro-tempore presidency of UNASUR, it would be a brilliant move if Bouterse travelled to Egypt and met leaders of the region because of the relationship that exists between UNASUR and the Arab League which is headquartered in Egypt.
Egypt and Guyana have always had close ties. Egypt was one of the few Arab countries to have had an embassy in Guyana. Egypt is a founder of the Non-Aligned Movement, of which Guyana was an active participant. Egypt hosted the 2nd Non Aligned Summit in 1964. Former President of Guyana Dr Cheddi Jagan visited Egypt in 1953, and also former President, Forbes Burnham. They visited Egypt several times and had strong ties with Mao of China, Nehru of India, Nasser of Egypt and Manley of Jamaica.
Guyana, however, has taken a less active role in NAM and sent low level delegations to the last NAM summits in Egypt and Iran, and is no longer the leading voice on international affairs in Caricom. That role has now been taken over by Suriname, and Ramotar is being guided by the charismatic leader of Suriname to take a more active role in regional and international diplomacy as the Guyanese leader builds confidence to enter the international stage.
Guyana’s Foreign Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett and President Ramotar have been travelling with President Bouterse and Suriname’s Foreign Minister Lackin to various international meetings on Surinam Airways. More recently, when Bouterse had to cancel his visit to Equatorial Guinea for the ACP Summit, President Ramotar had to stay home since he was scheduled to fly with the Surinamese president to Malabo on Surinam Airways.
In their quest for economic diplomacy both Bouterse and Ramotar should attend the OIC Egypt summit, or at least send high-level delegations. According to Rachel Glickhouse, “Annual commerce between the two regions (South America and the Middle East) now accounts for around $30 billion and continues to rise. Arab countries aim to increase trade by exploring the possibility of free-trade agreements, expanding airline services, and increasing foreign direct investment with Peru, Brazil, and Argentina, major sources of meat, sugar, and minerals.” Suriname has attracted a few investments from the United Arab Emirates but that’s not enough; Paramaribo wants to see this increase. Guyana on the other hand, is struggling to market itself because of numerous constraints discussed above.