In the space of a couple of weeks, two expatriate Guyanese were named to high-level positions in the sister Caricom state of Belize: Justice Kenneth Benjamin to the post of Chief Justice of Belize and Professor Cary Fraser to the presidency of the University of Belize.
Mr Benjamin, 56, is a 1972 Guyana Scholar, who began his legal studies at the University of Guyana, completing them at the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill and the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad in 1977. He has had a distinguished legal career, serving as an attorney and magistrate on his return home from Trinidad and subsequently being appointed Chief Magistrate in Antigua and Barbuda from 1991 to 1993 and then judge of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.
Dr Fraser, also 56, like Mr Benjamin began his tertiary studies at UG, obtaining a BA in History before proceeding to the Institute of International Relations at UWI, St Augustine, for a Diploma and MSc in International Relations, then winning a scholarship to read for his PhD at the Graduate Institute of International Studies of the University of Geneva, Switzerland.
He has since established himself internationally, latterly at Pennsylvania State University, as a scholar and teacher on US foreign policy in the Caribbean, the history and politics of race in the USA and the Caribbean, and the international relations of the Middle East.
Both men are Queen’s College boys of the same generation and both men are essentially homegrown talent who, after their grounding in Guyana, were able to develop their knowledge and professional expertise abroad. Both have, obviously, excelled in their respective fields, winning the respect of their peers and regional and international acclaim. By extension, they have won much recognition for the land of their birth, adding to the catalogue of academic and professional excellence achieved by Guyanese overseas.
But we celebrate their achievements with a bitter-sweet sense of pride. For it is one of the great tragedies of Guyana that both sons of the soil have chosen, for one reason or another, to ply their trade in foreign lands. And it is a moot point whether they, like so many other Guyanese in the diaspora and their children who have blazed a trail in almost every area of endeavour, would have been able to accomplish all that they have done, had they remained at home.
Let’s face it. Guyanese have been emigrating in droves for decades and the brain drain continues unabated. And with every generation that leaves, future generations of potential nation-builders are lost. We talk of tapping into the diaspora and working towards a ‘brain gain’ by encouraging skilled Guyanese to return home, but let’s be realistic. As has been stated before in countless other forums and as many of us recognise, Guyanese with the requisite skills and other assets are not going to remigrate in significant numbers until we improve considerably our education and health systems, as well as the security environment.
Perhaps what we need to do is concentrate on finding a way to keep our people – to keep our youth in particular. Economic growth is clearly an imperative in this respect, but it is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. Can we generate economic growth without skills and knowledge and can we retain people with skills and knowledge without economic growth?
Indeed, economic growth alone is insufficient. We need to be providing our youth not only with a better education across the country and at all levels, but we need to provide them with opportunities for decent work and training, and advancement all the way along their career path. Nor is that alone sufficient. People want guarantees of good health care and security in all its dimensions – they want personal security, they want job security and they want to know that when they reach the end of their career, they can enjoy a reasonably secure pension, untouched by the ravages of inflation and the depredations of unscrupulous financial speculators.
It is a tall order and evidently, we have a long way to go. But until this government or any government can begin to give people long term assurances, we fear that we will continue to be net exporters of our most precious resource, our people and all their talents and potential, for the benefit of other countries that can offer them what they are seeking. And we shall continue to read of their exploits while realising more and more what we have lost as a nation.