Clear signs abound that our nation’s development is steaming ahead. But the picture may not be as rosy as it looks.
The things that concern us, that motivate us to employ our energy in our daily living, still border on bare economic survival. We still lack the ability to be a 21st century knowledge society.
The most obvious of the optimistic signs include the way people now dress in public. Across the country, people no longer wear old clothes and rags, even in villages. People in stylish clothes and fashionable dress adorn the landscape.
And old cars are becoming rare. New-look vehicles populate the coastland from the Corentyne to Charity. On top of this, rickety old houses give way to bright new solid concrete houses, as a new architecture pops up all along the major roadways.
The Diamond community development speaks magnificently of our potential. Here is the new, modern Guyana, with the banks leading a surging local economy.
Yet, behind the scenes of the sparkling banks and the expanding East Bank Demerara roadway and the modern traffic lights and the shiny cars and fashionable people and the new housing schemes full of mortgaged families, we still suffer too high a degree of gross poverty.
On the Corentyne, for example, the picture of a prosperous, peaceful, progressive people pops out with amazing energy. But behind the kaleidoscope of colourful houses, in the backstreets of Berbice, people still struggle to emerge from decades of under-development to stake a place in this new world.
Behind the Diamond-Grove development is a new community called Kaneville, filled with illiterate youth and social chaos and excruciating poverty. So also is ‘Plastic City’, a social quagmire hidden behind the vibrantly glittering Vreed-en-Hoop.
We see the massive social transformation that challenges us in places like those marginalized inner ghettos of Georgetown – Albouystown, Tiger Bay and Sophia – and Linden and New Amsterdam.
But also all along the coastland, hidden behind the façade of the shiny colours, scores of our citizens endure daily hardships reminiscent of the poorest of the poor in our 21st century world.
Government did a commendable job through housing development and land distribution to pull the economy to the edge of being an emerging economy.
Yet, something vital seems to be lacking.
The Low Carbon Development Strategy, with its sister e-governance vision, promises much, along with the hydro-electric initiative and plans to finally build the road to Brazil and even a bridge to Suriname.
It seems we finally worked out a roadmap to tackle our developmental challenges in the 21st century, with this promising and positive development plan.
The expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International airport and the East Bank roadway all speak of a great optimism filling the land.
We look around us and see these wonderfully encouraging signs, including in recent weeks a genuine effort to clean up the capital city.
This year’s budget debate is calmer than last year’s and less acrimonious. People even go about their daily lives ignoring the process going on in Parliament.
Yet, what concerns us, what drives us as a people, is still this basic economic imperative, this obsessive compulsion to live only to pull ourselves out of gross under-development.
We occupy ourselves with primary concerns, and lack the essence of what would make the defining difference for us as a 21st century society.
It was the Canadian thinker, Northrup Frye, who worked out a theory of levels of concerns that define a society.
Frye, after studying classic literature and thinking about human society as a professor at the University of Toronto, came up with the theory that what concerns us falls into three levels – primary, secondary and tertiary.
To severely simplify his theory, primary concerns occupy people who scratch around for economic survival; secondary concerns occupy people who rise to love the arts and social causes and so on; while tertiary concerns see people live for noble causes and selfless service to their community.
Although Frye developed his theory around the role of the literary critic, his thinking now permeates social development and applies well to test how a society functions.
Applying this idea of what concerns us, to the Guyanese nation today, we could gauge where we are, and where we are heading in the near future.
Why do we see so much corruption and nepotism stifle this nation? This one issue of corruption and financial irregularities at all levels of the State, so glaring in the Auditor General’s Annual Report, damages our ability to convert our ability into real results.
So despite talk of grandiose projects, we encounter instead failure, wastage and incompetency. These subtract from our achievement.
Friends and families of powerful leaders of the ruling Party, and of top Government officials, win massive State contracts. A small, close circle of friends and family of the ruling elite become owners of State-issued licences, monopolizing key industries.
Even the emerging e-governance initiative comes across as a failure because of these defects.
When an influential government functionary and his children could control key positions in powerful State institutions, we would only see the façade of development, and not the real substance of it.
What’s missing in this country is that tertiary concern, being occupied with such noble public behaviour as ethics, morals and accountability. We lack the foundation to be a society that looks beyond the primitive survival mode.
So everyone is occupied with acquiring capital for personal empowerment. Few care about widespread development that touches every corner of this country.
We concern ourselves with self-empowerment, at the expense of the rest of the society. This is why the groups excluded from the political power structure complain of marginalization and discrimination.
The vibrant, dynamic energy that enlivens the Guyanese nation is wonderful to behold. There’s something lovely about the way we live, about our zest for life.
And we see encouraging signs of progress – if we ignore the struggling communities hidden behind the façade of our development, filled with people hardly able even to read.
Whilst we concern ourselves with lavish concrete buildings, we refuse to concern ourselves with such tertiary luxuries as literature, knowledge and skills development.
As we dress with style and fashion, we must also work on our ability to read, write and think.