Rice farmers walk their fields today with worried wrinkles on their faces, as they face poor paddy prices, uncertain international markets and hefty bank loans.
Word out of the Corentyne and Essequibo that rice farmers face dire straits this crop shows how much we fail to plan and engineer the kind of the society that works well in the 21st century world.
Our three major traditional pillars of the national economy – rice, sugar and bauxite – face serious challenges in this new global marketplace. The result is widespread poverty in Linden, and constant worry along the farming belt on the coastal plain.
With only two weeks of work possible this crop in the national sugar industry, families that depend on wages from cane-cutters face continued poverty amid reduced income.
We fail to grasp the realities of the new world order. The foundation for national socio-economic growth is developing our human resource capital, but while we fail to maximize literacy rates, we fool ourselves that we are making progress developing our people. Thus, the very foundation of our society stands on wobbly ground.
Our people-development is not happening fast enough, our traditional economic engine is sputtering under severe stress, and we spend our time and energies bickering and fighting over little petty inconsequential stuff.
Nowhere in our society do we see our leaders inspiring us, motivating us, lifting us as a nation to new heights of vision and self-belief.
At Parliament, we see juvenile rants and emotional strife rob this nation of any semblance of sensible leadership.
The ongoing battles over municipal elections, updated anti-money laundering laws and constant fights over the national Budget and Government-proposed projects sap the motivation of citizens to build.
Government’s poor leadership saps the energies of this nation to move forward. We see our Ministers and the President busy with politicking rather than leading with authentic forward-thinking.
Our society suffers from lack of innovative thinking.
We see the brain drain cripple our ability to develop our society, and we turn a blind eye to it. We see the state of the economy causing severe hardship on our hardworking farmers and citizens, and we sit with helpless hands hoping for a turn-around.
Not so long ago we saw the Government and media trumpet the biggest rice yield in history, giving false hope to farmers that rice farming would generate wealth and good living. Many invested heavily in their lands, despite continued poor flood controls and other ailments.
Today, a new problem arises, in a sudden uncertainty about international markets, and a drastic drop in paddy price.
Recent market deals with Belize and Haiti for our rice are but stop-gap solutions.
We face the possibility of bigger problems if the political crisis in Venezuela were to interrupt our fuel deal with that country.
We live by knee-jerk reactions, and fail to plan, innovate and develop pathways to a workable future.
The world’s developed societies plan way into the future. What’s our national plan for the next 20 – 50 years? What’s our vision as a nation? Where do we see our Guyanese nation being in the middle of the 21st century – a mere 36 years away?
We need to re-visit the idea of a Guyana Dream, once embodied in Forbes Burnham’s ‘Feed, House and Clothe’ the nation. Today, we’ve come a long way in that primary concern.
We also made progress in some significant secondary concerns, like universal education, a national electricity grid and free and fair elections, for example.
But where it matters most in this Knowledge Age, in a global village where knowledge, vocational skills and people smarts determine the development of societies, we face incredible odds.
In this tertiary concern of establishing a society on the firm foundation of vision, innovation and knowledge, we fail.
Granted that our world record brain-drain has robbed the nation of visionary leaders, innovative thinkers and world-class knowledge workers, we cannot afford to allow our nation to drift without vision, innovative thinking or a well-developed knowledge pool.
So we must find a way to overcome the status quo that seeks to maintain its power base. We must find a way to develop, across the land, leaders who bring innovation, a love for a knowledge society, and visionary leadership to the fore.
How could we accomplish this herculean necessity?
Oh, were we to see even one leader, a la Walter Rodney or Cheddi Jagan or Forbes Burnham, arise in this generation to inspire us, to instill in our hearts a new Guyana Dream, to paint on the horizon a strong vision for us as a nation, to motivate us and lead us and knit us together in how we’re being as a people!
We want a Guyana Dream to define us as a nation on the 21st century world stage.
We could see such a leader in a poet, a novelist, an artist, a politician in Parliament, a community leader. How do we as a nation generate such a national symbol?
We could unite under the banner of a past hero, but even in this we remain divided, with sections of the society seeing Jagan, or Burnham, or Rodney as hero, while some opposing section counters it with hate and derision.
We need a national, galvanizing hero that knits us together in one heart, one soul, one national fabric.
Our best bet might be our great cricketer, Shiv Chanderpaul, who brings us global glory. But we need more than that at this point in our history. We need a visionary, an innovator, an originator of a Guyana Dream. No society on the earth is without national challenges. Even in well-developed Europe, North America or the Caribbean, we see all manner of social ills. So we would never be a utopian society.
But the Guyanese nation is gifted, hardworking and capable of being way higher than we are today.
And in that possibility, that national potential, we must dream and believe and invest.
Such hope beating in the hearts of our farmers and bauxite workers and sugar harvesters would translate into us again being the breadbasket of the Caribbean.