Guyana is a country that has been so blessed geographically and culturally that it is usual to refer to it as having rich potential in terms of its mineral wealth, its flora and fauna, and its people, who have been known to excel in all fields of endeavour in countries where they have taken up residence.
For many years Guyana has not struggled with the kind of natural disasters that periodically wreak havoc on other countries in the Caribbean and around the world. In recent years flooding has been on the increase, but this is probably the only blight on an otherwise perfect geographical scorecard.
With this pleasing state of affairs being our reality, one would think that national pride would be at an all-time high in Guyana. One might also expect that as Guyanese travelled the world they would be welcomed in most ports of entry as a progressive people from a rich land fulfilling its clearly obvious potential.
Not so; in fact the majority of Guyanese leaving these shores are not your consummate travellers seeing the world to experience other cultures in different lands. Guyanese are considered by many to be fleeing this country in search of a better life – the proverbial greener pasture – and some go to extreme lengths to do so, even willing to make illegal payments for the opportunity to travel to the North America or the United Kingdom.
So how did a country so well placed to be a bulwark of national pride and economic development become an exporter of citizens to the rest of the world? The 2012 census points to a stagnation of our population growth and the fact that the average age of our citizens continues to decline creating an increasing gap between the very young and the very old.
It is without doubt that the structure of our population is being negatively impacted by continuous migration. It also seems clear that migration is being driven, at least in part, by a loss of confidence by many persons in their ability to make a decent living at home in Guyana.
This brings us to whether or not there is a deficit of national pride on the part of Guyanese. Jamaicans understandably have national pride in their sports as the country has consistently demonstrated a high-performance ethic in its pursuit of sporting excellence. Trinidadians, on the other hand, can always feel the sense of national pride in the accomplishments of their musicians, having put several indigenous forms of music, such as calypso, on the world stage. Jamaica has done the same musically with reggae.
Whether national pride came before national excellence might be debatable, but it seems very clear in the country examples quoted, that both governments have built a strong supporting infrastructure upon which their nations’ talents are launched for the world to see.
In Guyana, there is still a paucity of supporting infrastructure for sports (although recent years have seen additions of international standard swimming and athletics facilities). Local recording studios have come on-stream through private entrepreneurship also, but only as improvements in technology have made such acquisitions reasonably cheap and accessible.
When one looks at the wider picture, at the state of the infrastructure on which our national institutions are carried: the military, the police force, the public service, the judiciary, schools and so on, it becomes clear that outdated and broken systems, low paid and unmotivated employees, decaying buildings and facilities, an absence of modern technology and computerised systems are all par for the course.
This is not to say that all is lost, as whenever cricket comes around there is usually an outpouring of pent up nationalism that is inspiring and infectious even if only in the short term. What seems to be missing in all this is the government’s ability to build on these opportunities for displays of nationalism, cementing a drive towards excellence in every field of endeavour within the country. Many such opportunities go a begging.
For instance, in the world’s first Global Robotics Championship for high school students in Washing-ton DC, the STEM Guyana Team finished in 10th place out of 164 participant countries. Social media in Guyana was abuzz with the excitement of this unexpected show of excellence in a field relatively few of those cheering the team on might fully comprehend.
One wonders as to whether the opportunity will be seized upon by those in authority to build on the early successes of the team and to entrench in the minds of young Guyanese the proof of excellence that is not a mere potential of Guyana and Guyanese but something tangible that can be seen, felt and built upon.