In recent times, we have become familiar with terms like “fake news” and “alternative facts.” These are terms which originated in the United States of America and which have added to the asininity that we have been witnessing worldwide.
When we examine our Guyanese reality, we are confronted with evidence that many halfwits exist here. I usually refrain from negatively labelling people, because I generally try to see the best, even in the worst of people.
But how do others see us? Are we respected by the rest of the world? We know that there are Caribbean islands that have often disrespected Guyanese. Barbados, for example, was famous for the bench where its immigration authorities would allegedly seat our people who visited their country to send them back on the next available flight. Many Trinidadians even today think the worst of us.
For many years, many Guyanese could not acquire travel visas because it was thought that they would go to countries like the United States, Canada and England and stay illegally. And yes, sadly, because many were seeking to improve their lives, this happened in many cases, even though I do not believe it is as prevalent now and is not the storyline of most Guyanese.
It is no secret that the discovery of oil has placed Guyana in the spotlight. The advent of the oil sector provides the opportunity for us to become one of the wealthiest countries in this part of the world. The world is looking at us and many are curious to know who we are, but, unfortunately, when others try to tell our story, we cannot trust that they will tell the whole truth. This was evident in a recent New York Times article penned by one Clifford Krauss. Although many of the points about our impending oil industry were relevant—whether it will be managed efficiently, how it will change the lives of the people, our preparedness for disaster, our history of corruption in politics et cetera—there were still inaccurate descriptions of our country.
“…a vast, watery wilderness with only three paved highways. There are a few dirt roads between villages that sit on stilts along rivers snaking through the rain forest. Children in remote areas go to school in dugout canoes and play naked in the muggy heat,” he wrote.
While Guyana is the land of many waters, I am not sure how anyone can describe this land as a watery wilderness. Perhaps Krauss took a ride on the Essequibo River and was hypnotised by the brown waters. I wonder if he visited and enjoyed the magic of the Kaieteur Falls. Perhaps the savannahs in the Rupununi would have inspired him to write “vast pristine plains” instead. Maybe Krauss did not experience the coolness of the rainforest or was not captivated by our mountains.
Maybe the man only visited some remote locations along river banks to have penned that our villages sit on stilts along river banks with dirt roads. There are many villages he could have visited on the East Coast, East Bank, or in Berbice, for example, that do not fit his description. It is irresponsible for any journalist to find what represents a small section of a country and present it as a reflection of the whole. But when these correspondents visit so-called ‘Third World’ countries and write untruths, who holds them accountable? Even on Krauss’ Twitter page, where many Guyanese expressed their disappointment and rage at what he wrote, he did not hesitate to response with the type of arrogance we have grown accustomed to.
But why do many journalists from developed countries often choose to focus on the poorest aspects of the places they visit? Perhaps because sensationalism sells. There is also the ‘saviour’ mindset of some.
I do believe that many have preconceived ideas. We are all familiar with the way that Africa as a continent, for example, has often been presented by images of starving people dying with AIDS. Until now, many who have never visited the continent believe that that is a representation of the entire African story. The snobbery many in the West display is typical because they believe that their cultures are far superior.
But how often is it acknowledged how those nations acquired their wealth and what was their road to development? The labour of slaves, the extermination of Indigenous peoples, and theft are all part of their history.
Krauss wrote, “Hugging the coast are musty clapboard towns like Georgetown, the capital, which seems forgotten by time, honeycombed with canals first built by Dutch settlers and African slaves. The power grid is so unreliable that blackouts are a regular plague in the cities, while in much of the countryside there is no electricity at all.”
I am not going to challenge his description of Guyana Power and Light’s unreliable power supply, which is a sore point for many Guyanese. The power company continues to work to improve its services. However, one would imagine that most of Guyana’s countryside is without power from the description, which is false. Perhaps the writer visited the most dilapidated places in Georgetown to describe our city as a ‘musty clapboard town’ or perhaps he did not visit Georgetown at all but referenced some article written during colonial times when our ancestors were building this country.
“A vast majority of college-educated youths emigrate to the United States or Canada, while those who stay behind experience high rates of H.I.V. infection, crime and suicide.”
While yes, many university graduates do in fact migrate, many also have remained here and are serving their country. And to describe us as having high rates of HIV infection is a part of the storyline where many Westerners believe that third world countries are diseased. Perhaps a little research on the journalist’s part would have helped him to report on the factual prevalence of HIV infection which up to 2016 was 1.6% according to a report, titled ‘Sustainable planning for HIV Response in Guyana,’ by Dr Morris Edwards of the Ministry of Public Health.
We do have a crime problem and experience high rates of suicide in certain parts of our country. We are not the only place in the world with those issues. Robberies, mass shootings, violence, and racism are all part of American’s story. We can acknowledge our problems and be honest in recognising that those issues need to be addressed.
What is unfortunate about the inaccuracies Krauss penned is that there are those Guyanese that have endorsed what was written to describe our country. What I mentioned in my opening paragraph about “fake news,” “alternative facts” and the idiocy of people has been proven once again.