I venture one of my increasingly rare contributions into the more and more surreal world of Guyana oil. Already it seems in these early days that more words have been shared about oil than the actual number of barrels under the river. I add to the library.
There is no question that thinking is in the right place, as can be detected from the unending gushers of positions, critics, commentators, defenders, wildcatters, and other fellow travelers. Guyana can boast of more oilmen than those fabled spigots named Spindletop and Ghawar. Wonderful expositions have been placed before government and country as to how, who, where, and what are to be involved and must be executed. I hear and read of Sovereign Wealth Fund, and an array of interlocking oversight mechanisms represented by various checks and balances aimed at making the money belong to the people. My heart sings. Only the most despicable traitor and scoundrel would disagree. That is my heart only; my mind takes over quickly enough.
Where is the whole society fully engaged and intensely committed to wringing the most out of the oil for the whole? I repeat: for all the peoples. More sharply, where are the untouchable, immovable, beautiful people to implement, steward and convert to beneficial reality these idealistic, constructive, near perfect postures and proclamations of what to do with the blessing? Where are these ethical spiritual Spartans?
Editor, where are they when approximately half the citizenry does not trust the current government to be clean and open and patriotic when it needs to be, and must be in all things oil? Where are they when, arguably, an even greater fraction of the populace unswervingly thinks that the people of the prior government are still worse? There is this effortless ability to craft malevolent spectres and unmatched demons of the other that is now irreversibly embedded. Restarting can only commence through the reinforcing of rebuilding, but who is listening? From the ground and from scratch is what is demanded; and with nothing but the mirrors of eternal failures as guides. Who cares? Unless there is willingness to see the hated and despised other in a radically different light, then it is to nowhere. This has been the individual, communal, tribal, and national core, isn’t it? It is more than a core; it is the essence of the overwhelming majority.
On the other hand, amidst the drowning clamour and conflicts the few that have this country’s interest as a whole first and foremost, and constantly, are too few. They are so few as to be merely patronized by forced recognition through lip service and promises that suffer from lack of credibility as to intention and degree. They are so few as to be easily isolated, targeted, ostracized, betrayed, undermined, and neutered into either the inconsequential or retreat. There is resignation and disgust, too. Some mothers eat their young; this society consumes its caring and conscientious? This has been the sordid record of this country in other rich areas. So why not oil?
Now I ask: after all the righteous counsel-local, foreign, objective-that is well-received, then what? Do Guyanese rank and file (and the honourable) really believe that the many wise who epitomize the progressives on oil can stand as trustees for the children’s gift, the future’s security? The older can be sidelined; but what about the newer and younger, the still unannounced and today unknown? After all the talk and euphoria, is there deep-down readiness to rely on people from another race or another association? I do not believe so. Despite all the surrounding sound, this is the rich thick hush not pierced, shrunk from, and resisted. This is what reaches for Jimmy Carter; and what gives birth to a Clifford Krauss. At the rate we are going, always have, and with which there is great comfort, there will be the desperation of needing more like them, if only to enlighten as to how limited and self-destructive we are. Many of us are familiar with peers who were blessed with enormous potential yet ended up as bums. I say look at the blessings of Guyana and then debate how much of either a success story or a mediocre one it has been. And if there is falling short short, then revisit that epithet again: bum.
There is cringing. To the disbelieving, I point to Nigeria and Iraq; they are enough: stark, irreconcilable, and harrowing. Both places are sectional, sectarian, and sickeningly ethnic through and through. They also have oil. Though the statistics within the demographics of those torn societies may not exactly parallel Guyana’s, the mentalities, continuum of fears and hostilities, and the steely divisions are there for the scrutiny. The oil may as well be sludge or slime for all that it may matter to the entirety of the people. Unlike Nigeria and Iraq, Guyana does not possess the bulk or depth to withstand oil depredations by some that can harm the many. Or by one that marginalizes the next. There is too much space, too many options, too much history; and too little strength.
Here is where I am: the calls, objections, concerns, and teachings on paper and in the air are breathtaking. The reality on the ground is troubling. Who will be, and where are, the prudent overseers? I challenge anyone to examine the political or social or civic strata or ethical architecture and then say: thee and there. Listen to Emerson: character is greater than intellect. This is the supreme imperative. Now try this parting note: the oil is there; that much is now known. The sharks are there also; there is a whole nation of them. That is known too. And when sharks circle and feed, there is not much left for any others.