However hard we contemplate the issue it is difficult to think of any single development in the post-independence history of Guyana that has impacted the national psyche in quite the manner that the May 2015 ExxonMobil oil discovery did. True there have been, in the past, significant developments that have deeply impacted sections of the population though one can hardly think about any preceding event/occurrence to which at least some section of the populace did not remain altogether indifferent.
That was not the case with the discovery of oil. Admittedly, the nature and the extent of the reaction would have depended on the particular interest. The business community, the environmentalists and the politicians all had their respective says, from their various perspectives…and then, of course there was the more widespread ‘feel good’ response of the populace as a whole, with their vivid imagination and their attendant fanciful dreams.
Up to a certain point we used to ‘celebrate each successive oil find though by the time we got to the thirteenth find a few days ago the sense of public euphoria had long been replaced by a collective sense of self-assurance that down the road Guyana as a whole was in for a significant and overwhelming transformation.
Those thoughts, however, have not come without the attendant concerns, first, about whether we can rely on either the wisdom of our politicians or the shrewdness of our development planners to take us down the road of oil-related prosperity. We had, of course, begun to familiarize ourselves with worrying stories about the so-called ‘Dutch Disease’ and the examples of promises that imploded in Africa and elsewhere and we had begun to wonder whether in what has become our permanent condition of political rancour there was not the chance that we might become distracted and afterwards, completely derailed.
The introspection wandered into other areas like concerns about oil spills and the attendant environmental consequences and the likelihood or otherwise that many of our customary development priorities, like agriculture, for example, might not, somehow, become derailed beneath the deluge, so that the food self-sufficiency of which we boast might not be supplanted by a wholesale importation of food and whether those, developments might not, somehow, rob us of what one might describe as one of our core values as a nation.
That being said the persistence of the dream of untold oil wealth far outweighs the fears that like the failed oil states we might ‘crash and burn,’ so to speak. The hard-nosed businessmen (and women) now speak of oil and oil wealth and attendant development as though it were a fait accompli and young Guyanese – quite a few of them – are targeting academic pursuits that could position them for lucrative jobs in the sector and the more advanced in age are wondering – aloud in some instances – as to whether they will outlive the beginning of the bonanza.
And while it is hardly likely that the now inevitable fourteenth oil find is likely to make the kind of national ripples that the earlier ones did It is safe, one feels, to say, that however hard we might think, it is unlikely that we will stumble on any single development, any single occurrence of any kind in our nation’s history that has impacted the national psyche in quite the manner that the discovery of oil has.