Eye on the Issues by GHK Lall
The United States went from being at one time, and for a long time, the largest exporter of oil in the world, to a net exporter. From the 1970s forward it, along with large parts of the rest of the world, was held hostage through embargoes, supply squeezes, geopolitical postures, foreign policy contentiousness, which all contributed to economic shocks and dislocations. These shocks were, to put it mildly, severe and long lasting.
Guyana felt the pain, too. It could have been at the pump, or from the power plant, or from production curtailed, or potential sidelined, or poverty inflicted. For certainty, it was some combination of all of these. But now it has its own oil find and oil flow to look forward to; and from the confirmed calculations of the experts, this country has oil by the oceans. While the glow from the discoveries warms, there must be learning from the experiences and lessons of Nigeria and Angola and Iraq and Venezuela. Guyana must especially learn from Venezuela and discern and protect against the thinking and visions deeply rooted there.
This country’s lessons must not only be about borders, external political calculations, and ambitions; these lessons have to absorb the positives and negatives of the social revolution brought about by the political dispensations made possible there by oil wealth, and the travails that now undermine and lay low an entire nation.
Guyana must look at Iraq, wracked by religious division and extremism, and take great care that ethnic division and ethnic extremism are not substituted over here as this sector unfolds and develops; that this long longed for development, now embodied in this fabulous find, is not overwhelmed by the ancient feuds and the age-old divisions that have plagued this house.
Guyana must learn from Nigeria with its raging conflicts over North and South, over tribal hegemony and tribal marginalization, as well as political and leadership financial chicanery. It is a lesson worth learning and avoiding. In Iran, oil riches contributed to the flights of fancy and mental deterioration of the Shah, and factored heavily in the emergence and immovable arrival of the theocratic revolution. There is a lot to learn from a lot of places and through the teachings of numerous cautionary precedents.
In view of this country’s ongoing, uphill battle with corruption, compromised citizens, and a questionable and suspect political history, there is great and present danger of a high probability of the oil wealth going into the wrong places and the wrong pockets, and ultimately going down the drain to the detriment of the many left unattended. The challenge is to not let the blessing degrade into a curse; and the dream into a nightmare. This country can do better; it has to do better, if only for its own continuity.