OPINION: Guyana: depopulation and repopulation: laws of necessity and inevitability

Last Updated on Wednesday, 5 June 2024, 22:27 by Writer

by GHK Lall

There is agreement and disagreement with Mr. Nigel Hughes, arguably one of Guyana’s preeminent legal minds, floor practitioners. I share where I am with both agreement and disagreement, and then offer my little smidgens of refinement.

There is agreement on a population of foreigners becoming the dominant skilled presence in the local workforce. But I take that further: the resulting permanent underclass of Guyanese will have no alternative but to seek economic respite, a better quality of life elsewhere. Before Guyana’s golden age of oil, Guyanese were already among the leading contributors to a migrant workforce in foreign climes. Remember that report about the rate of graduate emigration. Considering what they will be relegated to, may not be capable of, the exodus of Guyanese will accelerate. On the other side of that coin, neighbors will flock here in droves, i.e., unless their own economies and personal prospects improve significantly and satisfactorily. Expanding the continuum, when the thousands first, then tens of thousands, come to fill the gaping voids and demand for skilled labor, and they have children, the numbers of foreigners reflect that difference, amid a shrinking, as I believe, Guyanese population. In sum, it is the perfect depopulation and repopulation storm. But, other than for resigned citizen complacency, many are going to pack up, take their chances, and start over. Somewhere else. We have compiled a long and stark precedent in this respect, where even domestics toiling for ambassadors and ministers made that move over the years. I can be counted. In effect, those at the lower ends will seek avenues to jump at what offers a higher level of incentive. I had it wrong before, as written, when it was articulated that Guyanese will be a minority in a decade or two. The thought today is that with the pace surging due to oil and its downstream requirements or overflows, Guyanese could be a minority in a single decade.

Counsel Hughes was astute enough to identify education as the golden key. It certainly cannot be what we have presently, what is extolled for quantity, what lacks focus in terms of what this country needs, must be channeled. The programs and numbers that I hear have their resonance, but for what levels? In what crucial areas, in what quantities? The urgent demands are for engineers, scientists, men and women well-trained in statistics, mathematics, and the accounting and auditing sciences. How many of these will Guyana be producing in the next 5-10 years, due to the highest priorities given, through the grooming and channeling beginning from today? A handful is assured, all things proceeding along the same trajectory. The reality is that this country urgently needs a roomful, one as big as we are capable of envisioning, and then working determinedly to construct by moving from idea to implementation. Naturally, the burgeoning oil industry, not a sector anymore, has its raging labor thirst, and it will not be denied. The workers will come from afar. The influx is already underway, but mostly under the radar. They have their utilities, but such are not necessarily the highest contributors to the local economy, which explains in part foreign exchange stresses. At least, the oil industry and its shore-based peripherals will have done justice to their ever-increasing labor needs. As matters stand, there would be several projects running simultaneously, and at close to preferred capacity (whatever that is decided to be). Help wanted! Regrettably, that quality and quantity cannot be found domestically.

Now, I move in another direction. It is in the nonoil segments of Guyana’s new existence, one that is seen, but still not richly covered in official and public conversations. Domestic beverage and food supplies, hardware and household supplies, among other routines, are more and more handled, managed, and distributed by a foreign contingent. Guyanese are familiar with ANSA McAL, Massy, and foreign banks (three by my rushed count), that have become fully integrated into the local commercial landscape. For sure, Banks DIH and DDL are holding their own, but the field is getting crowded, whole niches are lost to them. The Chinese come in for special mention. Say supermarkets and the Chinese are it, and not by a slim margin. I look at restaurants, and the recollection comes of a scornful putdown from my younger days. I was considered an infidel (haram) for eating all over the place and from anybody at any hour of the nite. How’s that for quality control and heath safety? I am still around and doing the same things. The detour down memory lane is called for, because the point is I was spending my pennies, which was the sum of wealth, buying from mainly local people. Need a razorblade, a sack of rice, a pound of nails, and those are all in one place today, and increasingly not in small Guyanese hands. Ditto the little corner barber, the pig farmer, the village grocer selling an ounce of cheese and a half pint of cooking oil. Aggregate all these and there is a tiny invisible army of foreigners in place and set to proliferate as the years multiply. I urge fellow citizens to think in years not decades.

So that the foreigners do not fear or feel any nativism, bigotry, even overdone patriotism, I have been a migrant for half of my life. As a beneficiary of the generosity of others (foreigners), it would be horribly wrong that I express or extend any prejudice in Guyana. There is, however, a duty to recognize what is in the population cards not far from now. The foundation is in place, the building blocks rise higher and higher. The huge irony is that Guyanese have become unsuspecting hostages to their national fortunes. How about that for an application of the laws of necessity and inevitability. And one more: that of unintended consequences?