Image credit: Guyana Chronicle - Photo: 2023

Mobilizing Guyana’s Diaspora Beyond Remittances

By P.I. Gomes

The writer is Former Secretary-General of the Organisation of African, Caribbean & Pacific States (OACPS).

GEORGETOWN, 23 May 2023 (IDN) — In the north-east coast of South America, the small and newest petro-state sits the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. With a population of almost 800,000 persons, the former British colony was granted political Independence in 1966, becoming a Republic in 1970 under circumstances that had witnessed years of inter-ethnic and communal conflicts.

These were engineered, at the expense of an initial unified, nationalist movement through the explicit British imperialist policy of “divide and rule”.

This ensured a supply of cheap labour and embedded a political culture of animosity between the two major ethnic groups of Indo-Guyanese (40%) and Afro-Guyanese (29%). The mixed population derived from inter-marriages of British, Madeira Portuguese and Chinese comprises 20% and Indigenous communities are 10%.

This composition of ethnicity, race and a class structure of local business and professional elite has been an underlying challenge in a search for national unity that would overcome periodic political instability and eruptions of violence on ethnic and racial grounds.

Periods of upheavals in the 1960s was a major factor in the large migration of middle-class professionals and their descendants along with rural small business, Indo-Guyanese who are now the core of a Guyanese Diaspora in Canada and the USA. They had faced racial insecurity under Afro-Guyanese political dominance in a 28-year era from 1964 to 1992 and the response was to seek refuge in North America.

It is the first and second generation of those economic migrants that constitute the core of today’s 600,000 Guyanese Diaspora. Some 50% of whom reside in Canada and USA and formed the bulk from which young and old professionals, civil society activists joined colleagues and friends at the 2nd Diaspora Conference at the University of Guyana 8-10 May 2023.

Dynamic Diaspora to Engage in Guyana’s Booming Oil Economy

Convened under the theme—Calling 592: Honouring, Researching, Reigniting Diaspora, the 2023 UG gathering came as a follow-up to Guyana’s First Diaspora Engagement Conference in July 2017.

A major output of the latter was a well-received, 400-page edited volume of presentations and deliberations from the 2017 Conference in Dynamics of Caribbean Diaspora Engagement – People, Policy, Practice.[1]

The book serves primarily as a scholarly reference for researchers and students to be acquainted with the demographic features of the abundant human resources outside of home countries in the Caribbean. Also, it gave policy proposals and critical insights into how the political directorate in Guyana viewed the enormous resource of human capital for nation-building, such as offering land and tax concessions for investments.

That appeal to Guyanese abroad to return home or contribute from wherever they may reside, made six years ago, has taken on a more pressing urgency due the rapid and extensive oil and gas exploration and production now engulfing the once “indebted, poor country”.

A multi-billion US$ investment has been sparked by ExxonMobil’s discovery in 2015 of some 18 billion barrels of recoverable oil reserves in a Block off-shore Guyana’s coast. By a 3-fold conglomeration of MNCs comprising US ExxonMobil (45%) and Hess Corporation (30%) with China’s National Offshore Oil Corporation (25%)[2] rapid production of oil and gas has resulted in revenue of US$254 billion in 2021 to the 3-party MNCs led by ExxonMobil’s local subsidiary. In a shameful contrast, royalties to Guyana were a mere US$5.8 billion.

This illustrates the lop-sided Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) signed by the 2015-2018 Guyana government for 2% royalties, an unheard rate of oil agreements that also provide 12.5% profit-sharing between the MNCs and Guyana while, in addition, the MNCs operations are tax-free.

Widespread controversy and protests locally have called for renegotiating the Agreement, but it has not been pursued by the current government based on “sanctity of contracts”. Of course, this is well accepted by the MNCs as they continue the oil & gas exploitation at excessive profit levels.

In passing, it is of interest to note that where business and profiteering are concerned US capital is comfortable to partner with Chinese finance, despite the tensions in economic and military rivalry in pursuit of geo-political hegemony.

The Diaspora offers more than Remittances

In the context of Guyana’s economic expansion, UG’s 2023 2nd Diaspora Conference highlighted a range of human capital avenues by which the accumulated knowledge, skills and experiences of the Diaspora can make a significant contribution.

In the Vice-Chancellor’s address to some 300 participants at the UG Diaspora Conference, Professor Paloma Mohammed-Martin indicated that “the University, over its 60 years of existence had produced more than 50,000 graduates, at least 30% of whom now form the upper and middle socio-economic layers of Guyanese diaspora”.

As the Vice-Chancellor noted, although as a country Guyana may have “lost,” over the last five decades, billions of US$ through emigration to countries, mainly the USA and Canada, there have been significant “gains” that accrued to Guyana. These are in terms of monetary, cultural, human capital, technological and organizational benefits and capabilities. Particularly outstanding among these sources have been remittances which are estimated in 2019 to have been approximately US$ 2.6 billion and by foreign direct investment a further US$1.6 billion.

This most encouraging tribute to a dynamic Guyanese Diaspora would reasonably expect remittances to continue their significant role in the country’s sustainable development. But additionally, the Government’s initiative of an official Diaspora Unit in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and close collaboration with the University’s research, training and needs’ analyses offer enormous scope for innovative measures to mobilise and structure economic, social and cultural benefits, at this time of Guyana’s transformation into a major petroleum producing state.

Such initiatives were evident by presentations at the UG’s 2nd Diaspora Conference and based on a framework for bi-directional, reciprocal knowledge between human resources at home and abroad it seems useful to a) deepen demographic profiles of skills and expertise of financial analysts in petroleum economies; b) pursue twinning individuals and institutions for research exchanges and policy symposia; c) undertake technical, short-term advisory missions in response to identified needs; and d) strengthen partnerships for international best practice to mobilise a Diaspora for development with remittances and beyond.

These may usefully inform a planned 3rd UG Conference in 2025 on the theme: “Technology and Diaspora in the 21st Century”. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Image credit: Guyana Chronicle

Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

We believe in the free flow of information. Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International, except for republished articles with permission.

[1] See George K. Danns, Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith & Fitzgerald Yaw,.2018 Dynamics of Caribbean Diaspora Engagement. Georgetown, University of Guyana Press.

[2] ExxonMobil operates as a subsidiary EEPGL – Esso Exploration & Production Guyana Ltd.

Related Posts

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top