An Assessment of Guyana’s Independence status 50 years later

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Our dear paradise of a country, Guyana, is about to celebrate its 50th year of attaining its Independence status and it is being deemed our “Golden Jubilee”.

We revel in the fact that we are ‘free’; have the power to make our own decisions; live a life where we have our own ways of thinking and systems of governance and we control our agendas for national growth.

But it is imperative to bear in mind that when Guyana became independent on May 26, 1966, the nation entered a world order that was not particularly welcoming of its particular condition at the time. Its independence was essentially tempered by a global order that was hostile on the part of ex¬-colonies.

But even though we had political independence, we found it and continue to find it very difficult to translate that into economic independence. We are still, after 50 years of independence, dependent on the narrow economic base we inherited in 1966. We still continue to produce mainly for the consumption of others. Our economy continues to respond, not to the needs of our people, but to the wishes of the global market over which we have no control over.

With that said, it must be pointed out that there were attempts at economic independence in the early years, but these were frustrated by anti-¬nationalist forces and by our own internal ethno-¬political problems.

Here are a few areas in which we have not done enough with our Independence. First, for a country like Guyana to survive and carve out some little space in the global order, it needs national consensus. We have not done enough in that regard.

We have not been able to overcome the barriers inherent in plural societies like ours. Our biggest Independence letdown has been our inability to surmount our ethnic difficulties. It is an undeniable fact. After fifty years, we can barely point to any overriding set of political and cultural values which our ethnic groups mutually embrace. There is no National Ethos in that regard.

There is no doubt that the nation will celebrate in grand style, its motto, “One People, One Nation, One Destiny”,come May 26, but often we see that there is a need for the efforts of social cohesion and national unity to be extended beyond the holidays.

While there have been moments of national solidarity that cut across ethnicity, there has not been an inter¬ethnic national community. And this is disappointing, because we do have the potential to do more in this regard.

Another Independence let down is the way we have treated the poor and the powerless in the society. Fifty years later, the majority of our people are still mired in poverty.


What to Celebrate?

Despite our failings, there is still a lot to celebrate. We have to celebrate our survival as a people—a survival of the harshness that was pointed out. It is our people, the sufferers, who have always showed us the way in this regard.

We are a surviving nation and we must always celebrate that. So if we must celebrate Independence we must celebrate our people, especially our poorest—the least among us.

Despite our failings, we have still given ourselves and the world, the gift of our collective imagination—our song, our dance, our written word, our intellectual products, our sport.

Yes, we have to celebrate our cultural products and cultural workers. We have to celebrate our working people who till the soil, man the factories and the office, teach our children, look after our health, cook our food, bring us the news, cut the cane, harvest the rice.

They have toiled for little to nothing, but they have persevered. Many of us have moved from the social bottom to positions of authority and high status in the society. Even if some of us misuse our new status, there is need to celebrate social mobility.

Additionally, human beings are social, material and psychological and when one talks about independence we have to look at all of those things. The psychological element is that you are free to think for yourself. And through that psychological state, we have been able to do things for this country that had not been done before.

Independence has brought us elements of equality that we did not have. In the olden days, Britain determined who was going to be in the hierarchy of the civil service and one could not merely aspire to be there because that was their domain, but such is no longer the case.

Now there are more opportunities and there is an element of liberation. In the olden days, our banking system was controlled by foreigners and we have gone through a process of independence and the banking system was transformed. Now, there is the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (GBTI), the Bank of Nova Scotia, the Republic Bank, among others. This was unheard in those days. In that time, there was Royal Bank and Barclays, and in those banks there was a hierarchy that only certain people could have gotten into.

In the face of our flaws, there are certain benefits of our Independence status that we sometimes take for granted.

We must bear in mind that Independence is a continuum and there is still a struggle for all the characteristics of that ideal. People often judge where they are as against the ideal and not where they came from and that prevents you from sometimes understanding just how much you have achieved and have to celebrate.


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Issue 23 · Political · Publication

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