Only recently, Guyana celebrated its 53rd anniversary as an independent nation and there is the common conventional lamenting and bemoaning that our various peoples seem to be as divided today as ever, no closer together today; that we are poor in a country of so many varied and huge rich natural resources; and with so much land, less than a million people in a country about the same size as the UK. We are/should be rich – even before oil was on our horizon. We are perplexed.
Fellow citizens, perhaps, because I grew up in contact with various groups of our people and have worked in the natural resources and infrastructure sectors, I see these perplexing things differently. I think we are frustrated and disappointed with each other in our seeming lack of progress, because we have been underestimating by a factor of ten or more the demands of coming together and of building our country materially; and in underestimating the demands we have not been ready to give what is required of us, and many of us, after making a start, have backed away and given up too early.
In my years at work, I learnt that when things are not turning out the way you expected, you should question your assumptions. Starting this our 54th year of Independence, I encourage us all to review our assumptions as a nation.
Others speak of us and we speak of ourselves as a divided people – as if we were once one, or that it is so easy, so natural for us to be one. This has been both misguided and misguiding, for we were never one: we are a people coming together from our very distinctively different starting points and becoming one takes time, it is a task for a number of generations. Fate may well have set us up as one early trial case, in preparing for a world becoming one. It is in making the experiences in facing and overcoming many common challenges and difficulties over a number of generations that people bind themselves together as one. In this regard, I am heartened that calls in the early 1960s in each of our two major race groups to opt for partition did not get far and our peoples are more alike today than at the time of our Independence.
The challenges of coming together as one people of Guyana are very subtle and go to the core of our being hitherto, to the marrow of our bones
In Guyana, we have had no significant history of hostility between our three main religions – Hinduism, Christianity and Islam – but they still largely set the framework within which we meet and socialise and it is within this socialisation that we get to really know each other and form strong bonds.
I recall coming home for summer work during 1965 (the year after our worse year of troubles of 1964), travelling to Mahaicony on the East Coast railway, in a third class carriage, I grew somewhat uneasy when the conversation turned to religion, and was greatly relieved when the sole Indo-Guyanese in our group said that all our religions called us to live essentially the same way, as brothers in peace and love, but, he asked, how are we to come together when our children are not getting together to know each other better in our schools and in our religions.
For some decades now I wished that there would have been a course of readers, one for each grade from kindergarten to graduation at UG, which would present in steadily greater detail and depth, the festivals, rituals, beliefs of the religions of our fore parents, all in one book – so that every one of us Guyanese would become and be known to be knowledgeable of and comfortable with the other religions; and religious differences should be less of a hindrance to our socialising across the board.
Perhaps we should be forgiven for having been as enthralled with the stories of our varied, extensive, abundant natural resources and large size, as Sir Walter Raleigh was with the story of the Golden City of El Dorado.
As one who has worked in the natural resources and infrastructure sectors all my life, I early learnt that the relevant hard-nosed facts told a different story. In the 1970s I learnt that the average growth rate for our forests, because of the highly leached nature of the sands and laterite soils, is a very low 8 to 10 cubic metres per hectare per year; about 20 for Africa and as much as 80 for some of the best planted pine forests on the sides of the Andes in Chile.
In Linmine in about 1988, in a working lunch with investors and planners for the Omai gold mine, we learnt that that mine was feasible because employment costs including training of workers to the required level of competence was estimated to be 8 to 10 per cent of total production costs, whilst for such an operation in a developed country, employment costs would be 20 to 30 per cent of total production costs. There were still occurrences like Omai in developed countries but there they were not economically attractive. Omai was a situation about training and utilising workers competitively.
In a similar manner, as we think of our oil future, we should note all the facts. I noted that Professor Clive Thomas in his articles proffered a projected cost of production of our Guyana shore at US$30 to 40 per barrel. Dr Henry Jeffrey informs us in one of his columns that there is still very much oil in Saudi Arabia with a projected cost of production of no more than US$10 per barrel. One should imagine oil prices will continue to move up and down providing us with an income that would be changing from time to time.
We have been wrong in our assumption that our large size, more than 40 times that of Trinidad & Tobago and more than 100 times that of Barbados should give us a proportionately great advantage: but it is the reverse. Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago have a population density more like the UK. It is we with our much much lower population density who are at a great disadvantage.
I see the new Guyana person, knowledgeable of and at ease with our history and the handed down practices, religions and cultures of our six ancestral peoples, dipping into our one large national pot, freely taking whatever meets his/her need; a person contributing to Guyana and the world and at ease in Guyana and in partnership with the world.
We have unveiled today in this Gallery of Presidents, the photographs of the eight Presidents that we have had in our 53 years of Independence. We certainly wish that we would have made more progress in the growth and development of our people and country, but we have been making experiences and learning along the way and here is where we are today.
Let’s get on with it: Let’s get on with it.
Samuel A A Hinds
Former President and