Harnessing rights, riches and obligations from the diaspora: A Committee of Sorts
By Marlon Bristol
SPEAKING to my high school friend who left Guyana in the 1990s, he posited the question, where is our Ministry of Technology? He argued that not having such a ministry is an opportunity missed and stressed the relevance and importance of such, particularly for mitigating youth employment and societal decay.The conservation ventured on and in closing, he said, “We need to get more of us in the diaspora involved: A committee of sorts.” I am sure many of us have had similar conversations with
Guyanese and non-Guyanese, home and abroad. And, I am sure we feel it is relevant to the country’s development of a Green Economy, presenting a paradigm shift of reaching the good life much quicker. Can such a shift be achieved through a sustained partnership between the Government of Guyana and the diaspora? And, if we are cautious about such measures, couldn’t we start on a small scale with a Committee of Sorts? I am sure we may know of many examples where there are diaspora programmes delivering development results for origin states. This has been vibrant in places such as China and India. Closer to home, we have Jamaica as a case in point.
It is always a wonder when you travel to a country seemingly more developed than Guyana, to ask yourself, what has that particular country been doing that Guyana can’t do? In my humble opinion, much of the progress has to do with the people of a nation and their commitment to moving their country forward. In an ever-changing world, progress and measures of it, are always relative because as in China, with all the economic wealth acquired, it cannot be compared to Guyana when it comes to air quality and high forest cover.
Elizabeth Thomas-Hope, the regional migration pundit, has proffered the notion of the growth in population migrating to the metropolis of the developed countries, and for Guyana, the USA, Canada, and the UK in particular. Recently, my own work recognised migration to closer jurisdictions in the CARICOM region, owing to lower entry barriers and the policies in the CSME. As recognised by Simona Vezzoli in her research on the ‘effects of independence, state formation and migration policies on Guyanese migration’, she found that policies played an important role in influencing the movement of Guyanese 50 plus years ago. Fast forward to present day and my research has been investigating if return migration policies have had the effect of mobilising Guyanese in the diaspora and their resources to make meaningful contributions to local development.
In the context of diaspora support, the evidence so far points to successive platforms trying to harness the potential of the diaspora, but none has been clear in their policy stance (deliberate or not) on what obligations they seek. Simply bestowing rights and marginal, at best, can often be interpreted as discriminatory. Further, partial incentives, with the hope of progressive returns based on the constructive attributes of those encouraged to return may not achieve enduring results. Return is therefore much due to self-selection. And, the lack of clear policy guidance, in my view, has been the source of discontent and criticism by the diaspora. At origin, there has been a reluctance to accept the value of the diaspora’s activism and importance openly, especially in the sharing of local opportunities, though the benefits have been clear at the level of households and families in the remittances received financially and in kind.
In fact, remittances have also been found to be a critical source of foreign exchange in comparison to foreign aid, Foreign Direct Investment and Official Development Assistance.
The first attempt at linking with the diaspora, as a rich resource base, and encouraging return as a matter of government policy for the sake of national development, was made immediately following Independence, in 1967 by then Prime Minister, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham. The government scheme on return migration targeted skilled Guyanese in the diaspora. A. J. Strachan in 1980 and 1983 claimed that the return policy at that time was successful, mainly due to the diversity of skilled individuals who had returned under the programme. This, of course, was also considered a success at a time when James Mittleman argued that development dependency of peripheral nations escalated through a transfer of skilled labour resources to those countries. Simona Vezzoli showed, in the case of Guyana, how migration policies of the USA, Canada, and the United Kingdom prior to independence were critical to such transfer of skills from Guyana through emigration. Others argued that the economic and social policies after independence contributed to such emigration gaining momentum. The dynamic forces at work in the pre-and post-independence period never truly abated. The result is a continuing depletion of human capacity, despite all the efforts to replenish and expand training. Former Presidents Dr Cheddi Jagan, and Mr Donald Ramotar made similar calls under their tenures, but policies remained deficient. Currently, President David Granger also made this clarion call during and after his campaign.
Most of those who returned to Guyana would tell you they left with a one-track mind, or the love of country was greater than any temptation that existed. In any case, Guyana has built up such a large diaspora that once family reunification remains important people will continue to leave in fair numbers.
Stock data reported by Ratha and Shaw in 2007, showed the estimated number of Guyanese-born people living abroad (around the year 2000) to be 417,469 – in excess of 50 per cent of the total domiciled population. The Sussex Global Origins Migrant database estimated 347,946 Guyanese living abroad. With such a relatively large diaspora, there is no wonder why remittances continue to be high, and emigration continues unabated due to family reunification, among other reasons.
The altruistic nature of remittances to Guyana as demonstrated in survey data by Tilokie Depoo, Reena Agarwal and Andrew Horowitz, indicates that the diaspora remits whether or not they intend to return, leaving a logical conclusion that Guyana, and Guyanese at origin, remain in need, as they offer support in the achievement of a Good Life, if not for the country, at least for their families.
Migrants are not considered generally to be a random group, and return or circulation to small jurisdictions such as Guyana remains a merit that policy should seek to realise. This article continues…
Marlon Bristol is a PhD Student researching the development impact of return migration to Guyana using parametric and non-parametric techniques. He is currently a Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist with the Ministry of the Presidency. He is published and his strengths include research methods, development economics, policy advice, project management and monitoring and evaluation.
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