50 years after the Cooperative Republic was envisioned

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HAPPY Mashramani Guyana! Today is a Sunday unlike any other. Today, the streets will be filled with people having a good time, because hey, it’s a celebration after hard work. What is even more spectacular (yes, even more than the extra holiday tomorrow), is that today, Guyana observed its 50th year as a Cooperative Republic.

Before the past few months, when I started reading more about the genesis of the Cooperative Republic, I will admit, I was ignorant of this. For me, it was always just a mere shift to a system of governance where the people and their elected representatives of a country, including an executive President, held the power. That is true of a Republic, but Guyana came to be more than a Republic, the country transformed into a Cooperative Republic.

Gaining independence was one thing, but in August 1969, Guyana’s political leaders agreed that for this country to pursue a development trajectory that was inclusive of all Guyanese- no matter class, creed, race or otherwise-the country would become this Cooperative Republic.

The “Cooperative” concretised the imperative of “One People, One Nation, One Destiny”, wherein each Guyanese was responsible for adding to the collective development of the country. This wasn’t an attempt to forge the elusive national unity by virtue of attempting to forget the differences that exist in Guyana’s myriad of social groups (a predisposition I once believed in). Instead, it recognised that each person, though different, could contribute to Guyana in their own meaningful way.

It was a vision outlined to usher in economic viability for Guyanese. It is no secret that political power is inextricably linked to economic power. And it is no secret that even with independence, the ‘small man’ was not going to be able to fully participate in the decision-making process. With this system, however, a higher degree of agency was afforded to the small Guyanese.

In so doing, a third sector of the economy was opened up. In addition to the public (government) and private sectors, the cooperative sector emerged. Now, let’s add some context here for the cooperative sector. Perhaps the most well-known, historical example of this was the village movement. The formerly enslaved Africans pooled their meagrely wages together and bought plantations from the white colonial masters. These plantations were later developed into villages and communities, which still stand tall today.

“In the first decade or so after 1970, hundreds of cooperative societies were established in Guyana in such sectors as small- and medium-scale farming, agro-processing, consumer marketing, and the transportation sector and a number of national institutions were created to support them,” Permanent Representative of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana to UN, Ambassador Rudolph M. Ten-Pow related, last February.

These national institutions included a Cooperative Bank, the Guyana National Cooperative Bank, which provided capital to cooperative societies. Additionally, he reminded that in 1973, the Kuru Kuru Cooperative College, which was established to strengthen the cooperative movement by providing inter-disciplinary outreach and extension programs that addressed the business aspects of cooperatives, including organization, financing, management, and marketing. Legislation was also enacted to provide a conducive environment for this landscape.

However, he did relate that the role of cooperatives in Guyana was not insusceptible to the negative economic impact of declining sugar prices, and a general decline in the local economy, thus, the cooperative sector contracted and was never brought back to that peak it was at then.

Guyana is the only country in the world where the development model of ‘cooperativism’ is captured in the official name of our country. It was a noble and novel undertaking 50 years ago but was never fully realised.

50 years later, the legacy of what once was and what could have been should still linger at the back of our heads. At a time when Guyana has only just begun lifting oil from beneath its shores and is set to be quite the wealthy country, at least on a per capita basis, it is critical to consider this developmental pathway once envisioned.

The creation of a Cooperative Republic had its groundings in the prevailing socialist ethos of the day. It advocated for the creation of a more egalitarian society. The merits of a socialist system and the capitalist system can be argued all day, but what is inarguable, in my opinion, is the need for Guyanese to remember this vision of being Cooperative. Internecine strife has stunted this country’s growth, and I am personally fed up with this, man. This Golden Jubilee really, really presents us with the opportunity to ‘Reflect, Celebrate and Transform.’