Guyana’s future as seen by a USAID report
April 5, 2009 | By knews | Filed Under Features / Columnists, Freddie Kissoon
The USAID –Guyana Country Strategy, 2009-2013 is a document that will reinforce the pessimism that overwhelms a majority of people who live in this country. Like the Gay Mc Dougall Report submitted to the UN Human Rights Commission, the Guyana Government will label it a work of fiction. That is to be expected.
The USAID analysis should be of special concern to investors in this society. The essential observation on the evaluation of governance is that ethnic polarization threatens Guyana’s future. There are the usual judgements like centralized decision-making and weak rule of law.
But the report takes a dig at civil society and the business community. Here is a quote; “A weak civil society and fragmented private sector are not adequately equipped to engage in or influence decision-making processes.”
This USAID document has its pointed features and its hypocritical moments. It talks about the jeopardy that faces Guyana’s future because of political instability but it glaringly and egregiously overlooks the unwillingness of the aid donors to rein in an elected dictatorship in Guyana.
In this context, the opinion of the authors that is contained in that quote is unfair. Why should civil society and the private sector endanger the well-being, economic or otherwise, of their members by demanding participation in the process of governance when powerful countries that offer a lifeline to Guyana are not prepared to castigate the centralized machinery when it attempts to victimize civil society and the private sector for demanding just what the USAID authors want it to do?
The opening section of this manuscript paints Guyana as a small country that is one of the poorest in the world. Yet this obscure nation (comparatively speaking within the global scheme of things) has failed to sustain efforts at democracy that the US helped engineered in 1992 and has since then vitiated the energies of the population to concretize that democracy.
Since 1992, Guyana has joined Venezuela and Russia and a number of other countries that went from dictatorship to free elections as embodying what American scholar, Fareed Zakaria, calls illiberal democracy or known otherwise as elected dictatorship. The USAID report comes close to using that terminology to describe the nature of politics here in Guyana.
But what the USAID study has refrained from doing is to accept blame that American money has bankrolled this elected dictatorship.
Aid to Guyana pours in from the World Bank, IMF and IDB (apart from bilateral transaction from the US Government through USAID) all of which the US has a predominant say in. A high level officer at the US Embassy in Georgetown in 2005 told me that if the Guyana Government persists with torpedoing the establishment of a DEA office in Georgetown, the US would use its influence in these bodies to correct Guyana’s truculence.
On reading this document and its commentaries on political instability, the question stares you in the face – why the US Government does not put pressure on the Guyana Government to embark on good governance
In the section on governance, the USAID study points to other aid programmes of the US Government with components on good governance. It then goes on to depict a country whose future depends on the disappearance of ethnic mobilization and racial polarization. Well obviously one can read into this that the previous programmes on good governance have failed.
I will conclude this essay by suggesting that investors read this evaluation of Guyana very carefully. If entrepreneurs are going to invest billions in the economy of Guyana only to find that the country has a precarious future, then these capitalists as a policy of dire exigency need to engage State actors.
Here is another quote “(Guyana has) a political climate that threatens the country’s ability to consolidate democracy.” Here is yet another one; “The fundamental dysfunction of Guyana’s democracy –ethno-political mobilization – must be addressed if Guyana is to realize its great potential.”
Those who invest billions in this country have to be self-destructive if they cannot see that they have a pressing obligation to involve themselves in the political solutions on which rest the country’s future. I agree it will not be easy because even though this USAID report cites the weakness of civil society and the business class to situate themselves in the machinery of policy-making, the US Government has not shown any interest in rebuking the Guyana Government for its willing drift into authoritarian control.
One hopes that after this study, the US will insist on good governance from the Jagdeo presidency and the PPP Government. Incidentally, the report says 90 % of UG graduates migrate. I thought it was 80%. Things are getting worse.