By Dr. Ken Danns
THE Come-back-fuh-go-back Guyanese are persons of Guyanese heritage who live abroad , more or less permanently, but return to Guyana for business, pleasure or family engagements. Their navel strings were buried in Guyanese soil and they are periodically pulled back to their origins to re-absorb the culture, cuisine and company. They return to breathe identity. “Ah going home,” they would say nostalgically.
They return to the country to tarry rather than stay, knowing that there is a life abroad that they have built or imagined — a life based on better employment, educational and health opportunities and the need to be with their family members and close friends who have also migrated. They return knowing that they must balance the cultural, emotional and spiritual security of being in Guyana with the material and physical security of living abroad in the diaspora. The Come-back-fuh-go-back or diaspora Guyanese is a perennial stranger possessing a double consciousness and experiencing double marginality. They are culturally grounded in the country of their birth, yet live as a stranger to it.
They inhabit the diaspora, but in reality do not belong to it. They are compellingly conscious of their Guyanese identity and heritage, yet model the consciousness of the diaspora they inhabit. Their double marginality is highlighted in a contest of belonging between their nation of origin and the nation in which they make their lives.
The Guyanese diaspora refers to Guyanese who have migrated abroad and are scattered across many foreign countries such as the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, the Caribbean, South American and other countries across the globe. Guyanese are more or less living all over the planet. According to the World Bank, Guyana’s emigration rate is among the highest in the world with 56.6 percent of its citizens estimated to be living abroad in 2010. It is these Guyanese that comprise the diaspora and they are among our brightest and best. Many occupy top management and leadership positions abroad. A U.S.
Government source reported that 80 percent of Guyanese with tertiary education have migrated from the country. This brain drain has negatively impacted the country’s development. These include highly skilled persons such as nurses, teachers, engineers, entrepreneurs, managers, lawyers, doctors, farmers and artisans. Entire families have migrated, leaving some to suggest that they are likely more Guyanese living abroad than are currently living in the country.
The population growth in Guyana has been anaemic for over four decades, manifesting either a negative growth rate or less than one or two percent. In 2016, estimated population growth rate was 0.17 percent. Because of emigration, Guyana’s population has never reached one million and currently stands at an estimated 735, 909. Bank of Guyana Senior Economist Debra Roberts stated that at the end of 2005, Guyanese migrants to the more developed economies numbered more than 500,000 with more than 200,000 reportedly living in the United States and 84,000 living in Canada.
The acute haemorrhaging of population from Guyana is one of the primary reasons for its persistent underdevelopment. The University of Guyana and other Guyanese educational institutions, heavily subsidised with public funds, produced graduates who were then constrained to migrate overseas in search of a better life. This brain drain is a serious problem and unless it can be arrested, efforts to develop Guyana would prove futile.
The Guyanese diaspora have left but never turned their backs on the country. Guyana is reported to be one of the largest recipients of remittances relative to GDP among Latin American and Caribbean countries.
Remittances have proven vital in supporting the Guyanese people during the decades of prolonged economic crises. Remittances in 2006 were reported to be US$286.9 million, representing some 24.6 percent of GDP. By 2013, remittances had increased to US$413 million according to an Inter-American Development Bank report. Economist Debra Roberts found from a survey that remittances to Guyana are being spent on: food – 27 percent, clothing – 20 percent, real estate – 16 percent, savings – 14 percent, and business – 8 percent.
Guyanese families abroad as well as overseas Guyanese associations have traditionally and tangibly supported their relatives, their schools, churches, hospitals and communities in the homeland. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that the diaspora is a crucial agent of economic and social development, but that governments often lack the knowledge or capacity to engage them effectively. The new APNU+AFC Coalition Government is seemingly taking an enlightened approach to engaging the diaspora as yet another core strategy to promote the country’s development.
The APNU+AFC Coalition Government has been calling on Guyanese in the diaspora to invest in Guyana. No less than President Granger himself along with Vice-President, Carl Greenidge, has been leading this charge in what is evolving as a cornerstone government policy. Several forums have been organised in the diaspora and locally. The Guyana Diaspora Project is a partnership between the Government and the International Organization for Migration to collect data on skills and resources which will be used as a guide to a more effective engagement policy.
A ‘Go See Visit Project 2017’ forum was held in Guyana in May 2017 and business proposals in the areas of information technology, agro-processing, financial services, tourism and customer services, renewable energy and health services were touted by Guyanese investors living abroad. A Diaspora Unit has been created within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to strengthen relations with overseas-based Guyanese, while encouraging trade, investment and other contributions.
The reality is that while there is a strong need for entrepreneurs from the diaspora to invest, there is also a dire need for skilled and trained Guyanese to return to help spearhead the country’s new development thrust. There is a growing campaign to have the Come-back-fuh-go-back Guyanese come back. At the University of Guyana, for example, too many key academic administrative positions are being held by colleagues with only bachelor’s degrees because of the inability of the institution to attract and retain better qualified faculty. It is not that these colleagues are not bright and committed. It is rather that they are not adequately trained for the responsibilities with which they are tasked.
Vacancies for skilled and professional jobs in Guyana should be advertised on Government websites and social media if this is not already being done. Salaries and benefits can over time be made attractive in order to lure Guyanese from the diaspora to return and serve their country. Minister within the President’s Office and Cabinet Secretary, Joe Harmon, puts it best when he reiterated the Coalition Government’s intention to “tap up and tap into” human and financial resources of the Guyanese diaspora.
The University of Guyana is hosting a major Diaspora Conference from July 23 – 28. As Vice-Chancellor Dr. Ivelaw Griffith puts it: “This conference—and the centre to be established—reflect our university’s willingness to help address the shore-home engagement gap, to help enable our nation to move beyond Dreaming Diaspora Engagement to Doing Diaspora Engagement, and to do so mindful of our racial, political, demographic, and socio-economic realities at home and abroad.”
This conference of Come-back-fuh-go-back Guyanese will undoubtedly discuss what the diaspora is doing, can do and is willing to do. Importantly, it is hoped that the Diaspora Conference would also highlight the obstacles in the path of a return and re-engagement of Guyanese who have become essentially strangers to their own land. The University of Guyana’s Centre for Diaspora Engagement can provide empirical and conceptual grist for facilitating diaspora engagement for the country’s development.
The Come-back-fuh-go-back Guyanese may however encounter obstacles that can discourage resettlement. The crime situation, chaotic traffic, poor infrastructure and inadequate health facilities are some of the more common problems faced by all Guyanese and that can only be overcome with time and serious policy interventions.
The Come-back-fuh-go-back Guyanese is both admired and envied and is an individual that is accorded a high status because of his/her professional standing, presumed economic assets or the fact of having lived abroad. He or she is treated like a stranger, either experiencing the best of Guyanese hospitality or seen as a gravy train to be exploited. In trying to do business they may experience resentment, being pushed around and frustrated trying to get things done.
Many Guyanese from the diaspora have complained about being asked for bribes and having to provide “a small piece” or a “big raise” to accomplish routine and fundamental things. Providing duck curry and rum were in the past required appetisers before serious monetary bribes had to be given for investments to be facilitated or contracts awarded. The Come-back-fuh-go-back Guyanese is often seen and treated as a threat to the jobs and positions of those compatriots who remained in the country and bore the brunt of everything. Consequently, they tend to be negatively judged and discouraged, because of their perceived values and expectations.
Of course, some Come-back-fuh-go-back Guyanese display arrogance and are judgmental of their stay-at-home counterparts treating them as lesser beings. It is imperative that this symbolic divide between the two types of Guyanese be acknowledged and overcome if diaspora engagement as a development strategy is to succeed.
Guyanese in the diaspora have also been pushed to migrate by the negative practices of authoritarian and corrupt past governments.
They loved Guyana, but hated the government of the day, withdrawing to an exiled existence elsewhere. The new APNU+AFC Coalition Government has a lot of ground work to do in the diaspora to persuade the exiled that “This land is your land”– and to convert the Come-back-fuh-go-back Guyanese into a “Come backee.” The discovery of large deposits of oil and the optimism of a green economy can go a far way towards successful engagement with the diaspora.