Guyana’s oil wealth, resource distribution, and coexisting vulnerabilities

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By Dr. Carolyn Walcott and Dr. Terrence Blackman – OilNOW

Guyana is poised to become the world’s 4th largest oil producer by 2035. This projection, presented by Rystad Energy in its 2022 report, Guyana Upstream, concretely quantifies the wealth beneath the nation’s surface. The viability of oil wells has set the country on an economic trajectory of 7.8B per annum by 2030 and a cumulative take of 157 billion USD by 2035. This shift in the nation’s fortunes, the most significant economic milestone in its history, is an inevitable and objective reality.

Guyana has won the proverbial lottery. Former Minister of Finance Winston Jordan said, in an interview in 2017, “This is the best thing that has ever happened to Guyana; I can say that not since perhaps when sugar was introduced into the colonies have there been such opportunities for a massive transformation of the economy. We’ve always dreamed of such a transformation, but we’ve never had the resources to convert our dreams to reality.” Guyana’s oil windfall can convert the country’s dreams into reality, but there is also a good chance of leaving Guyana with greater inequality, corruption, and internal strife. Many fear that this is what will happen.

The Rystad report addresses Guyana’s exploration success and future developments; the long-term sustainability of Guyana’s deep-water oil and gas; Value creation for Guyanese and the Oil companies; and Guyana’s governance of natural resources and development.

In the aftermath of the report, a plethora of socio-economic narratives emerged surrounding Guyana’s oil wealth based on expert projections in media reports. Several themes emerged: national pride, hope, renewed confidence in realizing a new Guyana, and a perceived lack of meaningful opportunities for Afro-Guyanese to share equitably in the oil wealth. We reiterate here our belief that the critical leverage point for unlocking Guyana’s full potential is addressing the ethno-political tensions and the concomitant internal strife.

On the heels of initial commercial oil discoveries in Guyana in 2015, local and international reports presented the nation to the rest of the world as the phoenix rising from the ashes of poverty. Each discovery and the expansion of oil wealth punctuated local news headlines as a reclamation of El Dorado. However, while national media coverage consistently enumerated oil discoveries, reports emerging from well-established media, including The New York Times, drew some attention to Guyana’s historical ethno-political tensions. The NYT report, in particular, omitted the full complexity of Guyana’s political power structure. The article provided readers only with the view of an impoverished nation with ethnic enclaves. As a result, vexation emerged among segments of the society and local reporters alike who felt that the grand narrative of poverty was now unjustified as the nation had finally realized wealth. The widespread euphoria of Guyanese in the diaspora is to be juxtaposed with the Guyanese skepticism at home, who feel that oil wealth is now the preserve of the political elite and their clientele.

In 2015, a new government took office, and, for its supporters, oil wealth became an elusive dream despite the promise of a good life for all by the newly sworn-in president. Moreover, the new administration’s failure to publicly engage citizens nationally and present a clear vision for Guyana’s people and future contributed to sentiments of exclusion, apathy, and generally low awareness. Moreover, the change in Guyana’s political leadership on August 02, 2020, following a prolonged election battle and the subsequent shift in the administration, has also heightened citizens’ fears regarding the socio-economic transformation of their lives.

One may argue that fears of exclusion are unwarranted based on the presence of regimes such as local content plans conceived to stimulate income generation across various sectors that support the oil economy. However, underlying concerns at the national level include access to resources and the distribution of jobs based on local politics in an emergent oil economy. These issues have received sporadic coverage across the Guyana media landscape as media establishments continue to grapple with balancing stories that will sell and the need to effectively educate citizens about the implications of oil wealth for Guyana.

Democracies are characterized by citizens’ degree of engagement and the media’s uninhibited gatekeeping role. However, Guyana’s democratic transition remains a work in progress with its relatively fragile electoral cycles, polarized voter base, and press fraternity caught in the throes of partisan politics and economic survival. Although one cannot erase a nation’s history, the role of the media remains paramount to changing the national narrative. Simultaneously, the gatekeeping function of the media remains sacrosanct to keeping the state’s leaders accountable while orienting citizens to become fully immersed in Guyana’s oil wealth and resource distribution.

Our history and current media landscape are coexisting vulnerabilities that require careful consideration across all state and civil society institutions. Guyana’s socio-economic, political, and media establishment faces a version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, a well-known concept in modern game theory. It is a paradox in decision analysis in which stakeholders act in their self-interest and fail to produce the optimal outcome for all. To echo Hamlet’s, to be or not to be, for Guyana, to ‘race’ or not to ‘race’ or better, how to ‘race’ is indeed the question.

About the Authors

Dr. Carolyn Walcott is a media and communications educator and scholar with a diverse background in journalism education, international communication, and media development. Her research agenda includes media pedagogy, political rhetoric, and social change. She is an assistant professor of Communication and Media Studies at Clayton State University and teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses remotely for the University of Guyana. She previously served as Director at the U.G. Centre for Communication Studies (UGCCS), where she coordinated international capacity-building seminars to enhance journalism practice in Guyana. Her professional media and development consultancies include strategic mapping and intervention designs for agencies such as UNDP, UNICEF, and WWF. She completed her undergraduate education at the University of Guyana and graduate degrees at Ohio University (M.A-Communication & Development) and Georgia State University (Ph.D.), respectively.

Dr. Terrence Richard Blackman is a member of the Guyanese diaspora. He is an associate professor of mathematics and a founding member of the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics at Medgar Evers College. He is a former Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor at MIT and a Member of The School of Mathematics at The Institute for Advanced Study. He previously served as Chair of the Mathematics Department and Dean of the School of Science Health and Technology at Medgar Evers College, where he has worked for more than twenty-five years. He graduated from Queen’s College, Guyana, Brooklyn College, CUNY, and the City University of New York Graduate School.


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