By Ray Chickrie
The foreign minister of Guyana, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, was absent from the recent 40th Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Conakry, Guinea, on December 9 - 11. Guyana did not participate in the meeting. Rodrigues-Birkett was slated to attend the Conakry OIC CFM meeting but never made it to the West African nation. The Guyana seat was empty; however, neighbouring Suriname was represented at the meeting.
Born in Guyana, Raymond Chickrie was a teacher in the New York City public school system and has also taught in the Middle East
It would seem that there was no plan put in place to have a replacement to represent Guyana at this important meeting. Maybe Rodrigues-Birkett could not arrange for a replacement to be sent to Conakry after getting news of Nelson Mandela’s death. She flew to South Africa where she joined the president of Guyana to attend Mandela’s memorial service.
Especially that Guyana continues to face territorial disputes with both Venezuela and Suriname, it would make sense to have Guyana represented at large international forums such as the OIC, which is a grouping of 57 countries.
The Guyana government’s foreign policy has come under fire for placing too much trust in the leftist leadership in Suriname and Venezuela. Naturally, the interests of their nations come first and not always will these leftist leaders remain in power. The respective oppositions in those countries are less sympathetic to Guyana’s narrative. This is why it’s necessary for Guyana to have a wide range of political allies from across the world.
Attending meetings of the OIC are important small steps to solidify political and economic ties with rich nations of the Islamic bloc such as Qatar, the United Emirates, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan or some of the growing economies of Africa that are not being exploited because Guyana is not using the OIC forum to its advantage well.
These forums also allow Guyana the opportunity to promote economic diplomacy to bring badly needed investments and economic aid from those countries. It can help to advance bilateral talks and get to know the leadership of these wealthy countries that can open a line of communication with their leaders. Guyana’s membership in the OIC, which allows for such, is not being used to its best.
Suriname, on the other hand, has offered to host an OIC office, and has embarked on a two-year (2014 -2015) interim member country partnership strategy (MCPS) with the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) to contribute to the development priorities of the government of Suriname. The IsDB will contribute about $100 million to support various health, education and transportation projects in Suriname under that agreement. Recently, Suriname joined the OIC Food and Security Programme.
Paramaribo has attended all major OIC meetings since the Bouterse administration took office in 2010 and Suriname is now benefiting from the OIC and the IsDB. Further, and without any presidential trips to the Middle East, Suriname has secured investments from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Guyana continues to lag behind. Guyana’s haphazard presidential trips to the Middle East have brought no foreign direct investment to Guyana.
This questions why Guyana did not join the OIC Food and Security pact, especially that the government in Georgetown claims to place heavy emphasis on agriculture. As well, Guyana to date is not yet a member of the IsDB, a move that former President Jagan initiated with the IsDB when he was in office. An IsDB office in Guyana or Suriname may become a reality if Guyana joins the bank.
Guyana’s presence in Guinea would have also help salvage President Ramotar’s bombastic statement he made at the UN in September about Egypt and Syria, without fully weighing the Sunni/Shia rivalry led by Iran and Saudi Arabia and its implications for Guyana. This made news in the Arab press. His bold statement could cost Guyana politically and economically. Suriname’s statement on the same issues at the UN by its Foreign Minister Winston Lackin was tempered, shrewd and prudent.
As well, it would have been wise, as promised, to send a high level delegation to Conakry, especially that Guyana still does not have diplomatic relationship with many African states, and many are members of the OIC. This would help to shore up Guyana’s ties with Africa, homeland of many Afro-Guyanese. Africa is on the rise economically and slowly dictatorship is fading there.