When Guyana gained its independence from the United Kingdom (UK) in 1966, the political leaders of the day must have been beside themselves with lofty visions for the freshly minted state. It wasn't long before there was a complete severance from the UK in 1970 and the brandishing of a new name – Cooperative Republic of Guyana. The cooperative spirit would definitely give the fledgling state a fighting chance.
While growing up in the 1970s, it was evident that the goings on of that era was congruent with the name. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of cooperatives (co-ops) formed throughout the country in various industries. Given its importance, the Kurukuru Cooperative College was even developed to teach skills that would further the cooperative movement.
Although the movement was a construct of the PNC, the opposition PPP was firmly onboard. The two main political parties were united on something.
In their 1992 Manifesto, the PPP stated: "The Cooperative has an important, complementary role to play in the development of our economy, particularly in the agriculture sector. Co-operative ownership has many advantages in particular circumstances which cannot be found in any other form of ownership. The Government will therefore encourage co-operative ownership where It will be in the interest of producers, consumers and country as a whole".
Today coops still exist, albeit in fewer numbers, and I am a proud member of one. When I gained employment at the national airline in 1987, I immediately joined the Clerical and Commercial Workers Union (CCWU) Cooperative Credit Union. The value of coops is immeasurable, and I am still reaping the benefits from my membership to this one. As some wise person once said: teamwork makes the dream work.
On the streets where you can get a glimpse of everyday life in Guyana, it is hard to find any evidence of cooperation. A few days ago, I stood up in Guyana's equivalent of Times Square – Stabroek Market Square – althought there are no gigantic TV screens with flashy advertisements. I stood there without a care in the world observing the comings and goings of Guyanese. It has been a few years since I last immersed myself in that experience.
It was rush hour. The masses were going home from work and vehicular traffic was at its peak. The typical ambient noise was ratcheted up – a mixture of human chatter, music, horns and running engines.
Since Stabroek Market Square doubles as our version of Grand Central Station, it is ground-zero for the shenanigans of the players in public transportation business. There was simultaneous soliciting of passengers by every taxi driver, minibus driver, minibus conductor and tout. The concept "first come, first serve" does not apply here. It is a downright brawl to get passengers into their respective vehicles. A human tug-of-war, and only the fittest will survive. No cooperation or courtesies. A classic tale from pre-historic times.
In most of the places that I have visited overseas, it is the first taxi in line that gets a passenger. No solicitation, no tussle, and no snide remarks amongst the drivers. Just a smooth flow of arriving passengers and departing taxis. Such luxuries are yet to arrive on Guyana's shores.
The minibus operators are not to be outdone. The authorities have tried to establish some semblance of order by installing corridors that are supposed to ensure that minibusses toe the line as the arrive at the bus park. Bus drivers totally ignore these and head straight to the front of the line. For the few that comply, they might have well been banished.
Although I know of tales where passengers get shuffled off to one bus while their bags end up in another, I did not observe this during my time on square. Maybe they have ceased walking with bags to avoid this conundrum. Guyanese do learn their lessons.
While this was just a casual observation for a relatively short period of time, this non-cooperation is not confined to this square. I see this behavior everywhere. Just stand at any 4-way junction and you will see a gridlock of traffic. Every vehicle driver wants to be the first to proceed through the intersection whether or not he has the right-of-way.
A few months ago on my return to Guyana from a short overseas trip, I was greeted by a mob the moment I exited the airport terminal. For a moment I was wondering how famous or infamous I was to be deserving of such. It was none of the above. I was fresh meat for the competing taxi drivers. I somehow managed to hold on to all my suitcases during the ruckus. Whew! That was a narrow escape.
Is this an international airport? There are such stringent rules that must be adhered to on the other side of that door. What went wrong just a few inches across the line?
Can somebody please inform the airport officials that this kind of behavior is bad for business. Is this the first impression that we want to sear into the minds of visitors to Guyana? Give them a break, they are bound to have many adventures before they leave. The Uncooperative Republic is just getting warmed up.
While Guyanese act as though cooperation is some kind of weakness, we should petition for an official name change for the country. According to Aristotle, "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts," and while I have found this theory to be true, I dream of the day that my other 750,000 compatriots get it.
We can't all be first, but maybe we can all win if we just learn to cooperate.