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I read statements in the press on Tuesday by His Excellency President Irfaan Ali on the issue of race in Guyana. In the article the President stated, ‘all Guyanese must come together to address the scourge of racism in Guyana’. A particularly important point the President made is as follows, “Sometimes, we look to the Government alone for the solution. To address the issue of race requires changes at the individual level’. I selected this point because there is an unfair characterization of particularly black people, that their economic and social challenges are because of their lifestyle. This is a simplistic and unfair characterization of black people in general. Lifestyles also evolved based on choices and opportunities which are made available or are not made available to various groups in a society.
The President further stated, ‘My appeal to all Guyanese is judge us by our work, judge us by our policies.’ I wish to state that as citizens we are judging the government based on its work and its policies. Let me pause here to express gratitude to Stabroek News, Kaieteur News, and the Village Voice, for giving expression to the hurts, feelings, emotions, and views from the black community in Guyana or Afro-Guyanese community.
The President would find it interesting to know that as a result of the government’s approach to governance, particularly towards Afro-Guyanese, over the past six months, it has brought the black community together in ways that I have not seen before. Many Afro-Guyanese felt that all they had was each other, so they bonded together, looked out for each other, and fought for each other. Personally, I have never seen the black community in Guyana so mobilized and alert, as they have been over the past months. This was partly because it was believed from the government’s actions, that its agenda was three-fold – to criminalize, fire and disgraced Afro-Guyanese and their leaders.
The President further stated, “There is only one option on the table, and that is moving all of us together, unified as one people…To ensure that Guyanese are comfortable, that the Government is operating and working in a manner and a way in which they can all realise their aspirations, regardless of who you voted for, regardless how you look’. Is this so Mr. President? Because the government’s reason for firing many public servants was because they were political appointees, so will the government rehire them, since the government now seem to have a change of heart, and it does not matter who people voted for?
The article further stated, ‘The President also called out public individuals, who he said use race “opportunistically, to solidify their own positions.” ‘His Excellency further stated, “Why such a selfish agenda? What is the motive behind that agenda?”’ Is the President calling citizens who pay their taxes, purchase their homes at the market prices, pay their bills, actually studied for their education – Bachelor’s Degree, Masters and Doctorate, selfish? People fight for causes based on their own experiences, and that is not being selfish, it is how people develop the passion to bring profound change.
The race and inequality issue will not go away because the President says that is must end. First, he has to accept that there is a serious race and inequality problem in Guyana and put measures in place to change that.
I have never stated this in public before, but I will now. When I worked at GuySuCo and the APNU+AFC government was laying off about 5,000 or 6,000 employees, as managers, we developed a programme the ‘Sustainable and Resilient Communities Programme’ (S&RCP) as a shock-counteraction and shock-absorption measure. Nothing just happens, do we really believe as a society, that the APNU+AFC could have laid off 5,000 -6,000 sugar workers, now this is one of the PPP/C ‘s main support base, and life just went on almost as per normal?
That did not just happen. So intense was the programme to bring some degree of hope, and the work that was required to go into it, that I was leading the programme fell into a coma. After I recovered, I became even closer with my GuySuCo family. They ensured that I ate on time, that I left work earlier, that I was resting more, even now, many of my former colleagues still look out for me. I fought with my colleagues for just treatment for the sugar workers, even at times against the APNU+AFC government.
Sometime in 2018, some individuals in the APNU+AFC government decided that they were going to terminate my services. I wrote to then President Granger and for Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder and they intervened, and I survived to fight with and for the sugar workers another day.
I now fight for just treatment for the public servants, the staff at GECOM and others. One businessman said to me when I was fighting for GuySuCo, that he liked what I was doing, it is interesting that the same businessman called me to ask why I was lecturing the PPP/C government?
You see Editor, it is easy for one to look at the issues in the black community and casually conclude that they are based on lifestyles, and even make decisions about people’s lives, livelihoods, growth, and development of persons in the black community based on these perceptions.
When President Barack Obama became President, one of the best analysis I heard, was a video done by a Caucasian gentlemen, who stated ‘we say that black people are lazy, not smart, can’t run businesses, can’t lead, don’t do family well, but when they show that not only can they do as well as any other race, but that they can be better or the best, we still do not recognize their efforts and we still do not accept them for who they are’. President Ali let us drop the titles now, as one human being to the next, as a black person that hurts.
Further, the President said that ‘if we don’t change our mindset, if we don’t love and respect each other as Guyanese, if we don’t understand what the concept is of being Guyanese, it is a set of guiding principles that cement us as a people.” I used to be a more moderate person, particularly on speaking out on issues such as race, but when somebody like me decides to speak out on issues such as race and inequality, it should be a serious indication that there is a problem. I was not concerned about the PPP/C winning the 2020 elections for me, I was concerned for the wider Afro-Guyanese community and the government proved that my concerns were valid.
I did intend to run for President, but I was not planning to announce it when I did last September, however, after the government was sworn-in and they started to charge and terminate the services of people. I wrote the President a letter stating that it was unconstitutional to fire public servants because of political affiliations. Further, the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance stated that they had sent letters to public servants and if those persons do not resign, the government would fire them, and that the APNU+AFC leaders did not have the integrity to lecture the government, etc. I then realized that people would need voices with integrity and credibility to represent them, so I made the announcement that I was going to run for President earlier than I had intended.
As President, these would be the activities for my first two days. The first morning, I will invite Freddie Kissoon to a meeting and work out an arrangement for payment for the years that he was terminated from the University of Guyana, he will also receive his pension, if that was a part of his previous arrangement, every month from the month I become President. This is a wrong that must be corrected. My third activity would be to award Mr. Nigel Hughes, Attorney-at-Law, as a Senior Counsel, fourth activity would be to appoint a ‘Constitutional Reform Committee’, with a mandate to do deep reform, fifth activity would be to appoint a ‘Reconciliation Committee’, sixth activity to appoint a ‘High-Powered Economic Development Committee’ and my seventh activity, appoint a ‘High-Powered Social Development Committee’.