President Ali’s half-hearted effort at apology 

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After President Irfaan Ali greeted all Guyanese, without exception, on the occasion of Arrival Day he proceeded to explain what Arrival Day meant and in so doing said, “It celebrates the contributions to the national development of our African, Indian, Chinese, Portuguese and European ancestors and their descendants.” If this is not evidence of who Ali was talking about then something is fundamentally wrong with his understanding of English.

And though I commend him for his attempt to apologise, in the media on 7th May, for his offending statement “…that every group that came did so for improvement, did so to have improved living conditions…” his effort to paint a different picture of what he said and blaming Africans, who interpreted his language as said, flies in the face of our dignity and intelligence. That attempt of him to twist the truth of his statement will not fool conscious Guyanese.

Actually, Ali’s half-hearted effort at apology is almost as disgusting as his initial statement. For whereas he now sings the praises of Africans and their contributions, recognising their immense sufferings and indignities he lacks the guts for a true apology, perhaps in his effort not to appear to be losing too much face, knowing fully well his supporters are accustomed to the ease within which the black man, woman and child is denigrated, may find it hard to appreciate an unmitigated apology.

Ali essentially stands by what he said, blames others for misunderstanding what he said, then seeks to showers them with praises in recognising “…that the struggles of our enslaved African ancestors would never be understated and unappreciated. They gave their lives for our freedom and as a nation, we must be forever grateful.”

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Africans were captured and brought here as slaves against their will, under fear of losing their lives. They were stripped from their motherland kicking and screaming and some opting to commit suicide rather than subject themselves to white terror unleashed on them. They were treated as property not human beings; their men, women and children violated in the worst way as a result of white depravity and greed.

They laboured on the plantations from dawn to dust without wages and proper clothing, their backs lacerated with whips. They survived poor living conditions and were denied basic health care. The human brutality meted out to Africans runs contrary to Ali’s claim about “every group” came here for “improvement” and “improved living conditions.”  But if he recognises the things that he said to be true about Africans, then he has not demonstrated this in his treatment of the descendants of the enslaved. African Guyanese continue to suffer under the PPP/C regime, headed by him and Bharrat Jagdeo with the African Prime Minister serving as a face.

It is noted in Ali’s Arrival Day Message he mentioned only five groups- African, Indian, Chinese, Portuguese and European- and ignored the Amerindian. As a child it was learnt in school that our First People arrived in Guyana after travelling from North through the Bering Strait. In Ali’s world view only five peoples came. Since independence Guyana has recognised its six peoples and whereas five came and met one, we all came.

Apart from the Amerindians whose nomadic lifestyle brought them through the Bering Strait, the indentured servants were fleeing their countries to Guyana for betterment. According to historical recounts some were fleeing poor socio-economic conditions, a brutal caste system that relegated them to almost nothingness, running away from prison sentences, etc. Every indentured servant came for betterment, not one enslaved African, ripped from his or her families and homeland. Indentured servants had paid wages, they were able to keep their culture-religion, language, clothing and names- and at the end of their indentureship received free lands to settle.

If Ali is serious that “we must find deeper, more meaningful ways of celebrating our collective diversity, of pooling our collective wisdom; moreover, we need to begin and sustain the practice of speaking openly and honestly with each other” then he must uphold his constitutional responsibility and have engagement with the Leader of the Opposition. He must also ensure the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is allowed to function, unhindered, by calling off the party’s proverbial dogs of war who are seeking to hinder the committee’s functioning and reconstituting of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC).

Billions of dollars are being spent and borrowed, which taxpayers are funding, and the regime’s efforts to stymie the functioning of the PAC and PPC will not ensure transparency but create opportunities for corruption. If Ali is serious that Guyanese must “find deeper, more meaningful ways of celebrating our collective diversity, of pooling our collective wisdom” then he must work with the Opposition, trade union and other stakeholders to give meaning to “inclusionary democracy” as mandated by the Constitution and agree to a Local Content Policy that leaves no group out or behind.

Finally, if Pres Ali is serious about respecting the contributions of all groups, he must respect basic rights and freedoms of all, including the right to collective bargaining, freedom of association, speech, right to work and protection from being discriminated against on the grounds of race.  The ball is in Ali’s court to prove whether he has the testicular fortitude to walk the talk.  Society must hold him to account.



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