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By Alva Solomon
When village councils around the country were nominating candidates two months ago to be toshaos or village leaders one name stood out in the North Rupununi region.
Michael Williams, known to many in the indigenous communities as ‘Mike’ or ‘The World Boss’ was subsequently elected Toshao of Annai Central, a village in the North Rupununi which has five satellite villages under its umbrella.
Mike, who served as toshao between 2009 and 2012, knew the road ahead to re-election in May would have been tough but the experienced broadcaster, indigenous advocate who made presentations to the United Nations and the European Parliament knew that his reputation would be his greatest character trait. “I am an advocate for Indigenous people development. These are some of the things that I have done and I bring on the table broad knowledge for the upliftment of Annai,” Williams told the Village Voice News. He speaks the Macushi language fluently, knowledge which was passed onto him by his parents at Annai.
Within the Rupununi and even farther afield, Mike is sometimes referred to as the ‘World Boss’, a moniker he usually smiles to whenever it is mentioned within his earshot. But the title is tied to his wide experience as a leader within Guyana’s indigenous community.
Two weeks ago, he celebrated 16 years as a broadcaster on Radio Paimowak, the first radio station built outside of Georgetown. It is based at the Bina Hill institute at Annai. Mike holds his broadcasting career dearly to his heart and when he is on air, his listeners can be rest assured that the information on current affairs within the Rupununi is up to date.
“I recall walking into the radio station on the 16th June,2005,” he said of his humble beginnings as a broadcaster. He met Mr Virgil Harding, another stalwart in the Rupununi, and he recalled asking Harding what assistance was needed in building the reputation and legacy of the radio station.” It was challenging, interesting and had exciting moments as well. It called for consistency, dedication and cooperation as I built confidence over 5 years as a volunteer without any stipend,” he said of his initial days on the airwaves.
But while he honed his skills on air, Mike was also paying much attention to his duties as Chairman of the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB). That body represents 20 villages within the region and over 8000 villagers benefit from its developmental mandate. The board was formed in 1996 and is closely associated with the Iwokrama Rainforest project. The NRDDB serves to represent the interests of its constituent communities and to facilitate the general development of these and according to Mike, during his period as chair of the body, he was able to advance the cause of the indigenous people while he simultaneously enhanced his knowledge and leadership abilities.
It is through his time as chair of the body, he was able to travel to New York to represent the NRDDB at the United Nations 11th Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues. During this time, he also travelled around South America to countries such as Venezuela and Brazil to speak and work along with other indigenous leaders to address issues affecting the continent’s indigenous people, including fire management.
Through his association with the European Union funded projects within the Rupununi region, Mike was able to speak on behalf of the villages within the region locally as well as to the EU Parliament. He told the Village Voice News that there is no evidence of projects from monies earmarked by the EU for development in Guyana. To this end he told the EU Parliament that better mechanisms needed to be put in place whereby the funds can be directly placed into bodies such as NRDDB for development of indigenous communities.
On the ground at Annai, Mike said he is currently advancing the cause of the villagers and he meets regularly with the five villages which fall under the village council. They include the tourism village of Surama, Wowetta, Kwatamang, Annai Central, where he resides and Ruperte. “There are lot of expectations of me by the people because of my experiences,” he said.
At the moment he is focusing on realising the villages 10-year development plan, which he noted was prepared by the people. He said there are several social issues which the village council is addressing frontally and these include: domestic violence and teenage pregnancy. ”We have already started working on these issues with the assistance of the World Health Organisation and the Pan American Health Organisation with training that has already started,” he said.
“We have started our Community Policing Group that is bringing some issues under control. We are bringing our security officers and church leaders to have regular talks with our villages,” he said noting that “ I am bringing and putting all my experiences to the councillors so that we can acheive our mandate,” he added.
During the last week of May, 2021, telecommunications company Digicel met with Mike and other village officials to set up a transmission tower at Annai. Williams said this intervention will greatly boost internet connectivity and general telecommunications at the villages near Annai. “This will be good for the online classes for the students in these times of the pandemic,” he said. The telecommunications company plans to set-up at 480 feet tower at Kwatamang.
During his spare time, Mike engages in farming and fishing among other economic activities. He noted that his tenure as toshao will focus heavily on sharing his knowledge and experience with the new generation of leaders at the villages. “I said it before and I will say it again the three years will be used to mentor youth leaders after which I will just sit and watch and play a more advisory role,” the ambitious leader noted.