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Today we observe another Emancipation anniversary. Here we are, 183 years since the end of chattel slaver, still reflecting on the scars of slavery as if it were yesterday. Why? Because although slavery has long ended in a formal sense, the socio-economic conditions that accompanied the slave mode have not been completely erased from our country and region. The immediate actors have changed, and the physical shackles have gone but the nature of the State has not changed. In short, we have not moved enough from formal Emancipation to Freedom.
While attempts have been made since Independence to transform the society away from the colonial order which prolonged the agony of enslavement under a different designation, we have not been focused and consistent enough. The long and short of it is that 18 decades later, the children of the formerly enslaved still do not enjoy their basic rights and privileges in a society that is built primarily on their blood and sweat. The inhumanity of their enslavement has not been lifted from their backs even though there have been constitutional and legal changes.
So, what is the state of the African in Guyana in 2021? In short, the situation is grim. This is not about complaining or blaming. It is simply a fact that Guyana has to come to grips with. Part of it has to do with our party politics. But most of it goes deeper—it goes to the heart of the institutions and structures in the society which are rooted in anti-black racism. Notions of black inferiority have not been uprooted in systemic ways. What is unfortunate is that post-independence notions of multiracialism and Guyanization have served to mask the persistence of this affliction.
So, when a régime chooses to invoke it, as the current government does, there are little or no institutional checks. The politics and economics of revenge and domination being practiced by the current government victimize African Guyanese in almost every facet of life. The perceived and real transgressions of the previous government become justifications for what is nothing short of racial aggression. The combination of fear and frustration which resides among African Guyanese cannot be disassociated from the direct and indirect policies the government. The situation is exacerbated by the onset of the Petro-economy with its promise of unprecedented wealth. There is no mechanism to ensure equitable distribution of those resources. So those who are strategically located in the political economy stand to disproportionately benefit from the wealth. It is estimated that African Guyanese control less than ten percent of the assets in the larger economy which puts them at a grave disadvantage in the open market. Wealth begets wealth. And those with generational wealth coupled with access to the State and government are better placed to accumulate more in the current circumstances.
The challenge for African Guyanese therefore is how to position themselves to get a fairer share of the national patrimony. The current government is in no mood to facilitate that change—in fact they are more inclined to widen the ethno-racial gap in the political economy. The only option left to African Guyanese is to struggle to achieve it for themselves. Power concedes nothing without a demand and African Guyanese have to make demands.
No amount of self-uplift would give African Guyanese economic parity. Such an approach yields very little reward in the larger scheme of things. Only a collective demand based on struggle would bring the necessary changes. And that struggle has to move beyond the limits of the political party, which has proven inadequate to the task of Black liberation. The political party always has to deny that it is a Black party and that it is interested in Black empowerment. Party politics imprison the party in prisons of neutrality and multiculturalism which by definition must eschew Black liberation. That task must rest with Black community and cultural organizations.
African Guyanese disempowerment cannot continue indefinitely. It is not good for African Guyanese or for Guyana as a whole. There can be no true freedom if the group is economically disenfranchised. And nobody can give it as a gift to them. It is something for which the African Guyanese must fight. So, this Emancipation anniversary must be a call to action in a quest to turn back the wrongs being heaped on the group. The nature and tenor of the action will ultimately be determined by those who hold power. The government can choose to continue down the path of domination or change course to accommodate the demands of African Guyanese for equity and economic dignity as a start to the wider movement towards equality and justice