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Recent news reports detailed the events and sentiments that emerged in the campaign launch of Joseph Harmon for leadership of the PNC. The reports highlight a hard- hitting speech by Senior Counsel Roysdale Forde. The learned counsel said in his presentation, “We must not use statements, we must not use euphemisms, we must not use the word ‘grassroots’ to mean a return or an acknowledgement that the People’s National Congress Reform is a Black people party. It is not a Black people party. It is not, it has never been and it must never be. A leader that is tribal, a leader that is tribalist cannot advance the cause of the people that support the party (sic)…would seek to make the Peoples National Congress a “black people party” and he warned that “there was no place for a tribal or divisive leader”.
It is rather inopportune that this issue emerges as a seemingly central theme to the current discourse as the leadership of the party is up for challenge. Though one can argue that this may point to a philosophy embraced by the leader who is now on a heretofore unheard of “leave of absence”, it is, in fact, a critical issue for discussion at this juncture as it points, nevertheless to perceived tensions that must be resolved as the party prepares its future while simultaneously contemplating a viable opposition to a PPP government tarnished internationally by credible accusations of racism. Although Forde’s statement may be seen as part of the Harmon/Granger campaign’s efforts to appease the Indian dominated private sector, it has to be analysed within a broader context as to why this is in fact necessary. It must be noted that another leading contender for the leadership saw it fit to respond immediately to Mr. Forde’s statement by highlighting his multi-racial credentials.
The PNC has indeed historically been seen by most as not only the largest mass-based party in Guyana but also as a critical front in the advocacy of issues affecting the African population in Guyana. The history of the PNC too has shown it to be the only party that has a programme of accomplishments of racial equity. The present discussion about the PNC and
its African supporters is operating in the context of social, political and economic marginalization of African Guyanese. It would have been helpful to the body politic had Forde not ignored this in his attempt to address the complex issue of racial identity and feelings of belonging and exclusion. Among a significant cohort of PNC supporters, there is indeed disappointment with the party’s effectiveness in this regard as the obligation to address the needs of supporters seems to have been abandoned simultaneously with the emergence of the Granger leadership of the coalition. The Linden martyrs lost their lives in protests emanating from what some describe as a betrayal grounded in this very dilemma. Though some argue that Granger’s sole connection to African people is his occasional academic pamphlet, a further amplification of this tendency is beyond the scope of this piece.
But, there is also, in fact, a memorable verbal castigation of young African Guyanese by the historian leader Granger when he sought to denounce their anti-social proclivities during the Emancipation Celebrations speech some years ago in 2018. The historian in his putative wisdom opted not to craft a message of hope or one inspiring his young supporters even though he at the time was the Head of State, but rather engaged in a tirade dismissing these “lumpen elements” whom for the most part were consigned to that strata of society by the design of those who held power prior to his ascendancy. A clear indication of a soi- disant leader who could not grasp the dialectic at play. A paucity of hope and clarity permeated that message and served to highlight the dysfunction and ineffectiveness of the party in reconciling the challenge of addressing the increasing marginalization and hopelessness among its core supporters with its larger national mandate. This was indeed a disappointing departure from a party that delivered such grand youth empowerment initiatives as free education from Nursery to University and the Guyana National Service.
That Mr. Forde would appear to shame another contender with his “affinity” for advocating on behalf of Africans, speaks to a conundrum faced by the party which has to find some accommodation to advance as a multi-ethnic party given the political reality but also acknowledging that its core constituency is indeed African Guyanese who have unique, urgent needs that have to be addressed and will require political will and focus. This requires a comprehensive and candid discussion within the party. It has to come to terms with the fact of its African support. It should not be a matter for political shaming. The party has to find an accommodation to embrace this fundamental duality.
The narrative that Indians should see the economic and social well-being of Africans as a threat to their own economic and social viability is an old, worn out lie and is being used to stymie collective national progress. Further, the political strategy of mobilizing racial resentment against lateral scapegoats cultivates a political environment that facilitates a lack of accountability for racially skewed resource allocation and distribution. It is clear that perpetuating inequity circumscribed by racial ethnic belonging is a recipe for national disaster.
Guyana as an emerging oil producing heavy-weight must set itself the task at this juncture to ensure that all of its citizenry are direct beneficiaries of this bounty; not an ethnic elite! A well organized PNC operating in an effective coalition is the only major political force that can deliver on such a noble path that will result in peace and prosperity for generations. Our planet is littered with nation-states that, having chosen the other path, then reaped a whirlwind of war, violence and destruction. Guyanese will have to reject this divisive strategy or see their oil wealth siphoned off to the nascent local oligarchs and new friends bearing gifts (and vaccines), while we continue to struggle to reach the aspirational One Nation, One People, One Destiny.