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By Lincoln Lewis
This nation needs no further evidence, than Minister Charles Ramson’s recent disrespectful statements, to recognise there is a combustible racial problem if not addressed forthwith could lead to open conflagration. That young upstart ought to be told the African community is not without role models; those who by the dint of hard work, sweat and sacrifices, have honestly and legitimately accumulated wealth. History bears testimony.
Africans, in the immediate post-chattel slavery society were able to pool their pennies, which they carried in wheelbarrows and other receptacles, and bought up plantations and converted them to villages. The Village Movement of Guyana, which was started by Africans, remains unmatched by any other racial group in concept, scope, acquisition and generation of wealth in this part of the hemisphere. Honest, legitimate wealth. It is this wealth acquired in the 19th Century that African Guyanese in the 21st Century have to fight to preserve as this government, Ramson is part of, is moving to take away.
Yours truly, and the other ancestors of Cudjoe McPherson, a former slave, who bought plantations and converted to villages are seeing a move to covet these lands, through nefarious means and at the instigation by senior members of the government. Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, is on public record advising supporters of his party to break down the McPherson’s fence and take the land. This African land grab is widespread.
Africans’ history of wealth is multi-tiered. Whereas I could recount stories of my family, including my uncles who pioneered balata bleeding in the interior, there are similar ventures and accomplishments of other African Guyanese families. The young upstart Ramson should tell his government to respect African rights as first class citizens and equal participating members of society, as guaranteed in the law, and he will see what role models look like.
In every legitimate economic facet of this society there has been a Black man or woman; if not pioneering, demonstrating the capacity to own and compete. Africans have nothing to be ashamed of on the economic front, other than those who acquired wealth through ill-gotten means, because such acquisition goes against the moral compass that has influenced the upbringing in many households.
At the level of the ordinary man/woman the cooperative societies, which are dominated by Africans, have billions of dollars in wealth in the commercial banks. Yet the owners of wealth cannot access loans, and in some instances rather than the government helping those needing assistance to properly function, they are moving to undermine them.
There is the $2.5 billion plus Bauxite Workers Pension Fund, at the time the largest single pool of money owned by workers. Proposal made to the Bharrat Jagdeo government by the Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union to allow for the conversion of this money into an Investment Plan, rather than break it up, was stomped on. Likewise, was another proposal by the Union to have workers buy into the Berbice Mining Company which they later gave away to their friends.
The regime recently committed to pay each severed sugar worker, who already received terminal benefits, a quarter million dollars. Severed bauxite workers and public servants have not been considered for same.
There are many African Guyanese today who have pursued legitimate paths of businesses and are doing relatively well in spite of the roadblocks placed in their way. Let Ramson and his government bring pressure to the banking system to treat Africanss who apply for loan no dissimilar to other races. Offhand, I cite an instance that I bore witness of a bi-racial couple experience. The African husband approached Republic Bank for a loan based on a project prepared by the late Bevon Currie. He was turned down by the bank. Someone drew him aside and advised him to apply for the loan using his wife, who is East Indian. The only thing Currie did to that proposal was replace the name and the wife was granted the loan. This is not an isolated incident but a norm. Recently, well-known businessman Terrence Campbell spoke out about his own discriminatory experience with the banks.
Let those who are actively pursuing a programme to deny Africans opportunities for wealth creation take their boots off our necks and create a level playing field. They will see what Africans are made of. It is not a case where they know not; but a case where they don’t want our potential to blossom.
Africans don’t need a Ramson to lecture us on economic role models. It’s in our DNA and lived experience for centuries. In fact, he could benefit from the African experiences and contributions to this society. It is a phenomenal contribution that the party he is associated with is not only actively seeking to hinder further expansion but to suppress, deny and obliterate. He is out of order. Let me end by saying, the fact that President Ali has remained silent about Ramson’s offensive statements, for more than two days, is indicative that such statements reflect the government’s position.