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I write to acknowledge Mr. Ravi Dev’s letter published in the January 6th edition of the Stabroek News, captioned, “Ogunseye must say if he believes all Guyanese have transcended their ethnic affinities”. He was responding to my letter (SN 1-4-22): ” It is imperative for all Guyanese to rethink their political approach to Guyana’s new reality”.
I accept Dev/ROAR’s contention of an omission in my reference to their position, “Contrary to what Ogunseye avers, it was not merely the lack of electoral support that caused ROAR to question their” multiracial” claims after 1988, but the absence of individuals in their executive who identified as representing Indian Guyanese interests.” My omission was not deliberate or intended in any way to understate their position.
Dev mentioned that my reference is to “an old discussion between the WPA and ROAR…” I take it to mean private discourse between members of the WPA executives and ROAR at Rodney House. I have learnt over time by my exchanges with Dev that a lot of his articulation of discussions between ROAR/WPA took place in my absence when I was occupied in making a living in the Kitty Market. I usually begin political activity at the party center after midday.
This response is in no way to question the accuracy of anything stated in Dev’s letter. Of concern to me is to address the two questions Dev posed to me: (1) … does he believe all Guyanese have transcended their ethnic affinities? (2) And will the WPA, for instance, denounce those who call African Guyanese leaders in the PPP, ” House Negroes”? These are easy to answer questions posed to me in the public space for a long time.
On the first question, my answer is no. I have accepted that I will depart to the land of the ancestors before all Guyanese transcend ethnic affinities. In any case, I don’t think that is a prerequisite to move forward. In my many decades of political struggle, I took the position our reality is one of ethnic/racial interest and the Europe-centric conception of the state and politics is not in the best interest of our multi-ethnic/racial society. The genesis of the WPA was ASCRIA/ IPRA collaboration: Ascria an African organization, and IPRA an Indian organization, both committed to ethnic and national interests. What I struggle for is to achieve a reconfiguration of the state and politics to reflect and allow us as a nation to realise our potential. Much of this needed discussion has been sidelined to the imperative of party politics and elections.
As a political practitioner, I am searching for a consensus that is rooted in the reality that allows us to move forward in defense of the national patrimony in the face of unprecedented new political challenges with the emergency of the oil and gas sector. My hope is that struggling together with full recognition of our ethnic interest will create a workable solution.
On the second question, what is being asked is a WPA position – as against my personal position. As such, I am unable to give a party position since we are dealing with party positions that cover many decades, and it is far too open-ended a question. As far as my recollection permits, the WPA in none of its official statements or public utterances ever referred to African Guyanese, PPP leaders as, “House Negroes”. But in some sense Dev answered his own question in his letter with his reference to “tokens”. For a long time both major parties have used the presence of a few “ethnic others” in their ranks as “proof” of their multiracial credentials. This sometimes involves strategic “token” displays (including the employment of popular musicians) meant to deflect from their disregard of the racial dignity for the base of supporters of the political party seen as the “other”. In more modern times, this strategy has been most visibly associated with recent PPP/C governments. And it will be perceived as mere symbolic camouflage and typical of how Republicans in the United States use a smattering of African-Americans as “evidence” of their multiracial character or “support” from the African-American electorate in the US. I agree with Dev about “ethnic impact statements” (since it was a position taken years ago by the WPA in the parliament by our then MP Brother Eusi Kawayana): the major political parties must go further and educate themselves in dealing with the other, not from the comfort of token gestures, but in fully understanding of the dignity of the racial group who were never traditionally part of their electoral support. This requires hard work and genuine commitment. This was not evident in the nasty behaviour by the government and party evident with the recent passing of the National Resources Fund Bill and their treatment of other groups including racial groups. I end by stating that this response represents my best judgement at this moment.