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Guyana is 56 years old. At the end of the day, we have survived as a Nation State. But have we made the transition from Plantation to Nation? Have we turned the aspiration of “One People One Nation One Destiny ” to much more than an emotional slogan? Any serious analysis of where Guyana has been these last 56 years must grapple with those questions. The problem is that as a people we seem unwilling to engage in conversations of this nature. We prefer to avoid them and instead cover ourselves with the mask of patriotism. So, independence observances are transformed into a big Jam Session among the people and Political Dances by the leaders.
Can we honestly consider ourselves to be and independent nation whereby our people feel a sense of collective accomplishment? Of course, we hear a lot of what Burnham and Jagan did for our country, but very little about what the country has done to turn the formerly Wild Coast into a Freedom Space. Maybe we have been too guilty of willful neglect. We are afraid to face our failures. No country really wants to conclude that it is a Failed State.
So, Guyana lives in this make-believe bubble—a bubble that has been exacerbated by the coming of the Oil Economy. We have to admit that that development has turned global spotlight on our little Guyana. But what about our own domestic frailties? Those cannot be washed away with Oil and Gas—they are too profound. To the contrary, Oil and Gas have already begun to expose our frailties and consequent failures. Yet we proceed in this weird dance of masking what we really have become over these last fifty-six years.
We have become a brutal place where our politics reflect our lack of a common nationalism. Our pretense makes it even more painful. A nation is not built on slogans bereft of common ownership of the national experiment. Some in our midst correctly or incorrectly question the very date of Independence—they remind us that May 26 was a day of ethnic cleansing in Wismar, now renamed Linden. So, we cannot even agree on the date of our Independence. African Guyanese leaders silence “Wismar” and their Indian Guyanese counterparts silence “Son Chapman,”
I watched Dr. Baytoram Ramharack, Dr. Vishnu Bisram and Mr. Ravi Dev on an Globespan24 program strongly charge African Guyanese scholars and political leaders of silencing the Wismar “genocide”, “massacre” and “ethnic cleansing” of East Indians while they celebrate the killing of Africans in the Son Chapman bombing. The three gentlemen seemed genuinely surprised at this silencing of the Indian Guyanese suffering. Yet in their protest against silencing, they were engaged in their own counter-silencing. There was not even an attempt to grapple with the two incidents as related outcomes of our fractured Pre-Nation.
For the past two years we have been fed a constant diet of elections-related violence against Indian Guyanese at the hands of African Guyanese by Indian Guyanese columnists and activists. But all of them—every single one of them-have omitted the election-related violence against African Guyanese at the hands of Indian Guyanese on March 6, 2020. I heard Ravi Dev speak feelingly about Indian Guyanese being beaten while African Guyanese police watch on. But he omitted from his testimony the fact that Indian Guyanese terrorized African Guyanese police officers on March 6, when even children were the victims of violence.
I do not for one moment attribute maliciousness to Ravi and company. They like their African Guyanese counterparts, including this writer, are victims of our deeply fractured Independence. There is no common sustained national consciousness. Silencing is countered by Silencing because Silencing is an inevitable outcome of Ethno-Racial competition.
There was a time when at the urging of Ravi Dev, I and a few other African Guyanese activists engaged him and other Indian Guyanese leaders in an open dialogue on Race on Channel 28 TV. I embraced that dialogue partly because it allowed us to engage the victimhood of both groups in the open space. I felt that was one way of confronting the Silencing. For some strange reason, the series was discontinued. Another dialogue was initiated by the owner of Globespan 24×7, but that too was discontinued, I think at the urging of Ravi.
We Guyanese have to be honest with ourselves—the only thing we share in a profound way as ethno-cultural groups is the Nation-State called Guyana. In other words, we share a Civic Identity. Nothing more. Attempts at political unity have been unsustainable. Africans and Indians closed ranks from time to time during the period of colonialism, but once colonialism came to an end and the question of who governs arose, that solidarity was replaced with competition and hostility that turned deadly in the early 1960s. Walter Rodney and the WPA managed to inspire a movement against Authoritarian rule in the 1970s-80s, but once the authoritarian regime fell, both groups returned to their ethnic ranks.
Ever since, the broad ethnic masses have been willing to embrace Ethnocracy within the context of a Winner Take All system. Some of my Indian Guyanese counterparts have since signed on to the notion of Crossover voting as the answer to our deep fracture. And the leaders of the major African Guyanese political parties have bought in to it also. I am not convinced. But as someone who is deeply concerned with African Guyanese marginalization, I have to engage the electoral logic even as I am very conscious of its immense limitations.
In conclusion let me say the following. First, we have failed in 56 years to craft a united Guyanese nation out of our ethnic plurality. In fact, we are further away from that outcome than we were in 1953. Second, It was wishful thinking to believe we could craft such a nation while one group or the other managed the government. Two groups do not fight one year and then ask one of those groups the to govern the other the next year. That’s what we did in 1964 with the aid of external forces. We did it again in 1992 and 2020.
Third, we never were One People—we are several peoples. Fourth, given the trajectory of the last 56 years, it is improbable that we will forge One Nation anytime soon. Sixth. our common destiny means nothing without a common national consciousness. Seventh, the chant of One Guyana in 2022 is a mask for Ethnic domination, just as it was in 1964. As the calypsonian Brigo warned, “We walking in the dark.”