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|Last Wednesday (31st August) the world marked International Day for People of African Descent. Notable among the messengers in observance of the day is United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, who urged recognition that “It is essential that we continue to speak up — loudly and without fail — against any notion of racial superiority and that we work tirelessly to free all societies from the blight of racism.”
The history of African Guyanese and the existing race and politics are unique comparatively to many others who share a slave society experience.
The policies, programmes and posture of our government force the descendants of Africans, whose ancestors fought against brutal slavery, to confront brutality in the 21st century, albeit in a different form.
It should be recalled that a senior minister of government once described himself as a “chatri” (superior group) when comparing himself to a fellow East Indian. This is a mindset in whose hands the levers of state, including the laws, are entrusted. We have seen under this regime the execution of a programme that corrupts and misapplies the law to disenfranchise Africans, even to the most basic rights of freedom of assembly and speech, when neither posed a threat to the state but sought to articulate the reality of the African community, with the aim of putting systems in place to preserve and protect Africans’ accomplishments, and pursue legitimate courses of action to ensure equality and equity as bonafide contributors and members of society.
The opportunity is taken to commend the Cuffy 250 Committee for its Forum last Sunday and expanding a conversation that needs more voices. In this conversation it must be noted, without fail, every presenter made the call for equity, fair play and inclusion of all races and groups in the participation and development of Guyana. This should not be ignored or taken lightly in a society where some turn a blind eye to marginalisation and discrimination or seek to justify when such mistreatments are meted out to African Guyanese or others.
African Guyanese have the inalienable rights to political, cultural, social and economic justice and inclusion in the society as outlined in law, international conventions and declarations. It needs repeating, from the moment our ancestors were brought to this land, laboured and lived under the most inhumane conditions known to man, that we, their descendants, who today continue to labour under conditions that would not be tolerated for other groups, must let it be known we have had enough of the abuse. Our voices must reverberate through every medium, nook and cranny.
In the pursuit for justice, I am very clear-eyed others will seek to tell Africans our pains are not painful, our deprivations are not real, the trampling of our rights are figment of our imagination, or some would say we deserve being mistreated because we are criminals and lazy, albeit the record of this country proves to the contrary.
The right to collective bargaining is constitutionally guaranteed. The contempt for this right in workplaces where Africans dominate must see increasing condemnation for a government who only respects this right in workplaces where East Indians dominate, and trade unions are led by leaders considered friendly to them. Not being directly affected should not be met with silence because silence opens the door wider for the transgressing of other rights.
By having frank, honest and open conversations we can move to correct what is wrong in society. The Constitution of Guyana, the supreme law, even with its so-called deficiencies, remains the blueprint for inclusion; respect for the human rights of all; protection from discrimination on the grounds of race, political association, etc.; and the right of all to participate in the economic sphere of this nation as equal to not lesser than.
There is also the constitutional right to own land. Those who have ancestral lands should move to have them protected. And where there are state lands and Africans wish to get involved in economic ventures, they must apply for these. State lands belong to all the people of the state, not foreigners and special groups.
Africans must never cede or relent what they are entitled to. No mess of pottage or crumbs from the table could be greater than African dignity, what their forebears fought for and achieved, and what the present generation has an obligation to protect, improve and bequeath to future generations. At the same time, African Guyanese should not expect any group to lead their fight for justice and fair play. Africans must lead, as shown from time immemorial, and work with others who believe in the inalienable rights of all human beings, that we are all interrelated, and what affects one invariably affects all.