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The relationship between myself and Ralph Ramkarran is predated by a relationship between my father, Stephen Lewis, and his father, Boysie Ramkarran. These relationships were built on mutual respect and thirst for a better Guyana for all Guyanese.
The late Boysie was a principal leader in the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the trade union movement. Whenever we met, he always referred to me as “Stephen son,” given the relationship he shared with my father in the movement. All of this is said to make the point that the history between the Ramkarrans and Lewises on societal issues spans two generations.
I read Ralph’s articles in Stabroek News. Whereas at times I differ with his position, I generally accept same as exercising his right to free speech. Issues in this country as they relate to racial justice, political inclusion and shared prosperity are failing us, not because of those allowed free reign to promote ethnic intolerance in the public space, but by those who society has been socialised to see as interested in realising our motto of One People, One Nation, One Destiny. Some of them are failing society.
The cries by African Guyanese against the discrimination being meted out to them by the PPP, and where Ralph has taken the decision to smother these by listing a litany of what he considers mistreatment meted out to Africans by the People’s National Congress (PNC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), goes against human decency.
We cannot proceed in society talking past each other or seeking to justify the wrongs inflicted on the other, be it by their own or any other. In this fractured society it is better to use one’s voice to promote peace and harmony by encouraging the sides to engage and have their concerns addressed. The attempt to justify Africans current discomfort by claiming that it happened, whether real or perceived, by the government they supported should not be coming from the lips or pen of Ralph.
Ralph is a Senior Counsel (S.C), served as Speaker of the National Assembly, and was a Leader on the Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC). He, more than most, has had the opportunities to understand the importance of good governance, rights and the rule of law.
From his vantage position on the CRC, he would have heard and read the entreaties and submissions of those who wanted a change in the constitution because they see that instrument as the Sword of Damocles over their heads, responsible for their exclusion from the political space, and denial of human rights, economic equity and social justice.
If it may be lost on Ralph, it is not lost on African Guyanese how important is the right to life. If there was one assurance the APNU+AFC government gave Africans, is that this right for their community was equally sacrosanct as it is for others. Africans live in real fear that this for them is not respected by the PPP.
Even as I say this, I encourage Ralph to reach out and talk with the family of 29-year-old businessman Orin Boston who in 2021 was shot dead in his bed by police, leaving behind a wife and toddlers. I wish he would find time to talk with the family of 23-year-old Quindon Bacchus, who earlier this year was shot to death several times in his back by the police, leaving behind a toddler son and other loved ones to mourn.
He could also have a talk with the parents of teenagers Isaiah and Joel Henry who in 2020 went into the backlands in their neighbourhood in West Coast Berbice only to be found dead days later, their bodies badly mutilated, in what is evidently a hate crime.
Those who may want to counter with the accepted demonisation that Africans are criminals (even as they ignore the drug lords, tax evaders, white collar and other criminals in their midst) should pay heed to the words of Keith Massiah S.C.
In 2005, former Chancellor, Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General, Keith Massiah S.C, as a member of the Gajraj Commission of Inquiry into the phantom squad killings, had this to say: “Killings, however reasonable and expedient in the opinion of many persons of goodwill, ought not to be countenanced. Even the alleged serial killer, the persistent rapist and the paedophile, detestable as those pariahs are, enjoy the fundamental right to a fair hearing and the full protection of due process. Persons who are thought to have committed crimes must be arrested, charged and tried in a court of law. Nothing less can be accepted.”
There is no place in modern society to hound down and kill people like dogs in the street and not be held accountable by the law. Neither should persons have to live in fear this could happen to them or loved ones.
Regardless of what others may say of African Guyanese, from the Forbes Burnham to David Granger governments, if East Indians expressed grievance, they could have counted on the public solidarity of other African leaders in holding African political leadership accountable for addressing East Indians concerns, whether real or perceived. I hope it is not too late for Ralph to accept this fact and attempt to do likewise with his colleagues in the East Indian led regime.
The Boysie I know would have said, ‘Let’s listen to them. They have grievances and the only way we can solve problems and peacefully live together is giving people the opportunity to talk and address their concerns.’
The world is observing the United Nations Decade for the People of African Descent. The decade aims to right historical wrongs committed against Africans, as a result of chattel slavery and other forms of exploitation, through structural actions supported by the state. In our instance, the Government of Guyana. In order to address historical dislocations that are still evident today, though some have taken these for granted and see them as deserving, we have to start with a national conversation built on the willingness to listen to the aggrieved, because he who feels it knows and is best positioned to articulate it.
Ralph has to be mindful his writing on the African situation is exacerbating not contributing to the political, economic and social empowerment the community seeks. Africans ask no less and deserve no less. Ralph’s pinnacle position is different from those who use the media to promote triumphalism. There can be no justification for mistreating another, whether the mistreatment is a precedent or imagination, because such goes against laws, conventions and declarations on human rights.