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An interesting, and might I add, thought-provoking letter, penned by one, Joan Cambridge Mayfield, and circulating on various social media platforms caught my attention and forced me to ponder on the merit of the ‘one Guyana’ mantra touted by H.E President Irfaan Ali.
Ms Cambridge chronicles her experience at the Guyana Marriott, one of Guyana’s most famed International Hotels, and details the contempt shown by Indo-Guyanese patrons toward the waiting staff of mostly African workers. I could literally sense the disgust oozing from her depiction. Ms Cambridge further pointed out that such contempt is not unique to the Guyana Marriott but is on display at several other hotels. After reading the missive, I nodded affirmatively because I have had similar experiences and could relate to those sentiments.
Quite recently, in December 2021, at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, Guyana introduced and voted in support of the resolution entitled “A global call for concrete action for the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of, and follow-up to, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.”
Guyana’s Ambassador to the UN, Carolyn Rodrigues, noted that the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action emphasise that equality and non-discrimination are fundamental principles of international human rights and international humanitarian law and are essential in the fight against those very anomalies. Notably, this resolution was passed on the twentieth anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. On the anniversary, the G77 proposed greater attention should be given to the issues affecting People of African descent. The International Decade for the People of African Descent and the adoption by consensus of the programme of activities for the implementation of the decade is an integral part of the full and effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
In his address to the UN Assembly, in September 2021 President Ali pledged that his government would work to eradicate all forms of racism. He also assured that he was committed to racial and reparatory justice for people of African descent. Then, in absolute contravention of his oath, President Ali then sanctimoniously withdrew the annual $100 million assigned for the implementation of a programme of activities towards the benefit of Africans in Guyana.
Now, one year later, instead of working to strengthen the work programme of the International People of African Descents Assembly – Guyana (IPADA-G), the President has withdrawn the (already) paltry annual $100 million assigned for the implementation of a programme of activities meant to benefit Africans in Guyana.
Conversely, in August 2022, the government approved $3B for Amerindian development and while this is indeed a commendable initiative to improve the socio-economic conditions of our indigenous brothers and sisters, one wonders why equal attention was not extended to Africans. Globally, the challenges encountered by Africans have been acknowledged and many countries have implemented policies and programmes to address this anomaly. Here in Guyana, it’s the opposite as there are attempts to retard the progress of Africans.
It is no secret that Africans advocating for better conditions are often labeled and marginalised. In its defense, the PPP government often resorts to empty rhetoric, citing significant resource allocation in African communities. A classical case in point; twenty-five contractors from Buxton were awarded $56M in contracts to rehabilitate twenty-five bridges in the NDC. Do the math; each contractor earns approximately $300, 000.00 after the deduction of expenses. Further, they are not likely to receive another contract in a hurry. Hence practically, these workers are earning less than the minimum wage. Yet this government unashamedly holds up these contracts to tout equity and inclusivity.
Unashamedly, successive PPP governments have consistently demonstrated unadulterated contempt for African leaders and their organizations, hence the manifestation of the behavior noted by Ms. Cambridge-Mayfield. Africans have chosen their leaders and it behooves the government to respect their choices. The PPP regime has used every arsenal within its armory to undermine, demonize and emasculate African leadership and organisations. In lieu of engaging elected and authorised African leaders, the Ali-led administration had to engage fringe elements within the African communities and then proudly boast of inclusivity.
Such a condescending attitude of the central government and its agents toward Africans is pervasive and ubiquitous, to say the least. It leaves one to conclude that it is deliberate, and forms part of the government’s policies to frustrate and dehumanise Africans. The IPAD-G is being treated with total disdain and we have also witnessed the central government’s intervention in the Public Service Credit Union via the Chief Co-op Development Officer. Further, after twenty months proprietors of Eldorado and Belladrum villages are yet to receive an acknowledgment of letters sent to the MMA pertaining to the appropriation of freehold lands by that body.
Undoubtedly, racism is an instrument in the fomentation of conflict, exclusivity, and the disintegration of a nation-state. In Guyana, political elites have effectively used racism as a tool of political mobilisation which naturally gives birth to the emergence of a framework of exclusion and oppression. We have witnessed the pernicious discriminatory effects of government policies and practices which have adversely affected Africans in the acquisition of state lands, employment, conflict resolution with state agencies, and award of public contracts among others.
We can ill afford to continue this path and are demanding that the government treat Africans and organizations with respect. Only then will Africans feel that their interests are protected. Yes, there are a few Africans that have been given some privileges, nay restrictive, and are content to endorse the government’s view that racism is but a myth or a figment of the imagination. Naturally, this group examines the issue through myopic lenses which naturally restricts clear vision.