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By GHK Lall
I urge all Guyanese to give their rapt attention to these stirring words: “There is no place for racism, marginalization and oppression in Guyana. It is all about development, inclusivity and improving all the lives and livelihoods of all Guyanese inclusive of African Guyanese.” Those grand words, magnificent in their sweep, soaring in trajectory, in what they could mean, for each and every Guyanese were from the Hon. Prime Minister, Brigadier General (Ret’d), Mark Phillips. I do what was exhorted of fellow citizens. That is, listen closely to the PM’s words, and then work to reconcile them with what many Guyanese live with, none more than those in the African Guyanese community. The Hon Prime Minister singled them out for special mention, as he emphasized that element of inclusion in this the best of times.
It is my belief that the PM is an officer and a gentleman, a man whose words and bearings on the African Holocaust Day commemoration, should be greeted with the most gracious of welcomes. I, for one, would not think of besmirching his honor, the prestige of his office, the record of his service to this country. Perish any such thought, and should it ever surface, may it starve of oxygen. Having said this, I am sure that Prime Minister Phillips, being the man that he is, would expect that there be some pondering of what he said, which is then followed diligently in reconciling his words with the deeds of the PPP Government that he represents so sparklingly.
Prime Minister Phillips must be taken at his word that “there is no place for…marginalization and oppression in Guyana.” I am unswerving that the PM means well; he, however, could be said to have put on dark shades that limit him from seeing the thick, sprawling darkness that enshrouds Guyana. The fact that the objects that need his keenest attention are also mainly darker complexioned only adds to his difficulties. In sum, the sightlessness of the Hon. PM does not permit him to see things as they are, but guides him to the opposite, and this is what he struggles so manfully with, which does everyone-himself, his listeners, and his broader, invisible audience-a great injustice. Far be it from me to posit that what this Prime Minister-this former defense officer, this now political officer, this strangest of truthtellers-would want us to believe is a deliberate and practiced construction on his part. Especially as it relates to the rank wrongs, the rankest injustices shoveled on many Guyanese, particularly the ones that the PM hastened to soothe.
The PM should know that I am not African Guyanese. But I sense the hovering elements of oppression that wait to pounce. There is discernment of the alarms, the unease, in his PPP Government, over what is going to flow from pen, from lips. I am not alone, and am no threat; simply one working for a better Guyana. About improving the livelihoods of all Guyanese, the former army chief and I are one; and, likewise, in the banishment of racism from this bigoted realm. So, if my sense is that government’s actions align poorly with bright, appealing rhetoric, then it does not require much to appreciate the anxieties of those of African descent living with their plights and anguish. In contrast, PM Phillips would have us believe that the horror of racism is not part of his PPP Government’s apparatus, its vision, or its practice.
Now, there is no choice but to raise the bar on this fine Guyanese brother. Surely, he can see the imbalances, as they pertain to the African Guyanese demographic segment! Just as likely, he could not have missed the insensitivity and the intensity of consistent efforts to keep African Guyanese from partaking of the new Guyana banquet table. Yes, he is the midst, but the PM is an experienced enough citizen to know that he has his uses. I would not insult him by saying that he is the face that seeks to insist that what we have is a serene place (where race is concerned); or that the place to which we are heading is not one of equity and nobility, as the PPP Government’s gospel wishes it to be embraced. I would like to, but regret that developments in the local environment do not empower me to support such.
PM Phillips is better off finding and cultivating those Guyanese, of any stripe, who take their medicine with sugar or honey. As for me, I prefer the raw, straight stuff, as harsh as it may be. What is mystifying is that a man of the Prime Minister’s caliber has allowed himself to be sucked into this vacuum of vehement denying, this dark corner from which these peculiar lights seep out. Of accepted citizenry. Of equality. Of inclusivity. My first failure is that I expected better; the bigger handicap is that I should not have expected anything at all. The gleaming positives of which the Prime Minister spoke with such silkiness-of genuine brotherhood, general enhancements, and the degree of deep tolerance that affords the luxury of inclusion-do not reconcile well with what is being delivered in the nonprivate sector, in the disparity meted out to adjacent communities of different makeups.
It pains to have to speak and write about these realities, and I wish that circumstances could have helped to say that what PM Phillips articulates in public is real because there is so much substance. I understand that the PM has a job to do, and a role to play on the Guyana stage. It is neither comedy nor tragedy, but merely an extension of the chorus that warbles what the wise must gently put down. Guyanese will know inclusion when they see it. I would. All would recognize improvement, not merely for self, but for different neighbors, and others similarly stationed. All this considered, I regret that Prime Minister Phillip’s oration was less of the Sermon on the Mount, more of Sun Zhu.