Living together

Stabroek News
February 7, 1998

We have been living together for l50 years. There was some geographical separation, the Indians staying mainly in the rural areas, the Africans going to the cities. There was also functional separation, the Indians remaining on the plantation as sugar workers and dominating the rice industry, the African going into the civil service and the professions and as workers in urban industries and bauxite, the Portuguese and the Chinese in commerce, the Amerindian mainly in the interior. But in the last thirty years, there has been increasing integration. Large numbers of Indians have settled in the cities, entered the civil service and the professions, taken clerical jobs. Indeed, as has been argued before, the increasing integration may paradoxically have created new stresses as there is more direct competition and the races mix more intimately and freely.

Guyana is in many ways a successful multi-racial society. The races go to school together, go to work together, fete together and intermarry. As Mr Chang and Mr Walcott indicate, too, in their letters opposite at the level of basic humanity they can and do operate like brothers and sisters, citizens of one nation. Yet at the political level, there is division, and this can readily infect other areas as we have so recently seen. That is the apparent paradox with which we are faced.

We are, of course, a very young nation, only 32 years old. Before that we were an imperially imposed coalition. We lived together because we had to. Now, we are in the process of nation building, with all the stresses and strains that entails especially in conditions of economic underdevelopment and widespread unemployment. And many of us have an ambivalent relationship to our own country because of the past of slavery and indentureship and the plantation. All of this makes nation building even more difficult than it normally is. And worst of all is the fact that our political parties are based, largely, on ethnic support so that at election time divisions and tension assert themselves. Hence the strange dichotomy to which Messrs Chang and Walcott have referred, of personal familiarity and rapport at the same time as there is public hostility and division between the races.

To begin to understand this we may have to accept that the l953 PPP was itself a coalition, not a unified political movement, which split into its component parts. We have never had a unified movement. We will also have to understand something of crowd and group psychology and the insecurities they thrive on.

The question facing us all is whether we can in some way by constitutional engineering or otherwise, deal with the divisions that have held this country back for so long and created a sterile and desperate situation where emigration still remains a live option for so many. It requires mature and sober statesmanship.