OUR REPUBLIC - AND RACE
February 20, 1998
Yes, I appreciate that no significant comment or "analysis" on the subject above can be attempted in these limited lines. Consider, however, the following random remarks as my tiny contribution to Monday's observance of our twenty-eighth anniversary of Republicanism.
In February 1970, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, master political manipulator, a great deceiver and, it has to be conceded, a most Significant Statesman (before the riot set in), was enjoying some six years of power. And savouring it. In 1968, after those "elections", he had bumped Poor Peter off the `64 bandwagon. He had won national acceptance to emphasise our "sovereignty", by declaring independent Guyana, then "four years old by a full-fledged republic to be headed by a President with limited "powers". And even Cheddi Jagan, though "cheated, but never defeated", is on record as having endorsed the 23rd February as an historically significant day in the country's past.
But why did Burnham declare Guyana a Republic? Among other objectives were the following: to break free form Great Britain in such a manner that independent nationhood could assert its freedom from the "Mother Country" concept and syndrome; to manifest that political independence meant Guyanese judicial self-reliance and the fashioning of truly local indigenous institutions. The classical summary, of course, was that Republicanism was meant to usher in our constitutional, psychological, cultural and economic independence. So twenty eight years after, just how have we fared?
Frankly Speaking, in terms of nearly three decades, to say that we've done poorly, despite a few good efforts, might be an understatement.
The concept of a Co-operative Republic fell flat years ago. The Co-op Movement floundered amidst thievery and lack of will and top-class management; despite Burnham's best patronage. Of course anyone can assess how much "co-operation" exists in the body politic and national life. The move away from the Privy Council has not inspired confidence because no Caribbean alternative exists and too often local judicial integrity comes under suspicion. Justifiably in most instances, the replaced Independence Constitution - the 1980 "referendum" one crafted by Dr Shahabbudeen, Mr Hoyte and others - is under siege and there is consensus that it must be revised.
"Psychologically and culturally", except perhaps for the few living nationalists still in the Greenland, could we honestly declare that the average young citizen is Guyanese to the core? Pardon my harsh view, but those cliched, routine, automatic statements that "I'm a Guyanese" or "I love my country", are without substance, to me. I might be aware of all the reasons, but thousands too many are either still children of Mother India, step-children of Jamaica, emigrants-at-heart or just plain "foreign-minded". Economic realities, the reluctance to be pioneers here when "outside" is already developed and beckoning, and American cultural aggression and technology have seen to it that, psychologically and culturally, too many wish to relinquish "ties to Guyana" - as the American Visa People say.
No space here to discuss the issues of just which "Oil Crisis" or corruption caused our economic downfall; or how rigging or racism caused us to be "concerns" of the Caribbean and further afield. The fact is we are, as Martin Carter explained, by and large, self-contemptuous. Are we a real Nation? Truly Guyanese? Which leads to a few comments on race.
Poor Mr Burnham. His ideals and objectives of republicanism did not materialise for various reasons. He and some of his policies constituted one reason. After the glorious anti-colonial struggle of the early fifties, during which, Cheddi Jagan maintained, there was working-class unity, the same charisma that both leaders exuded and used led eventually to two distinct camps characterised by Race. Perhaps the two men never intended it. But race-based politics evolved almost naturally, after 1955. And periodically and conveniently, both "leaders" exploited the phenomenon. Recycled through instigation and incitement last December, we see the results today.
Expert, learned minds will no doubt expound on the deeper theories and "nature" of racism and racial discrimination at this time. But within the context of the CARICOM Herdmanston Agreement and the Congress Place Mash, I wish merely to re-emphasise my suggestions - not brilliant - for healing.
In the face of threatened instability and non-co-operation, I say to the PPP/Civic: continue development at pre-election pace. Hard to do? Investors sceptical? But surely you can proceed with seeking debt relief; concluding the GEC matter within a year; establishing institutions to deal with racial discrimination; creating more IPEDS and SIMAPS to accelerate self-reliance and employment, etcetera. In other words, even as you show the country and the world the impediments to investment and development, try to create an economic pie that ALL can share in. Too simple and simplististic my advice? Well it is my sense, that when ALL Guyanese experience efforts to provide and include, much of the insecurity will be eliminated. Of course, "broadening" your own ethnic base and representation will assist too. Even in the context of your sensitive Speakers'Notes.
Race in the cold
Guyanese communities in the USA will observe the Republic Anniversary too. Alas, note that I wrote "communities." For, as in the homeland, the community is split in various categories.
Next week I'll discuss why there won't be scores of Afro-Guyanese at the Queens Soca Paradise. Or why "Indians" won't flock to the Woodbine in Brooklyn. But perhaps you've guessed it already - the Race Reason, I mean.
Caribbean Daylight, Journal and Contact are just three of the weekly papers in New York that "address" these issues, but all have very little to do with reaching out. "Peaceful Co-existence" remains my call - and hope.
1) Amerindian Guyanese - native to the bone - must be sniggering at what is playing out for "celebration after work" by happy families of one community. Wonder what Comrade Cuffy is saying?
2) Even he had to kill himself through dissension in his beaten camp.
3) Does not the CARICOM Region recognise the government?
4) Sexy Sharon Stone got married on Valentine's Day, fellas.
5) The Words of Wisdom say: "Betta to be Captin a -you-own Canoe, dan to be Cabin Boy a-Battle Ship", but I wonder ...
Til next week!