Guyana: An attempt to make the national motto a reality – commentary

An attempt to make the national motto a reality

September 6, 2015 | By | Filed Under Features / Columnists, My Column

Memories came flooding back on Thursday when I went to the roundtable on social cohesion. For one, the forum attracted people from all walks of life, all of them serious about trying to get on with their lives in a Guyana that was once one of the most peaceful countries in the world.

Indeed, many of those came from rural Guyana where people look out for each other, where people eagerly rush to help their neighbours and where there was the time when people did not bother too much with locking their homes.  

Some in their sixties and older recalled the days when people accepted their ethnicity and were subservient to the colonial masters. Sir Shridath Ramphal, when he addressed the forum, brought some memories flooding back. Not many alive today would recall when sports clubs were the preserves of people of one ethnicity or another.

So Guyana had the Chinese Sports Club and East Indians Cricket Club. As the name suggested the membership were for specific race groups. Even schools did not escape the tag. There was the East Indian Trust College, which has since been renamed the Richard Ishmael Secondary School.

As Sir Shridath explained, it was in the interest of the colonial masters to propagate the racial division. Guyana became independent and adopted its motto of One People, One Nation, One Destiny but that was only on paper. To his credit, the late Forbes Burnham got the clubs to change their names. This was not as easy as it sounds because there were people who felt safe in the ethnic division.

I remember those days because young cricketers were reminded of their ethnicity. And to make matters worse, the rivalry between the clubs was intensified because people wanted to establish their ethnic superiority. Matches between the predominantly black Demerara Cricket Club and the fair complexioned Georgetown Cricket Club were as hostile as they got.

None can forget what happened in Linden. There was the Watooka House and pool that was taboo to the natives. The whites lived on the hill above the natives and black guards prevented the entry of anyone who had no business there. And the business was going there as a domestic or a gardener or some task that was once considered menial.

Then President David Granger hinted at another area of discrimination. Those who came from rural Guyana were considered inferior to those who lived in the city. I remembered some of my schoolmates who were assured of jobs at one of the commercial banks because they were light-skinned.

The colonial masters left Guyana but the politicians found that the appeal to race was useful. A country with a motto of one people with one nation suddenly became a country with two distinct people. This trend continued until this year when a group of people shunned the race vote, but not entirely.

Of interest is the fact that in the market place these one sees nothing but Guyanese. The people live as they are supposed to, ordinary people seeking to live their lives in peace and harmony. They rub shoulders and any investigator who would happen to investigate racism in Guyana and should visit the market place would be hard pressed to believe that there is any ethnic conflict.

When I travelled to North America I found that the very people who were content to maintain their ethnicity back in Guyana were solidly Guyanese outside the borders. This is how life should be but ethnic division continues.

Amazingly, this divided country becomes one nation when some external factor comes into play. There is not a Guyanese who would not take offence at another country seeking to lay claim to a sizeable portion of the country. Politically, former President Bharrat Jagdeo is not a fan of President David Granger but they did agree that Guyana’s boundaries should remain as they are.

Word is that they also spoke about social cohesion but not one member of the opposition party turned up to the roundtable. Perhaps it was political gamesmanship but the nation wanted to see that the politicians were keen to have everyone live in peace.

Who could forget the violence that followed every election since 1992 until 2006? People justified attacking each other on the basis of ethnic insecurity. They did not believe the oath about the president ruling on behalf of all the people.

So there is now a coalition that involves people of just about every ethnic persuasion. This should have allowed the voters to see that someone or some group of people was serious about ethnic unity but some things are entrenched and one of them is racial voting.

British High Commissioner, Greg Quinn, reminded the Guyanese people that ethnic unity is possible. In his own Northern Ireland, there was the violent conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants. For more than 100 years these people were at each other’s throats. That is no more although there are still extremists on both sides.

I still remember the violence that rocked the country between 1962 and 1964. Hundreds died simply because they were of a difference race; thousands were left homeless and even more thousands homes and property were destroyed. Guyana does not want a return to those days.

That makes this roundtable so worthwhile.

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  • Gigi  On 09/10/2015 at 5:42 pm

    If the current ABC imposed APNU govt was interested in ethnic cohesion, its political campaigning should have reflected that. It did not. It was purely race based. Its ongoing treatment of the Indians of its AFC coalition partnership also exposes it race based policies. Hence the people who supported and continue to support this ABC imposed APNU govt are only interested in demanding and promoting what they supported – RACE BASED POLITICS. PPP supporters are not desirous of having to listen to and participate in this clumsy display of doublespeak.

    Our only interest and desire at this point is to build our very own independent country govern by a PPP government. The only social cohesion we would then be interested in will be that of amicable neighborly pursuits once we have established our independent country. So no, we are not supportive of the PPP govt pursuing social cohesion with APNU et al.

    “British High Commissioner, Greg Quinn, reminded the Guyanese people that ethnic unity is possible. In his own Northern Ireland, there was the violent conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants. For more than 100 years these people were at each other’s throats. That is no more although there are still extremists on both sides.”

    Mr Quinn, correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t the Republic of Ireland independent of the break-away region of Northern Ireland/UK and remains so to this day? So, where is the unity you speak of? These are two separate countries. The unity they share is that both are part of the EU and have a cordial relationship. What I do find fascinating is that British natives do like to proudly identify as having some Irish in them. Must be that proud and independent Irish spirit they couldn’t break; plus their good looks and fascinating culture. Hmmm…yes, I do see a similar pattern with the non-PPPites clawing desperately to cling to the PPP identity. We’re not interested!

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