Nation- Building: Ethnic Tolerance and Social Cohesion – By Lear Matthews

Ethnic Tolerance and Social Cohesion: Pathway to Nation-building in Guyana

  • By Lear Matthews

Cultural traditions embody the bedrock of a nation’s survival. Guyana is described as the “Land of Six Peoples”, an expression of its multi-ethnic heritage. In an attempt to sustain the multicultural foundation, the Guyana Cultural Association Inc. promotes the concept of “bridging” among diverse groups both in the homeland and the diaspora, thus highlighting the potency of propagating cultural/emotional connections.

The goal is to provide the opportunity to ‘keep in touch’ with one’s heritage, to learn more about other groups and the socio-cultural vibrancy it could generate. The hope is that this adds to the possibilities of national unity, as well as helping to create conditions for collective planning and execution of development projects that benefit the entire nation.           

The Guyana Diaspora Engagement Strategy document (2017) suggests that “although there are many positives to diversity, Guyana suffers from a lack of unifying religion, race, ethnicity or unique language to rally under within diaspora communities…it is important to develop programs that instill a national identity based on unique Guyanese features that will promote unity”. Owing to the fact that it is difficult to establish a “national community” because of different subcultures and divergent political ideologies, a discussion of the tensions and socio-cultural disharmony created by ethnic divisions, which continues in Guyana, is essential. Vibert Cambridge astutely articulated this problem stating, “the core ideas that nourish ethnic mistrust have remained unchanged.”

Such tension, exacerbated by a history of political manipulation, ethnic divide and a crisis of confidence in some social institutions, have likely contributed to this. The resistance to compromise regarding contemporary pre-election procedures following the Court of Justice’s decision about national elections, is a classic example of the continued ethnic conflict. This is another source of stress and resentment between the two major ethnic groups. It is important to note that there are several Afro-and Indo-Guyanese communities (e.g. villages) which have coexisted peacefully, reciprocating resources and providing mutual aid.

The recent increase in the number of asylum-seekers in Guyana (e.g. those from Venezuela and Haiti) will create skepticism, resentment and unwelcome by locals because this is a new experience. This adds to the social and political equation. Although some may be in transit, the presence of foreign ethnic immigrant groups, with their own set of values and needs has caused political squabbling and could negatively impact the availability of basic resources, adding to the tension, anxiety , xenophobia and frustration locally. Notwithstanding the fact that Guyana can benefit economically from a larger population, the influx of ‘foreign groups’ is a new experience for the nation and their resettlement must be given close attention by the government, faith-based groups and other entities.

The benefits or deprivations that emanate from membership to a particular ethnic group affect social cohesion. However, social cohesion can be assured by focusing on what unites groups and not what divides them.

Not unlike other Caribbean countries, a commitment to patriotism is at least symbolically expressed when the nation’s motto is enthusiastically recited or the national anthem heartily sung at the opening of events both in the home country and the Diaspora. The hope is that One People, One Nation, One Destiny genuinely reflects a pledge that will be put into action, regardless of political affiliation, ethnicity or religion. When groups are accommodating to one another and work on common goals, understanding and mutual respect emerge, extending tolerance and de-escalating unbridled competition.

Tolerance, mutual support, respect for difference and forming alliances help to assuage social isolation. This would potentially reduce existing tensions and benefit a nation in the throes of unprecedented political change, trying to manage the incipient influx of petrodollars. Those who have taken on the mantle of leadership must ensure a nation that is not mired in division, a culture of corruption and ‘crabs in a barrel’ mentality, ignoring the psycho-social pressures experienced by segments of the population. The concept of “ethno-nationalism” should not define the nation’s ideology for development. Mutual support over social isolation and group division should be encouraged.

As with so many social issues of the past, Guyanese must not revert to blaming ‘the other side’ because gaining political/ethnic advantage and favor matters more than reality and ethical standards. It is instructive to maintain behaviors that would not  sustain a crisis of credibility, which is never a good recipe for social cohesion. The capacity to work in harmony should never be in doubt, although compromise is essential. There must be an ‘opening up’ to a new generation, setting an example for people of all ethnic/racial hues and social disposition, while validating all levels of human resources and productive capacity. Within this context, youth engagement both at home and the diaspora is essential – a pathway to nation-building.

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  • kamtanblog  On 08/26/2019 at 4:38 am

    Excellent article …
    Politicians use nationalism to promote
    their hidden agendas.
    Divide and rule principle put into practice.
    Best to ignore !
    Allow donkies to vote they elect jackasses

    Observe USA politics!


  • Trevor  On 08/26/2019 at 9:23 am

    I’m not against Haitians or Venezuelan migrants, but it’s mostly the upper class elite of Guyana who are against this, while they roll the red carpet for Asian and American nationals to create housing bubbles here in GY.

  • Doreen A. Lovell  On 08/26/2019 at 9:26 am

    Excellent document Lear Mathews. I still remember the days you and Ken taught me at U.G. You in the Social Work class and Ken in Social psychology and political sociology. Thank you both.

  • wally n  On 08/26/2019 at 3:30 pm

    Same conversation, same subject, same complaints, for decades…… and will probably go on forever. Everyday another great, academic, report, paper explaining the problems.
    Liberal upbringing, blaming without the ability to apply heavy lifting?? Sheep like Zombies waiting for someone, any one, to fix?
    Hint alert, maybe a little more direct activity?

    • Trevor  On 08/26/2019 at 5:39 pm

      Don’t be fooled by the American right. They are lifting AK47s and huge submachine guns to shoot up minority groups and getting more rights than the working plebs of NYC or LA.

  • Emanuel  On 08/26/2019 at 5:33 pm

    There is a clear and present danger that our beautiful homeland will be taken over by foreigners and our pristine, natural rainforest and resources stolen like in the days of colonialism.

    Who will police our natural beauty and resources? Who will preserve nature and the species in our beautiful Guyana? 🇬🇾.

    • Trevor  On 08/27/2019 at 6:02 pm

      Foreign millionaires have been buying up house lot for MILLIONZ of American dollars.

  • wally n  On 08/26/2019 at 5:51 pm


    • kamtanblog  On 08/26/2019 at 10:39 pm

      The options available for Guyana.
      As an ex colony of British empire.
      1. Be colonised again by USA
      2. Be colonised again by China
      3. Be colonised again by Russia

      Not much of a choice !

      Let’s face facts. Guyana is a failed state
      that has been used/abused
      by the super powers so don’t
      expect that situation to change.
      No matter who becomes the
      new political leaders in future
      none will have the “guts”
      Or “nuts” to stand up to the
      bullies of the planet.
      They will all promise
      Guyanese a rose garden
      and deliver it’s thorns.
      Sad fact !


      • Trevor  On 08/27/2019 at 6:04 pm

        They still got Dutch people in GT and Berbice. And they are wealthy. They have named where the J is the pronounced as I or Y.

        Post-colonial states tend to always succumb to the colonial powers after abolition of colonialism…Look no further than countries such as Haiti and Franco-African countries and Spanish Empire countries like Angola or Equatorial Guinea. People living like dawg while foreign expats live like Kings.

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