President Irfaan Ali and his Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo showed again this past week that they are leaders ready for all seasons. President Ali led a strong Guyana Government delegation to meet representatives of the most powerful Government on earth between Monday and Friday this past week. This past weekend, while the Vice President engaged the diaspora in New York, President Ali was leading his Government Ministers in Emancipation engagements in various parts of the country.
On Sunday night, July 31st, he was leading the celebration at an emancipation concert at State House on Main Street. He sang with the band, he danced with participants, he was leading the celebration as one of the citizens. President Ali was not there for people to just honour him; he was there as a Guyanese citizen, equal with everyone. It was clear that people embraced him, people saw him as one of them, people saw him as their President, as a friend, as a Guyanese citizen in a Guyanese celebration.
On Monday, August 1, Emancipation Day 2022, President Ali journeyed to New Amsterdam for the traditional Emancipation Day celebration. The Leader of the Opposition and his delegation were also invited. President Ali came, engaged his Guyanese sisters and brothers. He came to be with our people, not just as their leader, but as one who celebrated a very important day, one that remembered the victory more than 186 years ago, when slaves finally won their freedom.
Aubrey Norton also came, but he did not try to engage the Guyanese people. He, instead, sought to keep our people divided. He spoke briefly and reminded people that we are politically divided, he maintained, even in this very important celebration, his confrontational attitude. He showed no room for healing, no interest in unity, no commitment towards ONE GUYANA. After his remarks, he and his delegation left the celebration.
President Ali and his delegation stuck around, engaged people, took pictures, celebrated with the masses, his sisters and brothers. For him, there was no room for adversarial politics. This was a day we celebrated as Guyanese, this was a day of reflection on the struggles that brought freedom, a day for remembering and embracing those who gave their lives, their blood and sweat, for freedom.
In 1962 and 1963, when Guyana was still in the middle of struggling for another kind of freedom, freedom from colonialism, Cheddi Jagan, the leader of our country then, the leader of the PPP that today has given us leaders like Irfaan Ali and Bharrat Jagdeo, had suggested August 1 as Guyana’s Independence Day, as a recognition of the heroic struggles of our ancestors for freedom; as a legacy to those struggles; as enshrining in Guyana’s past, present and future the rightful place of the struggles for freedom, and ending of humanity’s greatest shame – the enslavement of a proud people.
Burnham and the PNC did not join Cheddi in recognising this day, and in so doing betrayed the Afro-Guyanese, betrayed all those who sacrificed for freeing slaves in Guyana and elsewhere. Instead, Burnham and the PNC proposed May 26. Why Burnham chose May 26 is beyond many of us, and remains a mystery.
May 26 remains an infamous day, a day of shame for Guyana, a day in which one ethnic group – Indo-Guyanese – living in what is today Linden, were brutalised, many killed, many raped and beaten. Two days were chosen as possible Independence Day, one chosen by Cheddi Jagan, which is a day Guyanese can be proud of; and the other chosen by Forbes Burnham, which is a day of shame for Guyana.
Regardless, Independence Day is now celebrated in Guyana by all Guyanese. We have moved on, even if for a large section of the population, they will never forget the unholiness that day also signifies. Similarly, even though it signifies the freedom of slaves, all Guyanese celebrate. President Ali led the celebration. He was with the citizens.
President Ali once again showed his willingness to put aside political tension when he approached Norton and extended his hands in a gesture of friendship. But Norton refused again to show any sign of being cordial and working together. His whole delegation, on a day when Guyanese were celebrating together, refused to be part of the people. Norton failed to recognise that he and his party are out-of-step with the Guyanese people.
President Ali has inspired people beyond the PPP supporters. People want ONE GUYANA. While President Ali is gathering even more mass support, Norton and his other leaders are alienating their own supporters, who want ONE GUYANA.
While the PNC and the AFC bash the Government over a number of cash-transfer programmes, President Ali and the PPP Government are even more aggressive in pushing for citizens to benefit. This week, distribution of the Because We Care cash grant of $30,000 for each school child began. Every family with a child in school benefits. More than 202,000 children will receive more than $6.1B over the next two weeks. About 50% of these children are from families who would have voted for Norton and the PNC/AFC. When Norton and the PNC/AFC knock this programme, they alienate their own supporters. At the same time, President Ali garners more goodwill, making the ONE GUYANA movement more and more possible.