Guyana needs conversations

“I never saw an instance of one or two disputants convincing the other by argument.” — Thomas Jefferson
There have been calls from several quarters for the Government to open communication with the Opposition Leader. Communication is normally advisable, but do we not need the kind of communication that we have been forced to endure from the Opposition and their surrogates lately? These sordid displays of political posturing (“apartheid state”?) and whistleblowing in the chambers of Parliament have only served to reinforce in the minds of our people that the Opposition are only interested in stirring conflict.
Who could have thought that a former Minister of Home Affairs – in charge of the security of the entire nation – could have sought to justify the seizure of the Mace? Evidently, because the Opposition are single-mindedly focused only on protecting their political turf, their communication casts more heat than light. At this juncture, they are incapable of playing a constructive role in the healing process that is so necessary at this time.
Even when some may be attempting to transmit “neutral” information, we have seen how quickly the communication can disintegrate into acrimony and bitterness. However, in situations of conflict – which politics unfortunately creates – it is absolutely crucial that communication between the affected groups does not break off completely. We are then left to the mercies of the rumour mongers.
It has been shown all over the world that one of the approaches to making conflicts less destructive and beginning the process of de-escalation is to get the people, whom the politicians purport to represent, to understand why the other feel and act the way they do. This cannot be done by exchanging attacks in the media or on street-corners, or in other public settings – even Parliament, as we saw – where the political parties simply attack each other in an attempt to prove themselves right – and justify their very existence. No progress will come out of political gamesmanship.
In our estimation, we need direct communication between the Government and the people of the various communities of Guyana – especially between the community of Buxton and its neighbouring communities. Whatever may be claimed, it cannot be gainsaid that Buxton represents the oldest tradition in Guyana of self-emancipation. Whether or not it has become the epicentre of claims that African Guyanese have been marginalised and placed outside of the ambit of national progress against their will, few will question the credentials of Buxton to represent those and other concerns to others. The President and his Ministers have begun these conversations, and as he said, no one has ownership of any group of Guyanese to prevent such conversation.
In the past, an ad-hoc group that demonstrated quite a broad and nationalistic approach to resolving our intractable conflict has been the “Social Partners”. Comprised of representatives of the business community, the labour movement and the Bar Association, they worked very diligently to facilitate an approach to crime by the administration and the opposition back in 2002, during the heat of the crime wave. Maybe now that we have survived those dangerous times but some are threatening a repetition, they should be reconstituted to perform the less onerous, but immeasurably more vital task of facilitating communication between communities and politicians.
Some will say that we already have the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) playing such a role in our society – and at great expense to the taxpayers. But we believe that the last iteration of the ERC has disqualified itself primarily over confusion over its role as a medium of communication for the various communities and the formulation of the message in those communications.
First, it interpreted its mandate to improve inter-ethnic relations by holding “consultations” with individual communities and purporting to distil the findings and making recommendations about the way forward.
This approach inevitably means that the ERC is utilising some framework for processing its “findings” and in even framing the question it poses at its various fora. Who can say that their framework is not outcome determinative?