It has been over one year since the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Administration launched a “Social Cohesion” Ministry. This announcement came as a bit of a surprise to most Guyanese – even its supporters – since there had been no inkling on the campaign trail or before that, this social good would be receiving such attention. Most citizens still don’t know what this Ministry is supposed to do. When Guyana received her independence from Britain, the Government had adopted as the national motto, “One People, One Nation, One Destiny”. It was clear from the statements of all the political parties, the goal was for the people of Guyana to become cohesive, if not “one”.
Prior to Independence, it had been proudly stated without comment that Guyana was a “land of six peoples” from the joining of the indigenous Amerindians, with several streams of people from Africa, Asia and Europe imported by the Europeans who governed the country since the early 17th Century. The later explicit British “divide and rule” policy, deployed across their Empire, exacerbated the initial cultural/racial divisions by forming social strata created along class and occupational lines.
Rather, unfortunately, the struggle for Independence exacerbated the divisions as political mobilisation to capture the Government and control the State played out between political parties anchored in one or the other of the two major ethnic blocs – African and Indian Guyanese. While both parties made commitments affirming social cohesion, there was no performative success in achieving that goal since the almost equal size of the two blocs made it a rational choice for the parties to “go it alone” and “not split the vote” at majoritarian directed general elections.
In the meantime, it was politically incorrect to explicitly and publicly admit that “we were not one”, even though almost everyone, especially the politicians, knew this was the reality. “Social cohesion” was supposed to be taken for granted as if the incantation of the national motto had erased all divisions. This refusal to face our sociological truth was largely due to imitating the “mother country”, which papered over its own divisions.
Fortunately, over the last two decades, the problematic of “social cohesion” as a goal of national life to be achieved through plans, programmes and projects has risen to the fore as the developed countries admitted that their pretensions had been laid bare. While APNU/AFC has not actually articulated its plans for its new Ministry in such stark terms, we hope that we can get the discussion rolling by describing briefly how one jurisdiction – Canada – conceives of attaining “social cohesion”.
The Social Cohesion Network of the Policy Research Initiative of the Canadian Government defined “social cohesion” as “the ongoing process of developing a community of shared values, shared challenges and equal opportunity within Canada, based on a sense of trust, hope and reciprocity among all Canadians.” Can we as Guyanese use this definition as a starting point for our own journey towards social cohesion?
In an effort to identify the dimensions along which social cohesion can be achieved and mapped, one Canadian policy group looked at four policy documents by the Canadian Government, the French Government, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Club of Rome, and arrived at five dimensions: 1) Belonging – Isolation, which means shared values, identity and feelings of commitment. 2) Inclusion-Exclusion, which concerns equal opportunities of access. 3) Participation-Non Involvement. 4) Recognition-Rejection, which addresses the issue of respecting and tolerating differences in a pluralist society. 5) Legitimacy-Illegitimacy with respect to the institutions acting as mediators in the conflicts of a pluralist society.
It is said with a great deal of truth that we cannot solve a problem until we at least accept that we have a problem. It would appear that the new Administration has swallowed hard and accepted that we do have a problem in terms of “social cohesion”.
Could it now “get with the programme” we hope it has crafted?