The problem with social cohesion

In a recent conversation I had with a Guyanese I met at a medical office (we were both there because the doctor himself was Guyanese), I was told that Guyana has seen a lot of developments since May 2015. I further asked my newfound fellow citizen, eager to talk about Guyana, as to what exactly he meant by “developments”. I was curious as to the response for two reasons. One, my friend was African Guyanese. I was wondering if his perspective of development was influenced by the fact that an African-dominated Government was in power, or whether his concept of “development” was derived from an objective assessment of the structural and systemic changes that took place and whether these changes impacted the quality of life of Guyanese. Two, most Indians I spoke to were sceptical about any positive developments since May 2015, but, to be fair, their reactions were heavily influenced by the fact that the balance of power was in the hands of Africans, and some Indians were uncomfortable with this reality. It is no secret that racial perspectives were at play.
Let’s go back to my friend in the medical office. His response to what was considered development was relegated to “a clean Georgetown”, “less corruption” and “a visible sign of happiness”. Except for a visible clean city, the other assessments could very well be considered as subjective. I should mention that when our discussion turned to national unity and social cohesion, my friend displayed a visible level of annoyance and uncomfortableness. It was as if he wanted to say to me “Indians had their chance, Granger deserves a chance now”.
This perspective represents the tragedy of what is Guyana today. After 50 years, the country remains divided and racial perspectives deeply impact our nationality. It is not that Indians or Africans or their leaders are solely to be blamed, but sociologists and political scientists can point to a multitude of factors that explain our predicament.
The coalition Government (if we can still call it a coalition) came to power by gaining a substantial number of votes from Indians who traditionally supported the PPP. Presumably, it was this newfound transitional vote that gave the coalition the assumption that it represented a government of national unity and it would proceed from this base to cultivate greater national unity by promoting social cohesion. A ministry with this name was created and headed by a PNC loyalist. One would think that Amna Ally would have possess the necessary intellectual credentials and worthwhile experience to be able to take on this task and show some level of success. So far, we have not seen much gain or actions that would lead us to believe that age-old racial attitudes held by Guyanese about each other are disappearing. Perhaps, it is too soon for this to happen. One can point to the jubilee celebrations inside and outside of Guyana and the flag-raising ceremony to remind ourselves about the racial chasm that exists and the lack of social cohesion. The outgoing US Chargé d’Affaires reminded us about our racial dilemma.
It is ironic to note that prior to the elections, power sharing (executive and legislative) has been the clarion call by many who felt excluded from political power. The tables have turned and power-sharing seems to have disappeared. The reality is that Indians and Amerindians are still excluded from holding meaningful political power. The majority Indians and Amerindians remain poor, and the Disciplined Forces and the Civil Service do not reflect the population of the country.
Repeating the mantra that the Government supports social cohesion will not get us there. Guyanese have to be more honest and open in their discussions about national unity. In the past, we have called for an ethnic impact statement which can serve as an evaluative tool to ensure that all Guyanese benefit equally from public policy and Government actions. Sherwood Lowe, to his credit, has proposed a similar approach as a substantial action towards measuring how various groups benefit from the largess of the state and Government actions. This would be a small but important step in transforming our racial perspective, and hopefully move us closer towards a more cohesive society.