Home Letters Wedded to language of confrontation, division rather than conciliation
I refer to a letter headlined “The support for PPP is growing in Linden: I am concerned” written by Norman Browne, who describes himself as a “social and political activist”, and who, in fact, lives in England, and who clearly supports the PNC. Browne’s letter, in fact, complains about what he perceives as the growing support of the PPP in Linden.
Browne correctly describes Linden as “our stronghold…from time immemorial”, meaning the PNC. The population of Linden is mainly Guyanese Africans who have traditionally voted for the PNC, but Browne is concerned that Aubrey Shanghai Major, whom he describes as a PPP activist, may persuade them to support the PPP through his political activism. Browne goes on to warn that younger Guyanese, now exposed to social media and becoming more politically aware, may no longer be expected to vote on the basis of race. If Browne is right, and I believe that he is, nothing could be better for Guyana.
Our country has been plagued by the fact that since 1955, Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan who had jointly led the People’s Progressive Party, commanding the support of the great majority of Guyanese of all races, went their separate ways, functionally dividing the country’s politics between the Jagan-led PPP supported by Guyanese Indians and the Burnham-led PNC supported by Guyanese Africans. This clearly manifested itself in the 1957 elections, with Jagan winning the elections with a majority Indian vote, though not a majority of the national vote. Sadly, for Guyana, after 56 years of Independence, this has not changed, though the demographic changes have resulted in a reliance on a majority of racial votes no longer predictable.
At the conclusion of the Constitutional Conference for Guyana’s Independence, held at Lancaster House in London in October 1963, the then Secretary for State of the Colonies, Duncan Sandys had this to say:
“All that you have told me at this conference and all that I saw in my visit to your country last July have convinced me that there is one problem which transcends all others – namely the growth of racism. That is the curse of British Guiana today; the whole life of the country is poisoned and weakened by mutual suspicion and fear between the two predominant racial groups, the Indians and the Africans.”
Sandys went on to say and which every political leader since Independence has privately recognised and used to serve their political purpose:
“There is no deep-rooted or historical enmity between the races, nor is there any basic clash between them; nor is there any animosity between the religious groups – Christian, Hindu and Muslim. The root of the trouble lies almost entirely in the development of party politics along racial lines.”
At Independence, our nation’s motto became, “One People, One Nation, One Destiny”. We are not, however, one people, we are six people, but we are one nation and we do share a common destiny. It is this fact that President Ali has recognised and has now committed his Government to the development of “One Guyana”, embracing all of its people.
The mindset, however, of people like Browne, that because Linden is populated mainly by African Guyanese it must remain a PNC stronghold, is the challenge that President Ali faces.
Seven years ago, I addressed this issue in a letter to the Stabroek News when the coalition Government was then in office, and I said then:
“Both of the two political parties in Government remain, no matter their campaign promises, trapped in ‘real politics’. It is the politics of having to recognise and reward your hardcore, hardworking supporters who have delivered the Government to you. It is the politics of having to distribute the spoils of office. This is particularly so in a coalition Government forced to cater to the priorities of its separate party interest in order to survive. It is almost impossible to escape from this reality. The APNU/AFC coalition has not escaped it.”
The question is, now, has the PPP/C escaped it and, as I asked then, can we change all of this?
I believe we can, I believe we must, and I believe that Irfaan Ali is the first of our Presidents genuinely dedicated to do so.
Norman Browne is perceptive enough to have recognised that younger Guyanese “may no longer be expected to vote on the basis of race” but wrongly warns against this. Interestingly enough, the founder leader of the PNC, Forbes Burnham, on returning to Guyana from the 1962 Constitutional Conference had this to say:
“Unless and until the various races of this country cooperate on the basis of attachment to a common fatherland, this country will never, never progress…. we can only go forward if we understand that we are Guianese first, Guianese second and Guianese third.”
Unfortunately, his successor today, Aubrey Norton, from his public pronouncements to date, seems wedded to the language of confrontation and division rather than conciliation and unity. But this language has begun to fall on deaf ears.
I write now in my 90th year of life, having dedicated much of that life to serving my country. I am, of course, a Guyanese of Portuguese descent and not afflicted by the emotionalism of race to power as my brother and sister Guyanese of African and Indian descent. But, nonetheless, I am as much a Guyanese, and Guyana is as much my country as any other Guyanese of any other race.
With the discovery of oil and the remarkable wealth it will bring to our people in the future, let us all grasp the fact that there is only one way to use it and, that is, for “One Guyana”.