Over the years, letter writers and online bloggers in both the Guyana and Diaspora media have dismissed the need to focus on the past, arguing instead that it is the present and the future that are imperative. However, historicism (the organic connection of the past to the present and the future) aside, in the Guyanese world, where ethnic violence and hostility have tainted almost every aspect of historical and contemporary life and where suspicion informs the relationships between the two major races, moving forward in a manner that eschews ‘us versus them’ is impossible without firstly ensuring that the past is accurately portrayed so that its legacy of division, antagonism and blame would give way to the fostering of mechanisms to nurture trust, mutual comfort and capacity building as prerequisites to constructing the desired future.
The simple reality is that until those who significantly shaped the past, Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham in particular, are accurately located in historical context, Indians would not generally be accepting of the African perspective of the role and impact of Burnham nor would Africans be generally accepting of the Indian perspective on the role and impact of Jagan.
Additionally, those who manned the trenches with Walter Rodney during his brief (1974 to 1979) sojourn on Guyana’s political landscape, continue to locate him far and above his actual impact and influence, while they simultaneously whittle away at the role and impact of Jagan and quite possibly Burnham. Furthermore, some of these Rodneyites continue to bolster Eusi Kwayana’s attempt to sanitize his role in Guyana’s politics and tout him as the consummate, color-blind Guyanese politician, contrary to historical reality. In short, revisionism seems to have migrated out of its moorings within the framework of historiography and now operates as a whimsical substitute for historicity.
It is also necessary for Indo-Guyanese to be as comfortable writing and talking about the Indian experience as Afro-Guyanese are writing and talking about the Afro-Guyanese experience, without either side instinctively labeling the other as racist. As it stands, some Afro-Guyanese are quite ethnocentric in their writings while Indians who attempt to forge a similar narrative are, more often than not, deemed biased and prejudiced. In fact, for too long, Indo commentators have been much more likely than Afro-Guyanese commentators to experience racist labeling for expressing ethnic pride and debunking ethnic fallacies. Consequently, until there is mutual acceptance of the historical and contemporary space claimed by each other, moving forward will always mean going backwards. In short, given the competition for group affirmation and the effects of the socialization process, the past cannot be simply wished away.
Besides, there is another dimension to this debate – a very human one. I am on record as emphasizing my disappointment at the PPP government. After all, I spent 16 of my 32 years in Guyana to the struggle for a return to democracy and fair and free elections. And perhaps I was naïve but I did believe that a PPP government would have operated on the basis of integrity and transparency, with merit underpinning all employment and awarding of contracts; that the best minds, regardless of race or ideology, would have been employed in the nation building; that the eschewing of race and party loyalty would have characterized government dealings with the populace and that social pathologies such as corruption and bribery would have been seriously tackled. To the extent that these measures have not been dominantly effected I sometimes question the cost benefit of my involvement (and I know teeming others who similarly question theirs), but by the same token I would challenge those who negate or belittle the struggle towards which I and so many unheralded or low keyed thousands sacrificed time, sweat, tears and yes lives – both literally and metaphorically.
In the same manner, even as we recognize the need to focus on the present and the future, we must be careful of grand generalizations premised on nothing more than a writer’s opinion. For example, some letter writers and commentators in both the Guyana and Diaspora media often deem to speak for all Guyanese or a particular set of people yet they never present supporting surveys, studies or polls as evidence of their ‘conclusions’. In effect, in the absence of irrefutable supporting evidence, those who claim to be knowledgeable should desist from presenting mere wishful thinking as generally accepted facts, especially when doing so serves to demonize one group or set of people.
Oftentimes too letter writers ask, “Who cares about Jagan and Burnham?” Actually, given the ongoing debates in the media and elsewhere and the reality of ethno-political relations in among Guyanese in and out of Guyana, as well as other indicators, one would be hard pressed not to conclude that a nation’s/people’s collective psyche cares.
Then there is a particular Guyanese columnist, high on ego that forces him to inject himself into every column he does, who continually carps on what Burnham would or would not have allowed. The simple reality, however, is that while nobody knows with any measure of certainty what Burnham would have tolerated, history tells us what he did and did not tolerate and these facts – the good, the bad and the ugly – cannot be wished away, glossed over, whitewashed or for that matter be used as the basis to present mere speculations as definitive conclusions. Of course none of this negates the positives – unparalleled oratory skills, international esteem (given his role in the non-aligned movement and attempts at Caribbean) and some ideas that, in theory were good – self-sufficiency for example.
It is within this context that many have welcomed the recent revelations about Dr. Cheddie Jagan that have disproven the revisionists and reinforced the value of historicity. In spite of attempts by some to the contrary, it has now been established beyond doubt, via primary and historical data and even acknowledged by some of his critics, that Dr. Jagan lived an austere life of austere of frugality and simplicity; that he was incorruptible, possessed integrity of the highest order and essentially a good human being. Based on personal experience and on the experiences of many others, Cheddie also epitomized the theme of Rudyard Kipling’s immortal poem ‘If” – indeed Cheddie walked with kings but never lost the common touch. And it was this trait that made him a nightmare for his security escort.
Yet ironically there are still critics who label Cheddie’s politics as ‘bad’. Yet no one has ever accused Cheddi of having a split (Jekyll and Hyde) personality, of being bipolar or ever exhibiting any signs of dementia. With hindsight the world knows that communism has turned out to be bad. But those who are familiar with the development framework created by Karl Marx would know that its implementation called for a special type of human being – one who, like Cheddie, was essentially good. And those who have analyzed Cheddie’s governance, without any ideological bias would know that it has always been premised on Marx’s framework, not on the distortions created and practices in Communist nations of Eastern Europe and elsewhere. And this writer has no doubt, that in time, historicity will also prove this to be so.
Meanwhile revisionists also emotively talk about ethnic marginalization without offering tangible evidence to support such a contention, while the reality is that in areas where the government has direct influence, – public service, security – the supposed marginalized group dominates. On the other hand, in the areas where success is premised on private initiative and risk taking, these same individuals urge government intervention to bring about ethnic equity while ironically accusing the government of being too pervasive in the lives of Guyanese. And, more often than not, to support their contention, these same individuals grab at a few isolated trees and proclaim that they have found the forest or practice logical fallacy – take a speculation and build an entire argumentative structure which abacadabra transforms the speculation into a ‘fact’. Incidentally, these are some of the very same people who want it to be accepted, that contrary to overwhelming evidence, ethnic marginalization did not take place under the PNC.
Now as Guyana prepares for upcoming elections, regardless of what vehicle for social transformation is propounded these problematic issues that characterize ethno-political relations in among Guyanese need to be addressed in an honest and open manner if we are to move beyond ‘us versus them’ and cultivate the requisite socio-political mechanisms to foster nation building and the full flowering of all the people, all the time. This ought to be a critical item on the agenda for whoever forms the government after May 11th.