WE are in the presence of yet another political firestorm which has consequences for our country’s immediate future. Therefore, we are forced to once again contend with both our frailties as a nation and our desire to march on despite those frailties.
It seems as if we can never find what it takes to muster that spirt that is needed to prevent political disagreements from becoming political liabilities. It is natural to have different approaches to national development—after all we are a diverse society—but it is not natural to succeed in constantly becoming trapped by those differences.
Guyana, like the rest of the Caribbean, is a very complex space. Its politics is fuelled by a complex convergence of social class, ethnicity, race, gender and political tribalism. Ours is a post-plantation society which still bears the raw scars of the plantation, but it’s a society that often allows itself to pretend that the plantation has receded into the distant past. Truth be told, most of our Guyanese and Caribbean history have been a story of bondage. And that must mean and teach something to its victims.
From the splits of our fledgling nationalist movement in the 1950s to the present, we have searched for that magic touch of national harmony. While there have been moments of hope and optimism, these have often given way to disharmony. And our moments of disharmony have stood in the way of our national development, our independence imperative and our constant struggle for survival in a world that is perpetually hostile to newly independent societies.
Fifty years after our final blow to formal colonisation launched us on the road to unfettered nationhood, we are still fighting the same internal political battles that threatened to tear us apart before we achieved full statehood. No doubt, we congratulate ourselves on the fact that we have stayed together as a nation, but how many times have we not been to the edge of ruin? While the legacy of colonisation is still very much present in our institutions and political culture, we have got to own the consequences—the colonials are no longer physically here.
In the end, we remain trapped in bondage, even if without the chains of the plantation. The mystery of our underdevelopment in the face of our potential riches lies in this national malady. Every now and then, together and separately, our factions have embraced reason, but these have been fleeting—we have allowed ourselves to be too wedded to the politics of unreason which has over time become normative.
How can the descendants of the colonised so often find ways to undermine national solidarity? Is it that the spirt which generated the quest for joint freedom no longer resides in our national consciousness? We refuse to believe that Guyanese have given up on becoming the model nation of co-equals. So, there must be a way out of this vicious cycle of aggression and victimhood.
Many have correctly put the onus on our political leaderships to show the way towards something healthier and hopeful. But maybe that’s where we have gone wrong. For all the visionary leaders that have passed our way, we still yearn for that zone of satisfaction where we can look the rest of the world in the eye and say we are worthy of emulation. Most of our leaderships have flattered to deceive. It is as if the lure of power proves to be so seductive that they have not been able to help themselves. Or, is it that they have long surrendered to the emptiness of jargons, cuss-outs, false promises and the carnival of political spite?
But leaderships arise out of followerships and in turn cultivate those followers. As our national poet Martin Carter cautions: “All are involved/All are consumed.” We feel that it is time to move beyond the leader-led model and reach for something much more inclusive and responsible. We cannot survive as a nation, if we continue to allow leaders to dictate our collective notion of socio-political reality. We must again become accustomed to questioning our leaders—not just the government, but our leaders in and out of government. It is the essence of civic engagement which unfortunately has been in short supply recently.
We, therefore, renew our call for a widening dialogue away from the political competition. Governments come and go, but the nation must live on. In a matter of months, we will become an “oil- producing” nation which would fundamentally change our country’s sense of itself and the world’s sense of who we are. We already know that such a development requires a shift from what we have been in terms of our attitude to nationhood.
So, this is not the time to be torn apart by the politics of expediency—it’s still nation time! As Eusi Kwayana, one of our national icons declared two years ago, “Guyana will reconcile or recede.” All Guyanese, regardless of their stations in life, have an equal role to play in this endeavour. But we must stop poking one another in the eye. Progress as a nation requires civility, respect and appreciation for our jointness above and beyond catch-phrases.