Humans have learning problems, and many of us, Guyanese, seem to be floundering at the tail-end of a learning curve. This must be so, for how can a nation of less than one million souls sitting on a sea of natural wealth (now more literal than figurative) still be trapped in an economic and political bog; still be so insensitive to the physical/cultural differences among our ethnic groups – and still be dancing the two-party political tango?
Well it’s electioneering time again, and with less than three months to Election Day, the twin engines of party and race politics are already being revved up. The homestretch is in sight and the winner stakes are maybe the highest they have ever been, at least from an economic angle. With that in mind, questions arise.
Will it be a two-horse race again? Will the Guyanese (m)asses continue to line up behind their respective liege lords? Will race loyalty trump race relations? Alternately, when will our runway-taxiing economy leave the tarmac and head into the stratosphere? We should have learnt some hard and bitter lessons over the past 60 years, so our learning curve as a nation should reflect a movement towards wisdom, or at least commonsense. Does it?
These and other questions are still asked because they have been, and continue to be, answered mostly in words – glorious plans and promises that bear little fruit as perception and reality clash. And even what fruit they may bear are served to those who need them least while the poor, hungry, and homeless remain poor, hungry, and homeless. (This remains so even as our now mostly Hispanic visitors and friends appear to have had little trouble assimilating into our culture and benefitting from our hospitality)
Occasionally when I feel things are looking up (as in oil, oil, and more oil) my innate sensibility tells me to do a simple reality check. I customarily take a noon-day walk along Regent Street. Then at about say, 7 p.m. I repeat it in more leisurely fashion.
During the day I see the dozens of ‘Chinese’ stores frenziedly favouring foreign clients while disdaining locals. I see the young men with big guns guarding their interests. I see money-hungry faces juxtaposed against food-hungry ones. I see mad traffic, jamming and jostling at crazy angles. Bob Marley’s ‘Rat Race’ plays mockingly.
Later, as night falls, the ‘wretched of the earth’ stake their claim to the pavements; bodies-on-cardboard, cardboard-on-concrete. They lie awkwardly or snugly outside heavily-padlocked and shuttered stores, unbothered by the pedestrian traffic, or lack of it, as Regent Street becomes a quieter, gentler, litter-flanked thoroughfare, except for the Bourda Market hustle and the night owls.
The Regent Street stores and their foreign shoppers’ bustle are to some extent a microcosm of Guyana’s landscape in terms of the movement and intermix of people, whether in urban, rural, or hinterland setting. That interplay is already being factored into our economy and, if you believe some politicians, our politics. Will there be Venezuelan, Brazilian, or Haitian ‘Guyanese’ voting on Election Day? I think not, but wait and see.
In the end though it is we, the local populace, who have to our safeguard our interests and navigate our political paths. Our foreign friends and visitors are lookers-on and advisors. And although we need the latter, they cannot think for us, or come Election Day, vote for us. It is we who know and remember the political, economic, and racial injustices of the past; whose ancestors toiled and suffered and died for the advancement of our nation.
Governments are notoriously faithless in their campaign promises, and the promised are notoriously gullible in that respect. Here in Guyana, factor in race and party loyalty, and a most distressing picture is painted. Yet I certainly won’t blame the present government for all of our country’s current woes, or the previous one for all of our previous troubles. That’s commonsense. But I do know that irrespective of party or race, corrupt and greedy spirits have long inhabited the corridors of power in parliamentary and judicial courts.
So generally speaking, I do not like politics, or politicians. This is not to say there aren’t great ones around. (Incidentally I think Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham were ‘good’ to ‘great’ politicians) But great and good are not mutually inclusive. Had he lived, Walter Rodney may have welded those two positives into masterful leadership, but who knows if his Afro features would have allowed for acceptance across the racial divides.
Now isn’t it funny that the parties these three astute gentlemen represented – the PPP, PNC, and WPA, all have the word ‘PEOPLE’ emblazoned in their names? And rightly so, for the people are their followers; the people are their strength, and ultimately it is they who ensure victory or defeat at the polls. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. That’s the power of the franchise – people power. Yet it is the same ‘people’ who too often end up used, abused, and confused by politicians.
But people are made up of individuals and, as the last Local Government Elections showed, the refusal of individuals to vote, smug in their own cocoon of reasoning, can have surprising repercussions. And as spectacularly broadcast on December 21, 2018, one vote can essentially topple (or significantly unsettle) a government, and move a nation from complacency to crisis.
We have lived through decades of learning experiences in Guyana’s political, economic, and social arenas, from the so-called communist-leaning threats in the nineteen-fifties and sixties to the so-called return to democratic governance in the nineties, to the so-called narco-state label of the 2000s, and now to the cusp of a so-called emerging economic power. By now we must have learnt some lessons, and indeed I think we have. Optimistic me!
Thank God that learning is an ongoing, lifelong experience, and that experience itself fosters learning. General elections are going to be held in March. The oil will start to flow soon, and our economy will finally take off. (That’s my hunch, and my hope) Then, as one verbose politician expounded many years ago, ‘The small man will become a real man’.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)