A year ago, I sat at a lecture, organised by the Cuffy 250 Committee, where a series of questions about the state of African Guyanese communities were raised. The questions mostly concerned marginalisation, unemployment and inequitable policies. They were not particularly new but recurring, as are the ongoing struggles identified in black communities.
Fast forward to a few days ago and the Cuffy Committee was again addressing the issues confronting African Guyanese communities, and calling for inclusive economic development efforts that create pathways and help to build and sustain prosperity in them.
These conversations are relevant and it is encouraging to see that the Committee is pressing ahead with its agenda to raise the level of consciousness in our communities.
Dr Norman Ng A Qui, a member of the Committee, made reference to the fact that some people have disparaged the work it is doing and have encouraged stakeholders to stay clear of the forums. I had a similar experience a year ago when I attended the first forum and I cannot believe that people are still peddling the untruths about the Committee’s work.
We should be having regular conversations across our country about what is happening in our villages, whether we are taking stock of our own lives, and whether we are being afforded equal opportunities to meaningfully participate in the state’s economy.
Increasingly, people are tuning out from what is happening around them and are brushing issues aside with a casual, “I ain’t got time for politics” or “That ain’t concern me,” when, in fact, every decision the State makes concerns us. For example, what is happening with the forestry sector and the revelations in the local press regarding how national resources are being managed or mismanaged ought to be a major concern to every citizen.
During his address at the recent Cuffy 250 Committee forum, APNU’s spokesperson on financial matters Carl Greenidge made a salient observation about state resources and equitable distribution. “…What I am saying here is that the economic policy in the post-2005 period is an economic policy that is geared not so much to building a human resource base that can take you into the third millennium but one that is geared to satisfying the need of a group that is running the country, that sees its interest as control, exercising tight and expansive control over whatever [industries],” Greenidge was quoted as saying in a Stabroek News report. The thrust of his address centered on our national assets and how current policies see them parceled off and handed out to privileged foreign companies, with cuts for a small group of nationals. Of course, the welfare of the population then becomes a back burner issue.
And according to Greenidge, these damaging policies have negatively impacted all Guyanese, including both Indian and African Guyanese communities. This simply reinforces the argument for why we need to have certain conversations in our communities, and not once a year when a forum is organised.
Raising awareness of the wealth gaps in our society and evaluating what is happening in some communities is important if we are going to strengthen equitable and inclusive economic efforts and better govern poverty.
What the Cuffy 250 Committee is publicising through its forums and community meetings–which are unfortunately poorly attended–is information that has been floating around for a long time.
In 2007, the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) consulted with the African Guyanese community and the issues raised then were identical to the ones being raised now. During a hearing, presenters singled out economic conditions, the political system, and the state of education in certain communities as being among the serious issues confronting African Guyanese. Elton McRae, one of the presenters at that hearing, decried the level of education being offered in African Guyanese communities and he zeroed in on the ongoing social struggles, such as crime and poverty. The following year, the ERC released a report that listed political non-representation, marginalisation and internal conflicts as being among the perceived issues affecting the development of African Guyanese.
Since the ERC report, the issues appear to have remained the same, based on the discussions at the recent Cuffy 250 Committee forum. It was difficult to read educator Deon Abrams’ contribution to the forum. When he spoke about the state of education in the African Guyanese community, it was reminiscent of McRae appearing before the ERC seven years ago. But Abrams emphasised another issue that ought to be of major concern to not only the African Guyanese community but to government. He opined that one of the biggest problems in the schools is that children seem not to understand why they are there. He had no qualms saying that the attitudes of Black people’s children, whom he described as “Bad Johns,” is worrying because they appear more conscious about how they dress than their education. Clearly, he meant some Black people’s children but this distinction is minor. What is important is this group of children who are falling through the cracks; they leave school functional illiterates and the system happily reports that “no child has been left behind.”
“It is for us to rise up in consciousness, recognising that which belongs to us and to engage in the process of revitalisation, using our history as an example as to how it could be done. We have been there before and we can witness a rebirth 50 years after into 50 years beyond,” University of Guyana Registrar Vincent Alexander said during his keynote address at the forum.
This particular quote resonated with me because of the words, “rise up in consciousness.” That he was speaking to the African Guyanese community hardly registered at the time of my reading it. I read it and immediately thought about how important it is for Guyanese to rise up in consciousness, for us to pull together, and develop strategies to fight back against systematic oppression.
As Alexander pointed out, the State also has an obligation to play a part by virtue of the institutions it may put in place to aid and abet the process of revitalisation in our communities. Unfortunately, one of the more serious threats to our democracy is the existence within our own institutions of conditions, such as centralised political power and imbalanced economic policies, which have given victory to inequality, indifference, and the enduring hopelessness in some of our communities.