Afro-Guyanese need to get involved in revitalizing the institutions that can allow them to exercise their sovereignty as individuals and at a communal level, University of Guyana Registrar Vincent Alexander said yesterday.
“It is for us to rise up in consciousness, recognizing 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 fifty years after into fifty years beyond,” Alexander said during his keynote address at a forum addressing the state of Afro-Guyanese in Guyana.
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, Alexander said.
During an address in which he also made a call for local government elections, Alexander, who is one of the commissioners of the Guyana Elections Commission, also posited that Afro-Guyanese are an ethnic group by virtue of exclusion from other groups and he called for the restoration of lands that were bought by their African fore-parents.
“Our history makes us an ethnic group, along with our geographic location. We are an ethnic group by exclusion from other ethnic groups, and placed into one group by that exclusion. Though we may not have the same language and different religious beliefs, being in this country and our history makes us an ethnic group,” he said at the Crithchlow Labour College where the conference was organised for a second year by the Cuffy 250 group.
He pointed out to a fair-sized audience that while other ethnic groups have their land, religion and culture that kept them together in that regard, Africans were at “ground zero” since everything was taken away. “What makes us a group of people is because we are a group of people with our backs against the wall,” he said.
In his address titled ‘Guyana Approaching 50 & Beyond: Whither Independence?” Alexander pointed out that after the abolishment of slavery, their African fore-parents bought and established villages with the intent of raising their own economy and finding freedom and liberation in those enclaves. However, that freedom was aggressively fought against and for Alexander, Afro-Guyanese can look at that past to understand their rights and engage in the process of bringing back that structure and that freedom back to them.
This, however, would not be done to the detriment of anyone else as “we are not interfering with any other group and we say they have the same right.
“It is not a racist or discriminatory act but one that seeks to bequeath to us what belongs to us and bequeath to them (other ethnic groups) what belongs to them.” Alexander said. He told the audience that the process is in their hands since the freedom belongs to them.
Describing Guyana as a plural society, Alexander said the people live in ethnic enclaves, a situation he said that was made even more evident to him when he observed the 2011 elections. He would not describe the people as a nation but rather, said that the country is a nation state brought together by its legal and parliamentary systems.
According to Alexander, the enclaves are entitled to “sovereignty” and this should be recognised by the state and not infringed on. There should be some arrangement that absolute sovereignty should not be exercised at one level – parliamentary – but by the people who should be allowed to do certain things unimpeded by the state. The independence has to be of the individual, community and the state and this can be best realised at the level of the communities through local government, Alexander explained.
He said while local government is smaller to the state at large and subjected to certain acts, the things that local bodies are allowed to do, they should do so independently.
African-Guyanese, Alexander said, should have a certain degree of autonomy to conduct their own affairs. Stating that there are examples of this, he mentioned Amerin-dians. All ethnic groups should be allowed to conduct their affairs independently at a certain level even though not all issues can be regulated at the local level, he said.
“Certainly you would never have domain at the level of your community over monetary matters, certainly would never have domain at the level of your community over defence matters, over international matters but certainly you could have domain over culture, certainly you could have domain over sports, certainly you could have domain over aspects of education, over aspects of industry…” Alexander asserted.
During the question and answer aspect of the conference, Alexander said that for him, half of the problems experienced by African Guyanese in Guyana will be solved if there is a system in which human rights are recognized and respected. He said that it is true that the banking system in the country discriminates against blacks and stated that he was speaking from personal experience after being able to circumvent the system by connections and seeing how it really works.
Accordingly, he suggested the need to struggle for a system of shared governance in order to create a level playing field for all Guyanese as a transition where the problems facing every group of Guyanese is recognised and a state system that is responsive to the problems is created.
“Our politicians live in perpetual pretence that Africans don’t have no problem,” he said while adding that there is a myth that all are living “good” but the fact of the matter is that the problems of African Guyanese are not being addressed. Indo-Guyanese are being silenced by the thing of ‘awe government’ while the Christian churches silence Afro-Guyanese by saying ‘we can’t talk about the problems because we attract everyone,’ Alexander said.
‘Lack of knowledge’
Meanwhile, Dr Norman Ng A Qui speaking about the activities of the Cuffy 250 group, which he said is a consciousness group focusing on African issues and working within the communities to make this happen, related that during the year’s activities it was that found that there was a tremendous lack of knowledge in communities.
He said that the group focuses on education and community activities and is not a political group. They held over 30 forums, seminars and workshops as part of its education aspect and according to Dr Ng A Qui there was a lack of knowledge about anything that is relevant; rights, African issues, political leaders and “primarily just a general lack of knowledge of anything of substance.”
In the villages it was also found that many of the men are out in the interior working for months at a time and often it is just women and children who are in the villages. There is also the issue of the “confused clergy” as some local clergy tell their members not to attend the group’s meetings because they are going to take them back to Africa and teach them about obeah and based on this advice some people do not attend. “It is an interesting dilemma caused by misinformation,” he concluded.
The group also found that there is no plan or vision in villages in terms of village councils and people seem just to be wandering with no organization.
Deon Abrams, a teacher, in addressing the issue of the state of education in the Afro-Guyanese community, said that the biggest problem in the schools is that children seem not to understand why they are in school. A lot of problems stem from the attitudes of black people’s children, he said describing those children as “bad Johns” who are more conscious about how they dress than their education.
“If we are going to fix the education problem [we need to fix] the minds of our children, they have to understand that the reason why they are there is to ensure that they are educated, to stand up as men and women in a competitive world,” he asserted.
Abrams said that parents must make their children understand the cost of their education and that it is a burden but they are making that investment in their education.