I find it pertinent to open this letter by relating a recent encounter I had with one of my neighbours. This is a woman who I often see perambulating the environs but who I calculably avoided because as we say in Guyanese vernacular, she, ‘looks flighty.’ She would always very politely greet me with hello, on occasions seemingly wanting to converse but I would deliberately avoid any conversation with her. So one day three weeks ago we both exited public transportation and waited to cross the road when she began the conversation by asking me how I was, and upon hearing my accent she then asked the proverbial question, where I came from. Then likewise I asked her where she came from, already presuming that she is from some part of Africa. What I later learned about her story was to say the least shocking. It turned out that she is from a war torn region in the Republic of Congo, Brazzaville. She fled her country because of the 1997 civil war. During the civil war in the Congo she claimed militia men raided her village and in the carnage her husband and three of her sons were murdered, she and her daughter were kidnapped and held by the Militias. Her daughter she said later committed suicide.
This woman’s story was emotionally debilitating for me. It was only two months before that I had read Ishmael Beah’s book A long way gone. Ishmael Beah is a former child soldier in the civil war in Sierra Leone. After his village was raided and his entire family was slaughtered by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, he escaped only to be captured by the government forces that were fighting the rebels. He was turned into a child soldier at the age of thirteen. A long way gone is a riveting, wrenching and haunting account of the life of Ishmael Beah as child soldier. It details the atrocities children are forced to commit in civil wars. There are estimated to be over 30,000 child soldiers around the world in the various intractable civil and ethnic wars.
The mental sum total of all the atrocities told to me by the first hand account of my neighbour as a victim, through the revelation of Ishmael Beah in his memoir as a reluctant violator, and those I have read or seen via the media, reinforce my belief that there is no benefit to be derived from any form of armed struggle as a means of solving societies’ problems. Societies must at all cost strive for peaceful co-existence, especially multi-ethnic societies like Guyana mired in lingering low level ethnic conflicts and polarization with the potential for escalation.
It is sometimes easy for those excluded from power, operating in a political system with unequal or non participation in the political outcomes and faced with injustices, to see armed struggle as justification for affirming their rights. Very often armed revolutionary struggle is romanticized by those seeking to acquire political power. What is often absent in the pedagogy of the armed revolution is the reality of the pathology of violence against the innocent in the name of liberation that is often not about liberation but about power for the revolutionary elites.
Indeed, during the colonial dispensation and in the dialectics of the ideological confrontation of the cold war, armed political struggle was the theology of liberation, espoused by some of my heroes like Ernesto Che Guevara, Franz Fanon and Walter Rodney (in the case of Rodney it was to be used as a last resort). However, that was a different time and the fight was for liberation of the third world citizens from imperialism, authoritarianism and capitalist exploitation. The enemies were oppressive governments supported by the imperial west and the uniformed armed forces which were perpetrators of injustices. The reason for the armed revolutionary struggle according to Che Guevara was the triumph of the oppressed proletarian class over the oppressive class. The proletarian oppressed is a plurality.
My other heroes Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King demonstrated that revolutionary action can be waged by non-violent means of confrontation with democratic outcomes.
The problem of armed struggle in multi- ethnic societies is the ethnic dimension that becomes an orgy of violent retaliation and ethnic cleansing, the purpose of which is to change the demographics and in the process eliminate an ethnic threat. Entire ethnic groups become victims on both sides. We see these examples in Rwanda, The Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Darfur, Colombia, in Asia and even the Islamic insurgencies in the Middle East. Armed struggle is a major factor in the underdevelopment of many of these societies. The result is genocide, forced migration and the calamity of the refugee flight. Most often rape is used as tool of domination against women, and children, as in the case of Ishmael Beah are forced to fight wars that they have no concept of. There is no linear control in armed conflicts. It causes societies to degenerate into warlordism, backward tendencies and opportunism. These conflicts which are waged on behalf of the poor and dispossessed are often just about power and control for a murderous lot.
So when Bro. Tacuma Ogunseye posed the question in his letter captioned “Does peaceful struggle stand a chance of achieving our political goal of shared governance/executive power sharing,” especially for African Guyanese, I am forced to answer that the alternative to peaceful struggle which is armed struggle, is a non option. The African Guyanese masses I believe have no interest in the outcome of armed struggle. But Ogunseye taking the role of provocateur in his letter is warning us that there are fringes in the African Guyanese community who are frustrated with the status quo and perhaps see armed struggle as an option for achieving their objectives. What is known is that shared governance/executive power sharing is best achieved and maintained through political cooperation, negotiation and persuasion; it can never be achieved in the best interest of the society through armed confrontation. Even if there is a political settlement after a protracted period of armed struggle, the peace is a non lasting peace.
In the case of Guyana, Bro. Eusi Kwayana posed the question in his Book The Morning after. What happens the morning after? In Rwanda the morning after was hundreds of thousands dead and years of misery. In Guyana, I can guarantee that Indian Guyanese who are probably more armed will not sit idly by while the African Guyanese armed fringes wage an armed struggle on the government they voted for in a democratic process. If the rise of the Phantom in Guyana is a guide we have already seen the lengths to which some in the society will go. So the morning after is a frightening scene that none of us, African Guyanese, Indian Guyanese, Amerindian Guyanese, Portuguese Guyanese or those of us in the Diaspora want to wake up to.
It is for this reason that it is imperative that ethnic groups in Guyana engage each other in dialogue and reconciliation. Maintaining a peaceful co-existence in Guyana is our only option even as we seek to engage a peaceful and [preferably multi-ethnic] struggle for inclusive governance against an administration with increasingly authoritarian tendencies.