The Stabroek News editorial of Friday, February 13, 09, captioned ‘Grand Old Men of Guyanese diplomacy’ honoured the stars and champions of yesteryear who caused Guyana to stand out on the world’s diplomatic stage. Says the editorial: “As foreign ministers they lit up the international stage with the force of their intellect and, in the case of Sir Shridath, oratorical brilliance rarely matched in the world’s diplomatic forums.”
There is nothing like remembering; pleasant or unpleasant memories rekindle and simulate the mind. The editorial recalled a string of “undisputed intellectual giants” whom we cannot deny “through their personality and wit have brightened Guyana’s global profile.” And here, Editor, I would like to share what I reflected upon as I was reading about these wonderful people and our past. While “Guyana’s foreign policy was generally held to be in capable hands, so much so that it was widely acknowledged that Guyana punched above its weight in the international arena,” there were many unwholesome happenings, disturbing events, injustices, etc, going on in this land of their birth in respect of which their silence was deafening, even as their voices were thundering abroad. So why was it that these men/women who “lit up the international stage with the force of their intellect,” these enviable and distinguished cerebral personalities, outstanding luminaries who commanded great respect and admiration, etc, why was there this sound of silence while they served? Why with all the political activism, and upheavals the systematic tearing away at the fabric of our society (their homeland) not a sound was heard from our foremost intellectuals and inspirational leaders? Was it that this special skill they possessed was only required “to maintain a diplomatic firewall that contributed to insulating the country from too much unwanted international scrutiny”? At what point does crossing or not crossing the line come into play? What of civil responsibility and moral obligation? What of political decency or just plain right/wrong?
Shouldn’t the coveted intellect of these men/women − in some cases gotten at the expense of the working class − have been expanded towards the service, protection and upliftment of the people? Most certainly! But that in itself becomes difficult to do since the material wealth that binds some of them to the status quo, controls their every act, hence they turn a blind eye to wrongs and injustices, until things get out of hand and self threatening. The general behaviour of the privileged is the ability to switch gear at will, with a number of options open to them by virtue of their scholarship. Their services are forever in demand, and they take a certain pride in the knowledge that they are marketable, with no gnawing of the conscience that their intellect and soul are for sale to the highest bidder. Not troubled, not bothered would appear to be the adage by which they live. They sit on the right hand on high and help to formulate laws, policies and systems that sometimes hold the masses captive. In short they help to strengthen the existing disparity within the system.
The Barbadian writer George Lamming hit the nail on the head when he said, “You are a minority because education is scarce and was intended to be a scarcity so that it might serve as an instrument of continuing social stratification, an index of privilege and status, a deformed habit of material self improvement. It has complicated the role of the intellectuals in their relation to the masses of the population. These are the men/women who live and work in an “orbit of privilege… their relation to the mass of the population is a dubious relation; it is a fragile relation; and in some circumstances it is utterly a fraudulent relation.” Then the question must be: education in service of whom?
And so, Editor, while we do forever need our gifted sons/daughters and brilliant technocrats, it is clear that the wellbeing, development and stability of a people must depend ultimately on the organizing, education, consciousness and actions of the masses.