The 173rd Emancipation Day celebrations have ended and ACDA and the other African groups should be complimented for successfully implementing the many activities. However, we are still in the United Nations International Year of People of African Descent (IYPAD), and this is as good a time as any to assess where Guyana is in relation to the objectives of this Year.
It should be recalled that the IYPAD is the outcome of the perennial United Nations commitment to end racial and related discrimination, as articulated at, inter alia, the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Tolerance, held in Durban, South Africa in August 2001. The main objective of the Year is to elicit international and national action “to raise awareness of the challenges facing people of African descent. It is hoped that the Year will foster discussions that will generate proposals for solutions to tackle these challenges.” (IYPAD website) As I understand it, member states are to facilitate the development of national action plans to be submitted to the United Nations, but as we shall see, as is normal in Guyana, the development of that plan has been mired in controversy.
A press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 14th April 2010 stated that “government recognises and values the unique contribution that Guyanese of African descent have made to the country’s history and rich multi-ethnic heritage and will use the Year to further promote greater awareness and understanding by all Guyanese of the legacy.” Of course, there is a considerable difference between raising awareness by way of some cultural activities, constructing monuments, printing historical documents, etc, and understanding, generating and implementing proposals that will make a positive, permanent and lasting material contribution to the lives of Afro-Guyanese. However, the press release proceeded to state that the government “looks forward to the active collaboration and participation of Guyanese in making the International Year of People of African Descent a success.”
At the time of writing, the implementation of a consensually driven national plan has not materialised. Perhaps, given what we know of Guyana, this was too much to expect in an election year, when competition for community support is most rampant and neither the government nor the opposition is willing to allow competitor access.
Nevertheless, a properly constructed IYPAD programme could bring immense positive benefits to the Afro-Guyanese community and as such, should not be tied to the electoral fortunes of any political party. Furthermore, it is incumbent upon the government to lead a proper consultative process to negotiate, formulate and implement such a plan.
In around June 2010, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, drawing upon its database of African organisations, convened its first IYPAD meeting and the result of that process was a central committee consisting of “Dr James Rose, Chairman; Hamilton Green, Vice-Chairman; Col L V Ross, MCYS; Jenny Daly, Secretary; Thomas Dalgety, Assistant Secretary; Lennox King, Treasurer; Lashanna Lillie, Museum of African Heritage; Eon Andrews, Concerned Citizen; Nurlene Bess, EOR; Clifford Blackett, National Emancipation Trust (NET); Joal Burnett, NET; Joseph Connelly, Stanleytown; Daniel Fisher, Individual; Yvette Herod, First of August Movement; Carol Joseph, Hopetown; Priest Oba Mwanza, Ifa Aiyetoro Church; Pearline Mclean, Pan African Movement; Percy Munroe, East Canje; Ishmael Muhammad, NET; and Noah Yahshuarun, Deomart.”
Please note that neither the PNC nor the African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA), the two organisations most representative of Afro-Guyanese, are recorded as having been represented at the meeting and herein resides the problem. It should be noted that although the PNC was not invited, two of its executive members apparently served important roles on the committee i.e. Hamilton Green as Vice-Chairman and Mr. Aubrey Norton, as chairman of the Political and Civil Committee.
By January 2011, the government had a programme that it intended to and did launch. However, ACDA called a meeting of twelve African organisations, one of which it claimed contained 16 groups, at which a resolution was passed, which, while accepting that the Year is an important event for peoples of African descent, expressed displeasure at the process that had established what it called the “government’s programme.” The meeting recommended that the launch of the Year of Peoples of African Descent be postponed until a mutually agreed upon programme can be established.
Not to be out-done and perhaps also peeved that he was only invited to make some remarks at the proposed launch the evening before it was to occur, the leader of the PNC claimed that he was not going to be party to a process that had not received the imprimatur of the recognised African groups and called upon “all Guyanese to lend solidarity to the call of these organizations not to participate in any charade until a mutually agreed upon, ‘National UN Year for People of African Descent Programme’ is agreed.” The Ministry of Culture, Youth & Sport rejected the contention that the major groups had not been properly consulted; claimed that ACDA chose to discontinue its participation and proceeded to launch its programme.
Although, a number of senior members of both the PNC and ACDA participated and claimed that they were reporting to these organisations, an invitation to an individual member is not an invitation to an organisation. Thus, it appears that the PNC was not invited to participate in the process and this must, at the very least, call into question the motives of those seeking to establish the programme. The contention that no political party was invited is disingenuous as it is the vital interest of the traditional PNC supporters that is at stake and no other political party has anything like as much to lose from non-participation. Secondly, ACDA is the most well-established of the African Guyanese organisations and the mere fact that it walked away from the process should have been a signal that something was amiss and needed to be rectified if there was to be inclusiveness and a successful outcome.
Various reasons have been given for what is perceived to be the government’s intention to limit its participation in the IYPAD process.
Quite apart from those who feel that the process broke down because of the government’s efforts to marginalise the PNC as the foremost African organisation in Guyana, others feel that the regime simply has little or no interest in African development and wishes only to tinker and do nothing fundamental either during IYPAD or thereafter. Nonetheless, I venture to say, and will in the next article demonstrate, that although the process that devised the “government programme” may not have been sufficiently inclusive, the programme itself contains some sensible and important elements that could and perhaps should be the basis for an immediate engagement.
For the African community, disengagement is not an option. It is incumbent upon the government to reactivate an inclusive process and it is the duty of those organisations representing African people to utilise their influence to see that the process does resume and that a programme of action is successfully implemented.