When President Jagdeo encouraged the young people at the Impress event to investigate their history, he referred to a particular ugly time when the PNC government banned flour and other food items. There have been many letters written back and forth about the ban, a reflection of the problems of investigating history. History depends on who does the telling and who does the recording. In Guyana , many people probably want to escape this never ending dilemma because it has gotten us nowhere. The release of the MI5 files on the overthrow of the democratically elected Jagan government are lessons in history.
Walter Rodney was a historian and he died before the flour bans. Those of us who are young and not so young might want to have a look at his powerful call to Guyanese in 1979 in the essay ‘People’s Power No Dictator!’
In this essay, Walter Rodney refers to the Burnham regime as a dictatorship, much as some persons have described Guyana’s current political situation. Another man living in Rodney’s time, Mr Brynmor Pollard rejects the idea that Burnham was a dictator in a letter published in KN on August 26. Rodney’s essay describes some of the human rights‘ abuses which were taking place at the time – though some of the admirers of Burnham would probably describe them otherwise. Walter Rodney says that the Burnham dictatorship was peculiar because it presented itself as a democracy by subverting elections. In 2011, young people would know that we have free and fair elections. Rodney however lists other issues as it relates to democracy.’
The young people who work at the Guyana Chronicle and NCN (radio and television) would probably be interested in the history of their workplaces. Rodney writes: “Take, for example, the end of freedom of the press. This was not achieved by any single action or by any single law. First, one national daily newspaper was nationalised and the second followed later. The two were then merged. One radio station was taken over by the government while the second was kept under manners. Eventually the two became government-owned and came under one management.
Meanwhile, the opposition press was being restricted even at the level of one-page duplicated sheets. The nationalised press and radio are of course maintained by revenue produced by all Guyanese; but step by step they became the personal tools of the dictator and his clique. Press and radio journalists lost all independence and professional dignity. Today, the Chronicle newspaper is proud to announce itself as the ‘Sister’ of the New Nation publication which is the official organ of the PNC party.“
The other young people who work in the private media would probably also be relieved that the most that can happen these days is that you would get ‘cuss out‘ on an anonymous blog . The young people who are part of the PNC these days would probably need to ask their elders about this history. Rodney talked about the people who worked with Burnham. “For a small nation, Guyana has produced a discouragingly large number of lackeys and stooges who hide in the shadow of the ‘Comrade Leader.‘ Guyanese constantly complain of ‘square pegs in round holes.‘ The square pegs are the misfits and soup drinkers who flourish because each one is prepared to be his master’s voice. There is a double tragedy in this situation. First there is the tragedy (with some mixture of comedy) of the incompetent, the mediocre and the corrupt making a mess of things…”
In Guyana now, the narrative is sometimes different. Many are told and many do believe that the President (and sometimes the ministers ) are good, but that the people they hire to do the work are bad. The Guyana Chronicle article ‘Guyana is not a poor nation‘ of January 18, 2010 says about a discussion on the health system in Berbice: “A visibly angry President Jagdeo lashed out at his advisers, stating that the reports that he was receiving had been very positive, and that his impression was that all was going well. He reiterated his commitment to ensure the efficacy of the national health system, and re-stated his intention to make everyone – at every level, accountable for their performance on the job, or they would be sent packing.” The young people who live in the times now, would probably ask how is accountability maintained and whether any of the non-performers are sent packing.
Rodney wrote further of the tragedy, “Secondly, there is the tragedy in which men and women of ability and integrity have been dismissed or they have run away or they have been reduced to silence.” Some of the religious organisations and social institutions whose integrity cannot be questioned have endorsed President Jagdeo’s legacy. When anyone might think differently, their integrity though is what is first questioned. The attacks on the persons involved in Transparency International Guyana, the anonymous blogging, the anonymous letter writers in the state media are all tools used not to challenge what is said, but to ‘cuss up‘ the people who say it. It seems that there is no place where people who condemn the dictatorship which Walter Rodney has written about, but who are also horrified at the current abuses of power could speak out and work for a just and more equitable society.
Rodney had said “Our language must express not only ridicule but anger and disgust. The dictatorship has reduced us all to such a level that the situation can be described only in terms befitting fifth, pollution and excrement. Even our deep-rooted sense of modesty in Guyana cannot stand in the way of rough words to describe the nation’s shame.”
‘Cussing up‘ and ‘busin’ out‘ though, has not worked in Guyana. Some people – many of them young – have closed their ears, or have instead started listening to very loud music. While our democratic elections have become more ‘peaceful,‘ the intensity of the violence we are witnessing has increased. Young people might wonder about the use of violence as a tool to assert power – so the increase in domestic violence, the attacks on the elderly, on those who are powerless. Doing and saying nothing have also not worked.
The shortages from the PNC years attacked basic needs. We now have no shortages; there is a freedom to consume, to possess and to discard what we do not want – except for those who cannot afford. History would say that our loud presence at the mega concerts, beauty
pageants, shows, large religious gatherings (along with our leaders) and our absence at protests would indicate that we are living in a prosperous democratic society. Rodney called for Burnham to Go! Rodney was killed before Burnham died. President Hoyte removed the
ban on flour. However, Burnham’s legacy still lives on in other spheres of our society – unless Walter Rodney was wrong.
Whose history then is valid – the ones of the young people who were at the PPP’s Impress, or the young man – the youth for Nobody – who just after Impress is currently before the courts because he raised his middle finger at the presidential guard/convoy.