The information from daily reportings of various traumas in a country, whether from government actions or personal behaviours, can become a surround creating a feeling of hopelessness in the citizens. The impacts from these traumas – sometimes an action, but frequently a negligence or omission – are formidable; they seem to occur in every area of life; they are relentless in their frequency; just when we think we’ve heard the worst, we learn otherwise. It is a scenario that can generate despair or even shame in a people, and there have been voices here recently expressing such concerns clearly and simply; writers refer to being “tired” of it, or “fed up.” In the midst of the gloom, however, and gloom it is, there were some hopeful signs of late.
This week, we have the very unusual occurrence of a politician – in this case, APNU MP Joe Harmon in his 2013 budget address – actually saying something complimentary about a PPP Minister – in this case Irfaan Ali. In a time when political postures, on both sides of the aisle, are set in concrete (sometimes even fortified by Rebar) Mr Harmon’s declaration, short as it may be, is of powerful note, because it is an expression of accommodation and conciliation. Time and again, in public and private utterances in Guyana, one hears the cry from the man in the street for our politicians to be engaged in cross-talk, in exchange, instead of intransigence and invective. Indeed, one of the most striking consequences of our recent general election was the hope expressed by many for a more cooperative attitude in our Parliament given the absence of the previous absolute majority, and the failure to see that cooperation is now remarked upon as fervently as our original expectations for it were. One may see more weight in Joe’s remarks than are there in the wider reality, but it is a striking departure, a rare moment of light, and it is important to let Mr Harmon, and his fellow parliamentarians, know that we see it as such.
Also this week, in a voluntary effort, Mr M Maxwell provided another example. He contributed a letter to the press that should be read by every Guyanese who wrestles with the Guyana condition, because in it he addresses forthrightly and perceptively what he refers to as “the racial apartheid” existing between our two dominant ethnic groups. Many people feel, as I do, that among Guyana’s heavy burdens this is the heaviest. It impedes every aspect of our life from business decisions to political processes; from government administration to personnel selection; from budget structures to social choices. It contorts literally everything in this country in both public and private life, and it endures even among the Guyanese who migrate, but we seem loathe to admit it. When it is raised in social settings, the atmosphere changes; there are awkward glances; people shift on their feet and move off; conversation dries up. If you know Guyana, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a taboo subject. Mr Maxwell speaks to it bravely, without mincing words, speaking hard truths, and provides some interesting background to this disconnect between our two dominant ethnic groups. It is a letter that should be read and re-read; it should be posted on notice boards around the land. For those positing the way forward in this country and treating the fundamental considerations, it is a pointed sign of hope even if the lesson it contains is a hard one.
These two utterings (there have been several others) seem to be propelled by a growing mood here that we need to be moving away from the polarized or divided approach in order for substantial progress to be made in Guyana. It is expressed strongly and often, at all levels, and it is appearing now in various guises. It was obviously there in the Harmon and Maxwell examples, but aspects of it abound: the requests from Speaker Raphael Trotman for MPs to refrain from heckling and insulting each other is one, and a very incisive letter from F Skinner on the work to be done in the African-Guyanese community is another worth mentioning.
Overall, too, even the casual ear can detect a growing sentiment in this country for more measured behaviour by the people chosen to represent us. It is being expressed not only by those who pronounce in the media, but it is also there in social gatherings and even in passing conversations with people one encounters. Perhaps it is fuelled by the highly publicized gridlock in American politics, and, at home, by some of the embarrassingly caustic comments from some of our public officials, but it is a mood that seems to be growing. Opinions repeatedly expressed from the street are to be taken seriously; the grammar may be faulty, but the thoughts are crystal clear.
Probably from facing our own hard knocks of the realities of politics, many of us have become disenchanted, even disturbed, about our attitudes to governance and are displeased with how our elected people are running our affairs on both sides of the fence. Some even contend that this present configuration, with no dominant majority muscle, is one that should clarify for us, leaders as well as followers, that given our ethnic composition, accommodation between the two major groups is the road we must find a way to drive. In the letters they write, in the peaceful protests they stage, in the placards they hold up, in the things they tell us in the taxi, Guyanese, more than ever now, are delivering that message, and some of the more prominent voices, such as Messrs Maxwell, Skinner and Trotman, are saying it trenchantly.
Of course, politics is a creature of gridlock that remains deaf to thunder and blind to lightning, as we saw so vividly in the recent Republican performance in the US election, so the signs here may be ignored yet again. Nonetheless, for those who know the feeling of despair, there is some solace in this week’s signs of hope. The key will be whether the ones among us who can effect change are noticing.