The African Guyanese community has to find a way to develop strong financial independence

Dear Editor,
The gist of Mr. Lincoln Lewis’s letter, `TUC sought dialogue with the groups in the National Assembly to arrive at a consensus position on the right to work’ is an indication that he did not understand my questions, or he is merely skirting around the issue. The intent of my letter was to get a confirmation on my brief that the quest for the return of the subvention for the Critchlow College contributed to the weak negotiating/bargaining position of the TUC.

Please see my letter, `Those fighting for the small man are also fighting to keep food on their own tables’, (March, 10th, 2013), to get an idea as to where I’m going with this. I have no quarrel with Mr. Lewis, but merely wanted to point out that a large constituency of people is affected by flawed political representation and no social and financial advice.

The African Guyanese community is in deep trouble. The community is always protesting, shot at and sometimes killed by police, with no improvement to their situation. Why is that? Their representatives in the TUC, the majority opposition and ACDA have somehow manoeuvred them into a box of irrelevance, with no obvious way out unless they are willing to recognize/accept that they are flawed in their approach and are willing/able to take the necessary steps to get out.
What is the way out? Find a strategy to develop financial relevance in the community. I can hear the exclamations, “Here Skinner go again!” Well, Skinner knows that people respect education backed with strong financial capabilities. People respect people with strong financial independence. That is not in the community, thus the disrespect and the impotence.

Do you remember Dr. Jagan’s ‘bottom of the ladder’ comment? People wanted to crucify him for that, but I paid attention. He had a message. He also said that the PNC was setting up its constituency for failure.

Do you know what he meant? I think it was that the PNC and ACDA, which followed later never taught their people financial independence. They created a dependency syndrome. From 1964 to 1992 a lot of people depended on handouts, and party affiliation – even education was not necessary. So when 1992 came around, a lot of people were left stranded.

To give a background to what brought us here, I wish to reflect. In the fifties,  there was a upper class, represented by the expatriates, who managed the sugar and bauxite industries. There was a vibrant middle class dominated by African Guyanese intellectuals – attorneys, doctors, head teachers, postmasters and such like.
There were a few African entrepreneurs/businessmen, a few Portuguese and very few Indians Guyanese. The poor were majority Indian, some Africans and Amerindians.

The Indians were poor, but they were in business. They held on to rice fields the Africans did not want. They persisted in other crops. They were the ones selling milk in our communities, in metal cans. They came in bearing baskets of greens on their heads and dropped money in the bank in paper bags while walking bare feet. Their girls did not go to school. They married early and joined their husbands in business. Only the brightest of the boys sought education. You get the picture.

1974 came along, and the African middle-class was destroyed. “How,” you ask? Well read the ‘Declaration of Sophia’ as it relates to party membership and the denouncing of the United Force “capitalist policies.” What happened is that education did not mean anything unless you were affiliated. Some intellectuals ran while some succumbed. Many who got positions were not necessarily qualified but being part of the bigger equation put them on top of the world.

Even so, our education policies, which started when Dr. Jagan built those ‘L’ shaped schools in the early sixties, and continued under the PNC, forced more Indian participation in getting an education. The girls were also forced to go to school.

By 1980, education levels between the Indians and Africans equalized. There were a lot more Indians doctors, attorneys, accountants and the like. But, there was a vast difference in the manner Indians used their education. A lot of qualified Indians started their own businesses or better yet they came in and enhanced their parents’ businesses.

African mostly went to work for government or some company. All the struggles of the seventies, eighties and early nineties did not faze the Indians. They stuck to their policy so come 1992 they were ready to launch out with the backing of a government on their side. It was embarrassing to see that come 1992 a lot of government officials did not have their own property.

So where are we today? Reflect again. Mr. Moses Bhagwan was afraid that the administration’s approach and the marginalization of Africans would be detrimental to Indians. He wrote, in his article of September 10, 2006, captioned, ‘Being Indian in Guyana: The challenges’ the following. “Indians will never prosper in Guyana if Africans become impoverished, and they will never live securely unless Africans are secure.”

No one responded to his concerns. Instead Indians accepted their casualties and dug in deep. I’ve not been in Guyana since 2008, but I am hearing fortresses are going up, while others are relegated to snatching purses and other acts.

So when Mr. Lewis is writing that, “The reason the TUC sought dialogue with the groups in the National Assembly is to arrive at a consensus position on a matter of national import, i.e. “The right and the duty to work” for Guyanese. This approach is consistent with the structure of governance, which requires involvement of stakeholders in decision- making that affects their well-being and the TUC’s responsibility under Article 149C of the Constitution.”  And also, “The National Assembly/Parliament is the nation’s highest decision-making forum and tasked with the responsibility of oversight and law making,” I ask myself, can’t he see that all those conventions are out the window? This game is about who can compete in the world of finance and capital. How to use money and power. There is no respect for the ordinary worker the TUC represents and the TUC does not seem to have the clout to swing around the outcome.

Things are quite pathetic now, but there may still be a way out of this. The TUC, ACDA and the opposition in parliament have to circle the wagons around the people they represent. Not to do battle with forces attacking, but rather it is to take some time out to learn self-independence.

There should be an organization in every city, every village, every little community, teaching financial management and wealth generation.  Look for cooperative business ventures that can be carried out in the communities. Look at struggling communities like Ituni and Kwakwani. See how we can match them with investors or get them equipped to get bank loans. Regulate Africans lands so that Joint Ventures can be done easily.

Most importantly we have to teach the importance of brotherly love in the community. That is extremely crucial. Every person should be his or her brother’s or sister’s keeper. Try to eradicate crime in the community – black on black crime, and crime, generally. There will be those who insist on their wayward ways. Isolate them, expose them. Emphasize strict work ethics – a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. Respect and support businesses in the community. And, most importantly, teach them to move away from wasteful spending and excessive partying.

People in the Diaspora also need to be part of this. Let’s pool our resources and adopt communities. I know that there is a fear to send money to people who will waste it. The community has to get rid of that attitude. Money for projects has to go to the projects. I know it will be difficult, but what other choice is there?

When our community can respect and support the businesses and other uplifting activities in their communities, when we learn to mix education with entrepreneurism, when both communities have an equal stake in the country, then there will be true peace and prosperity.

What is it going to be? Mr. Lewis wrote, “Each and every one of us has a role to play in asking, what can I do for my country and fellow man, and act in accordance.” Are we ready for this?
Yours faithfully,
F. Skinner