As the nation observes the 175th anniversary since the African community was emancipated from chattel slavery, there continue to be yearly, monthly and daily analyses and evaluations of the affairs of the African community and the path this group has travelled. The Guyana situation, which impacts on our day-to-day lives, must be placed in context, guided by universal declarations and conventions, national constitution and laws. The thrust for the forward movement of this community must see us using these instruments, provided that they are not there to subjugate us.
The calls by some leaders in the African community for a new dispensation premised on the change in the current constitution must be examined against what currently exists. The constitution in its present state makes provision for freedoms, rights and protections for every citizen and these are grounded in the United Nations Declarations and ILO Conventions.
For instance this constitution protects every race from discrimination; guarantees every group’s right to involvement in national decision-making that impacts their wellbeing; guarantees freedom of expression and right to association; mandates an “independent” judiciary; makes Parliament the nation’s highest decision-making forum; and holds the executive and public officials accountable to the people through institutions such as the Public Procurement Commission, Ombudsman and appellate tribunals. If we demand adherence to these elements, they offer every group dignity, respect, equality and opportunities for advancement.
To call for changes to the constitution without testing the current elements speaks to an atmosphere where there exists ambivalence as to conceptualising, developing and implementing a programme which can realize the dreams and aspirations of this community. There is a call from some groups for change to the constitution, because the president is above it. The much misinterpreted Article 182 becomes the justification for such argument, when the president cannot, by commonsense, be above an instrument he has taken an oath to uphold and the very instrument outlines the citizenry’s well-being and offers a roadmap for good governance and holding office-bearers accountable.
There is also the popular argument and belief that the plight of the African community can only be improved when the country sees shared executive power among the political parties. In the current circumstance it is obvious that when African villages and communities are under siege, some African politicians and leaders rather than seeking to understand the problem of the affected choose to become involved in abstract evaluations, skewed to subdue the passions that emerge, and make proposals for programmes without taking cognisance of the views and feelings of those affected.
What assurances can be given to the African community that executive power-sharing will bring new opportunities for their development? Or it will see an improvement in the African lot? In every society, every group and every race there are good and bad people; there are persons who care about the collective and those who think only about their self-interest. And this is why constitutions and laws are put in place to hold persons accountable for their conduct in public and private places, and how they treat with the people’s business.
In our current circumstances the executive and its attendant arms that are being accused of discriminating against the community, comprise Africans who prominently identify with the African community on issues and events such as celebrating emancipation and the Village Movement. We have seen the struggles in Region 10 in 2012 and the advancement of that struggle saw the absence of leading Black politicians in this country. And if today while in opposition they are not inclined to defend Africans when they are discriminated against and advance their rights based on the constitution, when they are put into the executive it is foolhardy for us to ever think that they will defend and advance the African cause.
This issue is not about emotions. This issue is about the realities on the ground and developing a programme premised on the instruments accepted by all of us. If for some reason we find there are deficiencies after we have applied and tested these instruments, then we must seek to strengthen same.
For those who call for the changing of the constitution let them be reminded that parts of it call for a two-thirds majority in parliament, a proportion they do not have control over. And let us be real about society; power concedes nothing without a consistent and resolute struggle that can put an opponent in a position where they cannot retreat further.
They will not get a two-thirds majority, but the instrument (constitution) that they have today that they have not tried and tested is at their disposal. And the refusal by the proponents to fight within this parameter, or finding excuses for not doing so speaks to a sense of either being lazy or carrying the community down the line for personal aggrandisement. We cannot allow our leaders to continue to mislead and use our people for personal satisfaction in the absence of a programme that is founded on universal principles, charters, and laws ‒ and the Guyana constitution.