A call for a more participatory approach to organizing the process to seek Reparations for Native Genocide and Slavery

Dear Editor,

 

We, the four undersigned Guyanese descendants of enslaved Africans have been approached separately by Mr. Eric Phillips, the Guyana Government appointed Chairperson of the Guyana National Reparations Committee for Native Genocide and Slavery, to get on board with him in the reparation process.  Mr. Phillips, having recently returned from the Regional Conference on Reparations in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, understandably seems anxious to move forward the Guyana end of the process.

We, however, are highly dissatisfied at this top-down approach at organising the Reparations committee.  It is our strong conviction that the procedure employed by the Ministry of Culture to find people to sit on the Committee threatens true democratic consultation and decision making and disempowers the legitimate claimants, both the descendants of the victims of the Atlantic Slave Trade and the indigenous peoples of Guyana.  Mr. Phillips’ appointment as the chair of the National Reparations Committee was never made public, nor was the basis for his selection. To date, we are unaware who the other members of the committee are; if there are in fact other members, and the criteria used to select or appoint them.

This scenario hints at the manner in which the decisions relating to the expending of the financial gains of reparations might be made should the reparations issue be resolved in our favour.  Furthermore, it presents a frightening déjà vu of authoritarianism, undermining the meaning of reparations, financial or otherwise:  There has been absolutely no effort on the part of the Guyana Government to organize or even initiate participatory fora of African and Amerindian peoples and organisations for the purpose of constituting the Committee.  To our minds, such a void already delegitimizes any other effort of the GOG in respect of reparations.

Alas, Mr. Phillips’ anxiety to do right by his ancestors has caused him to run the terrible risk of damaging the Reparations process.  For his current approach is to cherry-pick whom he thinks is eligible, by whatever criteria he chooses to carry out the work of this secretly appointed committee.  It is extremely unfortunate that Mr. Phillips and the Ministry of Culture seem to have forgotten even immediate past events, viz., the Opening Ceremony for the Year of People of African Descent and the construction of the 1823 Monument, which only resulted in massive boycott and public protest, respectively, signaling that African Guyanese are deeply dissatisfied with being treated as passive observers of issues and events that directly impact on our socio-economic and cultural well-being.

On account of the aforesaid, and in response to the invitation of Honourable Prime Minister, Mr. Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who declared on the first day of the three- day Reparations conference that ‘. . .when any of us does wrong in this movement, we must say, brother, sister, comrade, that is not the way to proceed. . .’, we therefore call on the Government of Guyana and its appointed Chairman of the National Reparations Committee to:

Desist from the obviously undemocratic manner in which they set out to initiate this Caricom call to the Reparations challenge.

Involve all African-centred groups such as the Guyana Rastafari Council and ACDA, all Amerindian groups, and all interested Civil Society organisations in a participatory and inclusive process led by the most prominent Reparations experts at home and in the African and Indigenous peoples’ Diasporas.

The Reparations challenge continues to be crucial to the lives of hundreds of thousands of African and Amerindian Guyanese as well as millions across and beyond the boundaries of the Caribbean.

 

Yours faithfully,
Duane Edwards
Mellissa Ifill
Tacuma Ogunseye
Charlene Wilkinson

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