In February 2013, a few days after the shooting by ‘youth men’ of Mr Oscar Clarke, General Secretary of the People’s National Congress in his home at Plum Park, Sophia, I wrote two letters to the editor and in one of these (February 5, 2013) I stated:
“Times have changed. Institutions that were working at the time of Independence were retooled, politicised and centralised and we the people became alienated from grass roots structures (such as Village Councils) because most were unrepresentative of communities. Citizens then spent more time looking after themselves and those with resources created their own safe havens, in splendid isolation from the realities of community life – the infiltration by narco-traffickers, the rise of truancy among youth, the increasing incidence of absentee fathers, the dilemma of mothers who, by default, became the breadwinners of the family, the deteriorating infrastructure because of ‘fly by night contractors’, and the rise of subcultures that attracted the youth men and women.”
Almost two years later, the institutions which had become dysfunctional, remain largely so – testimony in great measure, to the negative consequences of political gridlock and intransigence. The youth men and women have now graduated from being urban ‘foot bandits’ who attacked Mr Oscar Clarke in this own home, to ‘young men on bicycles’ – given the name ‘bicycle bandits’ by rural residents of new housing areas at Zeelugt, Tuschen, Diamond, Republic Park and elsewhere, to the ‘car bandits’ who brutally and callously shot to death a security guard at Sterling Products Limited, and to the ‘hinterland bandits’ operating by boat and off-road vehicles, who killed a shop owner I knew at Mango Landing, Essequibo River.
The geographical dispersion of these most recent criminal activities is an indication of the increasing intelligence gathering capability, mobility, and bare-faced arrogance with which persons bent on criminality seem prepared to counter the deployment of private security guards, law enforcement patrols, road blocks, checkpoints and CCTV cameras. Those of us reading the daily coverage of criminality that reports on the murders of citizens, such as security guard Wilfred Stewart and shop owner Linden McAlmon, and injuries to many others, may have unwittingly developed a fatalistic immunity to these examples of man’s inhumanity to man because of what is being played out in other jurisdictions such as in St Louis and Michigan USA, Mosul in Iraq and Damascus in Syria, and of the death toll from viruses in parts of Africa and from weather related disasters occurring with increasing frequency in many parts of this planet.
But what of the two daughters and unborn child of Wilfred Stewart and their mother, and Linden McAlmon’s children and his wife Maureen? What if we who now read this piece were the victims, and our children, wives, husbands and partners were faced with the trauma of being bereft of their fathers, husbands, wives and partners in this the season of goodwill?
If lower crime statistics are a reasonably accurate indicator that the society should feel safer and more secure, the recent incidents are cold comfort to the relatives and friends of the victims whose lives have been viciously terminated by those who are interested in quick returns for least effort or who are being manipulated by behind the scenes puppet masters.
Political gridlock has had its debilitating impact on a long suffering citizenry, desperately hoping for respite from the endless vilification, the quirks, the angst and the vitriol emanating from all political camps. This is exacerbated by reported acts of irresponsibility in the management of our national assets, of self aggrandisement and cronyism, downright chicanery and political buffoonery which overshadow the good works, largely unheralded and unreported, being done by committed and conscientious labourers in the public vineyard. The net effect is that the deficit in governance and the acts of criminality are taking their toll on the morale and tolerance level of peace-loving Guyanese.
Incidents of violent crime, road kills, domestic violence, white collar crime and corruption, fragmentation of family units and degradation of the cohesiveness of communities, are symptomatic of a more insidious malaise in the national character. It is facilitated by the political grandstanding and unwillingness to cede ground in a magnanimous national effort to resolve systemic issues plaguing the society. It contributes to the growing disillusionment among many of our youth and recent graduates from secondary and tertiary institutions, who despair of realising their true potential as individuals and as professionals in the country of their birth.
If this is truly a season of goodwill and we are sincere in our exchanges of greetings and good wishes, then we should also look forward expectantly to some morale-boosting manifestations of the highest levels of statesmanship, political astuteness, receptivity to advocacy and magnanimity, in the cause of national unity and Guyana’s development for all.
This should be complemented by all faith-based organisations practising a model of liberation theology – the kind that took root and blossomed in our region during the 1970s and 1980s, that will identify with good governance, and finding creative solutions to the issues that affect the poor, the vulnerable, the homeless, the jobless, the traumatised women and children, and the marginalised in our society.
I republish for emphasis, an extract of what I wrote in February 2013:
“We must accept our collective responsibility now and demonstrate that we have the capacity, commitment and desire to uplift this country we call home. We must empower ourselves to arrest the slide and demand much of ourselves and those in authority, who have been elected to serve us.”
As the Head of the UN Children’s Fund is reported to have said last Monday:
“The world is more divided politically among and within nations than ever before… and … the foundations of the future would be built in the hearts and minds of children, not the physical infrastructure of schools.”
I am not a pessimist. I have experienced positive occurrences in different parts of our country and witnessed at firsthand how these have impacted on the lives and livelihoods of people. But there should be no denying that there are systemic issues to be resolved by our collective efforts. Now is as good a time as any for us to re-group, re-engage and re-double our efforts at shaping a caring, enlightened and civil Guyanese society that will work in unity and harmony with unselfish and responsible leaders at all levels who can be relied upon to put institution, village, district, region and country, above self.
Joseph G Singh
Major General (retd)