An article in Stabroek News of Tuesday December 1, 2015 headed “No decision by City Council to rename streets – Town Clerk” provides an update on recent conversations and controversies on the issue. If the article is correct, the Town Clerk and perhaps other unnamed Council members, who Stabroek News reported as agreeing that no decision had been taken, are to be congratulated on their understanding of the issues involved: Mr. King is quoted as saying that for a decision to be made on the suggestion taken to the Council several months ago to rename a number of streets in Georgetown as part of Guyana’s 50th Independence anniversary celebrations, all of the following steps would be required: (1) a proper plan; (2) broad consultations; and (3) a way “to account for and adhere to historical fact, importance and the protocols of preserving the rich heritage of the city”. The details of the last requirement are a little unclear and perhaps Mr King can spell them out but his main point is quite clear.
The worrying thing is that the same article also reports that “speaking with SN on Wednesday Mayor Hamilton Green said that by the second week of December, at the Council’s next statutory meeting, a decision on the proposal will be made.”
Does the Mayor expect that the list of pre-requirements outlined by the Town Clerk can be achieved by the second week of December, i.e., in under two weeks? Or does he disagree with the Town Clerk about some or all of the pre-requirements? And if he does disagree, is the Council going to overrule the Town Clerk and proceed with the renaming anyway?
We really don’t have democratic instincts in Guyana. This is not surprising, because democratic instincts have never been nurtured in any of our major institutions. But surely, each new government provides a possible opening for us to change course. Changing fifty (50) place names, one for each year of Independence, is the kind of gimmicky thing we do instead of seizing opportunities to dig deeper inside ourselves. As one possible approach, what about a broader process involving the schools and the media and the arts to really teach our children (and ourselves) our history and in the process, identify our heroes, female and male?
Crucially, in this process we might also be able to confront the opposing narratives we tell, depending largely on our race, about the history of the fight for Independence and the so far failed post-Independence efforts to create an Independence we can really be proud of.
Note that we have not even questioned the legitimacy of the current membership of the Council which, had democracy and the law taken their course, would have been out of office eighteen years ago. And who, if the promise by the current Government is to materialise, will be out of office before the fiftieth anniversary.
There has been established a National Commemoration Commission whose mandate is the development and coordination of all major activities related to the 50th Anniversary. We therefore strongly recommend that the Council abandon its own quixotic and unworkable proposal to rename fifty streets in Georgetown – the capital of Guyana – by May 2016.
Karen de Souza