My attention was caught by various reports in the media about a recent ACDA press release ahead of the 2017 occasion of their planned African Holocaust/Maafa commemoration and no doubt with an eye to the visiting UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. I refer specifically to the article in the Guyana Chronicle of Friday October 6, entitled, ‘ACDA says there’s a vicious campaign against empowerment of Afro-Guyanese’.
I believe the problems and the resolutions lie not with others but mainly with us, Afro- Guyanese, individually and all together. It is firstly we Afro-Guyanese who must free and empower ourselves, making ourselves as useful and contributing as others. Others can help, and are ready and willing to help, but we seem prone to throw up and support leaders and leadership which focus on the truly incontestable horrors of slavery, in a way which I think inhibits us or makes us overly aggressive, perhaps not much but enough to noticeably reduce our success rate in social intercourse. And yet, slavery has been one of the most common institutions amongst humans; we, all Afro-Guyanese grew up on the story of Joseph being sold into slavery into Egypt, and so on. We should not let the period of African slavery be a forever cause or excuse for not being the best humans that we could be, and then no directed or accidental campaign against us would get far.
Reviewing our country’s history, one may wonder whether many of our Afro-leaders have not been consciously or unconsciously exploiters of us the Afro-Guyanese group. There would have been some awareness of such a consideration in that often referred to remark in the 1960s, ‘Who calls off the dog owns the dog’. And there has been much misleading of the ordinary Afro-Guyanese. In the run-ups to Independence and the subsequent nationalisations, workers (for a great part unionized and Afro-Guyanese) found that they received support and even encouragement for behaviour that would have been unacceptable otherwise. Recall even recently, the disturbances of 2012 in Linden, when the then MP and Regional Chairman seemed to be applauded for their actions, but they were dropped at the subsequent 2015 national elections. Dropping them in 2015 says loudly that they may have been useful but misled in 2012, and they mislead many others then.
A big part of the confusion and frustration of ordinary Afro-Guyanese would be the historical seeming preferment of Afro-Guyanese in the public service and nationalized industries in the earlier years of that 28-year period, which backfired when that administration had to accept the ERP programme with its medicine of retrenchments, shrinkings and closures in the public service and nationalized companies, and future work being contracted out to the private sector. It was during that 28-year period that Afro-Guyanese were steered away from private business and into the government sector, then, later, being largely salary and wage earners, pauperized by an effective devaluation of about 1,000% over that period.
Paradoxically, it was during those 28 years that many Indo-Guyanese receiving less than a full welcome in the then extensive government sector had to find niches in which to make a living. In the engineering sector, oldsters like me may recall the big ‘R’, one of our early engineering contracting firms, formed by an
Indo-Guyanese engineer who did not find a great welcome in the government sector. It was thus that others may have had a head start and found themselves better positioned for the ERP; truly, cases of the stones that were rejected becoming the cornerstones.
I totally reject the view that during our PPP/C 23 years in office, Afro-Guyanese were “structurally and purposefully excluded from the Guyanese economy”. The damage had been already done. Afro-Guyanese had to be in a recovery mode, but the proclamation that the PPP/C would not last six months, then two years had the effect of holding back many Afro-Guyanese and their communities lest their activities helped to make the PPP/C look good and survive. Afro-Guyanese had the need to change from attitudes taught and learnt through the 28 years and change over to and accept the new leading role of the private sector. And although it took some time, many ordinary Afro-Guyanese did so. I am certain that there were many thousands of Afro-Guyanese start-ups during our 23 years, amongst which would be some large Guyanese enterprises of the not too distant future. Starting late, the top league would not be attained by sudden flight but through the toil of a few decades.
I have maintained a number of times before and argue again that a study of new home-ownership and new vehicle-ownership over our PPP/C 23 years in office would show Afro-Guyanese becoming better off at about the same rates as other ethnic groups. We, PPP/C, were handed an excuse on a platter if that was our desire, to shut down the bauxite operations when the International Consultant, MINPROC, asserted that it saw no way to make Linmine profitable and when Alcoa which had bought Reynolds said that it had no long-term need for the ABC/AMC operations. According to the covenants entered into by the preceding PNC administration with the Supporting Group, no more money from our (Guyana) Treasury (Consolidated Fund) was to be spent on the bauxite companies, but we continued to subsidize them, so that our fellow citizens in the bauxite communities should not be plunged into great trauma.
We, PPP/C were and will continue to be biased in favour of those who have less, irrespective of race, religion or region of Guyana; both providing fish for the present time and teaching to fish for the future. We also favour programmes which meet larger numbers rather than fewer. I do believe that in our Guyanese circumstances, we, PPP/C, create the most favourable circumstances for large numbers of us Afro-Guyanese to empower ourselves, and our erstwhile Afro-leaders become scared of desertion.
It was a rewarding moment for me, sometime in about 2009, when an Afro-Guyanese colleague from my bauxite days, home for his brother’s funeral, came to see me. He said that he had insisted that he would go and see Sam. I imagined that his relatives and friends had tried to talk him out of going to see Sam Hinds who had sold out to those ‘other people’. He looked through the window to the Marriott sign which had just been put up and said that he travelled quite a lot in the USA and to various parts of the world, and wherever he goes, he looks for a Marriott. On this occasion home, he sensed a difference with which he was pleased. Amongst his relatives and friends, particularly amongst the younger generation, he found many intent on enterprise start-ups and self-employment, rather than waiting for the government to bring jobs. We, PPP/C were getting Afro-Guyanese moving.
Let me say as I end that I hold that Afro-Guyanese and Afro-people worldwide are just as capable as any other people; our challenge is to have that awful period of African slavery left behind us. Perhaps we Afro-people should do just that, forget about slavery and endeavour to live the life of a responsible, contributing human every day. Well, perhaps not every day – we can give ourselves perhaps one day each year to recall and remember – and perhaps that day can be the African Holocaust/Maafa Day. The rest of the year we are typical human beings, not descendants of slaves. Reflecting on how ubiquitous slavery has been, there is perhaps no human being who does not have a serf or slave somewhere on his ancestral totem pole.
Earnest as I think my fellow villager from Mahaicony, Mr Eric Phillips, is, I do believe he is leading in the wrong direction. He could not change the past and should be looking more to the future, a new global human order where humans are the units of consideration and who knows, perhaps next year I will join him on Maafa Day to recall and remember and also to recommit to being a good, productive, contributing human being all other days of the year.
Samuel A A Hinds
Former Prime Minister and Former President