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Visionary on mega-projects, shortsighted on societal ills- Retired Army Chief Joe Singh

joesingh
Retired Major General Joseph Singh

A patriotic, urbane and distinguished Guyanese is now lying on a hospital bed  as a recovering victim of a callous, brutal and vicious attack on his person and on his family by four ‘youth men’, one of whom reportedly shouted “Police”, before launching their assault.

Mr. Oscar Clarke, former Regional Chairman, Minister of Government and Diplomat and the current General Secretary of the People’s National Congress Reform, has been my colleague and friend for over four decades. Our paths have crossed frequently here in Guyana and on assignments in Cuba and East Africa. He is one of the most respected men I have known.

The youth men who intruded on his premises at Plum Park, Sophia, last Tuesday evening   seemed not have known of the status and station of Mr. Clarke….. or did they? Was this assault influenced by a hidden agenda or was it just a criminal act – the manifestation of anger and greed by deviant youth against anyone in the society? I am of the view that it is the latter. Acts of violence within recent times have been visited on a wide cross section of victims – the grandmother alone in her home, the miner in his camp in the hinterland, the watchman at a government office, the nouveau riche in the night club, the abused wife, the violated child, and the broken body of the drunken driver’s road kill.

 And there are other victims, experiencing other types of violence. Our collective citizenry, impacted by the violence meted out to the environment and the health of citizens by the dumping of garbage, particularly of the non bio-degradable kind, alongside our streets, path ways and trails, in our canals, rivers and on our sea shore. Our conscience is stricken by the sight of homeless men and women dwelling on the pavements. Our patriotism is assaulted by the visible neglect of the symbols of our nationhood – evidenced by the frayed and tattered Golden Arrowhead fluttering on some of our flag poles and the decaying infra-structure of our most cherished buildings. We feel robbed by the erosion of sacred traditions and values that seem only to be of passing interest to those vested with the authority and responsibility for managing our state, regional and local institutions. Symptomatic of this mindset is the intolerable unpunctuality by senior functionaries at official functions.

Media reports of incidents of stabbings at our schools, of sexual assault on students, of dysfunctional behavior by some deviant religious leaders, are topical issues for that day only before being overtaken or overshadowed by each new day’s reports of traumatic events.  Churches of all denominations are mostly preaching to the converted and look with a jaundiced eye or blinkered vision at the youth men and women outside of religions’ comfort zone, who are stranded on the highways and byways of life. They are unlikely to be on the radar of any social service or law enforcement agency until they commit a crime or misdemeanor, become wards of the Court and are shipped of the New Opportunity Corps. These perhaps are the more fortunate ones who, hopefully, will derive benefits from the counseling, guidance, remedial education and vocational training to which they are exposed for the duration of their stay. But after that, what? The recruiters are waiting to initiate them into the criminal syndicates, if the after care and job placement opportunities are not available or ensured.

What do all of these manifestations of dysfunctionality in our society signify?  In my opinion, we are not seeing the woods but for the trees. We are visionary when it comes to megaprojects but myopic when solutions need to be found to systemic issues that are undermining our society, its governance and its viability and sustainability. I am not by nature and inclination a pessimist but this situation is becoming unacceptably claustrophobic and debilitating, sapping the morale and energies of those of us who, after 47 years of Independence, felt that we would have arrived at a safe harbor where national unity would be paramount even as we acknowledge and celebrate our religious, cultural and ethnic diversity. We anticipated that the greater good of the nation and its citizens would be the mantra that would facilitate consensus and provide traction to move the country and society and all of its citizens forward.

Sadly, where we are now is not the outcome we anticipated 47 years after the euphoria of May 26, 1966. Fissures in the fabric of our society along the fault lines of politics and ethnicity, continue to fuel the perception, rightly or wrongly, that political alignments, ethnicity and social standing are factors that influence   decisions relating to equity, access, security and justice. If we are to change this perception then one systemic change I proffer, is to harness the potential of the youth men and women who are falling out of the formal society and embrace them, counsel, guide and train them to be proud and productive Guyanese, realising their true potential. I believe such an initiative, planned and implemented through creative partnerships, will garner support and traction. We need to fashion an enabling environment, not of garrisons, gated communities and gaols, but one where we the people feel  motivated to empower ourselves to pursue our vocations, display our talents, entrepreneurial skills, patriotism, and good neighborliness,  with the enthusiasm, vigour and vitality of a Nation and its people on the move. In his book : Interventions (2012), former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan referred to the concept of ubuntu, a Xhosa word describing a notion that all citizens of Africa instinctively relate to, a notion of collective dependence: “I am because we are”. It is a philosophy that denotes a sense of an equal share of all in society and in one another. 

 In three years time, 2016, we shall be celebrating our 50th year of Independence. We owe it to ourselves to arrest the slide, to remove the muzzles from our mouths, the blinkers from our eyes, the ear plugs from our ears, and truly pledge ourselves individually and collectively:

–          “To honour always the Flag of Guyana, and  to be loyal to our country; to be obedient to the Laws of Guyana; to love our fellow citizens; and, to dedicate our energies towards the happiness and prosperity of Guyana”.

 In this Year of Commemorative Anniversaries, we must reflect on the trial s and tribulations undergone by   our ancestors in their quest to free themselves from the shackles of slavery, the   bonds of indentureship and the boundaries of reservations, and to devote their energies towards leaving us a rich legacy. We can draw strength and inspiration from their examples and deeds. If we can do our own stocktaking now and strive to consolidate the good and expunge the bad, and if we can rededicate ourselves to building a nation and society of which we can all be proud, then the blood shed by Oscar Clarke and other victims from all walks of life, status and station, including our ancestors, would not have been in vain.