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Afro-Guyanese need business skills, constitutionally guaranteed political space- Nigel Hughes

Attorney-at-Law, Nigel Hughes (standing) addressing the Cuffy250-organised forum.

Afro-Guyanese have over the decades become too dependent on the State for their economic survival, a situation that has been compounded by the failure of the Peoples National Congress (PNC)-led government to amend the Constitution to cater for its loss of political power, according to prominent Attorney-at-Law , Nigel Hughes.

Addressing a public forum organized by the Black consciousness organisation, Cuffy250, at the Friendship Primary School, Hughes appeared to chide Forbes Burnham for creating the 1980 Constitution with the expectation that his Black dominated party would have remained in power indefinitely since gaining power in 1964. Hughes also suggested that Burnham’s successor, Desmond Hoyte, was not advised that the constitution should have been amended at the turn of the 1990s because the PNC was at grave risk of losing political power.

“Before we gave up power, before the famous statement of ‘let the chips fall where they may,’ we should have realized that the pressure was coming upon us to change the way we operated and, therefore, we should have changed the constitution to ensure that we have protection whether we are out of power,” said Hughes whose feature address was titled “The Village Still Matters: African Revitalisation and the Future of Guyana”. It was Hoyte who had remarked “let the chips fall where they may” while he had been under intense internal PNC pressure when it was becoming clearer that the PNC was losing the 1992 general elections.

Hughes sounded a note of concern that the opposition has done little since 1993 to exert pressure to change the constitution to guarantee some form of power sharing because of Guyana’s ethnic diversity. “We should not have a constitution that vests a hundred percent of the power on whoever is in office because it is not in our interest. It may be in our interest if we are in power but it’s certainly against our interest if we are out of power,” he said.

The Alliance For Change (AFC) Chairman said the African Guyanese community has spent a lot of time complaining about discrimination rather than pushing for constitutional change and educating youths about economic empowerment regardless of who holds political power. “We started to develop the wrong instruments of political warfare while we did not educate our young people on being independent and being economically independent of the State or of any political party,” he said.

The situation in African villages, he observed, was worsened by the inward migration of political thinkers and leaders from villages to cities as well as overseas. Hughes acknowledged that the Burnham administration had created financial institutions like the now defunct Guyana National Cooperative Bank (GNCB) and the Guyana Mortage Finance Bank.  But, according to Hughes, the first Black generation of real political power had no assistance to manage it.

Hughes stressed that today’s problems facing the Black Community include instilling in the minds of that segment of the population that “the State will always provide for us.” “That has led to us being in the difficulties that we now are in and our difficulties are compounded by the fact that we no longer live in a world that is separated by the East and the West or the socialists and the capitalists,” he said.

Noting that we live in a world that is dominated by the free market, he recommended the development of tools to operate successfully in that capitalist-driven environment. He advised that political power is not the only solution to Afro-Guyanese problems because if that power is not used to change the way they operate and they are defeated again at the polls that segment of the population would be worse off economically and psychologically.

Hughes further recommended that education be re-fashioned to target Blacks from kindergarten on wealth creation through entrepreneurship rather than being largely employed by the government. “We have to start teaching entrepreneurship because we are not a people that come from a history of entrepreneurship,” he said. One option, he further suggested, is for volunteer teachers to share the appropriate knowledge, skills and expertise in the villages.

He reasoned that a clique of East Indian Guyanese has entrenched itself economically since the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) took office in 1992 that it would be difficult for Blacks to compete even if they regained political power. “The wealth that has been created in that community as a result of the transfer of State assets to members of that community as well as the sheer bias in the distribution of contracts so formidable that even if you sit in the seat of political power economically you will not have the ability to change the society to benefit all Guyanese for a long time,” he said.

Conducting a diagnosis of the state of African Guyanese, he delved into their history and origins of their arrival and enslavement in Guyana, the purchase of villages by freed slaves and the uneconomical division of village lands into small parcels. Those parcels, he said, were further divided among offspring as “children property.” Unlike East Indians and Portuguese, who were economic migrants, he said Blacks were not only stripped of their already fragmented cultural backgrounds but the conditions were not conducive to wealth formation. “Because of what was happening in the villages, the better educated migrated to the cities to get jobs that were mainly civil service as a means of upward mobility through professions and adopted a lot of the social trappings of the Caucasians,” he said.

Guyanese are expected to return to the polls two years ahead of the constitutional 2016 deadline that would again see Blacks largely pitted against East Indians in what some have come to call an “ethnic census.”  At the same time, political leaders across the divide seek to promote themselves and their parties as multi-racial.

Cuffy250 has just completed a successful pilot project through which young Afro-Guyanese were taught basic skills about self-worth, self-love, identity and mutual respect in an ethnically diverse society. At that youth camp, a number of youths also learnt basic skills that can be used to create viable cottage industries.