By GHK Lall
The calls are coming from several corners and they have a certain consistent chant about them. There is interest in Truth and Reconciliation at some high, national level; there is the hope that such could open the door and pave the way to some degree of desired national unity, and there is the third strain to the growing chorus for constitutional reform. I bow before all of these as vitally necessary; I appreciate that they possess something of the timely, and I hold forth that we cannot go on without any of these three now making the rounds in the domestic environment.
It may be worth something to tender that I first called for one of those way back during the Janet Jagan-Desmond Hoyte era of confrontation and real conflict; the one on which I have focused is an agreement for some form of national unity government. Just last year, I floated the same position when the PNC was in power in the months following the no-confidence development of late 2018; I have done so several times in the last few weeks. I would like to offer that I am less prescient than others, but I always did have a sense that this is the way forward for this country, all the peoples, and I have done so at different times, during different regimes. Others did not so stand up when circumstances were favorable.
It is my unswerving belief that we cannot go on constructed and conditioned as we are. I did not need December 21st, 2018 or March 2nd, 2020 to force me to this position. To repeat: before these scorching developments, a national unity front, apparatus, government was, still is, and will remain the lynchpin of my thinking and vision for this country. This society was not going forward at full and unfettered acceleration prior to 2018; it certainly cannot do so given what we have now. On this, I am unmoving.
I will make no comment as what makes it, and who finds it, convenient now and inclusive now to initiate these calls. I am just glad that someone did, and the more the better, because a groundswell of such publicly articulated postures—hopefully genuine visions—could assemble that nucleus of voices, which make for listening and some moving. As I think this and share this, I am sensitive to the fact that such governance creations—and that is what they are—can only be temporary; they are usually not enduring. I believe, though, that the space of momentary political bonding could help with the binding of our deep social and racial wounds, the easing of our collective, communal, and national pains. To be clear, I do not foresee any of this as a panacea. But it provides with the opportunity, compels the interest, rearranges the narrative, and clears the obstacles—if only for a while—to help us to roll up sleeves and proceed to the next steps.
The first consideration, my struggle, indeed, the societal demand is this: who is prepared and stand ready to make the hard sacrifices? Who is willing to go beyond the talk to give up something to get something? Who is interested in not having all, but settling for less? Taking under review all those supporters from both sides clad in so many layered expectations, who have given so much of the tangible and intangibles, how many are ready to share the pies of power and control and the products that flow?
My second thought is which comes first? The reality of a national front and national unity? Or, a process of genuine constitutional reform? Real meaningful reform that breaks the spine of racial voting, that neutralizes the built-in incentives of racial voting that comes from purely and solely racial allegiance? I do not think that any of the two primary groups would find that palatable, as it would render them largely irrelevant, if not outright useless. I return to my position stated earlier: who is committed, which group, to pour heart and soul, through self-sacrifice, to transforming radically the constitution into something that changes not only the way of thinking of Guyanese, but our very way of life? This cannot be left to the political contestants; in fact, they should be reduced to a less than dominant role. Now who and which side is going to consent to such? And when they don’t, we remain inextricably damned to the mental and psychological charnel house that we have become. Talk and postures are the cheapest, deeds are devilish in details and the unacceptable demands that they bring are the most expensive propositions, which many are sure to rear up to denounce as unaffordable. There are sacrifices to be made, who will face up to them and surrender to contributing their personal and tribal part?
And now this brings me to the last interrelated—as I see it—strand, which is of Truth and Reconciliation. There is a transcendent ring to that, at least to me. But I place this before my fellow Guyanese: Truth and Reconciliation starts with the harshest, deepest examinations of self? Who wants to do so? All I am hearing right now is what the other people did, how barbaric they are, how incorrigible they are, and with how unlivable it has become to cohabit with them. We cast stone after stone in pretended hypocrisies that the same charges hurled so voluminously and prodigiously do not apply to us. It is why I articulate the unwanted position, the unwelcomed exhortation, that we look at our own warts and deformities first, for what is there is a full-length mirror and fuller story of what we see of the other side. There are no innocents in this, and that just may include me, too, even as I shudder at the thought.
My last thought, more of a question, on these helpful and encouraging developments is which of the three—unity governance, constitutional reform, and truth and reconciliation)—should come first? To get to any kind of unity machinery, there has to be some basis. I think reform would call for a referendum. I believe that any Truth and Reconciliation process has to involve more of the civil and less of the political. As I labor with these weights, I recognize and come back to another favored position of mine: when what has to be done is done, where are the men and women of caliber, of principle, of inclusion, who could be trusted to run with this with all their soul?
Everything distills to this: who will sacrifice? Not for party, but for country. There are few material blessings in that, other than the psychic. And very few identify with that, have any acceptance of such.
Mr GHK Lall is a Guyanese author, columnist and former financial analyst on Wall Street.