Last Updated on Thursday, 23 March 2023, 10:42 by Denis Chabrol
Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton wants improved relations among political parties and for their parties to advocate unity that can lead to improved relations among races and ethnicities.
“This includes promoting greater representation and participation of underrepresented groups in the political process, as well as promoting greater dialogue and collaboration between different political parties,” he said in a message to mark he United Nations-designated International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21.
Mr Norton’s call comes as his Afro-Guyanese dominated People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) no longer has any back-channel relations with the governing Indo-Guyanese backed People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) for several decades. Within the opposition coalition, relations between the the PNCR-led A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) have been lukewarm. Though enjoying a good working relationship, the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) has so far not decided to re-enter APNU.
He singled out the need for educating Guyanese about the history and experiences of different racial and ethnic groups in Guyana, as well as about the social, economic, and political factors that contribute to racial tension and division. He said that would include promoting greater cultural exchange and intercultural communication, as well as promoting diversity and inclusion in schools and workplaces.
The Opposition Leader identified the need for political stakeholders to work towards improving relations among Guyana’s several races. “Political parties and leaders have a critical role to play here. Political leaders should promote a vision of a united and inclusive society, and work towards building consensus and cooperation between different racial and ethnic groups,” he said.
The Opposition Leader said promoting racial unity and social justice in Guyana requires a collective effort from all sectors of society. “We all have a responsibility to speak out against racism and discrimination, to challenge stereotypes and prejudice, and to promote greater understanding and respect between different racial and ethnic groups,” he said. Building a society where everyone can thrive, regardless of their race, ethnicity, sex, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status will not be easy, but he expressed confidence that Guyanese could overcome those challenges and build a better future for Guyana.
Already, Mr Norton has distanced himself from the tone WPA Executive Member Tacuma Ogunseye’s expectation that the predominantly Afro-Guyanese police and soldiers would tacitly support mass street protests by Afro-Guyanese against alleged racial discrimination in the redistribution of oil wealth. Mr Ogunseye, at a subsequent meeting in Victoria, East Coast Demerara, said “I salute” Mr Norton for respecting the WPA’s right to free speech. The PNCR is on record as publicly complaining about racial discrimination against Afro-Guyanese, but government has dismissed those allegations.
The WPA has refused to retract any of Mr Ogunseye’s comments, in the face of veiled threats by the government that he could be charged with series of offences including exciting racial incitement, sedition and inciting violence. President Irfaan Ali, speaking at the swearing in of the 10-member Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) yet again vowed that those violating race-related laws would be dealt with sternly. “We take seriously any attempts to instigate racial animosity and racial violence within our country. We sincerely condemn attempts that provoke racial conflict in our society and will ensure that those guilty are subject to the sanctions imposed by law,” he said.
Mr Ogunseye sought to dispel PPPC and other criticisms that he and the WPA were racial, arguing that it was resistance and rebellion of Afro-Guyanese that had broken the backs of slavery and, along with others, ended colonialism. He said no one should seek permission to struggle or fix a protest. Responding to concerns that Afro-Guyanese protests always lead to assaults on Indo-Guyanese and damaging of Indian property, he advocated that African resistance and protests be held in African communities where there are no Indians. “We said that we are going to organise African protests in our communities so that we could demonstrate to the entire country, the region and the world that Africans have had enough of this nonsense from the PPP,” he said.
He said the WPA’s mandate is to ensure that Afro-Guyanese have a fair share of the oil money; constitutional reform to entrench executive power sharing after race voting at elections, sharing of important and strategic ministries between government and the opposition, and 65 percent super-majority for certain decisions. He welcomed a United States Agency for International Development-sponsored governance assessment that recommended that the PPPC and APNU+AFC “find a way to form a functioning democracy based on power-sharing rather than a “winner takes all” mentality. This would ensure that the unprecedented wealth in oil reserves can be transparently and equitably managed for the benefit of all Guyanese.”
He said Afro-Guyanese masses and their leadership seemed not to understand that the time has come for Guyana to be ground to a halt, “no business as usual and let us come to the table as civilised people in the first place” to discuss a new social contract for Guyana that should include GY$1 million annually to each household.
On the thorny and controversial role of the police and defence forces, he traced their evolution from colonialism to present day as either liberators or oppressors. He said the fight was not against the Indian masses as they are not responsible for the behaviour of their leadership. “We said very clearly that this is not a racial struggle but they (PPPC) are trying to turn it into a racial struggle. This is a struggle for African liberation and if African people are liberated, it will result in the total liberation of all the peoples of this country,” he said. He said the PPP administration was engaged in a propaganda war by interpreting what he said at the meeting in Buxton to “beat down the spirit” of opposition supporters.
For the Opposition Leader, he cautioned that that division and disunity would only rob Guyanese of the realization of our full potential as a people, while the PPP’s friends, families, and favorites get rich allegedly through corruption. “We must come together as one nation and confront the challenges we face. We must work towards a more equitable society, where all Guyanese have access to economic opportunities and can live with dignity and respect. We must promote a greater sense of shared values and shared destiny.”
Mr Norton recommended that genuine civil society-not groups with partisan political agendas masquerading as civil society- should assist in promoting equal opportunity and social justice. “In this area, the Private Sector Commission has some work to do. We must also recognize that community organizations, non-governmental organizations, and grassroots movements are essential to ensuring that the voices of marginalized groups are heard, and that they have a seat at the table in decision-making processes,” he said.