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OPINION: Local leaders must engage and most urgently: this is our problem

By GHK Lall

The High Court will meet again on Tuesday, then what? It will rule shortly after on a way forward, then what? I can say this with utter confidence: it is inevitable that one group would feel vindicated and triumphant, while the other would think that it has been denied and delayed. If that was the end of the matter, there might have been some optimism on the way forward, as it would be on to the business of governing a gathering of alternately delirious and disjointed peoples.

For whatever develops, thereafter, leaves us in the same disfigured and unhealthy place, a most dangerous place. For we are a nation, a society, a country of half for and half against, in what I readily admit is yet another restatement of the obvious. The half that is against is not going to fold up tent and live contentedly after. It should be noticed that I didn’t say happily ever after; it is deliberate. For whatever opportunity and sensitivity, whatever calculation and projection, there was of happiness, mere basic contentedness, would be the last thing, the worst thing in the considerations of that group that came up short, that would relive and reinforce its pain, its antagonisms, its distancing from whatever follows. We cannot afford that loss, regardless of whichever group is consigned to that comparative Dead Sea doldrum of a position. I don’t need international observers to help me across this political and social street. I can see and think for myself. But can the same be said of most, if all, of Guyana? I do not need for any court to tell me where we are, and where any ruling would bring us and leave us—right back to square one.

For that would be the acrimonious reaction and galvanized state of any half (repeat: any half) of our population of citizens that thinks so, or is faced by the crush of electoral circumstances that condemn to what is believed to be second class citizens and outsiders with little to no say in the destiny that comes. This is unworkable, unacceptable, and impractical. Something has to give for all of those negatives to be given room and opportunity for some traction through consideration that leads to some reversal of such a state of mind, which would be the harrowing, numbing state of local political, social, and racial reality. The latter may not be desired to be faced, but I am bold enough and caring enough and concerned enough to face it and face it unswervingly.

It is why I say to, and call upon, our leaders, as events and situations unfold today (and later), to be prepared—thoroughly ready and committed—to construct a dialogue together that draws us out slowly but surely out of the prisons that degrade us: the racial prisons, the electoral prisons, the personal prisons that we have erected for ourselves by virtue of our near fundamentalist fervor for a political system and way of life that is self-destructive and self-defeating.

Unless our leaders talk and think, then think and talk continuously and starting immediately and with a sense of the utmost urgency, then all those oil cargoes and all those oil revenues would be meaningless to us for what they could do for us, where they may take us. The first conversation has to be about how to bridge the wide, yawning, crippling racial gaps, how to reach out and include, how to respond in like manner and step forward to partner for the betterment of a wider—the widest—cross-section of the citizenry. There is no other way for us to go forward as a nation, no other time like now to commence the dialogue, to attempt to eliminate some of the poisons that run rampant.

To those who appreciate where I am heading, they are exactly right. To those who rear up to resist with reasonable assertions that I have just shifted significantly the goalposts in midstream, I agree. But I submit before one and all that we cannot ask (I will not) the losing half of the electorate (and it is that narrow) to excrete their aspirations and bury their expectations, to assume, even in their eyes only, unacceptable pariah status at the margins. If anyone had said to me on Sunday, March 1st that Guyana could go forward together, work together, and coexist together, I would have been inclined to lend an ear in some agreement. But not with what did emerge numerically on Monday, March 2nd and with unprecedented and intensified passions since then. Those passions show no indication of easing, of relenting, of being converted to something else or something less.

It is why I recommend urgent and ongoing national leadership engagement. There is no choice, for the totality of implications envisioned in going it alone, of acting unilaterally, are sure to be fraught with national dissonance, and great and insurmountable national traumas and difficulties. Our leaders must present to their respective groups, to all our citizens the strongest sense of belonging, of participating, and of contributing to the future that comes. It begins with the possibilities of authentic conversations, which originate right now.

This is my position. I think it is sensible and practical. It might even be satisfying to more. Leaders and supporters have to put aside the hubris and overweening ambitions. They have to put this country first by working to salvage some form of consensus from the disaster that the elections have now turned out to be. The international community can only go so far in this family affair, this fight. The way out of the minefield must be mapped out by us and walked by us. The two political groups and their leaders have to know by now, conclude by now, that their respective individual visions no longer hold. There has to be engagement and readiness to compromise on both sides.

Mr GHK Lall is a Guyanese author, columnist and former financial analyst on Wall Street.