OPINION: More than a half century later, we are even more bitter

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 February 2023, 6:25 by Denis Chabrol

by GHK Lall

Today is the 53rd birthday of Guyana as a Republic.  It should be a day of joy, but how can I?  Have we progressed, or have we deteriorated?  Are we better as a national entity, or worse off as a congregation of diverse peoples?  When we look at our leaders today, what do we behold?  Where do they leave the rest of us?  What can we conclude?

In a time of great burning racial and national traumas, the 1960s and 1970s, there existed bridges that were utilized and traveled over, as occasions necessitated.  Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan were both seen as heroes and as effigies, depending on the persuasions and passions of those involved, which side of the divide they stood in worshipful homage, or roiling resentment.  In worst case scenarios, the two leaders were only good for the holding aloft, and then trampling upon in the frenzies of either the thwarted, or the disdainful.  Yet, there was another side to that punishing era, and to the leadership culture that was in place.

In a time of want and need, definitely the needs of our people, there was reaching out, hands touching, voices whispering.  I put this before my fellow Guyanese on this Mashramani holiday: in the worst of piercing times, in a terrible time of the hardest feelings, there was the understanding and awareness of, and the approaching for, that space that allowed for the communications and partial cohabitation of political men and women.  It was called different things at different times, peaceful coexistence, critical support; and those against the backdrop of the incendiary 60s still ever bright and ever wrenching on what was left of the Guyanese psyche.  I term it the reasonings of reasoned men, who played the cards that fate left them to hold.

It may have been through the backdoor away from the public glare, the public consciousness.  But exchanges of meaningful communications there were, in substance and with purpose in mind.  The interests of constituencies were dealt with in some meaningful manner.  It was not the best of arrangements, but it worked, given the accessing of what was there, and in a two-way street understanding of what had to be.  I recall hearing as a young child the grassroots thinking of my father (an East Indian) and some of his friends (both Indian and African) that there has to be day to day living at the communal level, and others.  And that the men who argue and disagree vehemently in the public arena are in conversation behind closed doors.  I think that this may be better understood in bare Guyanese terms: it was that they meet and greet; perhaps even knock back a few strong ones.  They still had that depth, that courage, even that grace and wisdom to engage and reciprocate.  In the words of my father and his friends, there was discernment of the resonance of what I call the poor man’s intellect, a stream of extraordinary intelligence from ordinary men.

We had that then, and we were able to manage, hobble along, while the great affairs and deliberations of State unfolded, took hold, in the ways that they did.  In essence, it sustained.  What do we have now in anything that resembles, however remotely, what was present back then?  In what is sustainable?  I scour the leadership landscape for any hint, any indication, any attitude, and any attribute that gives some comfort, on this 53rd anniversary of what is Guyana’s truly original national holiday, and there is emptiness.  Nothing.  No words of reaching.  No spirit for what could lead to some sort of connecting; maybe, even a little growing and building.

The head-of-state has dug in his heels on recognition.  The Opposition Leader has led the way to the court system on elections.  And I think that the Vice President, himself a former President, has lent his combustible presence and fuels to the harsh and heaving political environment to stay just the way it is.  There is no move by any side.  There is no yielding, not so much as by an inch, by any leader-government or opposition-from where both sides stand.  This is the absolute worst that Guyanese could be living with during this time of great developments, which are bigger than all of them put together.  There is no looking at each other in the eye to get a sense of what could be possible.  There is only spitting in the face and the eyes of each other.  As leaders go, committed and passionate supporters are sure to go.  Given the state of local politics, they have nowhere else to go, nothing left for them, but to follow in meanness of attitudes, and sharpness of glare, of their leaders.

I make no reference in this writing regarding how this accrues to the great benefit of foreign exploiters, who couldn’t be more delighted at the state of domestic politics, and how such put them in a commanding position.  What I prefer to emphasize is how our distance, our demeanor, and our destructive postures are not sustainable beyond a certain point.  Things either fragment, or collapse, when such times come.  There must be learning to live, to coexist, with each other; and this starts with reasoned, flexible leadership.  Or we will learn the hard way about what it is to be the worst of losers, notwithstanding our great endowments.