OPINION: Independence and national sovereignty 2024

Last Updated on Sunday, 26 May 2024, 14:44 by Writer

By Dr Randy Persaud, Professor Emeritus

Dr. Randolph Persaud

It is fashionable for some to claim that while independence produced formal separation from the U.K., we are still not truly sovereign. Their main arguments are as follows – (1) that formal independence has not broken the mental/cultural dependence on White modernity; (2) that formal independence has not allowed us to break free from global capitalism; (3) that formal independence has not ameliorated the internal divisions of race and class.

All three categories of claim above have some merit. Yet, they all have less to contribute to an understanding of the complexities of world order, and even less understanding of the relations of dynamics currently underway in this country.

Let us first deal with the issue mental/cultural independence. I have a straightforward argument here. If you think the mental and cultural structures of colonial society are still here, or have not changed much, you either have not studied the savagery of the colonial system, and specifically the brutalities of conquest, slavery and indentureship, or you are infected by some form of historical presentism. The latter means that you are willing to twist history to suit current political needs.

For those who think independence means nothing in cultural terms, you should listen again to President Ali’s 58th independence address to the nation last night. The first thing he did was to pay homage to two teachers who were killed in a road accident on the Linden Highway, and others we have tragically lost in the past year, rather than to some foreign Master. The fact that the president, who is a Muslim from Leonora, could and did deliver the independence anniversary message 100 miles from Georgetown, is testimony to how far this nation has come from the dreary days when the coloniality of power was hegemonic.

The second set of skeptics think that independence has done nothing for our economic sovereignty. They are wrong.

I recommend that the skeptics simply look at the facts. The economy is no longer driven by and confined to any colonial Master. We are no longer reduced to the economy of sugar, bauxite, rice, combined with foreign aid. We have a dynamic economy based on oil & gas, services in construction and engineering, banking, insurance, education, healthcare, plus increasingly on light manufacturing and hospitality and tourism. We are no longer a poor and highly indebted country. In fact, on the contrary, we have among the best debt to GDP ratio in the world. Unemployment, once the scourge of this country, is now in the single digits. As for wages, while we all want them to be higher, there is no doubt that the wage curve is pointing steeply upwards. I hope the skeptics caught the graduation ceremony at UG a few days ago!

The third issue concerns internal divisions of race and class. Race conflict in Guyana is specifically a product of colonial and imperial interference. The PPP is now openly and actively seeking to broaden the demographic base of the country. There is now a concerted drive to deepen the Amerindian, Afro-Guyanese, and mixed-race sections of the population as integral pillars of the PPP membership. The 32nd Congress of the PPP proved this new direction.

In the meantime, the critics need to also acknowledge that the so-called multi-ethnic coalition did not mean that election-rigging would cease. It got worse in 2020 with the APNU+AFC coalition.

The issue of class is complicated because class is more than about income or even wealth. On the economic side, while there is substantial movement in and around Georgetown, upliftment in rural areas needs to speed up. The nation-wide infrastructural development projects should quicken upward social mobility in rural and hinterland regions.

The cultural aspects of class will take much longer to change. This is because values and beliefs are more difficult to change than behavior. There is that class of people from in and around Georgetown who present themselves with a swagger because they have some higher education, have travelled a bit, and enjoy such things as fine dining, theatre, cocktail parties, soirées, and poetry reading, among other pleasures.

For this cultural section, class means instantiating a regime of difference that permits them to function with separateness, with stylish arrogance, with that sense of deliberate aloofness. These are the ones who believe that only some people should do diplomacy, talk about governance, and speak for civil society. This cultural section has close connections with the intellectuals from New York, North Carolina, Toronto, Arizona, British Columbia, California, and London. They tend to dominate the letter section of newspapers, and love to appeal to the international community. This they do because they lack domestic legitimacy.

To claim that Guyana has not changed much since independence is plain arrogance, or plain old idolatry. Guyana is a sovereign country, and colonialism is well behind us.

Dr Randy Persaud is Advisor, Office of the President