How Youth Participation Revolutionised Guyana’s Politics

This post was written by Derwayne Wills. It was first published on UNICEF’s Voices of Youth on May 11, 2015. 

Like a phoenix reborn from the ashes of a J.K. Rowling novel, old perceptions of youth in Guyana will burst into flames to make way for a rejuvenated, politically-conscious generation. A generation that isn’t afraid to be part of the political decision-making process. A generation that will not be intimidated by elders who caution against their involvement because of the rough history that has affected politics in Guyana. You see, Guyana is a country where politics and voting exist alongside racism and race- ethnic tensions.

Due to a history of colonialism, slavery, and indentureship, Guyana is home to 5 race groups which make up the country’s 750,000 people. Think of a country where people from Africa; India; China; Portugal, Madeira and the Azore Islands; Europe; and even indigenous Amerindians all occupy 83,000 square miles. This makes for a cultural explosion of global proportions. But it also makes for widening gaps between groups which are conditioned to fear other groups because of a perceived competition for resources and political superiority.

This is an election year in my country and young people have made it clear that they will no longer be underrepresented in a political system where they are 60% of the country’s 750,000 people. More importantly, they have shown that they will not be part of the old politics where the ideology of ‘apaan jhaat’ (own kind first) has divided us. This ideology of supporting candidates from your racial or ethnic group is driven by fear, which causes people to vote along segregated lines. It surfaced in Guyana during the 1940s at a time when the country, then known as British Guiana, fought colonial powers for the right of all its citizens to vote for their own legislative representatives. It has featured in every election since.

It seems my country has a split personality. The first one is where Guyanese from all walks of life celebrate cultural diversity. We do so every Christmas, Phagwah, Diwali, Eid-ul-Adha, and our carnival-style festival called ‘Mashramani’. The other Guyana surfaces every five years or so during elections. Historically, a darker time where tensions and distrust among ethnic groups are high. Politicians are known to benefit from this chaotic dynamic while my countrymen and countrywomen are used as political pawns to their own destruction. It seems surreal that what makes us beautiful as a country, with a cultural base that spans across continents, is also what makes us untrusting of our brothers and sisters.

Not anymore! Young people are revolutionizing Guyana’s politics and they are using social media to do it. They preach peace, love, unity, and moving forward and are stifling social media campaigns from rogue profiles that try to instill fear and create more division. There is something magical about the way young people of the now generation have rationalised politics. It’s a sort of rationalisation about voting and elections that gives hope for youth participation in political life, especially when those decisions determine their future.

Guyanese will head to the polls on May 11 to determine who they will trust to take this nation forward. I myself am proud to be part of the voting process and the voter education process. On Thursday, I travelled back home to Guyana after completing my semester at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago. Since being back home, I volunteered with the Guyana National Youth Council, which is currently in the final leg of its #VoteLikeABoss campaign.

The campaign was aimed at educating Guyana’s largest demographic group – the youth between the ages of 15 and 35. Young people have a right to be educated on how the voting process works, so that they can make informed political decisions influenced by effective policies and spending decisions rather than race or what elders think.

It was an incredible experience to be able to teach both younger and older folks of what to expect when they get to their polling stations on Monday. The Youth Council’s #VoteLikeABoss campaign is of youth, by youth, and for youth. As a volunteer with the GNYC, and a politically-conscious youth, I have never felt more confident in the people of Guyana, especially the youth.

Together, we can bring Guyanese politics and political participation out of the dark ages and into the space where the open exchange of ideas without intimidation will propel Guyana’s social, economic, and political status. I proudly profess that today is a new day for Guyana and young people are its driving force.

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