This post was written by Derwayne Wills. It was first published on UNICEF’s Voices of Youth on May 19, 2015. Some changes have been made to the original post.
In my last blog post, I spoke of the youth in my country and how their actions were changing the political dynamics. I made that post before Guyana’s May 11 national elections were held. Almost a week later and I am proud to say that the youth, by coming out in their numbers to vote, have shown that they are ready for a new government – a government of national unity.
But the journey has just begun. We are now entering a phase where we must unite all five of Guyana’s races towards a holistic development of people and country. On Saturday May 16, Guyana’s 8th Executive President, His Excellency David Arthur Granger was sworn in at Guyana’s Parliament. This signaled the end of a 23-year-rule by a political party that has struck fear and division into the hearts and minds of its citizens.
I was privileged to attend the swearing-in ceremony of the new President. I attended as a media operative and I watched on in awe as the gentleman emerged from his vehicle in the compound of the Parliament. I paused for a moment to put myself in his shoes, not only to consider what a privilege it would be to serve the highest office in my country, but also to think about how I would move forward in fixing my race- torn country if I were President.
Can racism be cured? Is it a disease to be cured? How do you treat for racism and racial biases?
There are those who would prefer to see race as being a social construct. I once heard a saying that goes, “be wary of those who say they don’t see race.” I can celebrate my African roots alongside my brother who celebrates his East Indian roots and that’s ok. I don’t agree with the notion that race is socially constructed.
I do believe however that race has been used as a catalyst for intergroup conflict. Now that conflict is socially constructed and politically driven even. It is what drives the mentality of the zero-sum competition in tribal politics where groups maintain rigid divisions and remain in perpetual competition for political and economic dominance, rather than reaching a consensus and pressing forward for a common goal.
I see race. To not see race tensions and racial prejudice against a particular group is to turn a blind eye to it simply because you don’t like to ruffle the feathers, or because in some way you are not directly affected by it, or even because in some way, you are benefiting from it.
The problem with race and politics in Guyana is that ethnic groups have been conditioned to feel as though social and economic security for one group is only guaranteed when a member of that group sits in a seat of authority. That idea of perpetual competition between racial groups has resulted in a distrust of social, economic, and political institutions.
My country’s politicians, as well as the media, contribute to this perception of a zero-sum competition where one side must lose when the other wins. During the heated campaigns leading up to the May 11 election, tribal politics featured prominently in the speeches of political candidates who have benefited from the race divisions and have remained in office for decades.
As recent as yesterday, Former President Bharrat Jagdeo appeared in a Whim Magistrate Court as a private citizen to answer to the charge of making racial remarks on the campaign trail before the May 11 polls. Some debate had sparked as to whether the media should not have reported it. Of course, the media is in the business of making money and Jagdeo’s racial statements not only brought attention to the mentality of the man but brought in more readership to both traditional and online media, at least for that day.
Today is a new day. Today, Guyana has a new Government. A government of national unity that preaches the union of races for the common good. A government that was elected by the overwhelming support of young people who are tired of the politics of old. A government that aims to ensure equitable access to state institutions and resources to all Guyanese, regardless of their racial group.
Gone are the days of tribal entitlement as Guyana enters a new era of unity in diversity. A major concern for the new government and one that I would tackle first if I were President is to restore the trust of all Guyanese in institutions regardless of their racial group. When the electorate votes for a government, they vote for economic and social security.
After the unseating of the Indo-Guyanese dominated People’s Progressive Party (PPP), concerned supporters of that party immediately began setting up residence on lands that are owned by the state. Upon inquiry, the media was told that the ‘squatters’- as they are called – were concerned that the new government would not honour the promises of the previous government in granting those persons land they had applied for some time ago.
This is the level of distrust that exists within the minds of party loyalists who only feel secure under a government composed primarily of persons from their own ethnic group. This division will continue to hamper the development of Guyana until all groups feel empowered under the government elected to serve the country, regardless of whether they voted for that current government or not.