October 27, 2016

The real trouble

By Ryhaan Shah

President David Granger in his address to Parliament on October 14 last referred to the decade-long “Troubles” that threw Guyana into chaos.
“The ‘Troubles’ will be remembered as the darkest hour in our history. It was a time of the uninvestigated assassination of a Minister; of the investigation into the alleged implication of another Minister in the direction of a ‘death squad’; of the alleged implication of yet another Minister in the acquisition of a computer to track the telephone communication and location of adversaries targeted for assassination.
“It was a time of arbitrary arrests; of disappearances and of torture of young men; of the surge in armed robberies, narco-trafficking and gun-running. During that first, deadly decade, there were 1317 murders and 7865 armed robberies,” Granger said.
He was obviously referring to the violence that began with the PNC’s post-1997 elections protest. This is well documented in the GIFT report of the January 12, 1998 “troubles”, to use Granger’s word, in which Indian Guyanese were targeted for assaults, robberies, and rape in Georgetown by the party’s African Guyanese supporters.
The PNC-led attacks never let up. A “slow fyah, mo fyah” campaign was given legs by President Desmond Hoyte when he assured party supporters at Cuffy Square that they had the protection of their “kith and kin” in the armed forces. Hoyte’s speech is on videotape.
PNC supporters also engaged in beating white dolls – to represent President Janet Jagan – as they “wuk obeah pon she”. There is evidence in media reports of these ugly events.
One can well understand Granger wanting to disremember the masterminds and source of the “Troubles” especially since the violence transitioned into the Buxton-centred terrorism that raged for some two years. The escape of five prisoners from the Georgetown Prisons in February 2002 was seized on and expanded the political/racial protests into a “freedom fight” with the “soldiers” even appearing on television embracing their AK-47 rifles.
The homegrown terrorism swept through many of the East Coast villages and beyond and included robberies, assaults, murder, rape, bombings and burnings, and the public stripping of Indian Guyanese women.
Since Granger is so exact with the numbers of 1317 murders and the 7865 armed robberies he must be privy to all the available information. It would be in the national interest for the names of the perpetrators and victims, and the dates and circumstances of these murders and robberies to be published.
Other criminal elements, including drug traffickers, took advantage of the widespread mayhem as cover for their own nefarious acts and the PPP/C Government was under tremendous pressure to restore order. Not many countrywide would fault them for the pushback to stop the violence.
But why, even after this experience, they never moved to reform the disciplined forces into professional bodies, as advised by two commission reports, is a question the PPP/C has to answer. Granger is unlikely to undertake any such reform. And why should he when he can enjoy the security, as Burnham and Hoyte did, of having the armed services at his beck and call to keep his opponents in check.
Last week’s column addressed the PNC’s revisionist history of the Burnham dictatorship. This is how revisionism is done – with evasive and generalised language as was used by Granger in his Parliamentary address. The language is revelatory in itself. Was the violence PPP/C-led, the PNC would never omit that point. And why would a Government unleash terrorism on itself, anyway?
The GIFT and GIHA reports on the January 12, 1998 and the Buxton-centred terrorism, respectively, with their compiled evidence and analyses, will always stand as corrections to every PNC revisionist attempt as will all the videotaped evidence and media reports.
It would appear that the PNC intended to bring down the PPP/C Government by whatever means necessary. Their scorched earth approach to politics in which everyone loses if they cannot win is not dissimilar to what occurred during the PNC’s 28-year dictatorship.
The Granger Government is currently mired in a growing number of scandals and corruptions, including financial wrongdoings. This is feeding a sense of anxiety and insecurity about Guyana’s future, and is impacting negatively on the economy and society at large.
Since Granger has not yet stepped in to stop the growing rot, it does appear that his Government’s primary purpose is to prove the viability of Burnhamist policies – and at any cost. Success would depend on revising not only history but current events.
The real trouble is the palpable fear that the PNC’s revisionism is preparing the way for a repetition of Guyana’s darkest hour.

The PNC’s revisionist agenda

By Ryhaan Shah

There are plausible reasons to rewrite history chief among them being that new evidence might surface that could lead to different analyses and conclusions about past events. However, more often than not, the past is revised for personal or political gains. Such revisionism is a tool used by authoritarians to try and manipulate their people, oftentimes with dire results for their country.
Both Hitler and Stalin used propaganda shamelessly to portray themselves as glorious and popular leaders. To consolidate their power and the terror that went with it, only their version of events was published and disseminated.
However, there is too much evidence in personal papers and official documents in the archives of Germany and Russia for their accounts to be taken seriously by historians. Their propaganda only exposes them further as dictators who lied to their people in order to manipulate them and to cover up their venal brutality.
The writer George Orwell said, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history”, and another writer Arthur Conan Doyle stated, “What you do in this world is a matter of no consequence. The question is what can you make people believe you have done.”
Historians agree that as soon as there is a purpose or agenda attached to a historical account, that analysis becomes tainted. The motives for such rewrites can be driven by academic ambition and financial gain since new radical theories can make an intellectual impact and can sell books.
It was Orwell again who observed that “he who controls the past, controls the future, he who controls the present, controls the past.”
This phenomenon of trying to control history itself is not only used by authoritarians. Japan, in a move to try and whitewash painful events and clean up its image of its recent past, actually influenced the content of textbooks to downplay its global aggression in the 1930s. This became a national scandal and the book was rejected by many school boards.
We can learn not only from historical facts but from how the history is being told and by whom, and this is the Guyana experience whenever the PNC speaks about President Forbes Burnham. Burnham was an ambitious man and a shrewd politician who was caught up in global political events that presented him with opportunities to fulfil his personal and political ambitions.
What the PNC actually project about their founder/leader is a two-dimensional whitewashed image that hardly does justice to a complex historical figure. A good analysis from an unbiased historian who can place Burnham within the context of his times would provide a better understanding about the ideas and convictions that drove him to follow the path he did.
In the PNC’s revisionist account, they leave out the rigged elections that kept him in power of which there is undisputed documented evidence. They leave out the violence, the party paramountcy, the racism, the bare shop shelves, the denial of press freedom, the state-sanctioned thuggery that led to the murder of Father Darke, and all the evidence of the PNC’s hand in the assassination of Dr Walter Rodney.
Claiming to be the party that ushered in independence, the PNC omits the skulduggery and CIA-funded racial violence that rocked Premier Cheddi Jagan from office and placed Burnham in power to satisfy American Cold War interests. Again, there are numerous records that exist about these events which are viewed by many as a national betrayal. There is no new evidence that changes the Burnham story.
Rather, each time the PNC attempts its revisionism, letters to the press only emphasise the truth with their corrections. Perhaps, the recent commemoration of the party’s 59th anniversary was kept low-keyed to avoid this.
That Burnham intended to uplift African Guyanese into being educated, progressive and into acquiring wealth is undisputed. His policy of institutionalised racism failed to make any headway but since his ideas on cooperativism and reviving village economies are still championed by African Guyanese leaders, he could have been motivated by a clear understanding of his supporters and their needs.
Reducing him to a two-dimensional figure is a clear disservice. Burnham lived large and with flamboyance, and he never lacked originality. Even his opponents were disarmed by his wit and charm.
The PNC faithful, however, appear to lack the courage needed to face the truth about the party’s past. This could probably only have come from Burnham himself. Only he, perhaps, could have accepted it all and taken the sting out of it with a signature witticism.

A new American race group

By Ryhaan Shah

While Guyana is desperately trying to erase racial differences to support the ill-conceived idea that this will create racial unity and harmony, the United States is considering adding a category to its official list of race groups in order to make sure that every citizen’s identity is respected and that there is equality and justice for every American.
The new racial category being proposed by the White House Office of Management and Budget would be assigned to citizens from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) who feel that they are not properly represented by any of the categories in census data and other official records. They are currently considered “white”; a classification which they say does not reflect their ethnicity and heritage. The Arab American Institute has advocated for this change for over 30 years citing that the exclusion has made MENA groups virtually invisible.
The new classification would result in the proper compiling of data on MENA groups especially with regards to discrimination against them, whether it is in housing, employment, schools, etc. This would help right wrongs and produce better policies to ensure that they receive equal treatment under the law. The proposal to create the MENA racial category points up the importance that the US Government gives to their citizens’ respective race, culture and heritage – a policy that exists in Guyana only in name.
Since independence, there has been a decided effort by the two race-based parties, the PPP and PNC, to erase the differences between the racial/ethnic groups and to create “oneness”. This advantages both parties which continue to claim that they represent all Guyanese.
The optics, of course, prove this a lie but if they can get every Guyanese citizen to stop seeing racial differences and to stop identifying themselves with ethnic/racial prefixes – Indian Guyanese, African Guyanese, etc. – they will manage to get away with the lie which negates any effort on their part to find solutions to the racial divide, the divide that is the main contributor to Guyana’s continuing underdevelopment.
To their credit, the parties have succeeded in large measure with their propaganda. Some Guyanese vigorously defend it while some are confused on the issue of identity. Most will tell you that they believe that sameness equals unity and that difference translates into divisiveness no matter all the examples of largely homogenous populations – ie, people who look alike – in India, Africa and the Middle East that are mired in tribal or religious conflict.
Most media houses promote the political parties’ agenda and while ethnic and cultural groups are tolerated, their representation is largely confined to cultural and religious compartments. Their displays of staged exotica allow politicians to praise the nation’s diversity even as they push “oneness” as the ideal. A forked tongue is an essential tool in local politics.
Ethnic cleavage does not have to be Guyana’s future but to get to a unified national position would require open and honest dialogue that would allow the nation as a whole to come to terms with the truths of our history – both pre- and post-independence – that have led to the ever-widening racial divide.
The USA, Canada and European countries are mainly homogenous and actively pursue policies of inclusion and cohesion for minorities in order to build stable and progressive societies. Guyana with its six minority groups present different challenges and the social cohesion framework, borrowed from Europe, is nothing but a costly and time-wasting distraction that serves as a cover for the Granger Government as it pursues what appears to be a racist policy that targets Indian Guyanese businesses and public servants.
Positive change will follow naturally when there is rigorous constitutional reform that acknowledges the racial/political divide and institutes laws and regulations that will create a fair, just and equitable political arrangement whether it is a shared Government or a coalition in which all the peoples of Guyana will be represented.
In the US, there are critics who fear that the new MENA racial classification, if approved, could lead to these groups being monitored and targeted especially given the Islamophobia that currently obtains and that many might not check the new box on census forms for fear of retribution especially if Donald Trump wins the presidency. However, most MENA groups welcome the move towards inclusion. Most see it as an example of America enriching its fabric of diversity. Their official inclusion, they feel, speaks to what it means to be American.
And, so, America continues to progress and Guyana, with its push for “oneness”, continues to check the box for failure.

Guyana’s unique “racism”

By Ryhaan Shah

Following up on last Sunday’s column on the rise of nativism, Guyana’s rather unique “racism” also bears some investigation.
Racism is an ideology of domination based on the idea of biological and cultural superiority of one or more groups which is used to justify the treatment of others as inferior. Whole societies can be structured along racial lines or there can be, as occurred during the Burnham era, institutionalised racism where African-Guyanese were favoured by the very structure of government and society.
But Guyana does not conform to all the sociological norms of racism. Here, the “racist” term is especially reserved for Indian-Guyanese who speak from their perspective as Indians despite constitutional and human rights guarantees to their identity.
While the Indian communities are the ones that suffer racial/political attacks, in a perverse twist, they are also the ones condemned as the country’s “racists”, and the violence against them is justified by a wide swathe of society including a number of Indian-Guyanese.
The twists and turns that have led to this unique “racism” has its roots in Guyana’s colonial past.
The Indians who were viewed as “acceptable” were the educated professionals like the Luckhoos and Ruhomons. They had converted to Christianity and, in the process, had subsumed their Indian identity. These were the Indians who “arrived” into colonial society.
At the other end of the colonial experience were men like JB Singh and Ayube Edun of the British Guiana East Indian Association. The majority of Indians subscribed to their view that our future lay in honouring the heritage of our foreparents.
When Dr Cheddi Jagan entered politics, he might have succeeded as a champion of the working class had the PPP remained whole. However, the split with Burnham refashioned him as an ethnic leader, a role he never relished or wanted for himself.
To the socialist Jagan, the Indian professional and business class was the despised bourgeoisie. He, too, needed to recast his supporters into another image to satisfy his ambition of being a true leader of all Guyanese. To this end, the PPP generally ignored the ethnicity of their followers and the specific issues that came with it. This while Burnham fully embraced being an African leader.
Adding to “racism” in Guyana is the ideology of “oneness” with its jingoism of “love and unity” which is simple-minded enough to enjoy popular support. Within this context, Indians who value their cultural identity are viewed as “racists” for rejecting the sameness required to be “one”. Because the “all awe is one” jingle sounds nice to the ear, no one stops to consider that the message speaks to a clear disrespect for cultural and ethnic diversity just as Brexit does in the UK and Trumpism is doing in America.
It promotes the dominance of “one” over every “other” – the textbook definition of racism.
For Indians to even speak of race makes us “racist” and when the stumbling block to Guyana’s progress and development is the race divide between Indians and Africans, this becomes problematic: how do you address the problem if simply stating it makes you racist?
Many, therefore, say nothing. They embrace the ideology of “love and unity” even when, as exemplified by the Coalition Government, it is nothing but empty rhetoric. But being accepted into the lie is more rewarding than addressing the truth. It leads some Indians to self-hatred and to justify their hate, they need to accuse culturally secure Indians of “racism”.
African Guyanese’s pride in being African is never viewed as racism and they are content with this inequality which shuts out Indians from engaging in the vital discourse on race and racism. Indians who persist endure the abuse of being called “racists”.
In his quest to be a Guyanese leader, Jagan helped to create this inequality. The PPP continually placates African Guyanese in order to win them back, and often at the expense of their loyal Indian supporters.
Independent Indian Guyanese who address Indian issues are seen as political threats to the PPP and the accusation always levelled at them is that they are “racists”, an accusation that is readily picked up by African Guyanese and Indians who continue to support the idea that the only acceptable Indian Guyanese is the colonised “mimic man” who subsumes or forgoes his Indian identity.
It is time to push the reset button and get everyone on the same page where to address the race issue does not make you racist and where the mindless jingoism of “oneness” is accepted for the disregard for diversity that it is.

Is nativism the new racism?

Is nativism the new face of racism? This particular discrimination is sweeping through Europe and the United States with the Brexit vote and the rise of Trumpism being good examples of the nativist phenomenon, which is defined as discrimination against immigrants.
But this is a narrow or even evasive definition since it is the same mindset of holding one group superior to every other – the textbook definition of racism – that underlies the nativist trend. Many non-whites are unsurprised by the trend and feel that this particular reason for prejudice has only been dormant because it has not had reason to surface before. The Middle Eastern turmoil has, however, resulted in enough refugees and immigrants seeking asylum in Europe to change that.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is losing popularity because of her open-door refugee policy. The Brexit vote was driven by similar sentiments against immigrants and asylum seekers. Even the mild-mannered Danes are now declaring themselves “racist” after more than 36,000 mostly Muslim refugees streamed into their country over the past two years.
The general feeling is that immigrants and refugees not only drain the respective countries’ resources and welfare systems but that they arrive with the intention of preserving their cultural heritage. Nativism both defies and denies ethnic and cultural diversity within a bordered state.
At a national level, Britain and Europe give generous aid to undeveloped countries and, at a personal level, many Britons and Europeans also contribute to charitable organisations such as the Red Cross to help them with their work in war-torn and developing countries.
However, the rise in nativist sentiments does make it appear that their charity has a long arm that is intended to keep the suffering humanity to whom they are so giving away from their own doorstep.
But nativism is not isolated to Britain and Europe. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has tapped into the very same vein in America and his campaign message of making America great again is tied to a policy to keep immigrants – Mexicans and Muslims among others – out.
The irony is not lost on anyone that America and its greatness have been built by immigrant communities, and the nativism phenomenon does beg several questions including the one that asks: how many years or generations does it take to belong anywhere?
The answer would have resonance for us in Guyana where the Indian population – even 100 years after the arrival of the last ship from India bearing indentured labourers – is still viewed by some as “latecomers”, “outsiders” and even “aliens”. From among the African-Guyanese leadership there is the view that the Africans’ earlier arrival gives them certain rights and entitlements.
Indians, having arrived into a supposedly “formed” society, are subjected to the very discriminations being suffered by asylum seekers in Europe. In our case, the fact that we are English speaking and generally conform to Western dress and mannerisms, and to the laws that govern our Western society has not been enough.
The contentious issue is most likely that the Indian “immigrant” population grew to become the largest minority and, given Guyana’s ethnic politics, that the country’s political power resides with the “newcomers” and overrides the perceived entitlements of the African population who came earlier.
This fear of being swamped and overtaken by immigrant communities could be one of the reasons for the rise in nativism which seeks to keep groups of newcomers from even entering another’s territory.
There are Caribbean countries actually facing just such nativist issues. Several Guyanese, Jamaican and small-island Caribbean citizens have complained about the demeaning treatment they receive from immigration officials at airports in Trinidad and Barbados. They are sometimes treated in the most inhumane manner and denied entry.
The Governments of Trinidad and Barbados feel, perhaps, that they are defending their respective territory from regional “visitors” who are often accused of gaining entry then working illegally. Their nativism is forwarded as a defence of their laws and their borders.
The concern for border security and preserving the national status quo has overtaken that of welcoming refugees and respecting diversity, and the rise of nativism could be an immediate and defensive reaction to a newly emergent world with its movement of large groups of people seeking security and a better life outside their homeland either as refugees or as economic migrants.
Nativism challenges our very humanity and our ideas of ourselves both at an individual and national level. Will that common humanity which respects ethnic and cultural diversity and has compassion for human suffering eventually triumph over nativist fears?

Guyana’s real “third force”


By Ryhaan Shah

The idea of a “third force” that would act as a balance of power between the two major political parties, the PPP and PNC, is still being floated as the best way to help us transcend ethnic politics and graduate to a national issue-based agenda. The feeling is that this would introduce the kind of political maturity needed for progress.

However, despite the appearance of several new political parties over the years and the emergence of two coalition governments formed by the PNC with one respective “third force”, the UF and now the AFC, the “third force” idea has failed to deliver.

The Burnham Government’s coalition with the UF lasted little over two years and, despite all the protestations from the AFC leadership, it is evident that the current coalition is in tatters. In both instances, it appears that the PNC simply used the “third force” to leverage itself into power.

The emergence of the WPA under the leadership of Dr Walter Rodney did present a formidable third force alternative to the Burnham dictatorship and what was seen as an ineffectual PPP opposition and we all know how tragically that story ended.

The unresolved issues arising from Guyana’s recent political history continue to paralyse the electorate into the tried and true patterns of ethnic voting, so, while third force parties come and go, the two behemoths are still standing.

Notwithstanding the continued efforts to break this mould, there has always been a third force at work in Guyana’s politics. We know them as the ABC countries: America, Britain and Canada.

Canada might not have much standing as a world power but they have a keen interest in Guyana’s domestic affairs since they provide much aid to the country and continue to welcome Guyanese immigrants to their shores.

More than any political group, it is this third force that continues to determine Guyana’s political fate. In every sense, colonialism never ended; it just changed colours to suit our supposedly independent status. Our dependence on aid and the goodwill of the world powers make us vulnerable to their interests. We are hardly in charge of our destiny.

The story of how Premier Cheddi Jagan was ousted from office in the 1960s through CIA-funded violence is well documented as is the resultant destruction from near three decades of a PNC dictatorship. But that was just so much collateral damage in the West’s Cold War with Russia.

The US did invest much in restoring democracy to Guyana in 1992 after the Cold War ended and we must hope that America and its allies would not want to squander that investment and the gains made by having Guyana slide back into economic stagnation and even more political turmoil.

It is no secret that the US and its allies helped forge the current alliance between the PNC and AFC. That they worked to create the partnership certainly gave them a vested interest in the Coalition’s success at the polls and many still hold the results of the last general elections suspect.

However, the diplomatic community must be disappointed, as is every single Guyanese, with the conduct of the Coalition Government as we all watch the serial corruptions unfold and the economy grind to a halt. They cannot be at all happy with this outcome.

The PPP/C in its 23-year reign did, however, give everyone good reason to want change. They had become arrogant and were seen as corrupt, and it was probably out of a bloated sense of inviolability that they felt untouchable. Their infamous “feral blast” probably sealed their fate.

For the sake of their future success, the PPP/C must throw off the gauche and even uncouth behaviour that marred their past efforts at diplomacy and seek some guidance in gaining good diplomatic skills.

Practising the art of diplomacy is not weakness and any good government must be able to walk the fine line between honouring Guyana’s sovereignty and being cognizant of the interests of the diplomatic community especially if Guyana is to benefit from both Western and Asian investments.

In Guyana’s racially divided state, it is probably good to have a third force in effect that would help check the excesses of power of any one side.

Whereas the ABC countries were openly critical of the PPP/C Administration, the Granger Government’s continued bumbling incompetence and wanton wastage of state funds have drawn no fire although any assurances of their continuance in government would surely have been reassessed by now.

Given this scenario, the PPP/C must be aware that their diplomatic skills – or lack thereof – could well determine their future.


Living with high anxiety

By Ryhaan Shah

We have been living in a state of high anxiety in Guyana since the 1960s. The main stressor is the racial/political divide which has kept everyone in a state of uncertainty and living with an overwhelming dread that we are not in control of anything, not our past, present or future.
One of the main national untruths that contributes to our high anxiety headlined the recent PNC Congress where the membership continued their attempts to rehabilitate the image of Burnham into that of a visionary when historical facts show him to be a corrupt and racist dictator who was propped up by the US Government and its allies for Cold War gains.
We, the people, have little control even of factual evidence when such distortions of history keep coming from the ruling PNC party and its leadership,
Many wanted the PPP/C Administration booted from office because of their alleged corruptions and arrogant behaviour. However, the Coalition Government’s promised change is yet to materialise and in just over a year, we have witnessed blatant corruptions for which no one is held accountable. President David Granger seems satisfied with his rogue bunch of Ministers and Advisors who are riding rough shod over the nation.
An apology for the “pharmagate” scandal is not enough. Health Minister George Norton should have resigned and displayed a modicum of personal integrity, or should have been sacked immediately. And all the cushy public service positions being held by family members and PNC cronies – and so many are already mired in corruption – should be rescinded and given to qualified professionals.
But since the 1960s, this has been the face of Government in Guyana. Public service is about rewards for party loyalty – or paramountcy as in Burnham’s time – and never about serving the country. Fifty and more years of corruption has created a national cancer that sickens everyone.
Vigilante justice, drunk driving, suicide, murder, hospital negligence, rape, banditry – Guyana has it all and at a level that is much too high for our small population. People are living on the edge which makes them trigger happy and unconcerned. If you are jobless and have no chance of gainful employment, the future is a zero sum total anyway so what does it matter if you rape, shoot, kill?
In undeveloped countries like Guyana, people rarely talk of future plans but are more focused on just making it through the day. The future lies elsewhere. It lies in migrating to New York or Toronto where government is held accountable. That is where progress starts: with good and just governance.
But the political upheavals and racial violence of the 1960s have simply continued and no government has yet had the vision or courage to lift us out of that state of uncertainty and dread that was experienced then and which threatens again with the planned rehabilitation of Burnhamist policies and ideology.
The oil find only increases the level of anxiety. The US and its allies kept the PNC in power to further their own political interests for three decades. Is controlling our oil reserves the reason to keep them there again? Is Guyana to be further destroyed to secure American economic interests?
None of that oil will be coming ashore here. It will be shipped off to Trinidad to be refined and given the corrupt state of our public officials no one believes that any of the earnings will be spent on development. They will most likely end up in the pockets of the corrupt and corruptible.
And to hear our politicians talk you would think that we should be proud of our continuing underdevelopment – so many billions to be “won” in loans!
It does appear that Government’s raison d’être is to rebuild the image of a failed dictator, their founder/leader Burnham, and going backward 50 years to revive failed economic policies is to be the forward thrust of the Granger Administration.
This as the rest of the world advances into a new century with technological breakthroughs and new ideas on conducting global business offering up opportunities for countries with progressive and, yes, visionary leadership.
However, the Coalition elections campaign succeeded with its propaganda to “forget the past” and Guyana voted for an amnesiac state of being. National Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan – a most vociferous supporter of all that forgetting – must be looking forward to all the “newness” of the PNC’s agenda. That as everyone else recognises it as a rehashing of the worst failures in Guyana’s contemporary political and economic history.
The high anxiety continues.

Museums foster development

“Education is critical for development. Education that is devoid of the cultures of the people in the society is empty and incomplete. One of the fundamental objectives of the museum is to educate, and it is only the museum that has the capacity and the ability to impart cultural education effectively as it houses the tools and materials for doing so in its collections. In modern society, the museums enrich the educational process by exposing children and indeed the public to their history in a positive way; they assist our future generations to understand and appreciate their history and culture and take pride in the achievements of their forbears.”
These words were spoken by Emmanuel N Arinze, President of the Commonwealth Association of Museums, at a public lecture at the National Museum here in Georgetown in May 1999.
Arinze makes the point that museums are not “dead” spaces, meant only for the repose of artefacts and records but are living, breathing institutions that are essential for the development of a nation. In a place like Guyana with its racial divisions, museums are central to creating a more understanding and respectful environment.
President David Granger’s plans to have the artefacts and records housed at the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology hoisted off to some other space – and this without any prior consultation, as is usual with him – brings the role of our museums into sharp focus.
That Granger is often touted as a “historian” adds another level of grievance to his plan since their interest in the past should make any historian particularly sensitive about preserving anthropological and archaeological materials.
The Walter Roth Museum’s artefacts and records are not only substantive to Guyana’s history but to the history of the world and Government must be aware that moving any of the collection’s pieces, some of which are prehistoric, would require the expertise of trained preservationists.
Granger was, however, also the leader of an elections campaign that exhorted Guyana to “forget the past”. The irony of a “historian” having such utter disregard for history was never lost on a good section of the electorate.
The Walter Roth Museum is home to historical materials of Guyana’s indigenous peoples and the Museum of African Heritage houses a collection of art, artefacts and records that are important to the history of African Guyanese.
Castellani House is both an art gallery and museum that allows students and art historians to trace the development of local art themes, styles and techniques. By acquiring pieces from Guyana’s major artists for the National Collection, the gallery provides recognition for the artists and their work, and international status and exposure for the country’s art.
The National Archives and National Museum round off the list of state funded institutions that preserve past records and allow for research and analytical study by students and academics.
At Meten-Meer-Zorg, WCD, the private Heritage Museum, curated and managed by Gary Serrao, is an eclectic collection of maps, pamphlets, books, and an array of artefacts that also tell the Guyana story.
Absent from the above list is any museum dedicated to the history of the Indian-Guyanese people. Premier Cheddi Jagan was urged by Indian leaders in the early 1960s to use the monies remaining in the Indentureship Fund to build Indian cultural and research centres in the three main regions. He refused.
When Forbes Burnham came to power, he used those very funds – earmarked for the return passage of Indian labourers to India – to help finance the construction of the National Cultural Centre.
A good friend of mine approached a PPP parliamentarian at the turn of the century with a query about the PPP/C Government establishing an Indian Museum and Research Centre. He was rebuffed by the curt response: “If you-all want a museum, you’ll have to build it yourself!”
One hundred years after the end of Indentureship, there is, as yet, no national repository of Indian Guyanese artefacts and records and it is unlikely that any of the Granger Government’s cultural policies will note the lack and make the establishment of an Indian Museum and Research Centre a national priority.
It does appear that any such an institution will have to be built through private efforts and from funding from the Indian-Guyanese community since governments here are yet to acknowledge the essential role of museums in fostering national development.
The Granger Government’s shoddy behaviour over plans to move the Walter Roth Museum proves it as does the absence of any state funded museum dedicated to the history and heritage of the Indian-Guyanese people.

Celebrating exam successes

By Ryhaan Shah

It has become an annual rite to celebrate the achievements of the students who have excelled at the CSEC and CAPE examinations. We heap praise on them and share in the joy because this is the one measure of true merit and excellence that all Guyana can trust.
Because the exams are marked abroad, they have the cloak of secrecy and anonymity and we therefore feel assured that they have not been corrupted or tampered with at any level.
The top performers who excel have become the standard bearers each year of the excellence that is still possible.
This in a society that has become jaded and cynical about every reward, award, prize, title and position because they are almost always infected by one or more of the corruptions of cronyism, nepotism, racism and partisan politics.
It is always a case of who you know, who knows you, or what you are willing to pay to gain an advantage or a win. In this environment, we can hardly be criticised for celebrating the only standard of meritorious achievement that is left to us.
My congratulations go out to all the top performers and to every student who worked hard and gained those valuable passes at the CSEC or CAPE which they need to fulfil their dreams and ambitions.
This year, as in recent years, regional schools took many of the top spots at CSEC. It is a remarkable feat since most of the student intake at these schools are not usually the top performers at the NGSA (National Grade Six Assessment) exams.
Those top performers are placed at leading city schools like Queen’s College and Bishops’ High School and they are almost always expected to dominate the winning positions in the CSEC exam results.
Last year, however, Saraswati Vidya Niketan (SVN), located at Cornelia Ida, had the best CSEC performer. This year, SVN took four of the top 10 CSEC spots and two others were won by students of Skeldon Line Path School and Anna Regina Secondary. Three went to Queen’s College and the topmost performer attended St Roses High School.
With six of the 10 top performers coming from regional schools with students who were not, according to the NGSA results, academic high fliers, questions could be raised about the methodology used or the placements that result from the NGSA assessments which are done locally.
Or, perhaps, it is the academic programmes of the regional schools that have created top performers from average students that should be studied with an eye to establishing their academic programmes in other schools.
SVN, in particular, has seen its performance rate rise steadily since the school was established. With its winning performance last year – and again, this year – anyone would expect the Ministry of Education to make an effort to meet with the school’s principal and staff to look at the policies and programmes that have created such success.
To date, no such consultation has happened. Perhaps, it is because of SVN Principal Swami Aksharananda’s active participation in public discussions on various subjects, his ideas and arguments being geared to encouraging critical thinking and spirited discussions on important national issues.
In Guyana, however, critical minds are ignored and sidelined. It is sycophants who are rewarded. In fact, critics and criticism are not welcomed. They are viewed as being contrary to national development and even unpatriotic, and Swamiji has suffered such public abuse on occasion.
Because this particular corruption infects every level of government and society, information and advice that could help improve our education system and give more of our children a better chance at academic success are sacrificed for petty political expediency. Our young people show how much is possible with their winning results then often watch their prospects dwindle as the reality of Guyana’s corruptions sets in. Then they leave for countries where it is merit that matters. And who can blame them?
The brain drain of our best and brightest have continued for 50 years and counting and no government has moved to root out the culture of corruption. Creating a fair and just society remains a pipe dream.
This does make our annual celebration of all that is possible ring hollow. But we do it, perhaps, with every hope that this time, this year, we will work to make it right for our children and their future. They are our pride and hope. When will we fulfil our end of the bargain and start the process of changing Guyana for the better?
When will we stop failing our children?

Guyana will not forget


By Ryhaan Shah

After all the accusations levelled at the PPP/C Administration about its alleged corruptions, the David Granger Government has, in no more than a year, racked up an impressive number of shady deals, financial wastage and displays of arrogance.

The National Assembly sitting this past week uncovered a few more. We learned that Government wasted over $406 million from the Contingency Fund on one of President David Granger’s pet projects for which there was no public consultation, namely the D’Urban Park Development Project. This was the centrepiece for what turned out to be a PNC/Afro-Guyanese Golden Jubilee celebration which was completely forgettable for its mediocrity, confusion, and its less-than-gala dinner.

But it was the line item of $25 million also spent from the Contingency Fund in July for a security deposit on a building that caught the Opposition’s eye and started a line of questioning that unravelled a scandalous corruption with Health Minister George Norton at its centre.

It appeared that way until it was disclosed Norton was simply following directives from Cabinet. This only heightens the fiasco and places Government itself at the centre of the sole-sourcing and financial corruptions involving the deal that was made with a company named Linden Holding Inc, a bottom-house outfit in Sussex Street, Charlestown, which is undergoing renovations to make it suitable as a drugs storage unit.

For this unfinished facility, Government is already paying out more than a $1000 per square foot rental which is over three times the New GPC’s rates for its state-of-the-art and fully certified drugs storage facility. Government’s decision to forgo the arrangement with the New GPC appears to be driven more by a refusal to work with anyone affiliated with the previous Administration than by good business sense and a concern for the nation’s welfare, especially since it is essential that medical drugs and supplies are always stored in well monitored and secured facilities.

Also dogging Norton’s heels is his interference in the management of the Georgetown Public Hospital where the board has reinstated CEO Michael Khan after a government audit cleared him of any wrongdoing.

In overturning the board’s decision, Norton contravenes the Public Corporation Act which places the responsibility for the appointment of the hospital’s CEO within the board’s remit.

Staffing and other issues at the GPHC continue to make headlines and, for the sake of the nation’s health, the CEO is needed back at his desk where he will remain with the board’s support. On this issue, Government seems more interested in saving face than in doing what is right and just.

Amidst all the reports of corruption over the past week, the most worrying of all was the ongoing attempt by government’s main coalition partner, the PNC, to rewrite Guyana’s history according to their playbook. Letters writers to the press have started to correct the untruths being peddled about Burnham and show him for the brutal, corrupt and racist dictator that he was.

No progressive nation is ever built on a body of lies and Granger and the PNC should be embarrassed by their revisionist statements about their party’s past. Except that they are not. Their arrogance is well learned from their founder/leader Burnham.

Social cohesion – of which Burnham is now hailed as the author – is being pushed down the public’s throat even as the Granger Government engages in some of the most blatant acts of prejudice. It’s Burnham’s way, that kind of haughtiness.

Those who ignored the clear warning issued by the coalition during its elections campaign to forget the past are beginning to understand why the past matters. It matters because those who forget are bound to repeat it.

Thus far, there seems no danger that Guyana will forget.

Whereas Burnham muzzled the press and dictated everything that was disseminated by his state media, Guyana still has a free press and this past week even the usual sycophants reported fully on Government’s latest crop of corruptions.

One such report was that the project to widen Carifesta Avenue has been abandoned. Granger, in true Burnham style, held no public consultation on fashioning his vision of a widened avenue with a median lined with light poles that were to be hung with the flags of the Caricom nations.

The vision, costing 180 million taxpayers’ dollars, was to be his showpiece for the Caricom Heads of Government conference last month. Well, the project has been abandoned and the renaming of Carifesta Avenue to the grander Avenue of the Caribbean has been abandoned along with it. Abandoned like so many of Burnham’s visions.