The importance of social cohesion

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ON Monday May 13, Guyana observed the fourth Annual Social Cohesion Day. The observance was intended to underscore the administration’s commitment to ensuring that Guyana develops along a trajectory of national unity, inclusionary democracy, and cooperative-oneness of purpose.

Those ideas were not invented by the APNU+AFC coalition administration; instead, those noble ideals have long been enshrined in our constitution, articulated in our national motto, and are, in fact, a part of the name of our country –The Cooperative Republic of Guyana. Admirably, towards the goal of cohesion, the government recognised the need for more than rhetoric; the government understood that in a diverse society such as ours, action is required.

The necessity of actively working toward cohesion was recognised and acted upon by the APNU+AFC government shortly after being elected to office. The creation of the Ministry of Social Cohesion is the concrete manifestation of the recognition of that need. The fact is that the need for concrete action was evident to the coalition even before the general elections of 2015, as was previously stated by this publication.

The construction of the Cummingsburg Accord gave birth to the coalition of parties. Multi-ethnic in composition, it was no surprise that the coalition, the APNU+AFC, made national unity one of its main election campaign platforms. Such unity is a coveted goal that necessarily resonates with all right-thinking Guyanese, especially those who would have lived through the racial strife of the early 1960s, and witnessed what it did in terms of damaging what was once good, neighbourly relations among our peoples, and the harm that was inflicted on Guyana’s national psyche. Tensions and even violence which have accompanied subsequent general elections have made the necessity of a concerted, determined, and comprehensive effort towards unity even more evident.

As an accomplished historian, the narrowness of the 2015 coalition victory would not have missed President David Granger’s analytical appraisal in terms of what it meant for Guyana. It explained why he readily offered his administration’s willingness to work with the political opposition, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), towards establishing a mechanism to work towards national unity. His sincerity to such an end was underlined by his formation of a Ministry of Social Cohesion. Such a development was widely and immediately welcomed, and was hailed as a necessary step in seeking to advance such a seminal concept to its desired and intended end. The importance to what could accrue for the socio-economic potential of Guyana became immediately evident.

The importance of social cohesion cannot be overemphasised. According to the United Nations, “Fostering social cohesion is about striving for greater inclusiveness, more civic participation and creating opportunities for upward mobility…Social capital refers to trust between people and in institutions and the sense of belonging to a society.” Though we understand the inherent challenges in the concept of national cohesion, it is still a desired goal, a missing element and an absolute necessity for a country, such as Guyana, that is ethnically diverse.

President Granger has repeatedly emphasised the importance of this groundbreaking undertaking. His Excellency has explained its purpose. Speaking at a press conference at the Ministry of the Presidency in September 2018, the president said, “Social cohesion isn’t a device for one ethnic group; it is a national means of ensuring people are treated with respect, even at the level of the national festivals,” The president, was, at that time, alluding to Guyana’s cultural diversity, and our country’s recognition of that fact. Noting that earlier in the year, government participated in celebrating Chinese Arrival Day, Portuguese Arrival Day, Indian Arrival Day and African Emancipation Day. The President said that through respect for each other’s culture, Guyanese will build social cohesion, not by sweeping away another culture or ignoring it. He also added that, as of the first day in September, there will also be a respectful observation of Indigenous heritage.

In May 2018, at the opening of the Seventh-Day Adventist’s Convention, the president iterated, “Social cohesion rests on a foundation of religious and cultural liberty, a recognition of the plural character of the nation and the promotion of greater respect for others. He also noted that the church has a vital role to play in fostering friendly relations among the faithful by working to ensure social cohesion, particularly in the plural societies, which exist in most, if not all, Caribbean jurisdictions.

President Granger and his administration have demonstrated the importance it places on the ideals of cooperation, unity, and cohesion. The Head of State has repeatedly underscored exactly what he intends to accomplish through the pursuit of inclusion, economic equity, social equality, and national cooperation; he has left no room for doubt or misunderstanding of his objective. The benefits of that goal should be obvious to all right-thinking Guyanese, who would, naturally, welcome such a worthy endeavour.