Learning from our past

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APPROXIMATELY 64 per cent of Guyanese today have not had first-hand experience of the events of the 1960s, ’70s and some part of the ’80s. It is for this reason those who are opinion shapers are obligated to help this group to understand that era by objectively putting into context events that occurred, and situating same within the socio-economic and political atmosphere at the time, both local and external.

To do otherwise is to deny this demographic development which is required for personal and national growth and fostering an environment of peaceful co-existence. More importantly, this generation is part of the present leaders and will be the main leaders of tomorrow and, therefore, deserving to be equipped with the requisite tools to make the future better. The temptation for finger-pointing, though it can be lucrative, is more reflective of settling scores or proving points at the expense of the nation moving forward. For if the young, who constitute the majority, are denied the opportunity of history being examined through appropriate lenses, unnecessary frictions can be created which threaten friendships, familial associations and the strengthening of the nation’s fabric. Distorted examination has the potential of entrapping the minds and making persons captive of the actions of an era that today is not being used as a barometer for moving the country forward, but a tool for settling old political grievances, perceived or real.

The esteemed Nelson Mandela, who stood up against the South African apartheid regime in defence of the coloured population to be treated equally, was harassed, considered a terrorist, tried and imprisoned. The Western powers, led by the United States and Britain under the leadership of Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher, supported the Apartheid regime against the will of the majority in the society. While the South African majority were denied the right to participate in electing leaders of their choice, this denial was not without the support of the two nations considered by the world as purveyors of democracy and co-founders of the United Nations which declared all men are equal and should be treated with dignity and respect.

And given this reality, the wholesale replication of the perceptions expressed by the United States and Britain has to be put into context by examining the activities of these two major players, internally and externally. For while these countries are used as standard bearers in determining acceptable and unacceptable standards of behaviour and engagement, historical and present evidence show that they too are not without blemishes.

As external spotlight has been placed on Guyana’s politics, making known events of the ’60s and ’70s, there still exists the Confederate flag flying on government buildings in some southern states in the United States. The confederate flag evokes painful memories of an era in American history characterised by racial hatred, African-Americans denied basic fundamental human rights and freedoms, such as the right to vote, free movement and to be treated equally.

The point being made here is that there is nothing unusual or uncharacteristic of Guyana’s political evolution/ development, but an understanding of this can only be achieved when put in proper perspective, including doing comparative analyses with other countries, including those considered beacons. The electoral path the country has travelled has not been without contentions and contestations. From disagreement of changing the system from First-past-the-Post to Proportional Representation, allegations of rigged elections, refusal to accept elections results, court vitiation of elections, electoral challenges in the court, to the attempt and awarding of seats to the wrong party, are features of this society, similar to that of others.

In 2008, the Barack Obama campaign had to deal with accusations of taking on characteristics of the infamous Chicago corrupt and ruthless politics. In 2000, there was the issue of the hanging chads, where Democratic candidate Al Gore was denied the presidency by 500 plus votes in an election it was generally felt he won, because the Supreme Court controlled by Republican judges ruled to refer the matter to the Florida Republican-controlled government who made a decision in favour of the Republican candidate, George W Bush.

Notwithstanding the deficiencies in the systems of the developed societies, they use these events and pitfalls to refine and improve systems to bring about growth or preferably what they call ‘a more perfect union’. In Guyana, there is need to be mindful that these issues are characteristics of human nature. For in looking around the world, it would be recognised that Guyana is not singular in its politics and actions; what Guyana may be singular in is the obstinacy to be wedded to the past and refusal to put the past in context, learn from the past and move on.