–as Guyana installs Dr. Irfaan Ali as its 9th Executive President
By Navendra Seoraj
THE bright rays of the sun glistened off a helicopter flying over the city of Georgetown on Saturday on its way to the National Cultural Centre (NCC) where citizens converged to witness one of the biggest and most momentous events in recent times, the inauguration of Guyana’s ninth Executive President, Dr. Irfaan Ali.
Below the “metal bird” was a motorcade of presidential vehicles which was guided by mounted officers and led by outriders. It was a setting like no other; one fit for a king. The path was clear, and the destination was decorated and ready for his arrival.
Arriving before President Ali was a man who is equally honourable, the Prime Minister of Guyana, Brigadier (ret’d) Mark Phillips. It is safe to say that Prime Minister Phillips, who spent more than 20 years in the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), would have reminisced while being greeted by familiar faces, or at least men in familiar attire, after he exited his vehicle.
Not long after his arrival, the helicopter could be heard making its way to the NCC. The “man of the moment” was mere metres away. The moment, or preferably, the person whose arrival everyone was anticipating had arrived. President Ali, clad in a navy suit, and, as is customary these days due to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, a mask, stepped out and was greeted by his prime minister and military officers.
His first order of business was to inspect the Guard of Honour. President Ali, though having no military experience, marched crisply as he did his inspection. This was followed immediately by the ceremonial 21-gun salute.
PATRIOTISM AT ITS BEST
It was patriotism at its best, but it was just the beginning of a simple yet significant event, which was coordinated in conformity with COVID-19 measures. Unlike previous years, attendees, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, added face masks to their attire, and were subjected to a temperature check. They were also required to sanitise their hands.
The necessary precautions, however, did not restrict the moderate celebrations which started immediately after President Ali and his wife, First Lady Arya Ali, were escorted to their seats on a well-decorated stage.
Their view was of the people who turned out to “inaugurate” President Ali, and the crowd’s view was exactly what they wanted to see: The President of a bountiful and diverse nation, who was sworn in after the conclusion of the country’s longest general and regional elections, and during a time when the world is fighting an invisible enemy called COVID-19.
While the view remained the same, there were added attractions, but like any honourable event, it started with the National Anthem, which was played by the Guyana Police Force Military Band, and was followed by prayers from different faiths, a subtle indication of Guyana’s pluralistic society.
What better to follow than one of the country’s most patriotic songs, “Oh beautiful Guyana”, which was performed by the Guyana Police Force Military Band.
A true depiction of the country’s beauty were the cultural dances by the X Factor Dance Company; the Swami Vivikenanda Cultural Centre and an Indigenous cultural dance group. The dancers later converged to do a “unity dance”, as a show of what Guyana should be.
HISTORY AND HOPE
Another message was directed to Guyanese, through a poem titled “Our History, Our Hope”, which was written by Kyhreem Bacchus of Annandale Secondary School and recited by Nikhil Sankar, a student of Queen’s College.
The words contained in the poem were even acknowledged with a nod of the head by the President himself, especially at times when Sankar said, “One People, One Nation and One Destiny”, Guyana’s precious motto.
It was no coincidence that the message of the day was unity, diversity and togetherness, as every aspect of the programme covered these key elements of any progressive nation.
To crown it all, Guyana’s very own songstress, Jackie Jaxx, took to the stage to render a song which has been on the airwaves for quite some time, her very own “Guyana” song. In that song, she melodiously asked Guyanese to “rise up” and build a country in which everyone could thrive.
The crowd grew silent as they listened to the patriotic rendition, and it was almost as if they were doing some introspection or visualising the Guyana which Ms. Jaxx was singing about.
While her voice and message would have been a bit more sentimental to the Guyanese in the crowd, there was no doubt that distinguished guests such as the President of Suriname, Chandrikapersad Santokhi, and Mr. Edmund Hinkson, who represented Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley, also appreciated Jaxx’s vocals.
Other guests who enjoyed the celebration included members of the diplomatic corps; Cabinet members; members of various political parties, including Mr. Carl Greenidge, a senior member of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) and other persons from all walks of life.
It was indeed a celebration fit for a king, but the President, in his remarks, reminded attendees that while he will have to walk with kings in the country’s best interest, he will never lose “the common touch”.
“My first and last responsibility will be to the people of Guyana; all of them… From this day forward, our one nation and our people must join together to peacefully transition our country to a pathway of economic and social development at home, and respect and regard abroad,” President Ali said.
THE ROAD AHEAD
The road ahead is not expected to be smooth, but some of the very guests at the ceremony promised to do their part to make it as smooth as possible.
As reported by the Department of Public Information (DPI), UNICEF Deputy Representative to Guyana, Mr. Irfan Akhtar commended Dr. Ali on his vision to take the country forward, saying, “From the UN’s side, we believe we need to collaborate and support the implementation of his vision.”
While speaking to reporters, US Ambassador to Guyana, Sarah-Ann Lynch also strove to reassure the people of Guyana that the US will continue to support the government’s vision for the country, and lend both tangible and intangible support wherever possible.
Dr. Ali officially became the 9th President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana last Sunday, ushering in a new era with a promise of bold action to lift the country out of its present economic morass, and help unite its citizens, who, though badly bruised from a divisive elections campaign are already beginning to show signs of recovery.