WHEN I think back to the ‘Republic Jubilee’ column I wrote last year, in commemoration of our 50th year as a Cooperative Republic, I remember being filled with so much hope and enthusiasm. Between then and now, however, I’ve come to realise that in many ways, we still don’t understand the value of aspiring to this cooperative state.
For me, Mashramani last year was the last bit of normalcy I can recall. We were able to celebrate the fact that ours is the only country in the world where the development model of ‘cooperation’ is captured in the official name of our country. This was not only a name but perhaps a model towards which we have been striving for years.
Soon after our Republic Jubilee, we were solely focused on March 2, the “Mother of all Elections” as it had been dubbed. And while we spent a long, long time navigating those precarious elections — an epidemic of sorts — we became enveloped in the COVID-19 pandemic. We descended into the familiar chasm of tribal politics, neglecting to realise that this, much like the novel coronavirus, was detrimental to our country. It was quite the opposite of the cooperative developmental trajectory towards which we we have been striving.
And so, in the 50th year of our Cooperative Republic, in many ways we failed to realise what we can be and we hurt one another. Yet, I remain optimistic that we have not done irreparable harm.
Following his swearing-in, President Dr Irfaan Ali touted the importance of national healing, no doubt influenced by the events that took place during the protracted elections, but hopefully also influenced by Guyana’s history of strained relations.
More recently, during his inaugural address to Parliament, he announced the formation of a ‘One Guyana Commission’ that will be tasked with fostering one nationality and a common love for Guyana. It was reported that the President indicated that the commission will be empowered to foster nation-building efforts through practical steps while respecting Guyana’s diversity.
I agree with the President that we need to heal, we need to respect and harness our diversity, and that we all must contribute to nation-building efforts. National healing is necessary, therefore, but it is not going to be achieved without great effort. Similarly, the idea of ‘oneness’ and aspiring to that place where we proudly embody this one Guyanese nationality is not an easy fix for years of varying lived experiences.
Though Guyana, as a whole, may have been striving towards the ‘One Destiny’ espoused by our national motto, different Guyanese have had different experiences as they move towards that destiny. To avoid ambiguity, I mean that Indo-Guyanese, Afro-Guyanese, Indigenous-Guyanese, and so forth, have all had different learned perceptions and different lived experiences that have influenced the lives of people in each of these social groups.
For further clarity, in real terms, Afro-Guyanese for example have been forced to contend with an inherently anti-black societal structure — replete with barriers to resources — developed and embedded by the colonial powers since the days of enslavement. Then there are nuances in the challenges faced by various sub-groups, for example, those challenges faced by Afro-Guyanese women.
Indigenous communities, too, have faced unique barriers to their development. Their geographic locations, away from the more “developed” population centres, mean that resources and the quality of resources and services to which they have access and benefit from are widely different from others. Consideration also has to be given to European destruction of their rights and culture and how western models of development do not take into account their traditional way of life.
Careful analyses have illustrated the nuances in the lived experiences and challenges faced by each of our ethnic groups, not just the two I mentioned. Therefore, I submit that aspiring to this model or idea of a Cooperative Republic doesn’t simply mean forgetting the far-from-perfect history and experiences of various Guyanese. Instead, it means acknowledging the various challenges by which we are each confronted and then trying to overcome those, equitably.
To add to my point, I’ll borrow a sentiment shared by my Social Development Policy lecturer this semester: “Equality is the goal, but equity is the method through which we achieve that goal.”
We all face challenges, but we do not face the same challenges. And as such, our collective, cooperative development depends upon recognising that there need to be equitable solutions crafted to remedy the wounds and legacies of our various experiences. Maybe then the words “Cooperative Republic” can be much, much more than just part of the official name of Guyana.
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