An Editorial Column/Blog by David Hinds on Guyana, Caribbean and African Diaspora Politics and Society
Forum to examine state of African-Guyanese community
Posted December 2013
A forum is being organized to discuss the current socio-economic, political and cultural condition of the African Guyanese community, which is seen as being “in crisis.” The Ghana Day Commit-tee, which will host the forum on August 4 in conjunction with the Cuffy 250 Committee of Washington D.C, has revealed that it will be held under the theme: ‘The State of Black African Guyana: Time for Renewal and Empowerment’, at the African Cultural Development Association’s AKWAABA (Welcome) Centre at Thomas Lands.
In a release announcing the all-day forum, the committee noted that the forum would be the first in a series of conversations among African-Guyanese and that the entire initiative is geared towards getting the African community more included in the political fabric of Guyana. It said it will feature such leading intellectuals, members of civil society, activists and well-known Africanists, as Hugh Tommy Payne, Nigel Hughes, Andaiye, Melissa Ifill, Carl Greenidge and Dr David Hinds, while international presenters include acclaimed African American Scholar-activist Anthony Browder, and Guyanese-American businessmen George Abrams and Floyd Haynes.
But the undertaking was roundly criticised by social/ political activist Freddie Kissoon, who was present at a press conference yesterday, where Dr Hinds spoke about the plans for the forum. According to Kissoon, the proposal put forward has a manifest lack of invitation for any non-African to participate. He said investing in a phenomenon such as this “does not mean you have to be Jewish or African” and this, he suggested, posed a fundamental weakness in the presentation. “Once scholarship is involved, once you are asking scholars to investigate a phenomenon, culture and ethnicity do not matter anymore,” Kissoon said. However, in response, Dr Hinds explained that the initiative “is about the condition of African Guyanese. We want to talk to African-Guyanese; we want a conversation among and between Afro-Guyanese about their condition.
We are not engaged in scholarship but rather engaged in fact-finding. We want to speak with African-Guyanese in their communities for them to say to us what are their problems, what their issues and for us to begin that conversation so we can formulate plans to deal with them.” Hinds stated that perhaps in the second phase when the committee is working on correctional mechanisms for the problems, scholars would be consulted, but for the time being, what is needed is “a conversation among and between African Guyanese. “Now I know in a multi-ethnic society it is very ticklish when a particular ethnic group engages in conversation among themselves, but this is a long tradition in the African Guyanese community and we in the Ghana Day Committee believe that to our detriment we have strayed away from that constant conversation in the community so we want to use this initiative to begin that conversation. So it is not any kind of deliberate attempt to exclude other ethnic groups but we feel that at this juncture, the problems are mounted with the African Guyanese community,” Hinds said. TV personality Basil Bradshaw, in agreement, contended that work needs to done with regard to leadership, as, according to him, contemporary Guyana is now laced with a lot of political confrontations and issues. “We fail to represent our ethnicity from the political perspective. Politics has taken over.
We have suffered as an African group or people because of the political interjections we have had in Guyana and we have not faced this strongly or properly and I am wondering if the African group will now be bold enough and not be fearful of taking that political aspect on,” Bradshaw said.
Meanwhile, a release issued by the committee said that almost 50 years after independence the African Guyanese community is in crisis. The post-Emancipation advances and the progress of the early post-independence period have been overtaken by under-achievement in all spheres of national life, a collective sense of alienation and disillusionment and a cultural drift away from the rich heritage of the group. These developments have resulted in insecurities and fears of subjugation. As a result, the release continued, the committee feels there is no better symbol around which to have the discourse than the Berbice Slave Rebellion. The spirit of resistance and freedom embodied in that rebellion is the perfect reminder to African Guyanese that overcoming obstacles and downturns is part and parcel of the local and global praxis, the release said.
Dr Hinds said further that “whenever African Guyanese community has won any big advances it has always been laced with political activism, that is the whole issue of rebellion and overcoming slavery, colonialism, it is political in nature. There is a way in which African Guyanese activism has become criminalized in Guyana. So when they go on the streets or protest for anything, it is seen as some kind of movement towards violence. There has been a kind of movement on the part of the political leadership of the African Guyanese community not to deal with politics and we want to put an end to that.”
He explained that for this reason, an entire section of the forum will be devoted to African Guyanese and the struggle for racial democracy. “In our view, you cannot have political democracy in a multi-ethnic country when a significant group is left out of the political decision-making process. So we feel we can make a lot of headway economically, and in terms of social movements and so forth. But if that is not situated within the context of the ability and the power to make decisions then we are really going nowhere. So we are tying all of this to politics,” Hinds continued. He stated that the conference is being held within the context of African-Guyanese getting equal power to make important decisions and no longer be excluded. The Ghana Day Commit-tee also plans to go around the country to hear from the people themselves what they are experiencing and to see how the subjugation is felt, the gathering heard.
With lengthy periods set aside for discussion, organisers are encouraging all African Guyanese to come out and have their voices heard.
David Hinds is a Political Activist and Commentator. He is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Caribbean and African Diaspora Studies in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University. His writings can be found on his website guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com. You can also listen to Dr. Hinds on "Hindsight" on Mark Benschop Online Radio every Thursday night 8-9 pm at guyanaobservernews.org