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Commentary: African Guyanese revitalization: What can be done?
Published on May 12, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Dr David Hinds

A journalist recently asked for my ideas on African Guyanese revitalization, a theme of Cuffy 250, an African Guyanese organization to which I belong. My first response was that, to get to correcting the problem, one has to first get to the underlying causes of the problem. My second response was that, coming up with solutions would require two interrelated approaches.

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Dr 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. You can also listen to Dr Hinds on “Hindsight” on Mark Benschop online radio every Thursday night 8-9 pm at guyanaobservernews.com
First, there needs to be a broad conversation with the people in the communities about how they want to deal with their problems. Second, the experts -- economists, educators, historians, lawyers etc. -- need to get together and come up with a plan that takes into consideration the views of the communities. In effect there is need for a two-way conversation.

This is my take on the matter from the perspective of an activist. A lot of the problems in the African Guyanese communities have to do with the challenges that the African Guyanese economy has had face historically.

First, we have to start with the challenges within the context of the colonial economy, which saw the African village economy as a direct affront to the interests of colonialism. Second, we have to look at it within the context of the ethnic competition, from decolonization to the present, whereby the ethnic demarcation of the Guyanese economy, itself a legacy of colonialism, has made economic progress a victim of the larger ethnic politics.

Although the decline in African Guyanese community is not just economic, I think their economic condition has a lot to do with it. Similarly, although the decline started before 1992, when the current government came to office, one should not disregard the impact of the loss of government by African Guyanese in our government-centered ethnically divided society. I think there has been a negative impact on the group’s morale and self-confidence and objectively on opportunities for upward mobility.

African Guyanese have traditionally been located in the bauxite industry, the public service, porkknocking and the village economy where farming, small business and vending predominate. Later, they dominated “trading” -- bringing food and clothing for sale from other Caribbean countries. In addition to the above, education was an area of relief from poverty and social mobility.

But over the last couple of decades bauxite has declined. The public service has stalled, thanks mainly to the IMF conditionalities and the ethnic interests of the current government, and wages have not kept up with the cost of living. Education has declined. Agriculture in the villages has declined.

I think the combination of the above is at the heart of the “crisis” in the African Guyanese community. In addition, the over-reliance on an electoral solution and the evolution of a culture of accommodation with “political bribery” has led to a weakening of group solidarity and pride and dignity.

Finally, the heavy migration has had a negative effect on the community. One of the devastating consequences has been the loss of role models who live day to day in the communities. One cannot discount the impact of some negative group habits, but these have to be seen within the larger dynamics of post-plantation evolution among the formerly enslaved.

As far as solutions go, government economic initiatives aimed at creating a more democratic Guyanese economy based on equality of opportunity are essential. Government should invest in a village renewal initiative aimed at creating economic opportunities in the villages. There is need for a big economic venture in the African Guyanese community to produce jobs that pay a living wage and encourage small and medium businesses.

Dr Jagan in 1988 called for affirmative action for African Guyanese. Perhaps the government should revisit that. In addition, public service workers should be paid a living wage. They are mostly African Guyanese. If they are paid better, it would lift the collective quality of life among the group. There would be more to spend on education and health care, for example.

There is need to struggle for a more democratic form of government in which all ethnic groups are represented. This is pivotal. Government plays the biggest role in the distribution of resources. The corporate private sector is small and ethnic based. And governments by nature look after their supporters’ interest first. In ethnically divided societies like Guyana, this takes on an ethnic dynamic.

One party-one race government has not proven to be effective in fair distribution of resources. Just look at the recent budget, for example, and see where the bulk of big government subsidies go. A representative government in which African Guyanese are represented would help to distribute resources more fairly.

Finally what can African Guyanese do for themselves? Government initiatives take time, but communities can begin to address some problems in real time. Self-activity is what Walter Rodney called it.

The first thing I recommend is a collective acknowledgement of the problems. So there is need for conversations and discussions in the communities in the towns and in the villages. If we face the problems as communities by talking about them together we develop a sense of community again and a sense of common ownership of the solution.

Second, communities should create organizations aimed at searching for solutions. Where people are organized in organizations they develop a consciousness of themselves as agents of change. The experience of working together and doing things and seeing small changes together transforms the individual and the community. So I encourage people to form organizations

Third, I think education should be singled out for immediate action. I recommend a literacy project aimed at dealing with the functional illiteracy in the community. This is a problem that can be solved by using what we have. Those who can read and write should help to teach those who cannot. This can be done in families, in churches or in community classes or in one-on-one encounters. Communities can also help with homework by setting up homework centers where kids can go for help with getting homework done. Often homework assumes the kids have access to the internet when most of them do not. If we can have these centers where the kids can have access to computers and books and where they can be supervised, we would be helping to remedy the situation in some way. We can also have classes to help our students develop better study habits, better appreciation for educational excellence and a broader love of knowledge. These are all things that can be done using resources in our communities

Fourth, I think we can help to lift ourselves economically by returning to the culture of cooperatives where we raise resources from within our own communities. Some of us have been pushing the idea of raising funds for small micro loans to begin or expand small businesses. The key here is to raise your own resources and to start small; don’t wait on funding agencies. Look around the communities and see the immediate needs of the community and start a small business to satisfy those needs.

Fifth, African Guyanese communities need markets. We need to restart markets. These are centers of commerce which ensure that money is circulated in the communities and wealth is accumulated in the communities.

Finally, we need more self-love -- a better appreciation of black and African Guyanese culture and heritage. Black culture must not be confined to emancipation; it should be permanent. There is need for more classes and discussions and festivals on black culture and identity. This would help to decrease the growing fear in the community of acknowledging blackness.
 
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Comments:

Taij seetaram:

The comments by Dr Hinds skirted around the main issues. He is right in suggesting that Africans Guyanese needs to develop an understanding of their culture and practice. This will bring a great deal of quality back into their lives. Because Guyana is a multi-cultural society, recognition and respect of other people's cultural practices would be greatly enhanced and will significantly address some of the negatives in their attitude towards other races, and vise versa.

The writer seems to suggest that the standard of living of the Afro Guyanese depends mainly on others making provisions for them. In our society it should not be a them and us situation. The Governments should and must make provision equally for all its people, all the villages, without any though of discriminating.

I am of the firm belief that the Afro guyanese suffer because of their own attitudes. They are aggressive, they are not all educationally inclined, they are not attracted to being self sufficient, hence business adventures, and farming are not a priority. Guyana has lots of land to cultivate, but hard work on the land does not appeal to them.

These are the hard facts the Doctor should address, not Blaming Governments, and Society for their situation in life.

If the Afro-Guyanese people were to bring some sort of regularity in their domestic and social life, this will provide them with a spring board to achieving a better standard.They should marry within their community, raise, discipline, and educate their children so that they become respectable and productive members of society. There are exceptions of course, and these achievers should be role models that others should copy. Copy the respect they attract in having a respectful lifestyle and family unit. Their academic achievements, their work ethics. Should all these qualities of the more 'refined' Afro Guyanese be copied by others within their communities, then they will be achievers like all other races of guyanese, be they Portuguese, Chinese, or Indians.

Society in general will benefit, Guyana willl benfit, and it creates better understanding between races and the advancement of a proud Afro-Guyanese Society.


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