Are we better off here?

Letters to the Editor
Stabroek News
October 26, 1999

Dear Sir,

Recently, Mr. W. P. George expressed his joy for being Guyanese and living in Guyana, and offered, among other reasons, the current levels of armed-conflict and poverty in Africa in comparison. These sentiments are much in keeping with those of Mohammed Shahabuddeen who sought to rationalize paternalism in the sugar industry in his book, "From Plantrocracy to Nationalisation," by proclaiming that "...descendants of those who were forced to labour in the cause of sugar do now nevertheless live much better than is possible today in their forefathers' countries of origin." Although there is good deal of truth in both positions and whilst I certainly do not wish to take away from a sense of national pride, more importantly, from an open expression of national identity, I do wish to offer a few comments which, hopefully, will stimulate further thought on the issue of comparative welfare.

Take, for example, the general attitude of decrying anything African as uncivilized. This attitude, which is largely learned, is rooted in the "I think, therefore I am" philosophy of Descartes, as reinforced by Locke, Kant, Jefferson and others, and where "think" has come to be measured in terms of one's willingness to embrace Western societal institutions and ideas to the detriment of traditional cultures. It is therefore not surprising that, like Shahabuddeen and others programmed to think in Western philosophical terms, the writer should seek to rationalize the lot of Guyanese in relativistic terms, choosing to justify his or her own life-condition on the basis of the worst obtained elsewhere, in this case, Africa. This reverting, if you will, to some distant relativism for the most part borders on sophistry, especially when a closer examination may well reveal that, in terms of the larger whole, rather than being better off, one is perhaps much the poorer for the disconnect. Indeed, it was perhaps this message that the Africans had in mind when they rejected President Clinton's apology on the grounds that they were not the ones enslaved and that his apology was misdirected.

Furthermore, an often overlooked fact is that human history begins in Africa. There is no human history without Africa, and much of what is ridiculed in Western terms in fact exemplifies the survival of thousands of years of cultural practices that served the collective African good, if not the world's. Yes, there are armed-conflicts all over Africa and poverty is a way of life for a large majority. However, most of the fighting could be seen in terms of attempts to return to traditional cultural as well as geographical boundaries, before colonialism; and much of the poverty could be attributed to the importation of greed in all its forms. But, despite the poverty and the fighting which will be overcome, most Africans still possess their historical culture and their roots in the cradle of humanity.

Yours faithfully,
Claude V. Chang

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples