On the 21st anniversary of the assassination of Walter Rodney
Considering the ideas of Guyana's social prophet
by Karen De Souza
June 18, 2001
IT IS hard to think of a time when the ideas of a fighter, reformer and martyr, who was at the same time a student and explainer of sensitive areas of our history, have been so ignored and disrespected, as in the case of Walter Rodney.
It is natural and human that in the history of peoples the ideas of one social prophet of the nation will come to a point where they are not the main ones needed for the health or healing of the country. But this is usually after the ideas have been allowed to accomplish their mission, after the country has got the best out of them. The disrespect complained of on this 21st anniversary of the assassination of Walter Rodney is the tragedy that Rodney's ideas and his vision for Guyana have never been adopted, even for study or for re-examination, much less for instruction.
During the anti-dictatorial struggle, in which the PNC leadership in the end played a vital part in allowing a peaceful transition, it was agreed among all the parties which fought for that change that Rodney was a Guyanese figure and not a party figure. This placed on all of us, though on the WPA directly, a responsibility. It is not understood as a requirement that Rodney's way of thought be adopted, but it is surely a responsibility to ensure that society is helped to move away from the road of ethnic disaffection and competition and conflict, a road with dreadful disadvantages and dangers. Whereas Rodney revealed to us a history cluttered with problems but also loaded with hope and purpose, current events are so offensive they threaten to leave more antagonism than hope. This cannot be allowed to go unchallenged, and social action must again take the stage and demonstrate that security for all is possible. Those political directorates and international advisers who have failed to study the ideas of Walter Rodney as relevant material for Guyana's future have had no adequate ideas, amounting to a dream, to put in their place. Instead, they have remained bound to the political system which has failed Guyana for a century and a half and, since Independence, for 30 years. The contenders empowered by the electorate seem to prefer to court recurrent disaster if not certain disaster, with an unsuitable political system; better that than to entertain the thought or even risk a national discussion on how to settle an issue determined for our peoples by the so-called founders of the colony which became the Republic of Guyana.
The pattern of events over recent years has forced Guyanese to be concerned only with two main issues, race and elections, elections and race. The burning issues such as the recognition of women, of workers, of the indigenous peoples, of citizens with disabilities, health problems like HIV-AIDS and suicide, domestic violence, the rape, incest and abuse of children, the devaluing of human life experienced in the daily murder of our children by traffic, a permanent treatment of the disease of poverty - these are some of the day-to-day issues which do not get the attention they deserve if we are ever to improve our quality of life. Instead of the political process being a major means of improving the quality of life, it has become the major agent for reducing the quality of life.
Thanks to political instability, the need for new investment, including domestic investment, is even more acute than when it was proclaimed during the election campaigns of 1997 and 2001. However, political instability is such an obstacle that capital flight is the order of the day. An important factor in the normalising of race relations is the need to make investment a national all-party responsibility.
In 1987, the WPA decided to regard itself as a party building up experience and expertise in the study of multi-ethnic societies. We want Guyanese to know that at least one party (GAP-WPA) continues to believe that the multi-ethnic political society is possible and has rich possibilities. WPA has never accepted and does not now accept, the self-defeating notion that the public affairs of Guyana cannot be organised on equal multi-racial lines. We believe it is more than possible. What is lacking are good intentions.
Not for the first time in its history the WPA will send out these messages:
** Seek justice. Let us stop doing injustice to others, especially through the use of force and violence. Let us practise justice in every home, in every school, in every place of worship, in every workplace, in every service ministry, in every commercial enterprise, in every organisation;
** Seek fairness. Let us be fair even to those we have a disagreement with, realising that freedom and prosperity are for all or no one will enjoy them;
** Citizens as a basic right must be able to go about their lawful business passing where they have to in peace and without weapons at all times. Our country can become prosperous when we begin to make it a place where everyone feels safe; when it becomes known as a place of peace and justice, where there is less and less violence and crime, less and less discrimination of any kind and less and less corruption, where benefits like contracts are fairly distributed and where public credit is not reserved for favourites and favourite groups; where the spirit of industry is alive because it is possible to operate cottage industries and be guaranteed the support of the government.
** Above all, the party of Walter Rodney, while insisting on peaceful politics, will try to convince working people and all ethnic groups, especially Amerindians, Indian Guyanese and African Guyanese who have the numbers, that they place themselves in a box when, in theory or practice, they exclude others in our small, multi-racial country from executive and administrative government, or from group opportunities for education, recovery, loans and credit, business and self-employment.
During the constitutional reform process, the WPA made important recommendations for a change of the political system. Some were accepted, notably those reducing the powers of the Executive President and those increasing the effectiveness of the National Assembly. The most fundamental recommendations, those aimed at the construction of a national government, were rejected very early by the two contending major parties. Yet after the final rejection of the June 1999 Appeal for a Transitional National Government, the WPA was able to convince the Special Select Committee and the Oversight Committee to adopt a measure, which even though watered down, can be used by any Guyanese group which feels threatened with marginalisation. However, it has to be applied along the lines of self-emancipation. This means the groups will have to organise themselves, define and document their grievances, develop their lines of argument, plan their way out of stagnation and then approach the authorities as a constitutional right after winning over public opinion. Here is that very Rodneyite measure to be written into the reform Constitution:
To make certain that Guyana is a democracy with a healthy economy, the State shall -
a) ensure that the economy develops in such a way that increasingly persons are facilitated in becoming engaged in activities to achieve sustainable livelihoods;
b) progressively remove all barriers that limit the realisation of the potential for self-sustaining activities in such fields as agriculture, processing, manufacturing, and artistic and information-based activities;
c) encourage and support the self-mobilisation of persons under the law;
d) provide such sustenance as may be considered appropriate to any group claiming to be under threat of marginalisation.