Who, what, where is civil society

Cassandra's Candid Corner
Stabroek News
April 1, 2001

This confounded nonsense has got to stop. But my saying so ent gun mek it happen. In the last CCC, I lamented about the disruption in society's daily routines, because of political shenanigans and impasses. Nothing has

changed during the previous week. If anything, things have gotten worse - if for no other reason than fear is injected into the proceedings, and beatings, muggings and lootings are being reported. While all of this is going

on, there is a deafening silence, even from those who, only a few weeks ago, were making all sorts of utterings in order to get your vote.

Civil Society, itself not totally without a self-serving agenda, is performing all sorts of magic acts: an intellectual not known for any moral turpitude sits down with an uneducated thug and demagogue; two lawyers, whose personal philosophies are poles apart have dialogue around a table to discuss strategies for dealing with the PPP & PNC; "Plain Talk" is interviewed by "Straight Up". What jiggery pokery is this? Does Civil Society want to be taken seriously? Is Civil Society revolutionary? Is it going to take to the hustings and talk to the Guyanese people face to face? In fact, does Civil Society itself have a face? Or is it a diffuse, amorphous body that comes and goes, waits and sees, acquires and loses members? Does Civil Society have a plan?

One of my erstwhile mentors, in chastising me for being a member of this undefined 'Civil Society,' said bluntly that members of this group do not call a spade a spade; in fact, its members make double-spaded presentations, and tend to condemn mainly one party - all of which was quite sickening. I was asked where and what Civil Society's comment was, relative to the monkey business that occurred between 6:00 pm and 9:30 pm on March 19, when polling stations in certain, very specific areas were not only kept open, but where observers from

political parties were physically barred from entry. Also, 'Civil Society' was chastised for not recognizing that the electoral imperfections damaged the PPP/C more than they did the PNC/R.

Well, not only does this respected person have the uncanny ability to disturb my equilibrium, but because she is so often right, it would be silly not to ruminate on what was posited. In addition to those thoughts, came the earful from one dreadlocked comrade who categorically and vehemently asserted on CH 9 that Civil Society and the small parties have no role to play in solving Guyana's problems, and that it was a straight fight between the PPP and the PNC.

Perhaps they are both right. Hey, do we have the basis for a political union here? But seriously, how can I fault the logic that says if 'Civil Society' does not have the guts (like GUARD) to go to the street corners, how can it want to be in a position to influence decisions. Furthermore, I am particularly suspicious of the Private Sector element in all this. Their motives might not be as virtuous as they might want us to believe. Look at the SN item (30.3.2001) entitled "Many businesses hit by declining revenues amidst political unrest." They want to stop the nonsense, because it is disturbing their pockets. That's OK, I have no problem with that. Others might have more noble reasons, but even then one cannot help but think that they too might be having greater aspirations relative to future positions in any 'sharing' arrangement.

Having said all that, I am convinced that there are individuals who possess the nobility of spirit, who are unencumbered by private ambitions, and who are genuinely concerned about solving the current imbroglio. Is there a role for such persons? They might have proven themselves to be good managers/technicians/scientists/performers with track records of unmitigated success. But can these individuals really be defined as Civil Society? The sociologists must have a definition for Civil Society which might include special interest groups (the farming community, trade unions, the legal and medical fraternity, etc.), but these members of the so called Civil Society that are emerging are not part of or even representative of any such groups, can their collective voices be heard? Or are their ideas to be peripheralised, destined to remain in the small rooms where they were shared in an atmosphere of intellectual incest?

In a letter captioned "The dark clouds of disunity," one contributor opined that the Amerindians of our country were now part of the nation's racial divide, as there is now a political party for the Amerindians. Which party is

that, pray tell? Surely not the GAP or the GAP/WPA alliance. The fundament of the GAP/WPA alliance was established to create a meaningful nexus between the Coast and the Hinterland. GAP's leader Mr Hardy, like so many of the Amerindian political leaders, does not even have the characteristic features of those Amerindian brothers. In fact I understand his father is a full-blooded Irishman. The Amerindians shared their votes on March 19 among several parties - as they have traditionally done. The writer of the letter should have a re-look at the figures that have emanated from the 'Amerindian Regions.'

Sometimes media headlines say one thing then the substantive text reveals the opposite. On other occasions, specific, objective, reader-friendly releases are compiled on technical matters and offered to the media for dissemination. The reporters/writers then feel compelled to cut-and-paste the offering. What emerges is garbled and without logic. That's on a good day. Often, too often, the piece which was subject to dismemberment appears with the wrong, even counterproductive, message. I know that journalists take pride in their profession, but my advice would be - especially for the junior practitioners and those who did not have the benefit of a good and functional education - to disassociate themselves from the arrogance that only they can write well and that good journalese demands the taking apart of a skilled technician's presentation.

In this vein, a news headline (SN 30.3.2001) made me smile the other day. "CARICOM vets call for temporary 'green line,' used tyres ban." Well, my first thought was that the vets were demanding a temporary "green line"

and also that they were requesting a ban on used tyres. That was at least one interpretation of the headline, and the continuance of the green line, temporary or otherwise, was exactly what they did not want. Would it have been so difficult, within the context of clarity and unambiguity, to write "CARICOM vets call for temporary ban on 'green line' and used tyres."

Ah well, if a "not" becomes a "now," thus changing diametrically the thrust of an argument, and if well known figures are given other names in photo captions, who am I to complain? Or as one editor told me: why make the effort (to say nothing of the cost associated therewith), when the vast majority will not pick up the mistake nor appreciate the nuance difference the error creates.