A common vision for the future
July 5, 1998
This country does not have a good historical record of dialogue and compromise. As far back as 1763, the Creoles and the various African nations in Berbice, having combined to drive the Dutch virtually off the estates, managed to undermine their own successes with internecine strife. In the end, the leader Coffy committed suicide after a quarrel with Atta, one of his lieutenants, following which two African groups fought each other in battle on Essendam, thereby wasting scarce ammunition on one another instead of on the Dutch. The only account we have of the confrontation between Coffy and Atta indicates a disagreement over tactics. Behind that, however, was a more fundamental problem, and that was the lack of a common vision for the future among the various Berbice factions.
It is a failing which has haunted the leaders of this nation ever since. They can unite for the attainment of a limited goal, as the anti-colonialist forces on both sides of the ethnic divide did in the early 1950s, but agreeing on the details of a long-term framework for the future has proved more elusive.
The St Lucia Protocol has now reinforced the common vision for the future which was set out in the Herdmanston Accord, and that vision is for an inclusive constitution. In their second act of statesmanship for the year both President Jagan and Mr Hoyte committed themselves again to achieving it. What is now required is for them to internalize it, and persuade their members that that is the only option; we have reached a point where there simply are no other alternatives.
If the common vision is accepted, then certain things automatically flow from that. One is the need for genuine dialogue and another is the necessity for compromise. No constitution worth its salt was ever framed without ample prior discussion, and none with any durability was ever created without plenty give and take between adversaries. We are well beyond the stage of going through the motions of dialogue for the sake of appearances; this time the parties have to produce results. No one denies that the devil is in the details, and that finding a constitutional formula on which all can agree is not likely to be hassle free. However, if there is a commitment to the future, as there was in Ulster which had a far more intractable problem than Guyana has, then it can be done.
In addition, there needs to be dialogue at all levels - between the leaders of the parties right down to their youth arms. The two sides in a larger sense have to get to know one another, and have to get a grasp of their differing perceptions. The formal exchanges, of course, will be oiled by the presence of a facilitator, but for the sake of the general political climate, ideally efforts should be made on both sides to find fora where the second generation of would-be politicians could meet and exchange views.
From 1763 to the present we have never been very good at sustaining a cohesive vision for the future. It is about time that history changed direction.