We must start looking for the best in us
Stabroek News
January 25, 2002

Dear Editor,

The year 2002 is now upon us and as is customary each new year brings with it many resolutions, much retrospection and great expectations.. In essence, the human spirit reigns supreme and is undaunted by past failures or successes in its quest for freedom and a better life..

I recently visited Guyana for four days after a four month absence from the country. Much of this absence was due to the events of September 11 or 911 (help) as it is commonly known and the desire by my spirit to disengage from Guyanese politics, having spent almost five months in Guyana during the last election season.

For many Guyanese living overseas and especially for me, Guyana conjures up images of the fabled Eldorado a dream deferred. We are like global schizoprenic nomads exiles many of us proud to be Guyanese, many of us ashamed others simply indifferent. We are indeed a people separated by race but more deeply by culture,

reinforced and abetted by religious practices. We are a people in search of One People One Nation One Destiny. Yes, this dear land of Guyana made rich by the sunshine and lush by the rains. Our Eldorado.

Being away from Guyana afforded me the opportunity for R & R (retrospection and reflection). I have come to the conclusion that

we, as Guyanese, have stopped looking for the best in us. Rather, we are filled with mistrust, racial hatred, feelings of superiority and inferiority. We seem to expect the beast in us thus, today we accept corruption, unfairness, extra judicial killings, brutality, poverty, racism, party paramouncy and criminality as a way of life. We accept mediocrity. We accept the past as if it is our future.

This is 2002. We must start looking for the best in us. As individuals, as families, as civil society, as political parties, as a nation. If we feel defeated then we are.

I wish all Guyanese, whether we live inside or outside of Guyana, will revisit our individual and collective value systems before the hope of 2002 wanes away. I hope we are guided by two thoughts, namely 1) We receive what we give 2) Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle.

You receive what you give

There are certain immutable laws of life ("natural laws") that we in Guyana cannot escape from..

The first of these laws states that the human spirit cannot be suppressed indefinitely. No race or tribe can subgugate another for an extended period of time. Be it Apartheid South Africa, Fiji, Rwanda, Palestine etc. Suicide bombings, civil war, coups,and terrible acts of violence will always result.

Guyana has to be careful of not falling towards this slippery slope of self destruction.

I still vividly remember young Afro Guyanese women at Congress Place weeping and wailing when they were told the party they supported had lost the elections. Their pain manifested itself in the words not another five years. This degree of frustration and sometimes hate can only be abated by visionary leadership, common humanity, fairness, compromise, mutual respect and common sense. Development can never occur without the utilisation of all available human resources and without a deliberate and mature approach to racial harmony within Guyana. Any other belief is a fool's paradise. Do unto others as you would have them do to you.

The second of life's immutable laws simply states "to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction". This is truly a fundamental law and I am certain we have each experienced this law.

Violence begets violence one man's violence may be another man's indifference. An eye for an eye. Trust engenders trust. Respect engenders respect. You cannot lead if you have never led or been led. Democratic parties engender democratic societies. At a more fundamental level in Guyana if you keep doing the same thing , you will get the same result, over and over again .

Extra judicial killings are a case in point. These acts of terrorism and acts of war, unless treated as such, will accelerate our irreversible path towards the slippery slope of lawlessness and self destruction. Do we have to wait until a diplomat or tourist or foreign businessman is brutally murdered by these terrorists before we collectively act as a civilised nation. Do we have to wait for a politician or pastor to be killed before we act. This is not about race. This is about an attack on our dignity, our humanity, our civil rights and our democracy. Are we so inhuman that we let political advantage or cowardice demean our spirit. Have we gotten so callous that we see everything in racial terms. These are terrorists who live above the law. Where in God's name can you tell me of any society in the Caribbean or the world where over 140 citizens have died under hail of police bullets over the past nine years.

Are we so leaderless and cowardly at all levels of society...social, political, judicial, civil and business... that we allow a group of people to live and act above the law.

Is this the democracy we want... to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.

Where is the moral leadership in our society? Where is our Eldorado? Is this the karma we want for our "dear land of Guyana". Leadership is the critical difference.

Light some candles

Confucius once said "instead of cursing the darkness, light some candles". We in Guyana and we as a people need to light some candles.

The practical reality for Guyana today and the next four years is that the current government will be in power until 2006 unless racial tensions and undemocratic forces such as those exemplified by extra judicial killings destabilize our fragile political environment. If by 2006 the country has been governed for only some of the people, the current government will either be faced with either a combined opposition party, a reformed and reconstituted PNC or with a third well organised and well financed party which will make it difficult for a clear majority winner.

The question then begs, what do we as Guyanese do until that time?

Do we stand still and allow unfair governance? Do we have courage and demand through peaceful means, that the institutional and operational dimensions of our democracy be implemented? Do we compromise and put nation building in front of narrow and ultimately destructive racial and party paramouncy? Do we

vote /govern racially because "that is how the world is " Or do we create an environment and atmosphere conducive to increased political ,racial, social and economic crisis ahead of the next election?

My firm belief is that we take the last approach. Guyana cannot develop with half its population unhappy with the state of affairs or effectively excluded from the economy.

The international community, civil society , the business community and the political parties must take this approach. It however calls for guts and the realisation that our youth are at stake: their psyches, their futures, their hopes , their Eldodo. Even if we have screwed it up for ourselves, we intelligent adults..... give them a chance. No one can respect others if they do not respect themselves... no one can respect themselves when their daily focus is on survival.

We as adults need to light some candles for our youth...our children. There is no excuse for us not to. I watched the beautiful Olive Gopaul represent us at the last

Miss World in South Africa. We offered her little help. We have Shakira Baksh in our diaspora. Why was she not involved in grooming and assisting Miss Gopaul? Where are our successful cricketers? Where are our successful businessmen and women..why can't they mentor a young Guyanese during summer? In Washington each summer there are hordes of young Americans getting great exposure and experiences.

Seventy percent of our population is under the age of 35. This makes youth our most precious resource Ódo you know what will happen when there is open competition because of the Free Trade of the Americas.

Ideas are not confined to any given race in Guyana. What we need is a 'crucible of ideas". If those who control the ability to implement ideas cannot deliver ....then let the Guyanese public decide in the future. Ideas beget ideas. Racial governance begets racial governance. Terrorism begets terrorism. Fairness begets fairness.

The future is today .....where is our Eldorado?

Yours faithfully,

Eric Phillips