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Certainly, we live on a piece of land with internationally recognized borders, though both our borders to the West & the East are disputed, and certainly, because we are born here or we are born of parents who were born here, we are recognized as citizens of a country called Guyana. And, if we want to travel anywhere else in the world, we are entitled to be given a Guyanese Passport. But does any or all this make us Guyanese?
When we became an independent Nation and acquired all the trappings of nationhood, we prescribed for ourselves a national motto: “One People, One Nation, One Destiny”, and therein lies our problem.
Because the concept of nationhood really has nothing much to do with all of the institutional requirements which I have been listing truly making us a nation and have very little, if anything, to do with our believing, our accepting, our living the idea that we are one people, one nation with a common destiny.
We are a country created by conquest and colonialism. We are peoples essentially brought here against our wills to populate a strange land, and, in the case of our indigenous people, invaded and conquered, to serve a colonial master and to fulfill another nation’s economic purpose.
We are anything but a homogeneous people. We are ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse. None of this contributes to making us one people or causing us to be one nation, yet, so long as we continue to live and breed here, we most certainly have a common destiny.
So what is it then that will make us a nation, what is it that will cause us to become, as our national motto so aptly advances, One People, One Nation and what is it that prevents us?
Stabroek News on Tuesday wrote an editorial about becoming a nation. It pointed out that the political and social stability that nationhood brings with it which is enjoyed in Europe and even in the younger countries of North America, took a long time to achieve and is far from being at hand in Guyana. As Stabroek News went on to point out, being a nation is “a vision” a sort of state of mind about whom we are as a people.
I looked up a thesis on nationalism in the encyclopedia. Let me paraphrase what it said: nationalism is a condition of mind, a characteristic of certain peoples living together in a close association on a given territory and sharing a belief in a distinctive existence and a common destiny.
It went on to describe those characteristics which make up the people of a real nation: “a deep sense of belonging, a keen feeling of loyalty... a desire to contribute to its welfare”, and, all of this adding up to “the liberty, prestige, prosperity and power of a nation”.
The thesis on nationalism in the encyclopedia went on to give this enormously important insight into what truly makes a nation. “The core of nationalism”, it pointed out, “is a type with similar feeling of attachment to tribe, clan, cast... but eventually the sights are raised and the focus is the larger group entity, the nation or the state”.
In Guyana, we are yet to raise our sights beyond that tribalism. Worse, the tribalist amongst us with loud and articulate voices would prefer to make us blind to that reality.
We will never build a nation, we will never honour our destiny nor will we live to fulfill it in any sensible, rational and productive way until we raise our sights and understand and accept that we are not first Indian, African, Chinese, Portuguese, Amerindian or anything else before we are Guyanese.
We open our newspapers, turn on our television sets and our radios, and everyday now we hear race hate, division and conflict being peddled in the name of culture, ethnic survival and even religion. It comes to us under the ugly guise of intellectual loyalty to one’s racial heritage.
We have the Guyana Indian Heritage Association commissioning and promoting a report that is statistically highly flawed with the express intention of persuading Guyanese of Indian decent to believe that they are the victims of a deliberate plan of Guyanese of African decent to kill them.
We have the African Cultural Development Association publishing a full page ad arguing that “the African Guyanese collective”, whatever that is, are being killed daily and are the target of “death and destruction... only comparable to what we experienced during slavery on the plantation”.
The hyperbole, the gross exaggeration, the aggressive racist intention of organizations like these can only achieve but one objective, the utter division and eventual destruction of our country.
We are beset with crime, we are confronted with entrenched poverty, we have no one but ourselves as a people to rely on to deal with this and overcome it. Without a sense of national identity, without a genuine belief in ourselves and our destiny as Guyanese first and all else afterwards, we will fail to overcome, we will fail to become one people, we will fail to be a nation and, instead, serve out our destiny in everlasting division and backwardness.
Is that what we want? The choice is for all of us to make.