Nation building
Stabroek News
June 3, 2003

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We must not be deluded by the examples we see in Europe and America of settled `nation states’ that enjoy considerable political and social stability. What we see there are end products that took a long time to achieve. And even there, of course, change continues. England is increasingly coming to terms with itself as a multi-ethnic nation (this is more and more reflected in parliament, in local councils and on television screens) and there has been devolution of power and responsibility to Wales and Scotland. Czechoslovakia split into two states and Yugoslavia unravelled. The concept of the nation itself (as distinct from the legal state with settled boundaries) is ambulatory, it can change in the light of immigration, altered demographics and other factors.

At the best of times, and certainly in our state of divided ethnic affiliation, nation building is a process that requires on the part of those who undertake it a high level of political consciousness and an understanding of the objective one is seeking to achieve. What is that objective? Essentially, it is to create a vision, an ‘imagined community’ to which those who live here can relate with comfort and a sense of pride.

This process requires political sophistication and commitment. In South Africa when negotiations were underway between the National Party and the African National Congress for a basis on which universal adult suffrage could be introduced (this eventually included a temporary power sharing mechanism) there were groups in both camps, and outside them, who were strongly opposed to what was being attempted and did their best to subvert this process by repeated acts of violence, killing people on trains and elsewhere. Mandela and De Klerk had the courage and the wisdom to press on regardless and their efforts were duly rewarded. South Africa, which seemed destined for civil war, reached a productive settlement that led to democracy and an open society.

The Joint Communique signed by President Bharrat Jagdeo and Leader of the Opposition Robert Corbin is strong evidence that these two men are looking for real solutions. It represents, in principle, major progress. Delays in implementation of the many things agreed to may occur because of the insufficiency of skilled human resources. There will also be allegations by elements on both sides that these leaders have ‘sold out’, or made unacceptable compromises. But once these two men are committed to the process, and understand that setbacks and criticism are inevitable, they can make progress.

The nation will watch with interest to see if Messrs Jagdeo and Corbin have the tenacity to overcome obstacles and stay with the process. Mr Jagdeo is a young leader who has shown a capacity for bold initiatives. Mr Corbin has made it increasingly clear that he is looking for a new path and that he has the courage to experiment. They must keep their eyes firmly on the main chance and not allow themselves to be pushed off course by naysayers and critics. Neither side can or will get everything it wants. And the dialogue is potentially open-ended. Much has already been agreed to and remains to be implemented, but this may lead to further developments towards more inclusive governance in due course.

This newspaper is fully committed to the process of dialogue that now exists and to the many new institutions being set up that can strengthen our young democracy. At the same time, one must not have impossible dreams but a sober understanding of the difficulties that lie ahead. Our country has been in a state of upheaval for more years than any of us care to remember. Energy, understanding, commitment and patience will be required to turn it all around, but it is by no means impossible. Indeed, compared with the problems of mass poverty and tribal wars faced by other developing countries our problems are far from insurmountable.

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