Where is African marginalization today? PERSPECTIVE
By Dr Prem Misir
Guyana Chronicle
March 15, 2004

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Democracy was restored to Guyana in 1992, bringing with it all the fundamental civil rights that were previously removed. In todayís Guyana, however, only Africans are presented as the marginalized people. This movement, however, toward full democratization should enable all Guyanese, regardless of ethnicity to progressively participate at all levels of decision-making. The Constitution and the Parliamentary committee system would overwhelm any constitutional apparatus in the CARICOM region, by virtue of their capacity for inclusiveness and good governance. The onus is on Parliament to consolidate this constitutional participatory structure.

Today, I want to address several commentatorsí claims of the social marginalization of Africans. Social marginalization of Africans means that Africans do not participate fully in the occupational and civil structures in Guyana. We have ample evidence to the contrary from Social Marginalization & Ethnicity, A Preliminary Study. Let us review some findings from this study and others.

Public Service under the PNC
A study in the 1980s on East Indians in the Caribbean showed that East Indian participation in the public sector suffered considerably during the PNC rule. In the late 1970s, participation of East Indians in the public service was far from spectacular. With 29 Ministers, seven were East Indians and 20 were Africans. There were 29 Permanent Secretaries, with 2 East Indians and 25 Africans. Heads of Personnel Departments were classified as five East Indians and 17 as Africans. Among the 139 Heads of Divisions within Ministries, there were 19 East Indians and 102 Africans. All nine heads of higher institutions of learning were Africans. Four out of five multilateral schools had African heads and no East Indian as a head. With 25 community high school heads, five were East Indians and 19 were Africans. Fourteen Africans and six East Indians were education officers.

Where is African marginalization in the Public Service today?
The Ministries have comparable numbers of East Indian and African Permanent Secretaries. But Africans control all other senior administrative and executive positions, such as, Deputy Permanent Secretaries, Principal Assistant Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, Accountant Heads, and Senior Personnel Officers. Further, about 90% of all GS1 through 5, comprising clerical and office support, other technical and craft skilled staff, and semi-skilled and unskilled operatives, have African ethnicity.

The Public Service with a 90% African workforce has enormously benefited from minimum wage increases in this Administration. In 1989, the public service minimum wage was $595 (US$59.50). At the end of 1990, this minimum wage was reduced to US$25.98. In 1992, it was $3,137 (US$25.08). Today, the public service minimum wage is in excess of $20,045 (US$105).

Where is African marginalization in Education?
Most Heads are Africans in all three types of school - nursery, elementary, and high. Only in elementary schools do East Indians show some competitiveness with Africans for Headships. In the Peopleís National Congress (PNC) Administration, it was not unusual to find about three-quarters of the Regional Education Officers (REDOs) were Africans. Today, the ethnic imbalance has been narrowed to the point where about 50% of REDOs are Africans, followed by East Indians with 40%.

East Indians predominate in the senior positions of School Heads and Deputy School Heads only in Regions 2 and 3. Africans predominate in these positions in Regions 4 through 10. The magnitude of Africans in these senior positions, therefore, is higher than that of East Indians.

The University of Guyana has about 40 East Indian Faculty members compared to approximately 140 African Faculty members in the Faculties of Agriculture, Arts, Education, Health, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and Technology. African participation also is prominent at senior academic and administrative levels.

Where is African marginalization in Health and Law?
Paradoxically, education once covertly denied to East Indians, subsequently, became the instrument of social mobility for them on a grand scale, especially in the medical and legal professions. But Africans have fared well, too, in these areas. For instance, today, Guyana has 295 medical practitioners, 148 (50.2%) are East Indians, 107 (36.2%) Africans, and 40 (13.6%) Others. Among the 50 Medex personnel, 21 (42%) are East Indians, 26 (56%) Africans, and 1 (2%) Others. Among the 9 Sick Nurses/Dispensers, 5 (55.6%) are East Indians and 4 (44.4%) Africans. With 8 Optometrists, 3 (37.5%) are East Indians, 3 (37.5%) Africans and 2 (25%) Others. Judgeships of East Indian and African ethnicity are shared equally between the two groups. Among Magistrates, 2 (27%) are East Indians, 8 (72%) Africans, and 1 (1%) Others.

Compare the current situation with 1926 when only 9% of the medical practitioners were East Indians and in the period 1906 through 1925 when a mere 21% of barristers and solicitors were East Indians.

Where is African marginalization on the State Boards in 2002?
Africans dominate the State Boards in Education. These are the National Library, Cyril Potter College of Education, Government Technical Institute, and Presidentís College. In a review of 27 other State Boards, Africans are in a majority on 13, East Indians in a majority on 12, and two have equal numbers from these two ethnic groups.

GBC, GTV, and Guyana Chronicle are the three State Media in Guyana. Africans and East Indians are equally represented on the GBC Board of Directors, constituting together almost the total Board membership. Africans make up about two-thirds of the GTV Board of Directors, and most of the Directors on the Guyana Chronicle Board are East Indians. Again, the data does not support the prevalence of African marginalization on State Media Boards. New configurations are currently underway for the merged GBC/GTV Board.

Where is African marginalization on National Awards?
Over the years 1993 through 2000, East Indians and Africans equally received the Medal of Service and the Golden Arrow of Achievement Awards. Africans received most of the Order of Roraima, Order of Excellence, Military Service Medal, and Discipline Service Medal Awards. In totality, Africans bagged more than half of all the National Awards since 1993. The distribution of National Awards has not demonstrated marginalization among Africans. If anything, East Indians may have been peripheralized in the National Awards' process.

Where is African marginalization on the poverty question?
Economically disadvantaged communities, including those of East Indians and Africans, are all beneficiaries of considerable funding for 2003. SIMAP III and BNTF V will disburse $5.7 billion over the next 5 years for projects as roads, health, education, drainage and irrigation, and environmental enhancement and waste management; there is the Poor Rural Community Support Project; the locally-funded poverty program of $200 million; the Linden Economic Advancement Project (LEAP) where $200 million are being used for a micro-credit scheme; there is an Amerindian Development Fund of $50 million; the Youth Choice Initiative ($35 million); a textbook program for both primary and secondary schools ($310 million); and a school feeding program ($100 million). These programs aim to economically and socially empower all affected communities.

Where is African marginalization in capital budgetary allocations?
Region 4, with a large African population, obtained $148 million budgetary allocation in 2002, and this Region 4 allocation does not include Georgetown with a substantial African population. The Regional Administration of Region 4, apportioned $85.7 million to mainly African neighborhoods, including Beterverwagting, Annís Grove, Bagotstown, Melanie Damishana, Paradise, Bladen Hall, Victoria, Golden Grove, Plaisance, Buxton, Vryheidís Lust, and Nabaclis.

Again, Region 10, with a huge African population, received a budgetary allocation of $219.7 million in 2002. This sum is intended to increase the provision of social services in Region 10. These budgetary allocations, indeed, do not demonstrate any social marginalization experienced by Africans. Clearly, people who are marginalized are not beneficiaries of sizable sums of budgetary allocations.

Social marginalization of Africans is not a characteristic feature in the Guyana public sector. Today, with a greater ethnic mix in the public service and comparable socioeconomic status between East Indians and Africans, the talk of African marginalization is totally absurd. To understand where we have reached today, we must keep in mind that both the East Indian and African working class was marginalized in the ruling PNC era. And yes, there is unemployment among young people, but it is cross-ethnic. Staying with the evidence will promote greater motivational efforts toward sustained nation building!