At last! An ABC!! Frankly Speaking
By A.A. Fenty
Stabroek News
December 8, 2006

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Name five sawmills owned by Guyanese of African descent. Identify five Afro-Guyanese who import automobiles. Tell me of ten Black Guyanese who are big rice-millers or significant peasant cane-farmers. Write down the names of five firms which import cement, car tyres or potatoes and are owned by African Guyanese or named modern pharmacies, medical laboratories, printeries or advertising agencies owned by Afros.

These are my frequent favourite challenges and questions I ask of my political Afro-pals. Especially after some protest, riot, demonstration or demand. And especially those organized by political parties or pressure groups. I was fond of asking the African Cultural Develop-ment Association (ACDA) those questions too. It was never taunting but my way of provoking Afro-Guyanese and their alleged representatives to consider their "status" in the economic scheme of things in the country.

I have friends and one old newspaper who explain the historical influences and social nature resulting in the "African" indifference to owning, manufacturing and economic management. The newspaper published by Gerald Willabus and Leon Walcott, I believe, outlined "reasons" for Africans' "inability" to own real significant property or economic bases in Guyana. I would be impressed by only a few of the reasons, as I had felt then that all the history and lessons of Africa and ensuing slavery could not explain why a people could not organize themselves to unlearn negatives and become an economic force instead of mere buyers and consumers. Even if it entailed organized, forceful, confrontational demands of some government.

Once again, you'll be asking or wondering where I am heading with all this. Well I'll hint that these thoughts are being penned a few thousand miles away from Georgetown. So, through the readily-available communication technology, I welcomed two significant bits of news from this past Sunday Stabroek: The Brazilians' interest in setting up an ethanol/bio-diesel plant in Berbice and Eric Phillips heading up an imminent African Business Council (ABC).

Call me "a Black-Minded East Indian" if I am not really Douglah or Mixed, or if you need not have to say Guyanese. But believe me, I have always contended about the Afro-Guyanese absence from the sustained economic activity of ownership of businesses, banking, and such like. Again, the small Black-owned newspaper "explained" the reasons for that reality. Sometimes, unconvincingly, before the paper itself flopped out of a too short-lived existence.

Enter the ABC

I had cause recently to, cautiously, wonder about a few of Mr. Eric Phillips' conclusions. For example, I still feel he has had some peculiar views on the PPP/C's election victory. That is his democratic right to be peculiar. However, I do share his views regarding the exclusion of the Afro-Guyanese from the economic mainstream of certain projects, substantial loans, for example, and from real opportunity to access "official" funding for job creation and self-employment.

Recall that, I, on my week-end television programme, The Guyana Cook-Up Show, constantly enquired about which companies would be getting the Cricket Stadium-related contracts. And how? No one bothered to respond. No "African" group bothered to press for details - or to organize bids.

I recall too, on another of my earlier television shows "Candid Conversation", Empowerment Secretary Odinga Lumumba explaining away why certain non-African Guyanese companies constantly gained the Tender Board nods for huge construction contracts. Afro-Guyanese contractors were/are not "empowered" enough with funds and appropriate equipment or experience to get Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)-funded projects, for example. Frankly Speaking, I asked, how could the smaller Afro-Guyanese outfits ever get the experience to be big time road builders or construction owners, if they never get government contracts.

So, I welcome Mr. Phillips African Business Council. No doubt his intended ABC will attract a "storm" of comments and critics, as his African Renaissance/Shared Govern-ance issues are now engendering. What will be the role of non-Africans in the ABC/NGO? Will there be any at all? Is that inevitable in a small society? I have considered all the noble objectives and intentions of the ABC. And as I sincerely wish it sustained success, I advise the Council of Economic Advisers to study the relative failure of an ACDA Scheme with which the brilliant Dr. Kenneth King was associated. Along with Dr. Clive Thomas, I think. And oh, study the Globe Trust Bank debacle too.

Look for what to avoid when advising "your" people to succeed instead of being marginalized, as claimed. Incidentally, I know it won't be the business of Mr. Phillips ABC, but always remember though "social conscience": There are more poor Indo-Guyanese than Afros. Ask Dr. Thomas.



1) On the eternal debate on "God versus science" from the TIME magazine: "Most Americans occupy the middle ground. We want it all. We want to cheer on Science's strides and still humble ourselves on the Sabbath. We want access to both MRI'S and miracles. We want debates about issues like stem cells without conceding that the positions are so intrinsically inimical as to make discussion fruitless.

And to balance formidable standard-bearers like Dawkins, we seek those who possess religious conviction but also scientific achievements to credibly argue the widespread hope that Science and God are in harmony - that, indeed, Science is of God!"

Are the two compatible. Argue on.

2) Mobile Products to afford shut-ins and the physically-challenged mobility and Mobile Homes. We need more of those here in Guyana

3) What?! Venezuela influences Brazil not to expedite the construction of the Takutu Bridge. I'm reluctant to believe what I was told in Boa Vista recently.

4) There is dignity in any type of labour, I'm told but as I observe fellows who had a lifetime of education and training in certain fields in Guyana, turning to rather menial jobs to survive elsewhere, I wonder…

5) Could not Clifford Reis, Hamley Case, Dr. George Norton, Khemraj Ramjattan and Anthony Vieira be members of Mr. Phillips African Business Council?

6 "Violence in the name of God," is how the Vatican recently described the actions of certain Islamic sects.

'Til Next Week