COMMENTARY By Dr. Dhanpaul Narine
The West Indian Magazine, July 27, 2019
Reprinted with permission of the author
Some may think that the idea is outrageous or even downright crazy. But we need to allay the fears of Guyanese, to ease the tension, and show that we can work, sing and pray together. We need a ‘One Guyana Peace Concert and a Day of Prayer’ and we need it before the elections. Both events should be non-political and aim to celebrate Guyana as a peaceful nation.
The daily vitriol on social media, from people that live thousands of miles away from Guyana, is bereft of peace or harmony. The online posts stir up hate and call on people to go to war. But Guyanese know better. They know that at the end of the day the races depend on each other for their survival. They know that we are interlocked by economics and history and we can’t do without each other. Elections bring out the worse in us but isn’t time that we put aside the hate and look at each other as Guyanese first?
Take a walk at the business places. You will see people buying and selling freely without regard to race or ethnicity. In fact, the races will tell you that without each other they can’t do business. Their livelihoods depend on one another. In Vergenoegen, where I was raised, many businesses were owned by Afro and Indo-Guyanese. We supported each other without the slightest regard to race.
When it came to cultural events we joined hands and celebrated. In fact, many Afro-Guyanese knew the rituals of the Hindu wedding ceremony better than Indians in the village. The people took pride in the achievements of the children and we looked out for each other. If only we can get back to the days of mutual cooperation and respect and treat each other as brothers and sisters rather than as enemies.
The politicians would like to see enmity between the races because they become relevant when the society is divided. A divided society preys on differences and hate. After years of dividing the nation, it is time to wake up and tell the politicians to put aside the hate. It is time to call out the politicians and urge them to act in the interests of the people. [Emphasis mine.]
Guyana is one of the most politically fatigued nations in the world. Its peoples have had to put up with the bloated ambitions of political tricksters that want to prolong their existence at the nation’s expense. You hear the usual rhetoric of how great the nation is doing but the dollar has shrunk and ordinary people cannot make ends meet. This is so across the country, in the sugar belt, and in the bauxite community as well.
As far as race is concerned, we have tried many things and they haven’t worked. There was a Ministry of Race Relations in the sixties. It did little to bring the races together. Today, we have a Ministry of Social Cohesion, but the races are further apart more than ever. The politicians will say that we have a united country but the people know better.
Guyana today is split down the middle racially. It is election time and the bogeyman of race has begun to play on the fears and insecurities of the people. It has happened countless times before and it is happening now. It is ‘them’ versus ‘us’ and there is no room for compromise or dialogue or power-sharing. Each wants the spoils and no quarter is given. The voter’s list can be as white as the driven snow but no party will be satisfied at coming second. The law of the land does not encourage dialogue.
In the circumstances, we are advocating two things to help ease the fears and tension and to help bring about some degree of tolerance and mutual respect. The first is a ‘One Guyana Peace Concert’ to be held at the National Stadium in Guyana. The second is a ‘National Day of Prayer’ to be held about a week after. One recalls that in 1978 Bob Marley in his ‘One Love’ Peace Concert was able to get leaders Michael Manley and Edward Seaga to hold hands for peace.
Guyana can count its blessings that it does not suffer from the level of political violence that other countries have experienced. But we need the leaders to act. We need President Granger and Mr. Jagdeo to publicly appear on stage and to call for peace, healing, and unity. On the night of Guyana’s independence in 1966, Mr. Burnham and Dr. Jagan embraced each other; party politics was put aside as the two leaders celebrated the start of nationhood. Today, their names are inextricably linked; Jagan and Burnham, imperfect as they were, have become larger than life figures in Guyana’s history.
How should the ‘One Guyana Peace Concert’ happen? What form should it take and who should be responsible? The most appropriate person to take the lead is international singer and artiste Eddy Grant. Last year, the University of Guyana conferred an honorary doctorate on Eddy for his services to music and culture. In his message, he warned of the dangers of racism in Guyana and urged the nation to work for unity.
Eddy’s committee should include David Anthony Martins from the Trade Winds; he too is an advocate for a peaceful society. David Martins was the Artist-in- Residence at the University of Guyana and he toured the country giving concerts and bringing peoples together. Like Eddy Grant and David Martins, Terry Gajraj has a big following in Guyana and is an ideal candidate for inclusion as is Dr. Vindhya Persaud from the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha with her years of cultural activism. This four-person team is free to use their contacts and influence and invite others to join.
One expects that the diaspora will do everything to help. Dr. Terrence Blackman from Medgar Evers College will host Eddy Grant in August 2019 and the concert will be discussed. Poet and pastor James Richmond is an enthusiastic supporter of peace and he too is on board. Pandit Chunelall Narine from the Trimurti Temple in Queens is an advocate of peace and many Imams want to see a united Guyana.
Once the idea of a Peace Concert in Guyana takes hold it can be moved to other parts of the country and local artistes should be encouraged to join. Peace Concerts are nothing new. They are held around the world all the time. In some cases, they raise funds for notable causes such as natural disasters affecting countries. They can also be held to bring awareness to certain political occurrences. When Nelson Mandela was in prison peace concerts took place in many countries to call for his release.
The impending election in Guyana cries out for peace. The country has tried everything else, including several visits to the courts and name-calling aplenty, and we are no nearer to unity. The Peace Concert and a National Day of Prayer will not solve the problems overnight but they could ease the tension and remind us that we have more in common than we have differences.
When black and brown, and the other colors, raise their voices for peace every valley will be exalted, and the crooked shall become straight.
Dr. Dhanpaul Narine, born in Guyana, is a teacher at the New York City Board of Education, New York, USA.