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Why no talk of Reparations during post-Independence years?

Why no talk of Reparations during post-Independence years?


Dear Editor,

Members and Supporters of the two main groupings in this country appear to have become quite comfortable with the descriptions: “Descendants of African Slaves”, and “Descendants of Indian Indenture Coolies”. My experience has indelibly been that in earlier times, these demeaning-sounding labels would have incurred wrath, if uttered publicly. Sign of maturity, perhaps?

When Great Britain sought to award Independence to its Colonies, during the 1960’s, THREE of its FOUR major Caribbean Possessions were relatively stable, and their Political Leadership mainly derived from the Descendants of African Slaves then living. Vastly different, unfortunately, was the Fourth Colony (British Guiana), where the indications were towards a political leadership drawn from Descendants of Indian Indenture Coolies. Independence handed to this Group would thus be a glaring inconsistency, and quite out of the question. While there were indeed Cold War issues in the then scenario, Great Britain was persuaded to find a solution, which entailed changing the electoral system from First-past-the-Post to Proportional Representation; this stratagem achieved the desired consistency.

Thus, in the 1960’s Decade, Political Independence from Great Britain to these Four Colonies passed into the hands of Political Leaders who were closely connected to, or were themselves Descendants of African Slaves. Manipulation of the electoral system to achieve this result was quite unnecessary in the THREE Cases, and it was inevitable that the political movement supported by Descendants of Indian Indenture Coolies in the FOURTH Case would feel betrayed, humiliated, and relegated to being virtual second-class citizens.

Citizens during these early years of Guyana Independence would witness the overwhelmingly disparate favours bestowed to the Descendants of African Slaves: an almost unfettered access to the National Treasury, appointments to top Government posts, membership and staffing of the Services, creation of Cooperatives (eg: Greenland Cooperative) effectively taking over Government Contracts, banning of “inappropriate” food imports etc. The much-heralded acquisition of the Commanding Heights of the Economy, through takeover of foreign businesses was expected to bring yet more opportunities for personal betterment of descendants of African Slaves.

Great Britain handed over its Colonies to the Descendants of African Slaves, probably believing that this grand gesture was the noble outcome after those evil centuries. The Independence euphoria was in itself most memorable, but I am unaware of any question of Reparation raised at this time (it would certainly have been a discordant item).

A thought-provoking question: Was it implicit in the minds of both Granter and Recipient that the empowering with Independence of these specific beneficiaries was meant as the final honourable solution to African Slavery.

It must come as a surprise that fifty-odd years later after Independence, the CURRENT descendants of the African Slaves would, with some sense of dissatisfaction, be seeking Reparations, as atonement for the cruelties of that bygone era, when that history was in fact well-documented and known at the time of Independence. Those EARLIER Descendants of African Slaves had seemingly accepted what was offered. That the “Golden Era” has seemingly still not arrived, in Guyana, for ALL Descendants of African Slaves, it must seem that those descendants who had been entrusted with stewardship of the Country on Independence, and entitled to govern without interference from the Colonial Master, must be obliged to provide some explanation why this has not happened, even after 28 years.

In our specific context, if the APNU is to regain any place as a future alternative Government, it is important, in a comprehensive internal review for that Party to seriously soul-search itself on the practices, and examine the mis-steps which have badly let down the majority of its adherents, during what was essentially its total command.

It would, of course be an ideal scenario where the many bright thinkers of the CURRENT descendants of the African Slaves (and there are clearly many) could be able to directly address those leading lights of that EARLIER period, that is, of course, if they are still amongst us. But, hopefully there may be one or two still around, prepared to share what they have learned from their mistakes, despite so much which was in their favour. Some valuable lessons could be learnt.

Yours faithfully,

Josh Ragnauth