IYPAD in Guyana

Posted on March 4, 2011 by


Kaieteur News, Guyana

January 9, 2011 | By KNews | Filed Under Editorial

In the Friday edition of this newspaper, we carried a report on the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC)’s reaction to the UN’s declaration that this year, 2011, was declared “International Year for People of African Descent”.
While “saluting” the UN, the ERC “urge(d) the Government to pay special attention to the spirit and letter of the year as stated in the United Nations declaration.” But simultaneously the body noted that “it would be useful at this time for the policymakers and the members of the National Assembly to review the Report on the perceived needs of the African community in Guyana submitted to the Parliament by the ERC in 2008.”

The fact of the matter is that the UN declaration, as noted by the ERC itself, speaks to “strengthening national actions…for the benefit of people of African descent in relation to their full enjoyment of economic, cultural, social, civil and political rights.” We understand this to mean much more than reviewing the “perceived needs of the African community in Guyana.” It means, as suggested in the theme of the conference proposed by the UN’s Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent: “People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice, and Development”.
It would appear that the ERC needs to be reminded that anti-African racism is not just a “perception”. In the words uttered by UN Secretary General Ban Moon at the event at UN Headquarters in New York to launch the Year: “The international community cannot accept that whole communities are marginalised because of the colour of their skin. People of African descent are among those most affected by racism. Too often, they face denial of basic rights such as access to quality health services and education. Such fundamental wrongs have a long and terrible history.
“The international community has affirmed that the transatlantic slave trade was an appalling tragedy not only because of its barbarism but also because of its magnitude, organised nature and negation of the essential humanity of the victims. Even today, Africans and people of African descent continue to suffer the consequences of these acts.”
What is needed as suggested by one scholar is “to bring up the issue of justice for current and past acts of discrimination that have led to the situation today. We need to talk about the past and present race hierarchy that exists is societies and to encourage countries to become involved in development through positive action that will ensure equality for people of African descent.
There is a need for this ‘Year’ in order to: (1) Achieve a concentration of events that will serve as “eye openers” in the discussions regarding discrimination and racism; (2) To show that discrimination against people of African descent is not a remnant of the past, but is something that is happening today and that feeds on itself and grows of its own accord;  (3) to Dispel the myth that discrimination against people of African descent ended when classical slavery disappeared from the world and recognise that institutions are products of history and often reflect traditional power relations;  (4) to not only recognise the consequences of continual discrimination, but also to identify the tools to combat it.
2011 is the year in which we need to collect and compare data, share knowledge and put controversial topics on the agenda. This Year should be used to propose far more intensive measures for eliminating, or at least seriously reducing, structural discrimination. It means having the courage to discuss some banned topics, such as measures based on a policy of redistribution of resources according to a compensatory formula, sometimes viewed as reparations for past discrimination, or to contemplate the possibility for large-scale social therapy and healing projects.”
We certainly do not also just need, as the government suggested last April, that the Ministry of Culture organises “a national programme of events and activities aimed at recognising and paying fitting tribute to the rich legacy of people of African descent globally and their special contribution to Guyana’s formation and development as a nation.”