By The Piper
The PPP/C governed Guyana for a little over two decades and although it achieved much in economic development it failed to do the same with social and cultural conflicts. The failure was not because of shortage of efforts, but because of a flawed approach. The basic strategy goes all the way back to the 1950s and has been employed in every PPP administration since. Dr. Cheddi Jagan was the intellectual author. The approach may be easily summarized in what immediately follows.
The foundation of any society is built on its economy, and accordingly, all conflicts can be traced back to economic underdevelopment. Racial and cultural conflicts are not real in and of themselves. Rather, they are forms of false consciousness, irrationality, and ideological distortion. Not surprisingly, the cure is to attack economic underdevelopment on all fronts, with an emphasis on infrastructural development and short-term basic needs relief for the very poor.
A larger economy would mean more jobs, higher incomes, and greater wealth for the business class. Inequality, though not desirable, is the social price to be paid for expanding the economy. The basic thinking is that a strong economy would lessen all kinds of discontent, including racial animosities.
We know that the strategy has failed, and that the failure is not due to lack of economic growth. If economic growth has not solved the problem then new ways of thinking must be developed and different strategies must pressed into action. The time has come to look at the social and cultural foundations of our most enduring problem, racial conflict.
We know from social psychology and cultural studies that our external actions are based on beliefs that are deep in human consciousness. Practically all of the animosities are learned over long periods of time, starting with the family, and running though religion, the formal education system, and various social institutions. The feelings of enmity are socially constructed, not natural. Prejudice cannot be wiped clean but a broad-based approach, at multiple levels, can yield positive results. The following ideas deserve consideration.
The Ministry of Education should reconstruct the curricula at all levels, from Pre-K to University studies, and include cross-cultural communication. The stress should not only be on academic studies (lectures and readings) but on interactive pedagogical techniques. There should be structured and articulated programs of study, rather than ad hoc lessons built on short term objectives.
All managers and supervisors in government employment should be required to go through human resource led programs. Consideration for promotion should not only be based on technical competence, but also demonstrated accomplishments in cross-cultural leadership.
The Private Sector Commission, should partner with both the government agencies and NGOs to provide ongoing education and training. The PSC should also publicly recognize firms and workers (both management and staff) who have made notable contributions to cultural understanding.
The police need special training and the GOG should mobilize resources from both within and outside Guyana. Police officers should be evaluated on a consistent basis, with the emphasis on providing feedback, though not completely abandoning metrics for reward and discipline. The media should be closely monitored with much stricter enforcement of the regulations.
Finally, all community centers, libraries, and other public spaces may be used to show movies and other forms of entertainment that are ‘high’ on inter-cultural content. The current APNU/AFC coalition has a number of ministries that appear to be concerned with these kinds of issues and this is a hopeful sign. Less time, however, should be spent on hunting for guilt and more on developing innovative programs of education and training. What would you recommend in terms of content and the ways of delivering the message?