kaieteur news Dec 05, 2016
“I am wary of a consultant driven process which is where I sense the Ministry is headed. There is a place for consultants but they should not drive the process. The process of national cohesion cannot and should not be at the mercy of models which often have little to do with the lived realities of human beings in their communities.”
By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell
Guyana has not recorded many racial driven crimes, but this does not negate the fact that there is an unhealthy level of racism that still exists. It often manifests itself around General and Regional Elections. The APNU+AFC government, with knowledge of this fact, set up a Ministry of Social Cohesion that falls under the Ministry of the Presidency. In this year’s Budget the Ministry has been given another $90M to further its “consultation and sensitization drive.”
In delivering his speech, Minister of Finance Winston Jordan spoke of the commencement of a Strategic Plan for 2017-2021 and the 29 social cohesion sensitization and strategic plan consultations that have been held.
But there are social activists and political analysts who feel that the Ministry is yet to realize progress and prove its worth to Guyana. Dr. David Hinds is one such activist.
During an interview with Kaieteur News, Dr. Hinds said that he is “wary of a consultant driven” process, “ which is where I sense the Ministry is headed. There is a place for consultants, but they should not drive the process. The process of national cohesion cannot and should not be at the mercy of models which often have little to do with the lived realities of human beings in their communities.”
He said that it is perhaps too early to tell whether the many forums have had any direct or indirect effect on the targeted groups.
However, Dr. Hinds believes that the work of the Ministry is not being taken seriously by many individuals and groups whose participation and cooperation are pivotal to any process of healing and reconciliation. He said that the People’s Progressive Party Opposition, for example, has not been too enthusiastic about the Ministry and is adamant that there will be “no meaningful cohesion without the blessings of that party.”
Further, Dr. Hinds said that the Ministry has not adequately articulated to the nation its understanding of the concept of social cohesion.
“You have the mass media, the education system, the arts, popular culture. Social Cohesion, from my perspective, is about education, conversation, communication and articulation of a national ethos, in which all our diverse groups and communities feel respected and included.”
The activist pointed out that one lead trainer at the recent training session downplayed the centrality of politics in the grand scheme of things. Dr. Hinds thinks that this is an ill-informed approach that cannot reap much benefit.
Dr. Hinds said that if Social Cohesion means breaking down the artificial walls of separation among groups and communities in the society, then such an effort must identify those walls and begin by tackling their origins. He said that the Ministry should determine the most effective tools and approaches to do that delicate repair work. “These must be a distinction between artificial walls of separation and cultural boundaries—the latter are a function of diversity and not necessarily destructive.”
“The work is multifaceted, but one cannot do any serious social cohesion work outside of the ethno-political divide. That’s the area where our polarization is most glaring. If you start there, then you can open a conversation that could lead to other possibilities. But to ignore it as a critical area of discourse and engagement, as the Ministry seems to be doing, is to commit an error only slightly less grave than doing nothing at all.”
Dr. Hinds said that the role of the Ministry of Social Cohesion should be to facilitate, to put mechanisms in place that are national in their conception and outlook. “I see the Ministry of Social Cohesion as a Bridge Ministry, a bridge between and among other relevant Ministries such as Education, Youth, Culture, Amerindian Affairs, Information and Social Protection and agencies such as the Ethnic Relations Commission and Youth Empowerment.
Dr. Hinds said that the Ministry needs to facilitate national conversations among the various national ethnic organizations representing our various ethnic communities.
He said that it also needs to serve as a bridge between our communities which exist side by side often in ignorance and fear of each other and a bridge within the individual communities. In all our ethnic communities, there are religious, social-class, political-tribal and gender conflicts that cry out for resolution.
“So, all this work should be done simultaneously. But the desire must flow from a larger vision of the Ministry and the government. If I were advising the Ministry, I would advise a national listening tour, whereby the Ministry and other leaders go from community to community and find out from people what they understand the work of the Ministry to be, what are their issues, insecurities and fears and how they think these can be corrected. It is not too late to do that…But the consultation driven mode will not work.”