guyana times 

Almost 18 decades after Emancipation, the general condition of African Guyanese is not as encouraging as one would want it to be. And with the economic and

Dr David Hinds

social evolution happening globally, Guyanese of African descent are a far way off.

Cultural and African rights activist, Dr David Hinds weighing in on the issue on Monday said there has been a significant decline in the general standard of living in the African communities across Guyana, which has led to a general sense of alienation and frustration.

According to him, a lot of the problems in these communities have to do with the challenges that the African-Guyanese economy has had to face historically.

“We must start with the challenges within the context of the colonial economy, which saw the African village economy as a direct affront to the interests of colonialism.

Second, we must look at it within the context of the ethnic competition — from decolonisation to the present– whereby the ethnic demarcation of the Guyanese economy, itself a legacy of colonialism, has made economic progress in the separate ethnic communities a victim of the larger ethnic politics,” he told Guyana Times.

Hinds said although the decline in African-Guyanese communities was not just economic, their economic condition has a lot to do with it. Zooming in on the last set of data published some two decades ago revealed that 43 per cent of African Guyanese were living below the poverty line, while their unemployment rate stood at 13.6 per cent – two per cent above the national rate of 11.7 per cent.

“There is every reason to believe that those numbers have not changed – in fact, things are more likely to have become worse,” the African rights activist said.

Another area of concern, he said, is the fact that African Guyanese are not well represented in the business sector. He explained that most African Guyanese are employed in the Public Sector, which has seen the highest reduction of jobs over the last two decades and which because of structural adjustment pays less than other sectors, both public and private.

“More than any other group, African Guyanese work for others. The African Guyanese community has one of the highest rates of functional illiteracy and homelessness.

They own less transported land than other races and live in the most run-down houses in both the urban and rural areas,” he remarked.

Hinds said it was the combination of all these things that was at the heart of the “crisis” in the African-Guyanese community. In addition, he posited the evolution of a culture of accommodation where “political bribery” has led to a weakening of group solidarity, pride, and dignity. Finally, he said heavy migration has had a negative effect on the community.

One of the devastating consequences, he said, has been the loss of role models who live day to day in the communities. He said one could not discount the impact of some negative group habits, but these should be seen within the larger dynamics of post-plantation evolution among the formerly enslaved.

“It is clear to me then that the emancipation of African-Guyanese has become a very urgent necessity for that group and for Guyana at large. There is definitely need for some form of Affirmative Action to correct the structural changes facing African-Guyanese, particularly in the business sector. Unless African-Guyanese can compete again in the business sector, that community would remain dependent and empowerment would be an elusive dream,” Hinds said.

He added the Government must muster the courage to implement policies and create institutions that cater to this particular problem, noting that in the country’s fragile ethnic environment, such a course of action was fraught with political risks, including charges of “favouritism” being laid by the political Opposition and the ethnic commentators. However, he said he saw no other way out.

Hinds said if African-Guyanese were to return to agriculture, then the infrastructure in the villages must be repaired or put in place where it did not exist. Another area in which investment should be made, he said, is the creation or improvement of small businesses. “There is urgent need for a banking institution that provides low-interest loans. The situation with the vendors should be solved, so that their location offers them commercial benefits. They must be able to sell in areas where buyers traverse; confining them to a yard, which is away from the path of buyers is counter-productive,” he stated. Hinds said African people must understand that Governments were important and the larger institutions of society were important. However, it is only through their collective effort, they can draw attention to their situation and thereby can begin to do something to repair it. Once you begin to do something to repair it, then you begin to put pressure on those who are in authority, he said.