President Jagdeo Never Read Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom”

by Robin Williams


President Bharrat Jagdeo

I guess that President Jagdeo never read Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom”. If he had, he would have assimilated some nuggets of wisdom that are very important and relevant to leadership in nations with diverse populations where there exists or had existed, some degree of tension and ethnic or racial security concerns. In one of his enlightening quotes Mandela opined, ….”No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion.

People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally from the human heart than the opposite….”. If the mindset of his Excellency the President of Guyana was contoured in the fashion of leaders like Mandela, prior to making the kind of comments he made before virtually homogeneous audiences at Babu John in 2006 prior to the elections and again in 2011 prior to upcoming elections, maybe, just maybe, he would have recognized that such words were verbal fodders destined to invoke hate and antipathy.

What gives more legs to the thought process that his Excellency the President of Guyana is particularly selective in what he wants to create in the minds of different segments of the Guyanese population, was his admonishment to Buxtonians during his politically expedient visit to that village, that they should forget the past and move on.

The question becomes, is his Excellency the President of Guyana really interested in national reconciliation, or is he just interested in reconciling political advantages that work in his interest and that of the longevity of his party leadership? Buxtonians were being asked to forget events that occurred less than a decade ago, while elders in the Babu John Audience were being exhorted to indoctrinate the young with his own odious revisionism of a historical event of almost 4 decades ago, in order to tarnish the character of an opposition political candidate. It is quite clear that his Excellency the President of Guyana do not experience any Mandela moments in his leadership style and outpourings.

President Jagdeo was welcomed with open arms by some leaders of the Buxton Community who put aside their concerns over his words over the years that portrayed their village as a criminal community. They had put aside their concerns over his being unperturbed that an innocent mother, Donna Herond, had been shot down and killed by allegedly Law Enforcement gunfire, and was prostrated like road kill by the wayside.

They had put aside their concerns over the fact that his Excellency the President of Guyana, during a spate of violence that saw vigilante squads kidnapping, torturing and killing subjectively identified criminal suspects, never once took to the airwaves, or used the tax payer funded media to condemn what was in effect mass murders. That he never publicly, as he did in other cases, exhorted Law Enforcement to put an end to such killings and bring the perpetrators to justice. Moreso, since Guyana is signatory to United Nations Articles and obligations that prescribe how cases and persons should be treated in matters of criminal suspicion.

Articles that unambiguously assert that the State is under legal obligation to guarantee due process and equality of justice for all citizens regardless of the nature of any criminal accusations against them, or words to that effect. They had put aside their concerns that his doling out of rewards for information on killings in Guyana were particularly selective, and ignored high profile victims like Ronald Waddell, the sister of Fineman, the victims of the Agricola massacre, in fact any killing where the victims did not by perception belong to the traditional voting bloc of the PPP.

They had ignored the fact that while he was particularly unconcerned about due process and the presumption of innocence that was denied the victims of renowned criminal mastermind and international drug trafficker Roger Khan, resentment was being expressed by his party’s leadership over the perceived denial of those rights for Khan over the manner in which he was taken into custody by the US. In effect, the permanent denial of legal rights for the persons Khan was involved in exterminating extra judicially, was of less concern to His Excellency and his party leadership than the temporary denial of said rights for Khan. Certainly, his Excellency the President of Guyana, in terms of mindset and fair and balanced leadership quotient, is at the end of the leadership continuum from where the Nelson Mandelas of the world are positioned.

As if to illuminate the distance between the mindsets of political leaders in Guyana, his Excellency the President of Guyana was invited to a ceremony in honor of one of Guyana’s most esteemed Executives, and accorded all of the respect due to the office he now occupies. The audience, which included political candidates he had wantonly and viciously vilified at Babu John, all rose in respect at his entrance. Should he have been invited and accorded that respect? Does the manner in which he comports him self in office publicly, his public proclamations and intemperate speeches, warrant this respect?

Well, the conscience of those responsible for organizing the event, determining who should be there, and setting out the protocol for presentations and responses will have to introspect on that. Suffice to say, in the words of martyred and civil and human rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., quote, “……. On some positions , Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe‘? Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic‘? And vanity comes along and asks the question, ‘Is it popular’? But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right‘? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right……”.

There is little doubt in my mind that many in the audience were caught in a position not unlike that which is highlighted in the observation of “being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea”. They had an option to disregard whatever protocol was in place and demonstrate their indignation by walking out as his Excellency the President of Guyana showed up. Or they could, out of respect and love for the man they had come to honor, bite their lips and bear it. That they did the latter is testament to their character, and demonstrably manifest that like Nelson Mandela, “they were letting their light of tolerance shine so that it may unconsciously influence and give others permission and will to do the same”.

Mr Editor, although I come from a heritage that is as diverse as the population of Guyana, my views of the world are heavily influenced by an African Prism. Yes, I consider myself an Africanist, and I bear no shame or discomfort in such revelations. Humankind first stepped forth into existence on the Continent of Alkebu-lan, today popularly referred to as Africa. Regardless of the mutations that has fomented us into the gorgeous mosaic of humankind that exist today in our world, in essence, we share a coming beginning. In that context, the prism through which I view and analyze our world and our nation leaves no one out, marginalizes no group, and relegates no group to a position of genetic inferiority, or accords any the benefit of genetic superiority.

As the singer, I think Sundar Popo was his name, melodiously reminded us, “remember my friends the world is one”. And we need to become one in Guyana. But that process will require leadership with the courage, the intelligence, the willingness to see and recognize that there is good and bad among every individual and group in Guyana, and lead in a manner that positively enhance what is good and replace and change that which is bad.

No leader that administers a nation in a manner that publicly suggests that one group is bad and the other is good can do that. Guyana needs a leader that can empathize with the concerns of every group in its population, one who is caring and compassionate, and understand that we all long for the Guyanese dream so to speak, but face different and sometimes unequal challenges in getting there. Like Martin Luther King Jr opined, quote, “……… true compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see an edifice which produces beggars and needs restructuring”….., end quote.

Guyana needs a leader, going forward, who will understand and recognize that flinging a few coins casually and aloofly at those who are finding it difficult to even eke out an existence on a daily basis is not the correct prescription for building and developing a democracy. He or she need to come to the realization that the national edifice that represent our nation is producing multitudes that are in want and poverty, and need some serious social and economic restructuring in order to change and avoid that.

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