President David Granger: So we have been this way before my brothers and sisters. We have passed through the [United Nations] International Year for People of African Descent. The International Year for People of African Descent, at the dawn of that year was already dire; the situation of people of African descent was already dire.
It did recognise that despite the efforts to an independent agrarian village based economy in Guyana, in the post Emancipation decades, the planter class and the Government of the day undermined the African initiative. It did recognise that people of African descent continue to be subject to ethnic discrimination, even after Emancipation.
Guyana and other countries of the Caribbean have not yet fully overcome the inequalities and inequities, which have their origin in the era of enslavement. The economic structures of the Region today retain the emphasis on the production and exportation of primary commodities, which had rendered the Caribbean economy as dependent and underdeveloped. The people of the Caribbean have been bequeathed a legacy of dispossession. African Caribbean people, including African Guyanese, continue to struggle for recognition, justice and development. They continue to agitate for reparative justice for the crimes of the slave trade and slavery.
The international community, at the beginning of the International Year for People of African Descent, recognised and realised that more had to be done. My brothers and sisters, I hope you see the thread. The United Nations General Assembly by Resolution 68-237 on the 23rd December, 2013, designated the decade from the 1st January, 2015 to the 31st December, 2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent.
Twenty months ago this decade started. The General Assembly also, by Resolution 69-16 on the 18th November, 2013, adapted a programme of activities for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent. My brothers, we don’t have to invent the wheel. There is already on the table a programme of activities for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent crafted by the United Nations. The latter resolution called upon member states, including Guyana, and I quote “…to take concrete and practical steps to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance faced by people of African descent…” The resolution outlined areas for action by member states.
My brother and sisters, in the event that you are not aware, some African organisations in Guyana did actually launch the International Decade on the 24th January last year at the Independence Park in Georgetown, and I had the honour to be invited to address that launch. It was not well attended. It was on a Saturday. On Saturday, as I said, is church day or market day, but we did launch the International Decade twenty months ago at Independence Park.
I had the honour also, this year, at Independence Park to address the International Youths Reparations Rally and again, the little ‘green’ book Ms. Harry has contains more or less the remarks I delivered on that occasion, mainly about reparations. Guyana, therefore, has an obligation to take action in accordance with the declaration. The Government of Guyana fully supports this programme of activities, which includes the demand for reparation for people of African descent and for indigenous peoples. [Applause.]
Twenty months of the International Decade have elapsed. There needs to be now an organisation and a plan in order to ensure the implementation of that programme. Guyana will continue to agitate for reparations for the international crime of enslavement. The Government will work with other Caribbean Governments and will work with non-governmental organisations, which represent people of African descent during the remaining years of the international decade, and I would like to commit myself, and the Government which I lead, to the fulfilment of the programme in five main areas.
As you can see when you read the International programme, there are ten areas but I have extracted five and the first is expiation, or what some people may call, apology. It is a very hard thing for the European Governments, which enslaved Africans for over two and a half centuries to apologise. They have apologised to the Jews for the Holocaust. The British Government has even apologised to the Mau Maus for the torture, but this is a hard thing and the Caribbean Governments are insisting on an apology because a crime has been committed and they must say they are sorry. [Appaluse.]
As you know a National Reparations Committee was established in Guyana in February 2015. This was in response to a mandate given seven months earlier by the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community by the 34th Regular Meeting of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community. The Heads also in March 2015, in St Vincent, accepted a ten-point Draft Regional Strategic Operation Plan for a Caribbean Reparatory Justice Programme. The plan of action inter alia must demand an apology for slavery and the payment of reparations. [Applause.]
This morning I’m sorry to be so bookish, but I want you to remember these dates and documents because we mustn’t just sleepwalk into the future without understanding that we have to follow a plan; and I feel it is a part of the task today of this forum, Cuffy 250 Forum, to lead with a plan and to work with that plan and not abandon the plan. Twenty months have passed. We only have another hundred months for this decade and to ask the United Nations to declare a year and realise that the objectives of that year have not been fulfilled, you ask them to declare a decade. And what happens if you don’t fulfil the objectives of the decade? You ask them to declare a century. So we have to make this decade work for the people of African descent.
Secondly – education. The fore parents of modern day African Guyanese had the vision after Emancipation to recognise that education meant social mobility; it was the means to lift them out and their children out of the morass of poverty and economic exclusion. Education remains today the way out of poverty and inequality. The right to free primary education is protected under the Constitution however, it does not prevent the fact that 4,000 boys and girls drop out of primary and secondary schools every year. That cannot be right and we have to take responsibility because nobody else will. We can’t run back to the United Nations and ask them to declare a decade for school dropouts.
When I was invited to the First of August Movement, the line top, I said, and Dr [David] Hinds would remember, 1st August should be like New Year’s Day and every year, every street, every village, every neighbourhood must be able to measure the amount of children who have been kept in school and not allowed to drop out and lime. [Applause.]
That’s what the boats are all about, that’s what the bicycles are all about, that’s what the buses are all about. It is about getting children to school and keeping children in school. So we have a responsibility and many of us here have had the benefit of education. You see the benefits of education. So we have an obligation. Just as our illiterate fore parents 178 years ago saw the benefits of education, we, their educated descendants, can do no better than to ensure that every single child goes to school and stays in school.
Third – equality. Ethnic discrimination and lack of equal access to public services contribute to inequality. People of African descent in the past, have alleged actual discrimination in both public and private sectors and there is evidence that there was discrimination. We must now correct that situation because discrimination against anyone promotes insecurity and social exclusion and that could lead to disorder.
The plan of action that we contemplate must give the assurance that no group or community would be disenfranchised or prevented from accessing public services. People of African descent must be assured that they must not be discriminated against or hindered in accessing public services including housing, education, public health and utilities and most important, their land rights. [Applause.]
Fourthly, as you know from your history, the Village Movement began or is said to have begun at least in November 1839 a little more than a year after Emancipation. When I was in Opposition I brought a motion calling for the 7th of November to be declared National Day for Villages. It was passed by the House, but it was not assented to by the President at the time. However, last November there was another president so the 7th of November has been declared a National Day for Villages. [Applause.]
It is not a public holiday, but it is a day that we should observe and there are stamps the Guyana Post Office Corporation has actually printed and issued stamps commemorating the National Day for Villages. So if only for your collection, if you are a philatelist, do get a copy of those stamps. I think there are two denominations.
But those villages and the impact that they had on Guyanese society must be imprinted in our psyche. I have seen writings by East Indian writers, a hundred years ago, in the early 1900’s, encouraging Indians to do like the Africans and buy land and establish villages a hundred years ago. So it made and impact.
The villages were cradles not only of a free economy; an economy which gave rise to markets, village markets, but is was also the cradle of local democracy because the villagers learnt to run their own communities… In March this year I had the honour, again, to go to Den Amstel there is a little lot, an abandoned lot and there is a monument to the memory of James McFarlane Corry – again, many people did not know of him but he was the man who a hundred years ago around about 1916, established cooperative credit banks.
He was a visionary. An ordinary man from Den Amstel was able to bring about the establishment of cooperative credit banks so that poor rural farmers could access credit. He did something a hundred years ago, which unfortunately does not exist any longer, but the village economy is important because that is where most Africans lived. Many people believe the myth that Africans are city dwellers. It is true that they may have formed the majority of the population in Georgetown, New Amsterdam and Linden, but the majority of Africans do not live in Georgetown, Linden and New Amsterdam, they live rural villages. It is true, they are not the majority in the countryside but the majority of Africans live in the countryside.
The villages, I said, are the cradle of democracy and the cradle of the local economy and it is right that Cuffy 250 should focus on what has been happening in the villages. The hurdles which had to be overcome were daunting and the legislative barriers and the aggression, particularly for what was then called the Court of Policy, which is now equivalent to the National Assembly, did a tremendous amount of damage to the villages.
So we have to walk on two legs, not only looking at the economy but also looking at the way those villages are governed. The villages were the homes of our households, the homes of our schools, the homes of our churches, and the homes of our farms. Those villages gave dignity to the freed Africans coming out of the indescribable circumstances of enslavement. They didn’t live in logies, they lived in hovels, they lived in squalor and that Village Movement saved them from the indignity of squalid conditions where a man couldn’t live with his wife, where children couldn’t stay with their parents, where they couldn’t marry and the villages saved the African Guyanese people from future degradation.
So the plan of action, which I ask you to contemplate today, Cuffy 250, should aim also at revitalising village economies. The thrifty fore parents of African Guyanese accumulated their limited resources – you all know the legend of the wheelbarrow and the silver coins after Emancipation – and they bought lands and established proprietary and communal villages. It is the intention of this Government to establish a Lands Commission in order to rectify the anomalies and resolve the controversies which up to now still surround thousands of hectares of communal lands, which were purchased with hard cash in the post-Emancipation Village Movement. [Applause.]
And fourthly, the problem of unemployment is one that is of serious concern to people of African descent. The Government is aware of the plight faced by many school-leavers to find jobs. Again, the Plan of Action must aim at reducing the high incidence of unemployment in the economy and it must aim at creating an entrepreneurship programme to assist young Guyanese to establish and manage their businesses.
So my brothers and sisters, we no longer have to face the song-and-dance people; we have to plan seriously for the next 100 months of the Decade for People of African Descent. Serious planning; it should not be taken lightly. I iterate that 20 months have already elapsed. I’m not going to be so crass as to ask you to measure the accomplishments so far in this decade, but what I would like to caution you about is that this is the time to organise; this is the time to mobilise and not to agonise interminably about the condition in which we find ourselves as a nation. This is the time to organise and mobilise so that at the end of the decade, the Government and the Guyanese people on the whole, can report confidently that they have achieved the objectives of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent. [Applause.]
I urge you therefore my brothers and sisters, whether your programme today allows it or not; there can always be a follow up, but I urge you to consider seriously the United Nations Declaration on the International Decade for People of African Descent and among yourselves just as we claimed in 2011, consult among yourselves how best the African Guyanese organisations in Guyana could be mobilised to achieve specific targets, measurable targets, year after year, month after month, to fulfil that goal and the achievement of those objectives.
Guyanese, you would recall that over the past 25 years, particularly there has been a remarkable revival of social consciousness. Several African Guyanese organisations have been established. Sometimes I hesitate to try to name them, they are so many, we have the African Cultural Development Association, African Heritage Foundation, African Welfare Convention, which is one of the oldest; the All African Guyanese Council, the forum for the Liberation of African Guyanese (FLAG), the National Emancipation Trust, the Movement for Economic Empowerment, the Revival and Awareness and Promotion of African Culture (RAPAC), so all of these organisations – Pan African Movement – all of them have been established. I ask that some forum be created so that nobody would be left out, everyone could feel involved; everyone could be consulted if we are to achieve the objectives of this International Decade.
My brothers and sisters, this is the time to organise and mobilise. August 2016 obliges us not only to look back at the contributions of those who helped to build Guyana, but also to look forward to the destiny and the future of our children and grandchildren.
All Guyanese are entitled to share equitably in the patrimony of this great country. [Applause.]
May God bless you all.

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