President David Granger: Thank you, please be seated. If at this stage I still need an introduction, I haven’t been doing my work for the past two and a half years. [Laughter.]
Dr. William Adu-Krow, Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) Representative to Guyana; Mr. Jonathan Adams, I think Chairperson of the Conference today and member of the CCM; Ms. Kameta Johnson, Chairperson of the Committee; officials; distinguished guests; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen.
Of course today is very significant. Seven hours from now I should be at Kitty paying homage to martyrs of the Demerara Revolt. As you know, 200 Africans were massacred on the morning of the 20th of August and today is the 20th of August; a very significant day. The majority of Africans were massacred on what was then the Plantation of Bachelors Adventure on the East Coast and those of you who know Bachelors Adventure would know that the villagers themselves erected a simple monument in their community centre to commemorate this event some years ago.
We remember, also in August, the Essequibo Revolt at La Belle Alliance, that was on the 3rd of August and you heard homage being paid to the martyr of that revolt, Damon, who was brought to Georgetown and hung outside what is now known as the Parliament building.
We remember also the Maroon revolts. Many Guyanese don’t know we had Maroons but in 1795, around the same time that the Haitian Revolution was being fought, there was a very serious revolt. Perhaps one of the three or four most serious revolts in Guyanese history which took place on the West Demerara, particularly in the back lands of the Boerasirie, and that revolt was not suppressed for several months until September 1795.
And most of all, we remember happily, the 1st of August 1838 when over eighty-five thousand Africans regained their freedom, freedom from two centuries of enslavement, but we are assembled today not as a ritual of remembrance of past events; we are assembled here today to plan for the future, to consider the implementation of measures to achieve the aspiration of those martyrs and to fulfil the expectations of Emancipation.
We’re assembled here today and I am pleased at the presence of a representative of the United Nations system to concentrate our attention on two resolutions: The first as you heard is the United Nations General Assembly Resolution of 2013; December 2013, which designated the 1st of January 2015 to the 31st of December 2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent; and the second resolution, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution of November 2014, which adopted a programme of activities for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent.
You would recall my brothers and sisters, that I was invited by a group of African Guyanese organisations and I don’t see Sister Penda [Guyan] here but she is always a mover. I see her husband, Rudy. Where is Sister Penda? … I was invited by a small group and those of you who saw the photograph in the newspapers in January 2015 would realise that it was indeed a small group. It is a very inauspicious inauguration of the Decade and at that time I made some remarks which I have, I think they have been reproduced in one of the booklets which are available at the back.
I addressed that inauguration on the 24th of January 2015 at the Independence Park and Brother Eric Phillips invited me again later that year, on the 20th of May, to address the Youth Reparations Rally again at Independence Park, and I was invited here again last year by the Cuffy 250 Committee right here at the Critchlow Labour College on the 7th of August and here I am again today. I’m not attending a rally; I’m attending a workshop because we have work to do.
My brothers and sisters, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution of 2014 called on member states 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 of action by member states and the Cooperative Republic of Guyana is one of those member states. We therefore, have an obligation, not an option; we have an obligation to take action in accordance with the United Nations Declaration.
Last year, I committed the Government of Guyana to support the programme of activities and I was happy to learn that there has been an agreement among several organisations, which formed a core group called the International Decade for People of African Descent Assembly Country Coordinating Mechanism, the CCM. So we are moving. I congratulate and compliment the CCM on bringing us here today and on producing the documents. I was very happy to receive a copy of that report and I sincerely commend that report to everyone present, in fact to the entire Guyanese nation and the government. It needs to be studied and I am sure that during the course of today, some of the findings of that report will be carefully examined.
The report is not going to be ignored, but I urge that three specific objectives of the programme be considered and those objectives as stated before, are to strengthen national, regional and international action and cooperation in relation to the full enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights by people of African descent and their full and equal participation in all aspects of society; to promote a greater knowledge of and respect for the diverse heritage, culture and contribution of people of African descent to the development of society; and thirdly, to adopt and strengthen national, regional and international legal frameworks in accordance with the Durban declaration and Program of Action and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and to ensure the full and effective implementation.
These are not empty words my brothers and sisters, you can see what is happening in other continents, in other jurisdictions in which race groups, groups committed to hatred, racial hatred, are still doing their evil work and are still bringing about discrimination against people of African descent and other ethnic groups. So this is not an idle task or an idle objective. It’s not my objective today to scrutinize the CCM’s report and I ask this conference to begin its work today. It’s a voluminous report; I think a hundred and eighty-seven pages. I’m not sure you have enough time today to do that, but it does not mean that this session today will dissolve and wait another 365 days before it considers the report.
I’m sure that Brother Jonathan Adams is ingenious enough to devise a means by which the report could be scrutinised over the coming days and weeks so that we get a work plan out of the report. The CCM needs to work purposefully and quickly. As I said before, the Decade was launched in 2015, forty months ago. In fact, one third of the Decade has expired. Forty months of the hundred and twenty months have expired so we now have to accomplish in two thirds of that time what we should have accomplished in ten years.
I would like to warn also that as far as the state is concerned, in July we began our budget cycle and within ten weeks the budget for financial year 2018 will be presented in the National Assembly. When Parliament comes out of recess in October, I shall be going to Parliament to present the government’s budget and legislative agenda, not the entire budget but the main principles, the main elements of the budget. In other words, if financial allocations are to be made to support the United Nations Declaration, those allocations have to be determined within the next ten weeks. This gives you a sense of the urgency with which we need to consider this plan before us. I would therefore urge members of the CCM to consider three elements which should be dealt with over the coming hours.
First of all is the organisation. The report is before us today, many of you have not seen it and even when you see it, you will need some time to go through it but the opportunity presents itself for the CCM to define and refine the architecture and to erect an economical structure. Vincent is laughing when I used the word economical; you know the law of limited resources, to erect and economical structure to bear the burden of the work to be done. So we have to pay attention now to the organisation which is going to carry the programme through the next eighty months. [Applause.]
The second thing is education. You know, more than 200 years ago a poem was written which goes like this, it starts like this: “A little learning is a dangerous thing”. I urge the CCM not to ignore the validity of our history, at the same time, I urge the CCM to ensure that the document it puts forward in its own name and the name of this international Decade are based on the best information. The Decade must be forward looking. It is about the next Decade. It’s not about the last Decade or the last century. The plan should be about the future. The Decade is too important to become an opportunity for racial or religious recrimination or to become an outlet for fake history. Real history requires rigorous research, not rancour, not the repetition of popular myths and legends. Let us fight one war at a time and let us not try to refight old battles of the past which do not contribute to our mission. [Applause.]
Education is needed and I have just given Dr Adu-Krow two books, which are available to those of you who get there first and I am willing to assist with the reproduction of those books if the Cuff 250 Committee feels there is need to reproduce them. One of them deals with my presentation here last year and I think the other deals with my presentation at the reparations forum at Independence Park but believe me, education is very, very important. Some people do not know the significance of the 20th of August 1823.
Some people do not know that there were Maroons in Guyana and there was a Maroon war raging on the West Coast in 1795. So there is more ignorance than intelligence in the world today and I urge that we create a sound basis for the International Decade to be observed and we do not allow ourselves to be blown away by fake history.
The third thing I would like to leave on the table today, is of course that you may feel that it is the most important, that is, implementation. The achievement of the Decade’s ambitious objectives should not be underestimated. As I said, already forty months have slipped by and we need to work very hard to ensure that the next eighty months are used to achieve our objectives. So we should not deviate, we should not allow ourselves to be diverted from our mission.
My brothers and sisters, the opportunity presented by a United Nations Decade is unlikely to present itself during your lifetime. My brothers and sisters we recall the fate of the United Nations International Year for People of African Descent which began on the first of January 2011. Many people in this room would remember how the government of the day converted that event into a song and dance show and there is nothing to show for the international year, nothing to show for the international year. This must not be the fate of the International Decade.
My brothers and sisters this is not the time for bickering and brawling and for breaking down. It’s a time for building up. There’s a little book which was published by the Free Press about eighteen years ago. It was based on an essay by Professor Winston McGowan about the Demerara Revolt. On the cover of that little book and on the cover of a bigger book called, “Themes in African Guyanese History”, there is a drawing by the artist Barrington Braithwaite and when you see Barrington Braithwaite and when you see the book ask him what it meant and he is going to tell you what it meant.
It meant that on the morning of the 20th of August even as the British troops had started priming their rifles, some of the rebels were bickering among themselves. Bickering seems to be a preoccupation of some people in this country. All I urge is that this is not the time to bicker. This is not the time for brawling. This is not the time for breaking down. This is the time for organisation, for education and for implementation. This is a Decade of determination and our children and grandchildren will not forgive us if we fail them at this critical time.
May God bless you all!