President David Granger: Thank you brother Clement Duncan, a stalwart and veteran of the Pan African Movement Guyana branch; Brother Deon Abrams, another warrior in the field of civil and human rights; Dr. Joycelynne Loncke, Secretary of the Pan African Movement, Guyana branch; other members of the Pan African Movement Council Secretariat, would have taken this great movement for nearly three decades; members of the Diplomatic Corps; executive members of the movement and other fraternal organisations; special invitees; members of the media.
As Brother Clem Duncan said, I’m no stranger to the Pan African Movement; I have spoken at several venues: at Ocean View, at the GPSU, and I am happy to be here again after missing a few conferences, but always, over the years, my heart has been with the movement and with its effort to ensure that the rights of people of African origins are recognized and protected in this country.
Pan Africanism, as you know, has its roots deeply embedded in two major historical events and some people like to think those events are long gone and we should open a new chapter, turnover a new leaf, particularly the criminals; they are interested in forgetting their crimes; now which criminal isn’t?
The first great crime was the Trans-Atlantic Trade in Captive Africans which resulted in the forced removal of millions of Africans from the continent to the Americas over a period of more than four hundred years. A continuous haemorrhaging of the youngest and fittest to the plantations of North, South, Central America and the Caribbean; we are all descendants of the victims of that crime.
The Second event is known in history as the ‘Scramble for Africa’ and this resulted particularly in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, in the invasion, the occupation, the division and the colonisation of most of Africa’s territory, perhaps with the exception only of Nigeria and Ethiopia; everything else was cut-up and shared out and these two events- the Trans-Atlantic Trade in captive Africans which resulted in the enslavement of millions of people in the Americas and the Scramble or the Partition of Africa are what Pan Africanism is about. Pan Africanism is not a closed chapter because the wounds are still bleeding and as long as these wounds remain unhealed, Pan Africanism will have work to do.
Enslavement and imperialism, these twin evils, were based, broadly, on the domination of Africans by Europeans and were predicated, consequently, on the notion of racial superiority. The people who were involved in the trade – the British, the French, the Portuguese and others – were the people who were involved in the division of Africa: the British, the French, the Portuguese and others and they are the reason why we’re here today; this good Eid-ul-Azha. They are the reason why we are still trying to rectify historical wrongs.
The resistance of the African people to enslavement and imperialism represented the rejection of the notion of racial superiority and this rejection is the basis of African people’s desire to reassert their dignity. Pan Africanism, therefore, has at its heart a desire to ensure respect for the dignity and equality of people of African descent. It is therefore both an ideology that is a set of ideas and an institution, an organisation or a movement, to implement those ideas; so when we speak of pan Africanism we speak of both an ideology and an institution.
Here you have the Pan-African Movement Guyana branch which is an institution, but it is driven by an ideology. At the institutional level, therefore, Pan Africanism promotes solidarity amongst Africans and people of African descent around the world. The constituent elements of Pan Africanism are ideas which include:
Solving problems faced by Africans and people of African descent;
Supporting self-determination for all African peoples;
and strengthening African cultural retentions and pride.
There are others but I have just selected three elements. Pan Africanism, therefore, in pursuit of human dignity is concerned with the conditions under which Africans and people of African descent find themselves in the world today. Pan Africanism will remain relevant as long as there exists a need to address and to redress the conditions of African people and people of African descent where ever they are.
The Pan African Movement Guyana branch has been a clear and consistent voice for three decades calling for respect for the rights, calling for the recognition of the condition and calling for the retention of the African-Guyanese culture. This movement has been toiling, sometimes quietly, sometimes too quietly; it is not a noisy movement, but it has been toiling to improve the conditions and to promote greater consciousness of African culture in Guyana and that is why I’m so glad you are here today, to show solidarity with the movement, with its ideas and ideology and with helping to strengthen the institution.
The movement expectedly joined like-minded organisations to observe the International Decade for People of African Descent as you know; when I addressed the Kofi 250 Forum, some days, ago during the month of August, we expected that due recognition would have been given to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution, which was passed since 2013 that proclaimed the period beginning 1st January 2015 and which will end on the 31st December 2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent.
Have you ever wondered why there is no international decade for people of Chinese descent or Portuguese descent or Spanish descent? It is because there is international recognition that a wrong has been done that the United Nations took particular care to pass that Resolution and all African organisations, all governments affiliated to the United Nations should pay heed to that United Nations Resolution.
As you know the General Assembly also adopted in 2014, a Resolution which outlines a programme of activities for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent. The program calls for the removal of all obstacles which prevent people of African descent from the equal enjoyment of all human rights: economic, social, cultural, civil and political; including the right of development or the right to development and I’m happy that a step has been taken in this direction and I have already pledged the support of the Government of Guyana to ensure that that United Nations Declaration is implemented in this country.
The pursuit of the right to development as prescribed by the United Nations programme cannot ignore the economic infrastructure and this includes the acquisition of land- that four letter word which some people seem to have a problem with. The acquisition of lands, the accumulation of capital; access to markets and training of labour; these are the bases on which a person provides for his or her well-being and for his or her household and family. It is not meant to divide; it is meant to ensure that all can enjoy the good life. As the saying goes- “The rising tide lifts all boats”; the demand for steps to be taken to enhance the economic empowerment of persons of African descent.
The Trans-Atlantic trade in captive Africans, as I said, was the worst crime against humanity in the history of the world; there is no parallel, there is no equal to what happened roughly between the 1450s and the 1850s- no equal. Industrialised trafficking in persons, trafficking in persons on an industrial scale; people constructing boats to traffic persons; creating barrack rooms, markets to traffic persons; that’s what it was, a crime against humanity. The atrocities, the brutalities and the cruelties, the indignities associated with enslavement are unmatched in human history.
Pan Africanism, therefore, is an important means for mobilising public opinion at the personal, at the national, at the regional and at the international levels in the cause of reparative justice for that crime. The case for reparation in Guyana and the Caribbean is based principally on three grounds.
First, acts of enslavement are crimes against humanity under international law; there is no statutory barrier to prosecution for crimes against humanity whether they are committed in times of war or peace. Crimes against humanity are prosecutable, anytime, forever.
Second, the massive expropriation of the wealth which was the patrimony of the region’s people enriched Europe while these crimes were being committed. That wealth was extracted to enslavement or forced labour; it was extracted through imperialism. It impoverished the very people who generated that wealth
And thirdly, enslavement and colonization left a legacy of underdevelopment which can be corrected through corrective justice. The Caribbean region and Guyana, therefore, as a consequence of European conquest, conflict and colonization became and remain the weakest and most vulcanized region on the globe. Its economic structures still bear the stamp of the plantation economy with a high concentration of primary production for export to western markets and when those western markets collapsed and we see in one of our major industries which brought us all here, there is catastrophe.
Programmes for the economic empowerment of Guyanese people of African descent could well originate in the villages; those villages famously were the cradle of African economic empowerment in the months and years after Emancipation in 1838. African Guyanese initiated the village movement; you know very well the story of how the freed Africans pooled their limited savings and invested those savings to buy abandoned plantations. They converted those plantations into human settlements stretching from the Corentyne to the Pomeroon River.
And as you know from your history, the village movement was described and I quote “The most spectacular and aggressive land settlement movement in the history of the people of the British Caribbean and a movement which seemed to one former planter in British Guiana to be certainly without parallel in the history of the world.”
These were the words of Professor Rawle Farley, one of the earliest students of African Guyanese history.
His thesis, his doctoral thesis, was on this subject and if it is possible I would urge African institutions and organisations to discuss with the family the possibilities of reprinting that profound thesis. Any student of the village movement must read Professor Rawle Farley- A Movement without Parallel in the History of the World.
My brothers and sisters, villages are vital centres of human settlement and economic enterprise; again, they’re not a closed chapter; long time story, it is still a living economic reality in Guyana. Two out of every three Guyanese still live in villages and although many people believe that Africans are town people, the majority of Africans still live in villages, even though they may form the majority in some towns, the majority of Africans still live in villages. These villages remain the repositories of accumulated knowledge and expertise which still needs to be tapped.
Villages must be revitalised in order to lay the foundation for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, including cottage industries, and these industries would provide the bases for employment and the generation of wealth. And over the last year I have been pleased to have visited several regional trade fairs which I now call RACE. So I suppose tomorrow the newspapers will accuse me of speaking race – Regional Agricultural and Commercial Exhibitions- RACE.
And in those regions which are affiliated with the party which I have the honour to lead, I asked the chairman to take the lead in ensuring that those regions hold the regional agricultural and commercial exhibition because there you see what ordinary households could do; women, families; I have seen it in Region Ten, I have seen it in Region Six, I have seen it in Region Three, in Region Two. And given the opportunity, I am very confident that we could use the village economies and the enterprise of our people to produce commodities through agro-processing, through cottage industries to satisfy our needs and also to satisfy the export market.
Earlier this year when I was chairman of CARICOM I had a lunch for Caribbean Heads of Government at the Benab at State House and everything that they ate came from Guyana. Fried plantains, breadfruit soup, everything you can imagine and one Prime Minister, I can’t call his name you know – Heads of State can’t speak about other Heads of State – told me that his island has eighteen varieties of breadfruit; when I look at his plate I believe him.
No, but seriously, seriously don’t come to State House for macaroni and cheese and if we support our villages and our communities; I noticed that in Trinidad and Tobago education system, they banned carbonated drinks. Well let’s drink some mauby, so we could use the village economies to empower housewives and families in the villages to produce the foodstuff and the commodities we need on a day to day basis.
As I have told several audiences before, when I was training in Brazil many years ago, forty-eight years ago, I did some jungle warfare training there- every single day you had one dessert, goiaba; you know what goiaba is? Guava Cheese; the Brazilians produce goiaba on an industrial scale; they have these huge tins of goiaba. I say mommy use to make this thing you know, I don’t know if there is a housewife who can’t make guava cheese, guava jam and guava jelly. So we have the power in our villages.
Villages can become the incubators of enterprise. The potential is there for increased agriculture, agro-processing and value-added production. Villagers also can expand the range of services which they can present to their residents. I’ve often complained and you might have noticed too that in the morning many of the residents are out by the roadside to catch transport to go somewhere else to work when many of the lands are left idle.
They do back to sleep at night; next morning they get up and catch a minibus again. So if this continues the economies of the villages will become dehydrated, and desiccated. So there needs to be a purposeful movement and I am very happy that the Pan African Movement has committed to providing not only educational opportunities but also employment opportunities in the villages.
My brothers and sisters, when Africanism is inseparable from Guyanese nationalism. It is not anti-national, it is one of the most national things I can think about, empowering Guyanese, and Pan Africanism has at its heart the struggle for human dignity, for human equality. The pursuit of dignity and equality is based on respect to the cultural, economic, human, social and political rights including the right to development. This is what the United Nations is about. This is what the Pan African Movement Guyana branch is about. People’s right to a life of dignity and equality can be fulfilled only if their economic rights are respected.
Organizations therefore must be mobilized for the task of economic empowerment and in my view that empowerment begins in the villages. The Pan African Movement Guyana branch has a place; it has a purpose, it has a role to play in the economy in order to develop energies and energize our villages, one household at a time; one enterprise at a time.
It would therefore be a fitting contribution for the national programmes for the International Decade for People of African Descent; it will promote the economic empowerment of our villages and the people who live there. It will advance the pursuit of greater dignity and equality for Africans and these are the core values of the Pan African Movement Guyana branch; and with these few words I have great pleasure in declaring open this conference and thank you once again for inviting me and may God bless you all.