177 years ago the then enslaved Africans were experiencing a strong sense of jubilation. Though toiling in the fields, factories and Great houses under poor conditions, back-breaking labour, half-emptied bellies, the whips reigning down on their backs and a silent determination not to succumb; they knew news had come from London. They knew, somewhere, somehow, something significant had happened to their world. The plantations abound with stories of the emancipation and the beginning of amelioration with full emancipation coming four years later. Emancipation meant Africans will be free to chart their destiny but freedom was not a guarantee and never assured without continued commitment, sacrifices and struggles. Theirs were the struggles to persevere in spite of the many attempts at breaking their spirit and will-power. Theirs were the struggles that brought us this far.
Today, as we commemorate emancipation, this is done in a nation divided and torn asunder not because we are incapable of uniting inspite of our diversity and continued contributions to the land of our birth but because such diversity continues to be used as a wedge to keep us divided to benefit the oppressors and at the expense of our collective development and peaceful co-existence to forge a nation of One People One Nation One Destiny.
Having a destiny that is intertwined means having a destiny to mould. It means we must no longer give in to flight; we must stand up together and take charge of our lives, our country and our development, just as our respective ancestors and pre-independence leaders did. Critical to making this possible is the need for advocacy and accountability. The peoples of Guyana need to actively participate in a system of governance and live peacefully in a society that respects our diversity, that allows us all an equal share at the decision making table, that respects the fact embedded in our national song- this land is my land as much as it is yours.
While this emancipation event is unique to the chattel slavery of Africans, let’s not forget that freedom also includes respecting the right of others to be treated as equals. Our destiny becomes intertwined because inequality of any is the inequality of all. No self respecting individual, group or government in the 21st century can derive any satisfaction and earn our respect from treating others as unequal. That the UN has dedicated this Year for the People of African Descent in efforts to eliminate discrimination and end racism is an acknowledgement by the highest decision-making world forum that inequality still exists and needs to be eliminated.
Yet it should be said that anything worth having is worth struggling for and Guyanese are asked to rededicate our energies to lift this country out of the morass and put it on a path that will make us proud by guaranteeing the rights, happiness, liberty and prosperity for all in an environment where the laws are supreme and the voice of all are heard and respected. This is Labour’s dream and it is a dream deeply rooted in the United Nations’ affirmation that: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” It is a dream being made possible in other lands and many of us leave these shores to experience these rights that others laid down their lives for – that now forms such a natural part of the lives of others that like air it is sometimes taken for granted.
History is replete with stories of achievements when we, as a people, stood together. In unity we have demonstrated the strength that saw the achievements of emancipation from chattel slavery, the end to indentureship and colonialism, achievement of political independence and the right to self determination. In unity let’s continue to forge together and cooperate for our land. In the words of a national song: ‘Let us cooperate for Guyana. Let us cooperate for our land. Let us resolve to fight together, see we do it right together, can we do it…Yes we can’.
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