Guyana is in the throes of yet another political crisis; and a political crisis in this country signifies both racial and social crises. In fact, matters are even more comprehensive and complex than that, for there are extensions of these crises into the bureaucratic, business, and economic spheres, to name a few other places. It is a set of circumstances, that call for a stabilizing and authoritative presence.
This is a role that, in the absence of political commonsense, good faith, and goodwill, a robust and well-regarded civil society grouping is tailor-made to fit and address. There is a problem, a conundrum, to be more precise: there is something that resembles civil society, that calls itself civil society; but it really is not, when closely and critically examined.
To begin with, civil society in Guyana may be best described as an uneasy alliance of momentary convenience; it appears sporadically, and under different formats. Peace, equity, constitutional obligations, and parliamentary powers are stirring planks; but these have to be uninterrupted mental, emotional, and spiritual pursuits to influence change.
A key characteristic of civil society is that the group operating under that umbrella is more visible and audible during moments of political conflict. In other words, it is not the same sustained presence at most other times. It can be argued that that does not make for a formidable body; or one that is dedicated to calling attention to social ills that have either political roots or political flavours.
In addition, the very composition of civil society opens it to claims – whether justified or unfounded – of intrinsic bias, political bias. In Guyana, this is the equivalent of a kiss of death. This interferes severely with the body, well-pedigreed to some extent, as to its credibility. In leading political circles, there are sentiments that will not go away, which are grounded in the belief that one of the aims of civil society is to undermine one political party to the benefit of the other. That is, that civil society cannot be an objective broker, and though there may (may) be the forced courtesies and motions of giving a listening, there is no real hearing, and it is a pro forma exercise for purely public relations purposes.
Further, politically cornered parties and their leaders are savvy enough to sense – or imagine -economic priorities that do not coincide with policies introduced; and that elements within the local civil society entity are skillfully using that as cover for their own ends, and that the calls and pressures are just so many smokescreens to conceal those same ends. Ends that are inimical to the continuity of political supremacy of incumbents, or that sabotage political aspirations of others to overcome. The leadership – and to some degree, grassroots thinking – is that civil society is striving to wear at least two conflicting hats at the same time, and that opens to serious questions, as to authenticity of intentions.
For its part, churches should have been dominant and in the vanguard of any bona fide civil society grouping, but that priority and urgency is relinquished; there is contentment to be a part of a massed whole. With that comes the loss of that distinctive spiritual authority, and the unique ecclesiastical identity with which Guyanese used to attach so much faith. The churches ought to be at the wheel; they are satisfied with being one of the wheels, and the less visible, the better. Moreover, the churches in Guyana, also, suffer from being part reflection, and part microcosm, of the divisions and tensions so pervasive in this society. Part of this has been subtly cultivated, some of it allowed to fester unaddressed.
Last, professional bodies that can be difference-makers are either too preoccupied; or have vested interests that render them suspect. Ditto, the trade unions. Thus, the fate of this country revolves around the dictates of established political masters, accustomed to calling the shots and getting their way. Thus, a society hangs.
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