(A review of three books by David Granger: Social cohesion and political inclusivity: Strengthening society, forging national unity; Immigration and integration: the making of the Guyanese nation; and One people: a cohesive community… an inclusive destiny.)
Guyana’s development has been undermined by divisions along ethnic and political lines. These divisions degenerated into violent conflict in the mid-1960s and wounded society deeply.
National unity has been proposed as a solution to the country’s divisions for a long time. Most Guyanese subscribe to the belief that a political solution would be a precondition to achieving national unity. The quest for national unity, therefore, has been tied to the need for ethnic and political unity.
A new expression entered the country’s social lexicon five years ago. Not many Guyanese could have claimed familiarity with the concept of ‘social cohesion’ when the newly-elected President, David Granger, announced the establishment of a Department of Social Cohesion, following the elections of May 2015.
Social cohesion had never captured the public imagination before. All that is changing now. President Granger’s three-book collection, which deals with the question of social cohesion and national unity, provides a refreshing new outlook to these vexing questions.
Social cohesion and political inclusivity: Strengthening society, forging national unity, the first book, makes the compelling case that social cohesion is needed to heal the divisions caused by ethnic and political strife. The book provides an illuminating response to the long-standing problems of political and social divisions.
Social cohesion, as articulated by Granger, is subsumed in, rather than substitutes for, political inclusion. President Granger, in this regard, is less myopic than others who have focused entirely on healing the country’s political rift without equal concern for healing the societal divisions caused by other factors such as poverty, inequality and unequal access to education.
The book –the text of an address he gave at a Roundtable Conference in September 2015 – can be regarded as the most profound policy statement, issued by any Guyanese government, on the question of national unity.
The nature of the brief presentation would have allowed the President to provide only a broad outline of his policy on national unity and social cohesion. This, no doubt, accounts for the book’s main shortcoming – its failure to provide precise practical measures or a detailed plan of action to achieve social cohesion. The elaboration of such measures, would be a most welcome postscript to a substantial policy statement.
Social cohesion, according to the President, involves providing greater recognition to the various ethnic groups in the society so as to promote greater acceptance, trust and understanding. The two other books in the collection – Immigration and integration: The making of the Guyanese nation; and One people: A cohesive community… an inclusive destiny – do justice to this cause.
Immigration and Integration: The making of the Guyanese nation, the second book, is an enriching source of knowledge on the contributions of three groups of ‘arrivals’ to the country’s development. President Granger, since his assumption to office, has designated formal ‘arrival days’ to commemorate the arrival of the country’s Chinese, Indian and Portuguese immigrants.
Multiculturalism has its discontents. The book’s main fault is its smothering of the issue of inter-group conflict which has left a legacy of strained relations among the country’s various peoples.
The book, notwithstanding that flaw, offers rich insights into the achievements of these groups and their contributions to the establishment of a multicultural society. The immigrants from China, India and Madeira overcame insurmountable odds.
The book’s recounting of the remarkable tales of adaptation, integration and resilience of these groups no longer make the quest national unity appear eternally elusive.
One people: A cohesive community… an inclusive destiny, the third book, identifies the origins of the country’s divisions as the failure of those who initiated the process of transportation of people from different continents to pay attention to how the various groups and cultures would co-exist eventually. That historical challenge is as evident today as it was one hundred and eighty years ago.
The book examines the remarkable contributions of Indian indentured immigration to the country. It concludes by arguing that the strands of the national tapestry are stronger because of the contributions of the country’s African, Amerindian, Asian and European fore-parents. In other words, the country’s peoples are better together than separate, a message which has a familiar ring at this time.
The three books are not historical texts; they explain the President’s policy on national unity. David Granger is sending a powerful message to his country’s ethnic groups. He is encouraging them to move towards a more inclusive society first, by recognizing and respecting each other’s contributions and, then, by accepting diversity as an asset which has to be managed. This is policy-making at its finest.
There is light at the end of tunnel. The idea of national unity is not dormant, much less dead. This collection of the President’s books on national unity leave no doubt about that.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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