Photo : Dr. Vishnu Bisram
As I traveled around Guyana, people (of all ethnicities, classes, faiths, ages) grumbled about the state of affairs in the country. They complained about crime, corruption, oil & Exxon, the economy, inflation, infrastructure, telephone and internet services politicians, administrative incompetence, drugs, alcoholism, domestic abuse, and a sleuth of other things. Almost everyone feels the country is moving in the wrong direction and seemingly hopeless about the future. Few have expressed optimism that the coming energy sector will take the country out of its morass. In spite of the vast negativity, few are willing to offer their views publicly about the state of the country as seen in their eyes.
From the 1970s till now, people swallowed government inefficiency, mis-speaks, failed promises, political patronage and corruption like a bitter pill refusing to speak out publicly against mis-governance. Since colonial times, it was never an easy task to speak publicly about the ills of government; you were punished if you challenged the authorities. As a natural outcome, unlike in the diaspora (US, Canada, UK) where we enjoy freedom to speak against the government, few have developed the courage to speak out publicly against Guyanese politicians even now in an atmosphere of democracy. They know the politicians are petty and thin skinned and that they would never forget a critique even if done for the good of the politician. People speak in hushed tones. It is like a return to the dark period of authoritarian rule during the 1970s and 1980s when dissent was not tolerated and if you speak out against bad governance or failed policies, you were targeted for harassment and victimization and even death; many suddenly disappeared never to be seen again. Now, again, people are afraid to voice their opinions publicly about the state of the country worried about being unwanted targets.
In this atmosphere, the few who have stepped forward to be the voice of dissent or expressing critical views of society or on issues, like GHK Lall, Freddie Kissoon, Sherwood Lowe, David Hinds, Sean Ori, Lincoln Lewis, Ravi Dev, Rhyaan Shah, Romain Pitt, Vishnu Bandhu, this writer (Vishnu Bisram), etc. are saluted by the public. Most people have not developed the courage to air their views like the above even amidst widespread dissatisfaction. But they salute the grit of the handful that dares to challenge or critique the government.
These critics are forthright and outspoken. People are very interested in their views and like them immensely. People admire their fearlessness and humility. Some even see the critics as “prophets”.
GHK Lall, Lewis, and Freddie, for example, are blunt and caustic — always critical and unapologetic about their views on abuse of power. But the views of all the critics are a breath of fresh air, offering something different from the regular load of horse sh_ _ being fed to the nation by those in authority. In their own way, these writers criticized (critiqued) politicians (government and opposition). Both government and opposition are fair game for criticism for they both failed the nation when in government or in opposition. One side does the same thing as the other when in government but criticize the very thing when in opposition – a double entendre or a flip flop as we call it in modern day politics. The courageous critics attacked political rhetoric of our time. And the comments of these critics resonate well with almost everyone except (off course) the sycophants and there many of these – their party can do no wrong even if it empties the government’s bank vault and feast it out leaving none for the sycophants themselves.
The brave critics shame politicians with the latter’s penchant for talk and no action and for broken promises. The politicians promise us a mountain but delivers not even a mole. The critics, on the other hand, mesmerize us with their writings. The critics are caring while most of our politicians don’t give an iota about the welfare of the public. Once in office, politicians tend to go about their business with absolutely no consideration or care for others. The many blunders politicians make and their non-compassionate attitude have made it easy for critics to come off as champions of the people.
The critics are seen as honourable while the politicians tend to be viewed as dishonorable. Make no mistake, the critics are men and women of the people; they care about the nation. They are not selfish like most politicians. The critics are the ones people should have political faith in and not many of those who pass for a politician. If politicians would only listen to criticism, they would find wisdom in the opinions of the critics. We need more of the critics and less of the regular run of the mill politician. The critics should be encouraged to go into politics.
I pay tribute to the critics. I may not agree with all their views. But their hearts are in the right place. Because of them, many have learned to open their mouths and use their pen.
*Dr. Bisram writes extensively on socio-economic and political issues including on the role of the media; he has been involved in the media for the last forty years as a writer, editor and publisher.