Why Indo-Guyanese not attending UG Diaspora Engagement Conference
Photo : Minister of Education Dr Rupert Roopnarine
Indo-Guyanese in the diaspora are urging a boycott of the conference on engaging the Guyanese diaspora ( 22 – 28 July) being organized by the University of Guyana VC Office; Ivette Griffith is the VC. The main reasons articulated for a boycott center on racial and political discrimination and wastage of financial resources by UG management as well as racial and political victimization by the PNC dominated government. Indians are underrepresented in the government and in the management at UG as well as in the staff.
Proponents (of boycott) note that Blacks successfully used it as a weapon in America and southern Africa to bring about needed change. It is felt change, using boycott and other forms of resistance, can happen in Guyana to end blatant racism against non-supporters (Indians, Chinese, Amerindians, Whites) of the government. Boycotts have been successfully used to fight White racism in Africa, North America, and U.K. Many query why boycott should not be used as a weapon to achieve a similar goal in Guyana to combat the racism of the government and UG management. Many feel a message needs to be sent to the government and UG that it can’t discriminate against a people in Guyana and then tell their diaspora to come and invest in the country.
Another reason for boycott: relevant questions are being asked by the diaspora on the true role and objective of the conference: Whose agenda is being served by UG management? Is there ethnic equity in representation in the university’s management, hiring of staff, distribution of resources, funding for those attending the conference, etc.? Many feel the conference will be another talk shop and that no meaningful action will be taken as has been the case over the last two years. Guyanese at home and abroad are looking at intellectuals and business folks in the diaspora to provide moral and courageous leadership to rescue Guyana from its current pitfalls. It is felt that to attend the conference would be to support racial discrimination and a failure to provide sound leadership. Attending the conference would send a message of condoning the racist and discriminatory policy, programs and actions of the government and UG management.
How can people with good conscience attend a conference at UG with all the racism and the targeting of Indians by criminals and the government? Spurning the conference should be considered as a form of solidarity for the victims of racial and political discrimination. And this is one of the reasons Indians in the diaspora feel people should not attend or give support to the conference.
It is being pointed out that funds at UG are being wasted on trivial matters and proposed rentals and North American type administrative structure. The management is not encouraging research on social problems facing Guyanese -- such as suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, dysfunctional relationship, etc. UG is not reaching out to Indian intellectuals who are championing their causes.
In addition, money has been invested (including on foreign junkets) with promises of huge returns for UG from alumni and the diaspora; instead there is a negative return of 80% -- a recovery of only 20% of investment. Expenses (including airfare, hotel, and the works) were paid for some attendees (supporters and defenders of the regime) who did not reflect the ethnic composition of the population. UG hosted “reach out” (diaspora) conferences in New York and elsewhere with hardly any Indians, Amerindians, Chinese and Portuguese invited or present – who together comprise some 55% of population but are marginalized with underrepresentation of only 5% at the conference.
Many Indians who sided with AFC and PNC have realized they were used to remove the PPP from office and that the regime is seeking to use them and others at the diaspora conference in their policy of legitimizing the marginalization of Indians. Unfortunately, that realization has not yet seeped in among some who are siding with the organizers of the conference and the government. Or perhaps it has dawn on some that they were used by the government, but somehow they believe that they will get some sort of reward (although none has been forthcoming for two years) or that they can change the UG management or the government to end racism and give equity to Indians and other ethnicities.
It is pointed out that when Africans were shouting about alleged marginalization from the rooftops under the PPP government and were challenged to present evidence, they responded in a huff that 'Indians cannot speak about the reality of Africans in Guyana'. Now they say Indians can't speak of racism because the government is young even when in every indicator, the numbers keep building up transparently showing Indian and Amerindian marginalization and exclusion over the last two years of this regime. And now Blacks don't want to talk about racism when their government is the perpetrator.
There is one consistency from this PNC led regime – parading token Indians as representing the Indian population. But Indians are not fooled. And courting and recruiting a few from USA to show diaspora support will not fool the Indian community. They know these are self-seeking opportunists. Indians must not accept marginalization and must reject those who are only too willing to sell their souls and their people for crumbs. Indians must not allow traitors in their midst to define their agenda and to tell their narrative (experience) at UG or elsewhere. Indians must not allow self-serving and self-seeking individuals to represent them.
With regards to hosting conferences, UG management did not see it fit to host a lecture or seminar on the 100th anniversary of end of indenture, but it hosted seminars on emancipation and slavery, and now a conference on investment in Guyana. For UG management, Indians don’t count. It could not find resources to send lecturers to attend conferences on indenture in Trinidad, India, New York, Holland and London but expended tens of millions for a diaspora meet in NYC.
Another reason given for snubbing the conference is the complaints from many (including those who supported AFC-PNC-WPA and helped it to win power) in the diaspora that this government is not serious about engaging them in investment and development. So many complaints that they are being marginalized and largely ignored and that the government does not even bother to engage them. Key individuals (in the diaspora) who helped the coalition to come to power have been shunted aside for incompetent loyalists and sycophants.
Government has broken promises to engage the diaspora regardless of ethnicity and political affiliation on development objectives. In addition, government has largely ignored most of those (including non-party affiliates) who played a significant role lobbying American officials for developmental assistance for Guyana and foundations (including charities and wealthy folks) to assist communities in Guyana. Those who constantly write on or about the significance of the diaspora, particularly the role the diaspora can play in development, are not consulted for their ideas. Those who have consistently sought investment for Guyana feel they are alienated and no longer welcomed.
Another reason advanced by critics for boycotting the conference is UG organizers (perhaps at instruction from the government) are not willing to tolerate discussion on the widespread corruption pervading the administration and /or to address racism, intolerance and victimization in Guyana. There will be no space for intellectual exchange and potentially for collective action against the regime. The agenda of victims and non-supporters are not being served. Instead, only the agenda of the government and UG is being served.
In light of above, how should the public respond to this invitation to attend or participate in such a conference? Would Dr Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela have attended this conference? If these gentlemen had not used boycott or other forms of resistance, would change have come to India, America and South Africa?
There are arkatyas in the midst willing to sell out their own. They will do anything for title and awards. They find it convenient to socialize with others and defend wrong doings to enjoy personal benefits – all at the expense of the larger public. The public must be careful of these shady characters as they are more dangerous than those who directly subjugate you. People (academics and business people, in particular) must show courage to speak out against the evils of a government and question the intellectual integrity of those who attend a conference that does not provide equity to all groups. They must question the intellectual spaces, dialogues that are engendered, purpose and goal of a conference when people are discriminated against or when people are implicitly excluded on account of ethnicity or political affiliation. The public must isolate pseudo scholars who refuse to use their critical voices to speak out against injustice as has been happening in Guyana. They must send a clear message that as educators, we cannot go on that everything is normal in Guyana when so much of our people are being ill-treated on account of race and political affiliation. The public must give solidarity with those affected by government’s policy. Arguments about conducting business as usual with UG and the government when your people are being persecuted are to be complicit with injustice.
There are a few in Region11community who are willing to sell their people for crumbs on the table and or for status or a title. The public must identify and isolate them as was done by Blacks in their struggle against apartheid in South Africa and racism in America. We must salute those amongst us who have integrity and are unwilling to compromise principles and who reject privileges and titles (offered by UG and government) that are so unfairly, unjustly denied to others. As educators or business people, we must refuse to take up special privileges at the expense of victims.
The moral weight of those of us in academia, in media, and in business boycotting the conference will hopefully force the government and its acolytes to rethink their policy of mis-governance and glaring racial and political discrimination. As many say, the “stay away” gesture from the conference is symbolic as it may not move the government and UG management to treat people fairly but this message needs to be sent that we will no longer accept second class status.