The Conference At Howard University
Conflict Resolution
A Critique
By Gowkarran Sukhdeo

A forum on Conflict Resolution in Guyana, held at the Howard University, Center for International Affairs, on Saturday December 14, was anything else but conflict resolution.

Attended by the largest group of Guyanese academics outside of Guyana, the presenters and attendees comprised of some fifty professors and academics from universities in Guyana, Arizona, Texas, California, New York, Georgia, Washington DC, Toronto, and from other fields as journalism, diplomacy, Trade union, Consultancy, and humanitarian services.

One would have expected a brilliant exuberance of intellectual wisdom. Unfortunately, what there was that posed as intellectualism never got translated into wisdom. Indeed, more than half the presenters claimed they had no solution to the crisis in Guyana. Professor Clive Thomas said the crisis had reached a point where it was beyond a solution and pessimistically hinted of collapse of a society…. Dr. Percy Hintzen in a hilarious dramatization categorically stated that none in the auditorium had the ability or mandate to offer solutions to the crisis, since “all of us had live more than half our lives outside Guyana”. (Deryck Bernard and I, sitting next to each other. were tickled.) Dr. Wilfred David suggested that revolution was the solution to the crisis. Dr. Prem Misir said there was no crisis.

Both Thomas and Misir made ample use of statistics to analyze the same problem in the same country, over the same time period, yet coming up with completely polarized conclusions. Talking about the social construct of history, construality and imagined perspectives, many of these professors need to revisit their programs in social psychology.

Classically, political and cultural superstructure rests on the foundation of economic substructure, and not the other way round. In other words, the social (or anti-social) behavior of our people is a function of our economic well being according to most theorists. Hence, any government, even that of Guyana, has the power and resources to influence the social behavior through effective economic policies, and can shift these resources to areas where it wishes to have political influence. Unfortunately, the government behaves as if it is politics (of the PNC) that influences the economic, and hence the political destiny of our country. (But Guyana, like other plural societies, is stressed with ethnic polarization and concomitant violence.) Professor Thomas tried to prove the nexus between the two structures but unfortunately his statistical analysis was as skewed and suspect as that of Dr. Misir’s, and thus his conclusion was as damaging as that of Dr. Misir’s.

Mr. Paul Tennassee spoke of total territorial occupation to maintain territorial integrity, and of constituent representation rather than proportional representation. Dr. Gary Girdhari spoke of the responsibilities and irresponsibilities of the media in promoting harmony. Dr. Randolph Persaud said, given the PNC track record and present policy of destabilization, he could not see himself supporting them. All three of them were accused by Mr. Rickford Burke and others of academic dishonesty without the accusers first defining intellectual dishonesty – Dr. Girdhari, for merely mentioning the name of Dr. Prem Misir in his presentation, Mr. Tennassee for being chronologically irrelevant, and Dr. Persaud for being anti-PNC. All other Indo-Guyanese presenters were either “dissed”, heckled, insulted or ignored at question time. An Indo-Guyanese sitting three feet away, directly in front of moderator Dr. Linden Lewis, had his hand up for the better part of half hour without being recognized. Dr. Lewis, during his session denied four Indo-Guyanese from speaking – Dr. Girdhari, Mr. Annan Boodram, and two other gentlemen sitting right under his nose. Earlier, a false accusation against Annan Boodram of unethical journalism was withdrawn. Dr. Dhanpaul Narine, moderator of the first session was put down by the moderator of the second session, Dr. Belle Tyndall, implying that Dr. Narine’s performance as a moderator was poor; and talk about the pot calling the kettle black? When she moderated a session, it was chaotic!

How Mr. Rickford Burke became a presenter is a joke. He strutted and fretted his hour in the role of a village idiot. Rebuked by Professor Thomas for inaccuracy, he denounced Mr. Tennassee’s contribution, but a minute later went on to make the same recommendations that Mr. Tennassee made.
During the third session Dr. Dhanpaul Narine and Dr. Tara Singh, as presenters, attempted to outline their formula for power sharing but failed to do so by time constraint.

There were three or four humanitarian groups present that claimed to be providing medical and auxiliary services for HIV victims and other underprivileged people in need of medical help. Each group was definitely oblivious of the existence and contribution of the other groups present, each claiming to be providing magnanimous service without any help from an insensitive government, though they acknowledged assistance from Guyana Ambassador Dr. Odeen Ishmael. And they did not tie in their work with “conflict resolution”, but simply sought free exposure.

Not all were glaringly biased in their presentations. Dr. David Hinds, currently under a cloud of pessimism over the prospects of power sharing, was fair. So also was Deryck Bernard, Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Guyana and also senior PNC member, a position he was able to divorce himself from during his presentation. Dr. Kenrick Hunt also made an objective analysis.

From the beginning one expected the forum to start out with a stated objective, a goal it hoped to achieve by the end of the day. I expected something like this: at the end of the day we hope to have the rudiments of a resolution framed and given to a select committee to fine tune; and returned to the forum’s presenters for signatures, before being forwarded to the political parties in Guyana. Or perhaps, another objective might have been to nominate a standing committee that would act on behalf on the forum, in negotiating between the PPP and PNC, or in presenting a list of the forum’s recommendations to the two parties.

Little or nothing was said about non-political means of forging race relations in Guyana. Nobody talked about cricket (the only unifying bond of West Indian Federalism) or any other sport as a means bringing unity. Nobody talked about the role of the Primary and Secondary schools in organizing debates, cultural shows, student exchanges, etc. with schools of different racial compositions. Nobody noted that the molding of minds must begin at a young age, or they start throwing stones at minibuses by the time they are twelve and thirteen. Passing mention was made of the role of the church, but not to the extent of preaching, “thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not kill.” At the forum no one talked about repentance and forgiveness (except passing reference by Girdhari) as essential elements of amelioration and conflict resolution. No one mentioned the family, the basic of all institutions from which all values and non-values derive, or what should be done to strengthen and maintain families, or what family values should be propagated in the school and church. No mention was made of the role the media, especially television, can play in integrating families and maintaining a standard of value within the family structure. How about bringing the school, the church and the family all together like having religious instructions and tolerance in schools, or whole families in church.

What about the current crime situation? No one mentioned that the kidnappings and killings of innocent people including children, and the looting of passenger vehicles were constraints to any peace process. Dr. Alissa Trotz did mention the atrocities committed against women, but admitted she had no solution. A gentleman who did not give his name ranted for five minutes about his being dismissed from government service and his son being killed by the Black Clothes Police. He did not state why, but demanded the forum provide him with some satisfaction. The whole forum was moved with sympathy for him, and Dr. Trotz and Dr. Narine cried. But when an Indo Guyanese from Canada spoke after him about being a victim of Black violence, and having witnessed his neighbor raped by Black bandits, he was pounced upon as being racist. Another professor who raved about the connection between the government and a phantom gang with a plan to commit genocide was allowed to go on and on. No one accused him of intellectual dishonesty, nor the other professor who claimed the rice industry in Guyana in is chaos because loans taken by rice farmers are used to build houses in Miami. What he failed to mention was that Indo Guyanese (and other Guyanese) were/are repatriating $100 Million in hard cash plus hundreds of millions more in commodities to help sustain and build Guyana.

During a break I came upon a group outside discussing how Afro Guyanese got no financial help to purchase their villages, but all other races received institutional aid to develop themselves. They failed to mention what Burnham did for them through loans, jobs, houses, scholarships, etc., and how they “bilawey” (squandered) everything while other races who gathered the crumbs that fell from Burnham’s table invested wisely.

Granted, a certain amount of venting of emotion is cathartic in conflict resolution. But I hardly believe that hurling unsubstantiated accusations is a part of catharsis.

‘Academania’ or academic anarchy had stepped in long before the forum was over. As we drove back to New York in gloom, I was convinced that for this caucus, Black academics most of whom were/are in all likelihood show bias towards the PNC; thus for them it appears that peace is something that comes out of the barrel of a gun. And if this forum was a microcosm of the political dialogue in Guyana, then we are yet to see the dark ages, especially as Robert Corbin prepares to take the helm of the PNC.

One realization was particularly clear. If the masses depend on academia as they do on the politicians, for any leadership and guidance in forging racial unity, they are in for a great disappointment. It is this realization that made Dr. Trotz cry, as she, just over thirty years of age, indicted them all for having failed her generation with their constant racial and political barrage. As she cried, I looked around and saw not one head bowed in shame. They all sat there, each with their heavy baggage of stones, as Pharisees without sin.
Similar workshops were held on conflict resolution at Turkeyen, Rose Hall and Lethem. If what happened at those previous forums resembles what happened at Howard University, the sponsors, Atlanta University Center and the University of Guyana are strongly urged to re-evaluate their support. It is indeed very frightening!