“In my statement on Arrival Day, I sought to put forward a message of common values, of common struggles, and ultimately what I hope would lead to reconciliation among our people. In that message, I stated that every group that came here did so for a better life for themselves and their descendants.”
This is according to President Irfaan Ali, who less than 24-hours of releasing a publication of May 6 (Arrival Day) in Guyana, was prompted to offer a clarification of his message in which he was accused of referring to African ancestors and their presence, contributions of society being a result of their choices rather than being forced to do so as slaves.
“I was not and could not ever have been referring to our African ancestors, who did not come here of their own volition but were captured, brought to our country in chains, and brutally enslaved. Indeed, it is their sacrifice and struggle for freedom and against oppression that should inspire us to continuously secure our freedoms and democracy for a better Guyana. To my fellow Guyanese who felt offended by the way in which the language was structured, you have my unreserved regret and assurance that the struggles of our enslaved African ancestors would never be understated and unappreciated.”
He stated that African ancestors who were brought to Guyana, “gave their lives for our freedom and as a nation, we must be forever grateful.”
“As I expressed in my Arrival Day message, we must find deeper, more meaningful ways of celebrating our collective diversity, of pooling our collective wisdom; moreover, we need to begin and sustain the practice of speaking openly and honestly with each other. This year as we celebrate Arrival Day, we do so with a greater sense of purpose that as a collective we stood together for a free and democratic Guyana.With respect to our ancestors, our National Anthem reminds us that we are “born of their sacrifice, heirs of their pains’.”
President Ali one again issued a call for all to join together, to “forge the unity of voice, of purpose, and of our people that would make them proud.”
His clarification on his Arrival Day statement came on the heels of a letter addressed to him on May 6, issued by Leader of the A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance For Change (APNU/AF) Coalition, Joseph Harmon, who drew President’s Ali attention to a part of his address in which he (President Ali) posited “Let us remember that every group that came did so for improvement, did so to have improved living conditions, did so so that successive generations will be better off.”
According to Harmon, the President’s statement suggested that Africans who were brought to Guyana against their will, bound in chains and transported across the Atlantic in subhuman conditions did so for improvement.
“Nowhere is this recorded as a historical fact. It is useful to recall that slavery and the slave trade were declared as a crime against humanity by the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban, South Africa, from 31 August to 7 September 2001. It has been acknowledged by the international Community that the slave trade and the legacy of slavery are at the heart of situations of profound social and economic inequality, hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice, which continue to affect people of African descent up to today,” Harmon stated.
The Opposition Leader noted that as such, it would be of utmost importance that as political leaders, “we strive to be factual in our assessment of these most profound historical matters as they have direct implications for the cohesion of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society such as ours. Accordingly, I shall be grateful for your earliest correction of these utterances.”