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From left: Trevor Williams, Dwaine Harry, Alana Clarke and Gerhard Ramsaroop. (Photo by Ken Moore)

As people who want to make their livelihood in instead of out of Guyana, a number of young members of the Alliance For Change (AFC) say the aim of their political involvement now is to make Guyana to a place for people to work and live.

During a visit to Stabroek News last week, Steering Committee Members Alana Clarke and Gerhard Ramsaroop; and members Trevor Williams and Dwaine Harry spoke of their concern over the current state of affairs of the country.

They outlined the high incidence of poverty, particularly in rural communities; increase in criminal activities, including drug trafficking; high rate of unemployment, mainly among young people; illiteracy and the migration of skills, as constituting the current state of affairs in the country.

They are concerned, too, that the focus of the country's politics is race-based rather than developmental and that this happens mainly at elections time. The race issue is one they feel Guyanese should guard against particularly during the election season.

Clarke, Ramsaroop, Williams and Harry are in their twenties and thirties; they have spent all their lives under governments headed by the PNC in the first instance and then the PPP.

Williams, a University of Guyana (UG) student, feels very strongly that racial and ethnic problems undermine the fabric of the Guyanese society and are the biggest barriers to development.

Clarke, a cosmetologist and a UG student, who says the party does not believe its membership should be divided into young and old, feels that because of mismanagement and poor governance, a country that should be one of the richest in the Caribbean because of its natural resources, is one of the poorest.

While she sees crime as a huge problem which the country's law-enforcement agencies seem incapable of dealing with, Ramsaroop, a UG graduate, adds that it cannot be dated as it has been taking place over a period of time. Corruption, crime including drugs and migration, he says, escalated under both the PNC and the PPP/C governments.

He says corruption, which "was picking up in the late eighties… is entirely endemic. When people do transactions, you actually have people factoring in how much you would have to give this person or that person. Unfortunately, that is not something that the PPP has tackled head-on for whatever reason."

Both Clarke and Harry, another UG student, see the narco-trade as destroying every level of the society including, what appears to be an undermining of the politicians, the law enforcement agencies and even the judiciary. The fact that Guyana remains a major transshipment point for the narco-trade and yet no major drug trafficker has been caught and prosecuted locally, they say, leads one to believe that the system is compromised throughout.

Williams believes that as long as there is racial instability and the political atmosphere is one of division and fear, Guyana will continue to be a breeding ground for criminal activities.

In spite of inadequate resources, Clarke says, the authorities must show some will to combat the criminal activities. "If we're under-resourced and understaffed they must make resolving that a priority and ask for help. I read in the papers that T&T has asked the British to help in their investigations with the crime issue. Nothing wrong with us if we ask for help."

Asked whether as young politicians they were prepared to make Guyana their home, Clarke says she is "prepared for the long haul" and has returned home to Guyana even though she could have lived elsewhere. "Why should you leave your home to live in someone else's as a second class citizen, specially when yours is comfortable?" she asks.

Harry will stay because he believes in "being patriotic" while Ramsaroop who was born in Guyana but has dual citizenship because his mother is German says only his early years were spent in Germany but his actions to date show that he is dedicated to Guyana. He was studying abroad in 1991 and cut short his study to assist in the PPP/C campaign in the run-up to the 1992 He assisted in the PPP/C campaigns in 1992, 1997 and 2001. "I went to UG and graduated in 1996 and ten years later I am still battling it out here. This is the only place where I can genuinely feel a part. Anywhere else I am in strangers' land. Perhaps it can be argued that we earn far less money than elsewhere but I think that quality of life here, which is based on relationship, gives us the sense of purpose we have. I feel the race problems are largely artificially created."

As part of their politicking, they have travelled with the leadership of the AFC. Clarke has travelled to among other places, Santa Mission on the Kamuni Creek. Williams has gone to Fort Island on the Essequibo River and Port Kaituma in Region One (Barima Waini). Harry went to Linden in Region Ten (Upper Demerara/Upper Berbice) among other places; and Ramsaroop to New Amsterdam in Region Six (East Berbice/Corentyne) and Buxton on the East Coast Demerara.

Clarke says she has noticed that people are interested in remaining in Guyana but the motivation is not there. It was strange, she says, when some people told them that they were the major challenge to the ruling party and the main opposition party. "We tell people out there we are not here to make promises, we make guarantees and we get it done. The traditional parties have to go with gifts and money but the AFC offers hope and vision. The flood relief speaks for itself. You give your strong hold $100,000 in flood relief and others $10,000. That alone should tell you that something is not right."

One of the more interesting experiences for Ramsaroop was the visit to Buxton. The people asked them to initiate a peace process between their village and Annandale. "That speaks volumes for the expectations for the AFC and it strikes a chord that convinces me that Guyanese want to co-exist. Our history of polarization is more artificial than real and perpetuated at elections time."

He notes too, the tendency to concentrate on the East Indians and African Guyanese and others who live on the coastland, while the Amerindians, who live mainly in the hinterland regions, are forgotten in the equation.

Williams says his relatives and friends have tried to discourage him from becoming politically involved because they feel he would be throwing away his future. "My contention is that politicians are servants of the people," he says. "The good thing about my involvement in politics now is that the AFC is a new political movement building on the premise of unity... It would be difficult and I expect a lot of criticisms but I expect a lot of support as well.

"I don't believe that all the answers lie with one political party [I believe] that many are capable of working together."

While the youths support the holding of elections as constitutionally due they do not believe that elections should be held if the structures or systems are not in place. They believe GECOM should be given enough space and support to complete the preparations. They do not believe in an interim government and feel that because of national interests any postponement of elections should not be prolonged.

Ramsaroop feels the introduction of biometrics sand and photographs of electors at the polling station has strengthened some aspects of the process.

"The AFC membership represents the general disillusionment with what has occurred over the past 40 years and an effort to remove the blinkered view we have of each other because of what the main parties perpetuated in their own interests," Ramsaroop says. "As a youth who intends to spend the rest of my life here, I certainly do not think we could continue to allow the country to be destroyed."

Since Harry thinks that Guyanese of African descent form the base of the PNC, and East Indians, the base of the PPP, his colleagues feel that the AFC provides the forum where no one race or one group feels threatened or insecure.

Williams sees the coming together of former PNCR MP and expelled PPP/C MP Khemraj Ramjattan as one of the great things happening in current Guyanese politics. He does not feel that there could be genuine change after this year's elections unless the AFC "can come through." Otherwise political suspicion, fragmentation, division will continue and politicians will continue to thrive on dividing the two major ethnic groups in Guyana.

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