September 28, 2016

Our ‘hard ears’ politicians

By Ryhaan Shah

It is a truth that our politicians do not listen to us but, instead, talk to us, at us, and around us. They believe that they do not have to listen because they know what is good for us. Plain and simple, they are “hard ears”.
The other truth is that if we had a culture of listening and communicating, Guyana would be much further along socially and economically.
Listening is a conscious act. You have to be actively engaged to not only hear but to understand and appreciate what the other person is saying. A response with relevant questions or statements would then produce meaningful engagement and dialogue.
Such dialogue is not only absent between our political parties but also within the parties themselves.
Many PPP members say they are tired of trying to get the party leadership to simply listen to what they have to say. Meetings are held and the leaders attend, but never to listen. They come for the platform to speak to them and at them. The party’s radio and television call-in programmes are the same. They are used to disseminate party propaganda when supporters actually want to engage in discussions.
It is as if the party sees their supporters as unworthy of engagement. For the PPP, views that differ from the party line are seen as “talking back” and criticism, as negative and oppositional, and even as open attacks.
This, even after the party accepted that apathy among their supporters led to their loss of the majority in the 2011 general elections, and to losing the elections outright last May.
The apathy is a direct result of supporters feeling disengaged because of the widening gap between themselves and the party leadership. Treated with contempt, they reply with apathy.
A surefire way to engage and even impassion supporters is to listen to their opinions and suggestions and to involve them in deciding the party’s programmes, plans, and political direction. Once invested, they will work to see the party succeed.
A political party that shuts itself off from its support base, stagnates, and no one, looking at both the PPP and PNC/APNU, would disagree that both these behemoths have failed to reform, to keep up with a changing world, and to respond to that change with new directions and policies.
They are both still stuck in the Cold War politics which shaped them and the PNC and its government’s current impasse over the findings of the Rodney CoI is due in great part to the party behaving like its original past self when PNC paramountcy ruled.
Once again, PNC supporters are expected to simply follow the leader when, if the party listens, they will hear that the entire country is ready to unburden itself from that dark past. Should the PNC find the grace and goodness to put country first, we could all be jubilant.
The young people who voted for the Coalition based on their campaign message that the past doesn’t matter have realised by now that it matters greatly because it is about righting wrongs and exacting justice, values that are essential to sustaining democracy and upholding the national good.
But will they insist and make themselves heard and wrest the changes promised them or will they do as my generation and simply abandon all hope and seek the good life elsewhere?
As it is, no party has to listen to its supporters. Our politics remains locked as a racial battle and we along with it. It did appear that the APNU/AFC Coalition understood that we were battle weary, what with all their campaign promises of change and unity.
It appeared that they had listened and that, having understood, they would deliver with policies to effect the needed changes for progress and development once elected.
As it turns out they weren’t listening, at all. Their ears were fully “corked up” as ever and, because of this, Guyana is set to suffer another cycle of racist and corrupt governance that will take us further downhill.
What a change it would be if our party leaders were elected in a transparent and truly democratic manner where listening to the electorate would be key to winning. We would have better political leaders and a better chance at progress.
The Greek philosopher Diogenes said: “We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more and speak less.”
Would that our political leaders take his advice and just listen to what the people have to say. They will learn much about our hopes and aspirations when they do.

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