Friday, March 18, 2011

Who Am I? (A poem by Stella)

 (Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 18 March 2011)

Do you have a little girl who likes to be rambunctious? Do you spend your day trying to reshape her personality to be less adventuresome and more retiring? If so, do you also impose those traits on your son – if you have one?

It is simply unfair for girls to be locked away and told to be quiet and submissive while the boys are allowed to get dirty and explore the world. When that girl grows up, she will then be told that she does not understand the real world. Of course she doesn’t. Her parents and society did not allow her to learn about the real world.

Moreover, those retiring traits that are too often instilled in little girls and subsequently taken into their adult lives, are often the same traits that put them at severe disadvantage when they enter into relationships, the workplace and leadership positions.

Some believe females are more given to a quiet and submissive life. I do not agree. I was never given to being submissive and if I am quiet, it is because it was beat into me as a child – not because it was my nature. I am not the exception, either. I know scores of women just like me.

Girls should be encouraged to be themselves, even if that includes climbing trees and getting dirty. Young women should be taught how to stand up for themselves in the real world. And young wives should be told that a marriage is an equal partnership in which her opinion matters as much as that of her husband.

The truth of the matter is that if young girls were raised in a world where equality is taught from birth – to both boys and girls – there would be far less friction between the two sexes. It is because boys are deferred to throughout their lives that they feel they are somehow superior and feel the need to put females “in their place.”

There is no superiority. Women and men should be able to navigate life on earth together without the superficial trivialities humans have created to rule over each other. Each gender has its strengths and weaknesses, but when they are put together the human race makes a powerful species.

I understand the frustrations of a little girl who is required to be something less than what she truly is inside. While I was in college in a Gender Communications class, the students were asked to explain where we saw ourselves on a gender line – masculine on one side of the line, feminine on the other and androgynous in the centre.

We were to complete this assignment any way we felt most comfortable, which for me, of course, was writing. The following is the poem I wrote for that assignment:

Who Am I?
Frills and lace are for the prissy
Give me some jeans instead.
Bikes and dirt were my toys
Barrettes never stayed on my head.

I was Momma’s only girl
Though she could never get me in a dress.
Although there was that one big fight
When she had someone to impress.

Me and my little brother
Our bikes answered the call of the city streets.
Boys gave me kisses and hugs
But knew better than to give me sweets.

Don’t ask me to share my feelings
I’d rather share what’s in my head.
Don’t open my door or pull out my seat
Until I’m in my casket, cold and dead.

Chivalry equals dependence
Don’t make me feel small today.
I won’t be kept and I won’t be bought.
No thank you, I can make my own way.

Women cower and cringe at my actions
They think me arrogant and bold.
Some men find me intriguing
Others find me quite cold.

I don’t conform to society
I am the master of my own values and goals.
I won’t allow myself to be used by others
It would equate to selling my soul.

Am I a tomboy? No, not really.
I just don’t fit your mould.
I have more energy and potential
Than a simple structure like that can hold.

So let’s talk, I promise not to bite.
Come on now – let me in.
I know my confident stride can be intimidating,
But I fit just fine in my own skin. 

When I write on the situation of women in society, I do so because my one great desire is to see women function in an equal capacity on every level – political, spiritual, educational, business – and in every other conceivable way. It is not because I want women to push men out. It is because I believe that when women and men begin working together – without the unfair disadvantages placed on women from birth – we will see a world that is far better than the one in which we currently live.

When I finally gave up trying to conform to society’s expectation of what a woman should be, when I finally allowed myself to be the real me, that is when I realised that I fit fine in my own skin.

I know who I am. Why not allow your daughter to know whom she really is deep inside, too. Better yet, why not allow her to be whom she really is deep inside.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Curiouser and Curiouser!

 (Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 16 March 2011)

Sometimes, in regard to writing on political and social issues in Guyana, I feel like I am watching the Disney movie, Alice in Wonderland. Alice said if she had a world of her own, “…everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

This is the world of politics in Guyana. Nothing is what it is because everything is what it isn’t. I sometimes feel as if at any moment Alice will show up with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. My column reflects the opinion of a person looking at Guyana from the outside, and sometimes I am honestly flabbergasted at the things I see.

For example, this was printed in the Guyana Chronicle yesterday, “Press and Publicity Officer of the Office of the President, Kwame McCoy, last evening reacted to a Prime News report which accused the Office of the President as being the owners and managers of the Live In Guyana blog. The report is absolutely erroneous since this blog site is not managed by the Office of the President, McCoy said.”

So far, this statement seems as if it is perfectly normal. There is nothing out of the ordinary in McCoy’s statement, until he says, “The report is mischievous since Prime News is aware that the site is owned and managed by Prime News and the Kaieteur News.” This is where I have to say everything is nonsense.

Why on earth would Prime News and Kaieteur News publish material on a blog that is injurious to members of its own staff – as the Live In Guyana has done? This blog has even posted personal information about those from Kaieteur News. This is what I mean when I say nothing is what it is because everything is what it isn’t. Pure nonsense.

Speaking of nonsense, it is sheer madness when one of the more brilliant minds in a nation – and the foremost columnist – uses infantile language like “King Kong” to refer to a president. Regardless of the lack of respect that columnist holds for the president, for those looking in from the outside, this use of childish antics is confusing at best and at worst, difficult to take seriously – because it is coming from an intellectual. Just madness.

My colleague, Freddie Kisssoon talks about the madness that has taken over the country, but when he lowers himself to the same childish behaviour as those he writes about, he becomes part of the problem and definitely not an example of what the solution should look like. Freddie is like Alice when the Catepillar asked her, “Who are YOU?” Alice replied, “I—I hardly know, sir, just at present— at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

Freddie has warned me on several occasions not to allow my association with certain people to change me, but Freddie is allowing his crusade against “King Kong” to change him and he does not even see it.

Yes, madness abounds. Mark Benschop is arrested for trumped up charges of breaking Kwame McCoy’s door window while McCoy and his posse walk away after severely vandalising Benschop’s truck. Madness.

Madness abounds when the president of the country tells the people to not allow others to divide the nation while he himself uses highly inflammatory language that can have no other objective but to divide the nation. Curiouser and curiouser!

Guyana is beginning to look like Venice with waterways for streets. Perhaps someone should invest in some gondolas and use the ever-present floodwaters as a romantic jaunt for the tourists? What sense does it make to have streets anymore if they are always covered with water? No sense. Nonsense.

What sense is there in having any opposition parties when they oppose nothing? If they act like the subjects in the court of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland and simply bow and say, “Yes, your majesty. Yes, your majesty. All ways are your ways, your majesty,” what sense is there in even having them around?

When the Queen of Hearts goes around intimidating her subjects demanding to know who is painting her roses red, not a single soul has the courage to stand up and tell her that roses are supposed to be red.
In Guyana, the opposition parties do not have the courage to take a stand against the tirades of those in power, either. They, too, cower in fear without the courage to take a stand for how things are supposed to be. More madness.

So where do I fit into this madness? Alice told the Cheshire Cat, “I don’t want to go among mad people.” To this the cat replied, “Oh, you can’t help that, we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.” Alice asked, “How do you know I’m mad?” The Cheshire Cat responded, “You must be or you wouldn’t have come here.” I guess this means I am in the same boat as everyone else in Guyana. Or should I say I am in the same gondola.

One cannot help but wonder if like Alice in Wonderland, this is all just a dream and we will wake up with a fabulous tale of a place where everything is nonsense and nothing is what it is because everything is what it isn’t. On the contrary, perhaps I can instead expect Freddie to one day ask me why a raven is like a writing desk.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

You, too, can be a rebellious woman

 (Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 13 March 2011)

One of Guyana’s greatest women has also been named as one of Time Magazine’s top rebellious women of all time. To say that I was elated to hear this news is an understatement. There is no doubt that Janet Jagan was a fighter in every sense of the word.

This newfound fame for a Guyanese woman caused me to assess the “rebel” factor of the Guyanese women at large. There is no doubt that Guyanese women have spunk, attitude and sass – all of which, I can readily relate.

Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Janet Jagan in person, I have a feeling she had to have plenty of spunk, attitude and sass as well. How could she not, given the amount of great things she accomplished in her life? A shrinking violet (a shy or retiring person) cannot storm a castle.

One of my three favourite phrases, which I have mentioned before, is “A well-behaved woman rarely makes history.” This is so true when one thinks of Janet Jagan. The woman is now infamous for her rebellion against so many aspects of societal expectations – and even political expectations (national and international).

Janet Jagan did not wait for a man to do what she knew she could do just as well – or better. She did not conform to what anyone else thought. She claimed her own thoughts and did what she wanted. She was a leader among leaders. This is my kind of woman.

It makes me glad when I see Guyanese women break out of that little box society has shoved them into. However, let’s be honest, there are also some Guyanese women who have been “put into their place” by the likes of men who do not appreciate a rebellious woman. Some have even been murdered for not “submitting” to their “masters.”

I had a good friend of mine once tell me, as he hit his breast with his fist, that he knows deep down inside that men are to be the head of the household. I can do better than that. I know with every ounce of my whole body, soul and mind that no man should be the master of another person – including a woman.

My friend believes what he does because that is what he has been taught since he was born – that a man is to rule over the home and over the woman. What else is he going to believe after being inundated with this sexist viewpoint for his whole life? I was taught those views too, but I always knew it was wrong from the time I was a young girl.

I know, I know – I am a rebellious woman, too. I gladly admit it and I am proud of it! I do not bow to the archaic ideas that I am a second-rate citizen because I am a female. I do not allow men to treat me as if I am anything but their equal and when I walk into a room I am recognised for my intellect – not as the one who cooked dinner.

And you, sister, can be a rebellious woman, too. Come on, you know how much you have been wanting to break those prison bars that have imprisoned you for your whole life. How many times have you longed to be free?

How many times have you thought about how unfair it is that you have to work all day and come home to cook dinner and clean all night? How many times have you wanted to lash out when the bossman grabs you on the rear? Take my word for it; there is no man but my husband who would dare to grab my rear (and my husband knows he has my permission).

I have another question, how long have you been working yourself to death hoping to be taken as seriously as a man? Girl, it is time to rebel. It is time to channel your inner Janet Jagan and let the real you come out in full force. By the time you are done, they will have no choice but to recognise you for the full potential you have as a person.

I am about to make a whole lot of religious people upset, but like I said – I am a rebel. Women, it is time for you to rebel, too. It is time to misbehave. It is time to make our own set of social standards. Stop finding excuses to conform to the patriarchal system and just be your own woman for a change.

Think about this, any woman who has ever made history has done so because they chose to defy the stifling system to which women are chained. Janet Jagan chose to be her own woman and she made history. Aung San Suu Kyi has been the foremost leader in the effort to democratize Burma, and after 15 years of house arrest, she was presented with the Nobel Peace Prize. She was also one of the top rebellious women in Time Magazine.

I am a writer and so my all-time favourite heroine is a writer. George Eliot, born Mary Anne Evans, created her male pen name to have her writings taken more seriously in the late 19th century.

According to Wikipedia, “Women writers were not uncommon at the time, but Evans’s role at the head of a literary enterprise was. The mere sight of an unmarried young woman mixing with the predominantly male society of London at that time was unusual, even scandalous to some.”

Eliot wrote my favourite book, “Middlemarch”. There are stories that she dressed like a man and she, in fact, had a long-term relationship without getting married.

She was a great rebel and set the groundwork for future female writers. When I grow up, I want to be a rebel just like her.

And just like Janet Jagan, you can be a rebellious woman, too.

Friday, March 11, 2011

On the government’s obsession with the media

 (Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 11 March 2011)

I have been stewing over some of President Jagdeo’s statements made at Babu John, Port Mourant where there was a gathering to commemorate the deaths of Presidents Cheddi and Janet Jagan last weekend as reported by the website, Demerara Waves, in an article entitled, “Jagdeo attacks Granger; wary of opposition succeeding.”

According to Demerara Waves, the President said, “Someone like Granger will succeed or could succeed if – and they are counting on him succeeding because young people in this country don’t have a memory of the 70s and the 80s.”

And he “urged older party-faithful to educate younger persons about the hard political and economic times when the PNCR was in power and guard against those returning under the guise of democrats. ‘Make sure that people are educated about that past.’”

When I hear this type of language coming from any leader of a nation, I become very distressed. However, when a leader of Guyana says these things, it is irresponsible and – to be honest – a move to divide the nation. To call up to memory the happenings of decades ago is in no way good for the nation.

Ironically, the Guyana Chronicle mentioned that the President also said, “other parties…seek to divide this nation rather than bringing people together; and an era that seeks to chart the nation retrogressively – take it backwards – mentally, economically and, consequently, socially.” To be completely honest, this statement exemplifies the very feeling I get from the President’s call to remember the 70s and 80s.

Having been stewing over the recklessness of these comments for the better part of this week, I happened upon even more statements by the President that shocked me. Demerara Waves reported in a March 9 article entitled, “Media boycott still a political weapon in Guyana,” that at the same gathering at Babu John, the President urged “party-faithful to cease supporting media that he deemed opposed to his party and government.”

That article went on to quote the President as saying, “Don’t put money in their pockets; some of these newspapers are rags because all they would do is to enrage you and move from one lie to the next lie. Some of the TV stations, they are hostile to us; don’t support them if they are hostile to us because they are bent on creating division in our land.”

Is the president of a country telling the people what they should and should not read and what they should and should not watch on television? So what if he feels there are parts of the media who are hostile to him? That is part of being in politics. It is no reason whatsoever to tell the people what they should and should not be able to do.

Does the President not think the people are capable of making up their own minds concerning the issues important to them? Does he believe that if someone reads this newspaper or watches Prime News that they are no longer faithful to the PPP? Should the people of Guyana make their political decisions based only on a diet of propaganda fed to them by the state media?

I do not believe for one second that people will consider complying with his wishes and stop reading the most popular newspapers or stop watching the TV stations he opposes. It is an outlandish request and anyone with a right mind will see it as such.

Still these statements by the President are worrisome. When put together with other statements, like his “shoot to kill” order, there seems to be an obvious sense of desperation in the tone of it all. I do believe there is a real fear in the PPP that this could be the year they are unseated.

Still, that is no excuse to divide the nation by using the fear-mongering tactics the President used last weekend or to call for a boycott on any media the ruling government does not control. These types of actions by the President are the very reason there is a need for media that is not state controlled. In fact, it is these actions that give the media so much to write about.

I often get the distinct feeling from those in power that Kaieteur News and other media outlets exist only because the government “allows” them to exist. The truth of the matter is that these media outlets have a constitutional right to exist. Their existence is not based on the generosity of the government and if they are ever not “allowed” to exist, it will be because the government will be acting against the constitution of the nation.

Dissent with the government is not a reason to shut down a newspaper or TV station. In fact, it is a sign of a healthy democracy when dissent is allowed without government intervention. Calling for a boycott of media outlets that are not state controlled is government intervention, and puts the PPP’s much touted “democracy” proclamation at imminent risk.

I live in a place where thousands, perhaps millions, of people raise their dissenting voices every single day against the government. However, if any political leader ever called for a boycott of a newspaper or TV station, that leader would lead no more.

This is true in most thriving democracies because the liberties and freedom of the people are far more important than any politician or political party.

Furthermore, the current administration’s manic behaviour concerning the media is highly unprofessional. They should be about the people’s business instead of constantly attacking reporters, newspapers and TV stations that do not toe the PPP party line.

The aforementioned March 9 Demerara Waves article said, “The President called on the audience to fight against anyone bent on creating division with “our hearts and every tool available to us.’” I cannot help but wonder if that fight against anyone bent on creating division includes the President himself. If not, it should.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

My thoughts on the Men’s Affairs Bureau

 (Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 09 March 2011) 

The Ministry of Human Services and Social Security has officially launched its Men’s Affairs Bureau (MAB). Once the story hit the newspapers, I received an email from someone named Lenny who had this to say about the MAB, “It’s a great gesture that could very well become the education equilibrium to reduce domestic chaos, violence, and family dysfunction. Your thoughts please!” Lenny, I’d be happy to share my thoughts.

On November 7, I wrote a column entitled, “An interview with Minister Priya Manickchand on Domestic Violence,” in which I asked the following question, “As Guyana transitions from a culture where domestic violence was at the very least a private issue, if not socially acceptable, to a society that now incarcerates abusers, there will be many abusers who should receive professional counselling to help them make the psychological adjustments needed to accept this new reality. Does your ministry offer this type of counselling for abusers?”

After explaining that most of the resources up to that point had been used to make sure the victims of domestic violence were safe, Minister Manickchand then said, “We are about, however, to officially launch a Men’s Affairs Bureau.

The establishment of this bureau was born of the recognition that in this whole effort to address violence against women, we were perhaps failing to address a necessary component, the men – who are in most cases, the abusers – thus making our efforts less than holistic.”

The Minister continued, “One of the mandates of this Bureau, which has begun its work, will be to advise on and implement programs that could address the men of our country in issues that are topical and, of course, with a mandate like that, domestic violence, its causes, perpetrators, consequences and solutions would have to be addressed.”

It has long been my belief that if Guyana is going to make any significant headway in the struggle against domestic violence, there needs to be a comprehensive program, such as Manickchand has detailed in her response to my interview question, to help abusers to make the psychological adjustments necessary to accept that domestic violence is indeed immoral – and illegal.

As such, if this is one of the primary focuses of the MAB, I gladly support this endeavour. Indeed, in a March 5 Guyana Chronicle article entitled, “Men’s Affairs Bureau launched,” the government newspaper said the new program was “aimed at holistically addressing the needs of men in relation to social problems between the two groups [men and women] and the root causes as they relate to domestic violence.”

So far so good. In fact, in that same article by the Chronicle, Manickchand is quoted as saying, “gender issues are often mischaracterised as only women’s issues.” She also said the “government recognised that Guyana could not develop at the pace needed, “if we do not pay attention to the needs of men in the country…the partnership between men and women could only catapult Guyana forward.”

I could not agree more. I even agree with Community Development Officer at the Office of the President, Reverend Kwame Gilbert, who said “domestic violence – another good reason for the establishment of the MAB – depletes the country of human capital, and is therefore injurious to the economic welfare of the country.”

However, before one reads Minister Manickchand’s statements or the statement by Reverend Gilbert, there is a hefty amount of President Jagdeo’s speech – of which left me feeling particularly unnerved about the MAB.

For example, according to the Chronicle article, “The president warned that there is so much pressure on boys in school and in society that the fear exists of the feminisation of young men. ‘If people don’t have a community of men to turn to for guidance, for male values – and masculine values do not mean aggression, but things that are unique to males — we would succumb more and more to this process of feminisation of men.’”

This feels very much like there is something wrong with being feminine. What is “this process of feminisation of men”? I have never heard of such a thing. But the president makes it sound like a horrid disease that no man should ever catch.

The further one reads in this article, the more the reader understands what is actually being said. Jagdeo continues, “We don’t want every young male child to start thinking that that is ok; I am not going to say the word. If we don’t want them to think that, then we need to start providing a community of men where they can get together and discuss male problems in a strong masculine environment.”

I do believe the word the president didn’t want to say was “gay.” Vidyaratha Kissoon thought the same way and wrote a letter to each of the daily newspapers remarking on the president’s statements and pondering the use of the MAB in an attempt to counter homosexuality in the society.

The Chronicle’s editor responded to Kissoon’s letter in part by saying, “…So the President was not condemnatory of the personal choices of adults, but he was expressing concern that, in female-dominated households, boys would not identify with normal male behavioural patterns, but could be psychologically influenced to veer toward identifying with non-inherent female and feminine impulses.”

Again, being feminine is made to feel like a malady – and this undertone is the very problem that lies at the heart of the domestic violence issue.

It seems we have discovered the first ones who need the MAB to help them better understand modern gender roles and the shift in the social makeup of today’s family.

It appears there are some who may not grasp the degree of misogynistic language that comes out of their mouths. Or they simply do not care.

In short, my thoughts on the MAB is that I reserve judgement until I can better determine whether the program is actually going to help in the struggle against domestic violence or – as some of the statements I have mentioned – simply reinforce the machismo that is already embedded into society that gives men the “license” to batter and murder women.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Happy International Women’s Day! (To the women who are still alive)

(Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 06 March 2011)  

On Tuesday, March 8, people around the world will celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). According to, “Hundreds of events occur not just on this day but throughout March to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women.”

March 8 is a day set aside for “organisations, governments and women’s groups around the world to choose different themes each year that reflect global and local gender issues.” Different countries, groups, etc., choose a theme for the year and although I like many of the themes chosen for 2011 – the one I feel is most relevant for Guyana is the theme chose by the United Nations (UN).

The UN’s theme is, “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls.” I know many might feel Guyana has got the message that domestic violence is evil. Yet the violence against women continues – and so must our struggle against it.

I have always felt the female population in Guyana must be dropping considerably given the number of women killed each week – either by domestic violence or while giving birth. However, I happened upon a chart that shows just how dramatic the numbers have fallen.

In fact, the statistics provided in this chart are so dramatic that it is as if the women of Guyana are disappearing. The graph appearing with this column (found at: charts the female population of Guyana from 1967 to 2008. Trading Economics created the chart using historical data for Guyana’s population according to the World Bank.

The numbers show a steady growth of the female population from 1967 until the year 2000, at which time the graph show a sharp drop as the numbers nose-dive through 2008. In the year 2000, when the graph showed the female population at its highest, it peaked at 51.48 percent of the total population.

When the numbers bottom out in 2008, the female population is only 48.7 percent of the total population. Can you imagine what this graph would look like if it included the numbers from 2009 and 2010? Yes, the UN’s theme of “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls” is highly appropriate for Guyana this year.

In fact, when this graph begins to chart the female population in 1967, it started at 50.11 percent of the total population and enjoyed steady growth until 2000 when it begins to plummet. That number of 48.7 percent, where the female population bottomed out in 2008, represents the hundreds (maybe even thousands) of women who have been killed in Guyana in the last decade.

The female population of Guyana is slowly, but surely, disappearing. This does not bode well for the nation. Over a 33-year period – between 1967 and 2000 – the female population grew a healthy 1.37 percent. However, in the seven years between 2001 and 2008, the female population dropped 2.78 percent. In other words, Guyana lost more than double the amount of women between 2001 and 2008 than it gained in the 33 years prior. Happy International Women’s Day.

It is for these reasons that there are special days set aside to celebrate women, because for too many days of the year the women are not viewed as special. In fact, they are often viewed as disposable. However, I can guarantee you this, if the rate of the female population continues to nose-dive like it has for the last decade, women in Guyana will soon be on the protected species list. That is special, right?

How did this situation get so out of control? How could we sit by and do nothing while the women of the nation died? Even today, if a woman goes to a police station in Guyana to report domestic abuse, the chances are high that she will be sent back to her abuser to be tortured again.

Every woman who cries out for help and does not receive it – whether it is to a neighbour, a relative, a co-worker, a law enforcement officer, a Human Services social worker or a magistrate – that woman could become the next statistical decline on the graph of Guyana’s disappearing women.

This graph is a visual manifestation of what I have surmised the situation to be for years. Women cannot be killed on a constant basis – as they are in Guyana – without some computable record to account for it. This graph is irrefutable proof of the magnitude of this problem.

To put this information in better perspective, the sex distribution in 2007 for China (where female infanticide is practiced because of the one child per family law) was male 51.53 percent and female 48.47 percent. This is very similar to Guyana. Meanwhile, in countries like Jamaica, Barbados and the US, there are more females than males. In Brazil, the population by gender is nearly equal.

Even in Haiti, the statistical difference in its female population in the entire 40 years between 1968 and 2008 has never been up or down more than .2 percent. It constantly remains right at 50 percent.
Guyana’s female population fell a drastic 2.78 percent in just eight years. With this type of evidence, I dare one person to challenge me on the fact that Guyana’s women are being killed off.

What has happened in the last decade to bring the nation to the point where killing women is socially acceptable? I have asked myself this question dozens of times in desperation of finding a solution to the murders.

The trend demonstrated in this graph makes it obvious that this is a human rights crisis. There should be human rights activists, women’s organisations and other governments from around the world lobbying the government of Guyana to fix this situation as quickly as possible – the same way China is set upon. Instead, there are police officers who act as if they are being put out when a woman asks for protection from her abuser.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Will Facebook and Twitter be blocked in Guyana, too?

(Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 04 March 2011)

Online communication tools played a huge role in recent government changes in Tunisia and Egypt. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter played large roles in both countries. These revolutions also showed how easily governments can interrupt Internet traffic and cell phone transmissions.

In a March 1, Voice of America (VOA) article, Jillian York, with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, says the Tunisian government used old-school “Phishing” attacks to get Facebook users’ passwords and hijack their accounts.

York said, “A user would try to log in to and would be redirected to a page that looked just like the login page. When they logged in, their password was captured and their account was thus taken away from them.”

I found this article interesting because of another article I read on February 28 in the Guyana Chronicle entitled, “Teenage girls face off over Facebook.” As I read the Chronicle article, which detailed an argument on Mash Day between two teenage girls about material posted on their Facebook pages, I could not help but think the article was a waste of print page.

Who really cares about two teenage girls getting into a spat? This happens dozens of times a day and it is certainly not newsworthy. However, when I reached the last two paragraphs of the article (I read it that far to see if the article had a redeeming reason for being printed), I discovered the only reason the state media could have for wasting their time on this non-story.

Here is what those paragraphs said, “In recent times, Facebook has been known to contribute to countless breakdowns in marriages, identity theft, stalking, rape, and even murders because of the volume of information it dispenses openly about the user, unless they stringently employ the security settings offered by the site.”

The next paragraph said, “The site, and its Twitter friend have been blamed for aiding communication during the current uprising in the Arab world. Other countries are now examining methods aimed at curtailing Facebook’s influence on its younger population.”

I read the Chronicle because it often foreshadows the government’s next move. It is almost as if a decision is made to move in a particular direction by those in power, and then articles are written for the Chronicle in such a way that it supports the decision that has been made before it is announced publicly. In other words – it is government propaganda.

The wording of these paragraphs is especially worthy of note because it paints Facebook and Twitter in a very suspicious light by attributing them to “breakdowns of marriages, identity theft, stalking, rape and even murder.” Then it “blamed” the sites for aiding communication during the recent revolutions in the Middle East.

Blamed? While the rest of the free world cheers the role these Websites played in those revolutions, Guyana’s state media uses the word blame – as if Facebook and Twitter did something wrong by helping the people of Egypt and Tunisia fight for freedom.

There is something very wrong here. Could this article be another foreshadowing of government’s intention? Although at present it seems unlikely the government would feel it necessary to block Facebook and Twitter in Guyana, the fact that this is an election year forces us to look at the possibility.

In light of the way this article was phrased, it would seem the government would be protecting the young people of the nation by “curtailing Facebook’s influence on its younger population.” In other words, Facebook would be restricted for your own good.

Aside from Egypt and Tunisia, government-sponsored service interruptions of the Internet and cell phone service have occurred in Iran, Syria, Iraqi Kurdistan and elsewhere in the Middle East. According to the aforementioned article in VOA, governments can still maintain a so-called “kill switch” particularly if the government owns or licenses the communications networks or fibre optic cables.

The article said that in some cases, governments control the infrastructure to which social media are connected – as it did in Egypt and still does in countries like China, Iran and Syria – and Internet access can be hindered.

However, York said, “Even with Facebook or Twitter being blocked, there are numerous ways to get around that. There are circumvention tools, when https is enabled it is very difficult and unlikely that a government is going to block all https communications.”

Guyana is a free country and I am hoping this article in the Chronicle was simply written by someone who sorely dislikes modern social media – and not at the behest of those in power with an agenda to undermine the freedom of the citizens.

However, it would be irresponsible of this commentator to discount this unusual propaganda as a reporter’s rant given the political climate of the world today, the fact that the article in question held no other significant information and the fact that this is an election year.

Could it be that a Guyanese leader (or leaders) felt these dictators of the Middle East made a genius move in attempting to cut their people off from the rest of the world? Could it be this move is now being considered for the people of Guyana to curtail outside “influence”?

If this is even a remote possibility, now is the time for those who are tech savvy to begin preparations to circumvent any such plan. After all, it is better to be safe than sorry.