Mar 31, 2019
In one of his recent columns, Freddie Kissoon observed the failure of African Guyanese activists to respond to interventions by three Indian Guyanese scholars on the so-called Ethnic Security Dilemma. He concluded that this silence has to do with a fear of being branded racists. His conclusion may be partly true, since any public utterance on race is often dismissed as racism—a tag that follows one forever.
As someone who has said a lot on the issue, I have had more than my fair share of that poison. I have come to accept that such name-calling is partly the result of a combination of hypocrisy and fear that runs deep in our society.
Guyana is one of the most racialized societies—the suspicions among the ethnic groups, especially between African and Indian Guyanese, are deep and permanent. Yet whenever Guyanese speak publicly on the issue, we swear that our country does not have a race-problem. This myth is articulated by the politicians and repeated by the followers. We have one narrative for intra-group discourse and another for inter group discourse.
We don’t need researchers to tell us what African Guyanese and Indian Guyanese of all stations in life say about the opposite group when they converse within their respective groups.
Of course, this deep suspicion which often borders on race-hate, manifests itself most glaringly in the political arena. But I argue that what we experience in politics is not the root cause of the problem. Rather the ethno-racial politics and political culture are the consequences of the problem.
After 180 years of living together in the same space and engaging in common struggles from time to time, African and Indian Guyanese relate to one another as historical enemies. It started during colonialism and deepened in the post-colonial era. The root of the problem to my mind lies in the hostile competition for common resources and the concomitant inability of the society to throw up leaders with the courage to rise above the fray.
In effect, what we have done all these decades is reproduce ethno-racial mistrust, suspicion and fear while pretending that we are doing otherwise. In the modern era we can point to two moments of common ethnic movement—the 1953 moment and the Walter Rodney-WPA moment. But we have not reproduced those moments, largely because they represented breaks in the cycle of suspicion rather than a qualitative breakdown of the building blocks of the problem.
The leaderships of 1953 and Rodney-WPA emphasized a social-class praxis, but while this proved to be an effective mobilizing tool against colonial domination and authoritarian governance, it did not permanently alter ethnic-identity politics.
I say all the above to get to Freddie’s question—why have the African Guyanese activists and scholars not responded to the Indian Guyanese writers on the Ethnic Security Dilemma?
I cannot speak for the others, but I have deliberately steered clear of any engagement. I have done so because I feel that such an exchange at this time will yield nothing positive.
A few weeks ago, I appeared on a Ney York-based televised Town Hall Meeting with Dr. Baytoram Ramharack, in which I thought we had a very civil and productive discourse on race relations in Guyana. However, a few days later Dr. Ramharack wrote the following in a letter to the Stabroek News, “During the town hall meeting I cautioned Dr. Hinds that it was dangerous for Africans to spread the myth that rich Indians control the Guyanese economy and that many Indians were engaged in the narco-trafficking economy. Dr. Ramesh Gampat, citing UN figures, had previously debunked the myth about the wealthy Indian controlling the economy of Guyana.”
This was followed by a reply by Sasenarine Singh to my comments on whether we were experiencing a constitutional or political crisis. Those comments had nothing to do with the Ethnic Security Dilemma. Yet Mr. Singh wrote the following: “These PNC policies continue to get buttressed by people like Dr. Hinds as we can see in this letter of his where he can only assign evil to the PPP in the fourth paragraph. He sees nothing wrong with the PNC led coalition employing 85% of the newly hired heads of department from one group and 16 of the 17 permanent secretaries from the same group.
Such racist actions by a government are not evil in Dr. Hinds books. It is people like Dr. Hinds who continue to do the most harm to Guyana by continuing to provide academic cover for the misguided policy of this ethnically supremacist PNC led Government who has done very little to economically empower all since May 2015. No one will dispute the fact that the majority of the top 200 richest families in Guyana are Indo-Guyanese families. But they are not an accurate representation of the demographic framework of the nation.”
Those two responses said two things to me. First, any discussion of the Ethnic Security Dilemma would yield nothing positive. The above writers and others have already concluded that African Guyanese writers believe that there are no poor Indian Guyanese—a formulation that I have not seen by any writer. So, it’s a case of creating an issue, attributing the cause to others, and then drawing them into a discourse to defend something they did not formulate.
Second, it says to me that there seems to be a well-orchestrated campaign to raise these issues around the pending elections campaign in order to taint the discourse. And that is something I have no interest in.
NOTES ON THE AFTERMATH OF THE APPEAL COURT RULING
I think the Appeal Court’s ruling was a fair one. It came down to a matter of what the constitution implied rather that what it said explicitly. I think the judicial reasoning behind the decision was persuasive. Many persons are hung up on the mathematics of the ruling rather than focusing on the judicial reasoning. For me, the latter is more important–the math is the outcome of a judicial interpretation of a clause in the constitution that left room for interpretation.
I expected the PPP to hold on to some form of protest. This is politics. I would have hoped that they didn’t go down that road. But the government just won a big victory, so the PPP must do something to show some fight. I have no problems with that–protest is part of democracy. I don’t think it would affect matters much, as the government does have a majority in the National Assembly, and it takes a simple majority for ordinary business. I do hope that the government does not over-reach, for this would play into the hands of the PPP.
As regards the dual-citizenship issue, all MP’s with dual citizenship should either renounce their foreign citizenship or resign from the Assembly. Both sides must do this to show the country that they are serious. Further, I think that whatever the CCJ rules, elections should be held within the timeline given to the president by GECOM. The symbolism of such a decision would help to restore some sense of civility to the process. In effect, the Coalition would be giving up five or six months of its term. But I think it would demonstrate a higher political culture by saying to the nation that its move to the courts was not the result of greed for power but out of principle
The No Confidence Vote was wake-up call for the Coalition, I think going forward, they should continue to level with their supporters and potential supporters about its missteps and other acts of omission. This restoration of the bond between the governors and the governed is vital to winning a second term.
The strength of the Coalition is its partnership, but there was too much intra-coalition alienation which, to my mind, facilitated Charrandass Persaud’s move. This area of the Coalition must be repaired. There must be a balance between party independence and self-interest on the one hand and Coalition cohesiveness on the other. Yes, the Coalition is an election outfit, but in the minds of at least half of the electorate, it represents more than that–it offers a path towards a genuine national governance.
Finally, I think the Coalition, while making right with its supporters, must express in word and deed, very clearly, how it intends to manage the coming oil wealth. This is the defining question for the election as far as I am concerned. The distribution of the coming resources must speak to ethnicity, gender and social class. So, I would urge the Coalition to go beyond giving out election-time goodies and tell the people how they will benefit from tomorrow’s wealth. The Coalition must reach out to alienated constituencies and activists. It should use the campaign to show that it can correct errors and expand beyond its comfort zone.
More of Dr. Hinds’ writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org