Anyone closely associated with an ethnically divided society such as Guyana understands that because the saliency of ethnicity usually makes compromise difficult, much of the time is spent in or on the brink of political turmoil.
As we speak, the two major political parties, the PNCR and PPP/C, are locked in a political life and death struggle over the electoral list. Both claim that they want credible elections, which must mean elections with a list that is agreed by both of them or by a referee chosen by them. After much dispute, they found a referee – Justice Claudette Singh, the chairperson of the elections commission – who accepted their mandate and prioritised credible elections in the shortest possible time. However, since compromise is near impossible, they are doing what they do best to try and force the referee to accept their position by making extremely bogus appeals to extant normal legal rules and maneuvers that in the circumstances are largely redundant since it is the referee that needs to advise on a date for elections that cannot now fit within the written constitutional/legal requirements!
Political operatives are easily consumed by their own self-interested narratives that tend to prevent them from truly grasping the deep rooted nature of some of the major problems confronting them. Even so, I was extremely surprised when it was reported that in contemplating the need for political accommodation in Guyana, all the PPP/C could have offered was that should it be returned to government it would be prepared to add a few people from other parties to its government! No wonder an editorial in the Kaieteur News, When will our leaders be serious? felt it necessary to remind that what is required is a national solution and ‘There is nothing national about a few ministers from across the floor and fence. Moreover, this is regardless of which side offers such a peace pipe. As pipes go, that one is porous and falls apart even from now’ (KN: 11/09/2019).
Guyana’s modern political history has been a tragicomedy of ethnic parties trying to incorporate members of the other ethnicities either individually or as minority parties. If what emanated from the PPP/C was not an off the cuff statement: does it not understand that it is simply inviting us to continue the cycle of instability?
When the PPP/C came to government in 1992, Guyana was just emerging from political/economic wreckage that resulted largely from an admixture of geopolitical concerns and ethnic political opportunism. Put simply, contrary to the usual partisan propaganda, Forbes Burnham became an autocratic leader under the political system bequeathed to Guyana by the colonialists because he was viewed as necessary to protect Western interests against a ‘communist’ PPP. I do not believe that Burnham or Cheddi Jagan were racists – in the sense of thinking their race superior and/or fearing and disliking other ethnicities – but both were ethnic opportunists who played upon ethnicity to solidify and grow their internal bases. If anything, socialised in a caustic ethnic politically competitive environment, the generations that came after them portrayed a greater degree of fear and dislike of the other and this has become progressively worse.
In 1992, there was much hope but it was largely based upon a misdiagnosis of the situation similar to what the PPP/C is presenting today. The PPP still had an ethnic majority and its opportunistic mantra that what was necessary was a return to democracy – defined as majority rule – won the day. The PPP won government in 1992 and almost immediately the theory was proven wrong: all hell broke loose and by the time it left government in 2015, all the hopes that the return of majority rule government would herald a new democratic era in Guyana had evaporated.
Largely as a result of the ethnic confrontation, the economy, which had grown on average about 7% per year to 1998, collapsed and over the next 8 years grew at an average of about .4%. But the PPP/C was relatively successful in suppressing the unrest and the economy grew by an average of about 4.5% during the 10 years to 2015. (Donald’s truth. SN: 31/05/2017). However, the price paid for this relative peace and economic growth was significant: over 400 people lost their lives, questionable incarcerations were imposed, Guyana became awash with funny money, corruption was rife, the link between crime and politics was established and at election time PPP/C leaders were being dragged before the courts for utilising racial enmity to win votes. But while the PPP/C was basking in its perceived victory over the forces of instability, it appears that all its efforts and the resultant sufferings were for nothing! According to the PPP/C’s own account, the opposition had only changed tactics and unknown to it, succeeded in rigging the elections from under it!
History has repeated itself, for now in government the APNU+AFC government claims that it has brought peace: this is not unlike a similar claim the PNC made when, after the disturbances of the 1950s and 1960s in which many people lost life and property, the PNC took government in 1964. Indeed, the PPP/C response now is not dissimilar to that the PPP made in that time: ‘since you (PNC) instigated the war and now you have what you wanted; what do you expect?!’ Of course, this is too simplistic a response.
I stated two weeks ago, my reading of history and the political process suggests that Guyana needs to be organised to overcome two major difficulties if it is to cease being a dysfunctional political state. ‘Firstly, neither conceptually nor actually do the two large ethnic groups want to be managed by any other persons or parties than those chosen by them. Secondly, any political management arrangement that does not accommodate both of the larger ethnicities will, as noted above, lead to massive alienation, weakened national focus and extremely suboptimal political management.’ (SN:04/09/2019).
Political operatives are easily consumed by their own self-interested narratives and this tends to prevent them from comprehending the depth of the problem before them. The PPP/C is now inviting us upon another similar cycle of instability and its offer should be rejected. At the very least, that party owes it to Guyanese and its constituency to employ an independent expert with real knowledge of our kind of situations to inform it of an adequate way forward. Its suggestion of incorporation cannot overcome the two difficulties I have identified and standing where they presently are, the PPP/C cannot fail to see that the current system is not working and that a sensible solution is badly required.