LAST week I sought to address the taboo issue — Ethnicity. My central point was that the PPP’s wholesale ethnic transfer of resources — political, economic and cultural — to the elites of one of our ethnic communities has set back the cause of ethnic peace in Guyana.
I also argued that since that ethnic transfer was done through the channels of the government and State, any attempt to correct the illegalities therein would be seen as ethnic revenge by half of our population. Any government that is concerned about stability, therefore, would be restrained in its actions and policies in pursuit of re-leveling the ethnic playing field. I concluded that the current government finds itself in exactly that situation.
I called it the Ethnic Trap—a trap that was deliberately set by the PPP.
The transfer was partly grounded in class, because those who benefited mostly were the old Indian- Guyanese elite and a new elite of mostly Indian- Guyanese that evolved under PPP rule. While there was minimum benefit to the Indian- Guyanese working classes, this does not mean that the transfer was not grounded in ethnicity. The pursuit of class interests does not remove the salience of ethnicity and race. Race is often used as a mask for class interests, but class interests often serve ethnic and racial objectives.
I am arguing that the economic and political power that resulted from the transfer of wealth into private hands under the PPP has widened the gap in wealth and power accumulation between our two major ethnic groups. That has fundamental consequences going forward. The PPP transformed the State and Political Economy in Guyana. After two decades of deliberate policies and actions, it has left Guyana an Ethnic State and Political Economy that favour one ethnic group. This is obvious to the naked eye. Look at all the revelations of crooked government transactions and see who are the beneficiaries.
The PNC created an authoritarian State which the PPP maintained and put an ethnic stamp on it. So, any fight against authoritarianism brings the fighters into direct conflict with Indian- Guyanese elite interests and indirectly into conflict with wider Indian- Guyanese ethnic sensitivities.
That is why some of the speakers at the Indian Arrival Summit were so vociferous in their calls on Indian- Guyanese to rise up and defend their gains. What they did not say was that a lot of those “gains” were part of an unfair ethnic transfer of common wealth to an ethnic elite. Most of their calls to action were addressed at defending the elites of the group.
One has to move beyond the ethnic make-up of organs of the State and examine who lead and control them and whose interests they protect and further. The police force is African- Guyanese populated, but Indian-Guyanese are well represented in the leadership.
An average policeman will quicker protect and defend the interests of an Indian -Guyanese “big boy” than the average African- Guyanese citizen. The present government plays ball with many of those who unfairly and illegally benefited from the transfer of wealth under the PPP. Many of the PPP enforcers are still in big positions in the ministries and they openly flaunt their PPP affiliation and allow it to influence their work.
The truth is that this newly empowered elite are using their wealth, status and strategic locations in the State and the economy to hold the country at ransom under the guise of undermining the government. They are using their economic monopoly to frustrate economic activity. They are using their power to buy government influence and, in the process, try to corrupt government leaders. They are using their positions in the government bureaucracy to stymie government action at basic levels of government.
They are using their wealth to infiltrate and influence legitimate grouses that various groups have against government policy. They are piggy-backing on legitimate concerns about the democratic credentials of SARA to try to delegitimise that institution. The attacks on Clive Thomas, Eric Phillips et al are deliberate. They are playing on the weaknesses of the government. They are baiting the Indian- Guyanese AFC leaders in the government by painting them as betrayers of the Indian-Guyanese brotherhood/sisterhood.
One of the criticisms of my comments on the Ethnic Trap last week is that this trap existed before the PPP came back to power in 1992; that the PNC behaved the same way towards Indian- Guyanese when they held power. While I have some sympathy for that line of argument, I think one must be much more clinical in our reading of history. I hold no brief for the PNC. I fought against their excesses when they held government before 1992 and will do so again if this present crop of leaders go down that same or a similar road.
While we may choose to read history and interpret it through ethnic lenses, in the end the evidence seldom lies. Did the PNC practise discrimination against Indian- Guyanese because of their ethnicity? Yes. Did the PNC ultimately seek to set up an Ethnic Political Economy and State? The evidence suggests it did not. It did create an authoritarian State, but that State did not explicitly seek to protect and advance African- Guyanese interests in an ethnic-specific manner. Insofar as African- Guyanese benefited from such a State, they did so indirectly. The authoritarian State under the PNC was as brutal to African-Guyanese as it was to Indian-Guyanese
Did the PNC practise ethnic clientelism in favour of African- Guyanese? Yes. But one has to make a distinction between ethnic socio-economic gestures and ethnic socio-economic policies. The PNC, while in power, made ethnic gestures to African- Guyanese, but they were very timid about implementing policies that would fundamentally close the economic gap between the major ethnic groups or directly benefit African- Guyanese. One could point to Burnham’s early policies on bauxite and in housing and education as examples of areas from which African-Guyanese as a group indirectly benefited . The National Service was a more ethnically direct intervention. But those initiatives fell away as the regime became more authoritarian. There were never any sustained Village Renewal policies in politics or economics. In fact, the PNC’s removal of the Village Councils killed a pivotal centre of African -Guyanese political power.
If there were any further big ethnic empowerment plans for African- Guyanese, those were sacrificed at the altar of political power. The break between ASCRIA and the PNC in 1971 stripped the PNC of its ethnic soul in a deep cultural sense. What remained was a purely opportunistic relationship between the party and its followers which Walter Rodney and the WPA were able to expose and exploit in places such as Linden, Georgetown, Buxton and some of the other villages. The AFC, under Raphael Trotman’s leadership, did the same thing electorally at the 2006 election.
Many point to the military as a powerful centr eof African-Guyanese power. That is only partly true. While African-Guyanese control of the military has had symbolic value, it has never translated into actual empowerment for the group. Not economically or politically. Police and soldiers have been wage earners at the bottom of the economic scale. Our military was never independently political and so never served as a form of African- Guyanese empowerment. It never sought to intervene politically to change the ethnic balance of power. There were no coups to restore African- Guyanese power. The military and police were enforcers for the PNC, but when the tables turned they quickly became enforcers for the PPP.
As I argued last week, the African- Guyanese elites tend to be simplistic about ethnicity. While they would get riled up about ethnic discrimination against African-Guyanese in private and may make some occasional public statements, they are less inclined to use government to implement policies aimed at correcting such discrimination. They will make ethnic gestures to African- Guyanese such as giving assistance to individuals in need and giving jobs to the party faithful, but they would not implement policies that explicitly address particular challenges facing African-Guyanese.
I think this attitude is influenced by a convergence of three factors. First, most African- Guyanese elites have embraced Western notions of “neutralism” which at a theoretical level advances a form of universalism that ignores particular group interests. Second, there is a lack of faith by the elites in the capacity of African- Guyanese to grasp opportunities given to them.
You hear this a lot from Burnhamites who point to policies that Burnham implemented that were geared to uplift African- Guyanese and that were subsequently squandered by them. Finally, there is a surrender to real-politics by the African- Guyanese political leaders, which says that since you are not going to win elections with African-Guyanese votes alone, it is politically counter-productive to expend political capital on them.
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.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org