This past week the AFC added its voice to charges by the opposition that the PPP government is pursuing a racist agenda against African Guyanese. This accusation arises from the government’s action since it took office in August. It has fired mainly African Guyanese government bureaucrats (the number differs depending who you speak to), arrested mainly African Guyanese for alleged misconduct in office and prosecute mainly African Guyanese staff at GECOM ostensibly for engaging in fraud at the recently concluded election. These are facts that the government cannot deny. The PPP as expected has argued against charges of ethnic motivation. It has already said that the bureaucrats are political appointees and not career public servants. Regarding the police charges against GECOM staff and those against former government functionaries, these are explained as part of the government’s anti-corruption drive.
But those explanations do not get to the heart of the problem. The big question is whether these actions are motivated by ethnic considerations and could have ethnic impacts. This is what has been driving the use of the term, Ethnic Cleansing. The term has its origins in the forced physical removal of one dominant ethnic group by the other. It came to prominence during the Bosnia and Herzegovina conflicts, but the practice goes back to the early 1900s. As is usually the case with these terms, Ethnic Cleansing has been expanded to describe other manifestations of ethnic conflict. It was first used in Guyana by the then opposition to describe the PPP government’s actions when it first came to power in 1992.
So, rather than just dismiss the arguments against perceived government ethnic actions, I would suggest that the term be modified and used. The fact is that the actions by the PPP government are consistent with past actions and they do have ethnic outcomes that could lead to conflict. So, I would define Ethnic Cleansing as a political tool used by Ethnic Parties when in government to ensure the loyalty of the government bureaucracy . This is done via the mass summary removal of top bureaucrats of the opposite ethnicity suspected of loyalty to the opposite party.
Let us put this in context– when the PPP returned to office in 1992 it embarked on the very cleansing of the government of mainly African Guyanese it is being accused of today. One remembers, for example, the cleansing of the then foreign service of its African Guyanese officers. One of the few that survived the cleansing was an African Officer with an Indian Guyanese name. The Desmond Hoyte-led PNC introduced the term ‘ethnic cleansing” to describe the government’s action. Ultimately, this discrimination against the “other” continued throughout the PPP’s term in office.
Many commentators, including Mr. Freddie Kissoon were convinced that these actions indeed flowed from an ideology that was grounded in racial domination. Mr. Christopher Ram actually instituted private charges against Mr. Jagdeo for alleged racial statements uttered at a public gathering at Babu John. Mr. Kissoon was sued by Mr. Jagdeo for asserting that he Jagdeo was practicing “ideological racism.” This commentator was recruited by Mr. Kissoon as his “expert witness” in that case. To support his case, Mr. Kissoon produced a booklet in which he chronicled the ethno-racial character of the government service of that time. The Freddie Kissoon of those times must be turning in his grave to see how the Freddie Kissoon of today has betrayed him. The Freddie of today can hardly be called a Kissoonite. Dr. Henry Jeffrey, a former PPP government Ministers, has since accused the PPP of being driven in part by the need for Ethnic Domination by Indian Guyanese
When the Coalition came to office, it also embarked on a policy of removing mainly Indian Guyanese top government bureaucrats who were dubbed “contract workers” by the PPP. But before this policy could take root the PPP went on the offensive. The Coalition then took a more evenhanded approach to the issue of loyalty in the Public Service. Rather that removing suspected PPP loyalists, it brought in its own loyalists. In fact, the Coalition was criticized by some of its supporters for allowing known PPP supporters to remain in sensitive positions in government.
But back to the PPP’s charges of Ethnic Cleansing. In an inflammatory speech in New York in July 2016, Jagdeo had this to say:
“There is an assault on people of Indian origin. There is an assault on supporters of the PPP. What we thought would never return to Guyana, in just one short year, has returned in full force and even worse in some regards than the [Forbes] Burnham era…And you know who live in the rural areas? It’s mainly our supporters. And so our country has taken a turn for the worse. It’s something we have to live with but I want to say to you, we are going to work hard and whenever the elections come again, we are going to take back Guyana, we are going to take it back from these people,” (Stabroek News August 21, 2016)
His successor in the presidency, Donald Ramotar jumped into the fray in support of his colleague. He was even more pointed than Jagdeo:
“It is totally true that far more than 90% of the public servants and contract workers that have been fired, asked to resign, or forced to resign are Indo-Guyanese and Amerindians. Indeed, in one fell swoop more than 2,000 Amerindians were fired. Many African Guyanese supporters of the PPP/C have also been fired and are actively being discriminated against”…It is also true that Indo-Guyanese and Amerindians make up less than 5% of those that are being hired by the regime. In passing, let me say that the number of contract workers under this PNC-led APNU+AFC regime has increased greatly. The employment cost is sky-rocketing due to the ‘jobs for the boys’ and girls’ policy of this regime…It is also a fact that almost all the managers dismissed from GuySuCo and other public corporations have been Indo-Guyanese. The President talked about taking these matters to court. Well, many of these are in the courts already. It is true, too, that close to 100% of the persons who had their core houses taken away by the regime are also Indian-Guyanese…The agricultural lands that are being taken from farmers are leased/owned by mostly Indian Guyanese. Another case of blatant racial and political discrimination took place when more than 30 African Guyanese farmers from the West Berbice had their lands re-possessed by this regime. Streetlights in Indo-Guyanese populated areas have also been removed by the regime, while lights were installed in areas where African Guyanese predominate. All of these are facts. These are what really matter. Not cheap talk.” (Stabroek News August 21, 2016).
There are four lessons one can draw from the above. First, both major political players have engaged in thee very actions which they accuse the other of. Second, after the extreme attitude of the PPP during its last term. during which Dr. Luncheon was moved to say that the paucity of African Guyanese Foreign Service staff was premised on the fact that there were not qualified African Guyanese, who can be surprised at the actions of the current government. Third, given the extreme sense of victimhood expressed by Ramotar and Jagdeo, it is equally less surprise at the ethnic retaliation by this new PPP government. Finally, the government’s actions whether one believes that they are driven by racist intents or not, will most likely have serious consequences in a society where both major ethnic groups internalize a deep sense of victimhood when the other party holds power.
More of Dr. Hinds’ writings and commentaries can be found on his Blog “The Open Word” by Dr. David Hinds on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org