Eth­nic dom­i­nance

Stabroek News Sunday - - WORLD NEWS -

The drive for eth­nic dom­i­nance is an un­avoid­able con­se­quence of our so­cial his­tory. It man­i­fests it­self in nu­mer­ous ways and ap­pears in dis­courses re­lat­ing to so­cial and eco­nomic pol­icy. More im­por­tantly and fun­da­men­tally, it ap­pears in po­lit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion. Ideas of eth­nic dom­i­nance have al­ways shaped our so­ci­ety, and pol­i­tics could not have es­caped it even if it had tried. Our main po­lit­i­cal par­ties un­der­stand this re­al­ity but have each con­structed an his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive that tells an al­ter­na­tive story. The nar­ra­tives have sub­sisted to­gether with and have had a par­al­lel tra­jec­tory with the drive for eth­nic dom­i­nance.

Even the youth­ful lead­ers who formed the early po­lit­i­cal move­ment, the Po­lit­i­cal Af­fairs Com­mit­tee of 1947 and the Peo­ples Pro­gres­sive Party in 1950, did so with the un­der­stand­ing that eth­nic unity was a vi­tal pre-req­ui­site. The split of the PPP in 1955, although overtly be­tween ‘mod­er­ates’ and ‘ex­trem­ists,’ was led by an African Guyanese, Burn­ham, the ‘mod­er­ate’ and the walk­out was against the In­dian Guyanese, Cheddi Ja­gan, the ‘ex­trem­ist,’ re­sult­ing from a de­mand made by Burn­ham for ‘leader or noth­ing.’ But within a short time the split in­evitably de­vel­oped eth­nic di­men­sions. The eth­nic vi­o­lence of the 1960s and two decades of au­thor­i­tar­ian rule have to­gether en­sured its rigid­ity and sharp­ened its sig­nif­i­cance as a fac­tor in Guyana’s pol­i­tics un­like, say, Trinidad and Tobago, and have brought home the need to cre­ate po­lit­i­cal and con­sti­tu­tional struc­tures that would un­der­mine its po­lit­i­cal po­tency.

There is a wide ac­knowl­edge­ment that the pol­i­tics of eth­nic dom­i­nance is bad for Guyana. The con­cept that ‘every­body must co­op­er­ate’ is one that has deep roots through­out our so­ci­ety. To a large ex­tent, the con­cept has been trans­lated into re­al­ity in every­day life. That is why Guyana re­mains a sin­gle na­tion, largely at peace. But that ac­knowl­edg­ment is merely to de­flect the feel­ing of eth­nic siege which con­di­tions the ex­is­tence of the ma­jor race groups. It is a learned sur­vival tech­nique with­out which our so­ci­ety would dis­in­te­grate.

While in gov­ern­ment be­tween 1964 and 1992, the PNC did a great deal for Guyana. The es­tab­lish­ment of Carifta which led to the Caribbean Com­mu­nity, which is now a foun­da­tion of our eco­nomic and for­eign re­la­tions, was partly the vi­sion of Burn­ham. Guyana’s pro­gres­sive role in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs and its early recog­ni­tion of Cuba were im­por­tant events in its de­fi­ance of the Cold War. The chal­lenge to for­eign con­trol of the econ­omy and no­tions of self-re­liance, were all pos­i­tive. Dur­ing those years, the PPP es­tab­lished its cre­den­tials as an en­emy of poverty, de­vel­oped pro­grammes for its elim­i­na­tion in Guyana and world­wide, be­came a rec­og­nized in­ter­na­tional mil­i­tant in sup­port of pro­gres­sive and an­ti­im­pe­ri­al­ist causes world­wide, fought hard for in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal, trade union and civic unity against au­thor­i­tar­ian rule and sought po­lit­i­cal unity with the PNC. These are some of the ran­domly se­lected nar­ra­tives that the two main po­lit­i­cal par­ties can claim that had noth­ing to do with eth­nic dom­i­nance. And in their own ways each party sought to ex­tend its ap­peal across eth­nic bound­aries with­out much suc­cess; but qui­etly guard­ing their eth­nic flanks to main­tain eth­nic sup­port de­ter­mined their re­sponses to many things. It still does to­day.

De­spite the fact that the PPP knew the se­ri­ous­ness and po­ten­tially im­pact­ful na­ture of the eth­nic di­vide, as 1947 and 1950 demon­strated, it sought to min­i­mize its

im­por­tance from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s by pro­mot­ing the idea that the eth­nic strug­gle would be sub­sumed by the class strug­gle. This showed no signs of hap­pen­ing and the pro­posal for a na­tional pa­tri­otic front gov­ern­ment in 1977, in which the PPP would be the ju­nior part­ner in gov­ern­ment, im­pliedly rec­og­nized that the class strug­gle would not be enough to di­min­ish the eth­nic strug­gle into in­signif­i­cance. In the pol­i­tics of the pe­riod, the un­der­ly­ing the­ory was that un­less there was unity of the work­ing class, which could have been re­solved only by po­lit­i­cal unity, the pro­gres­sive achieve­ments of the PNC gov­ern­ment could not have been sus­tained.

Af­ter 1977 and up to 1992 the PPP con­tin­ued to pro­mote shared governance and ‘win­ner does not take all,’ even though af­ter 1985 the Hoyte gov­ern­ment re­versed what the PPP be­lieved were Burn­ham’s pro­gres­sive eco­nomic poli­cies. By then eth­nic unity was seen as still nec­es­sary for po­lit­i­cal unity, at least among op­po­si­tion par­ties, and sta­bil­ity, which in turn was nec­es­sary for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

The PNC em­braced shared governance in 2002 but by then the PPP held po­lit­i­cal of­fice and tri­umphal­ism pre­vailed. How­ever, the un­rest in­sti­gated by the PNC af­ter the three elec­tions from 1992 caused ‘shared governance’ and ‘win­ner does not take all’ to still re­tain res­o­nance. The heirs of the PPP with­out Cheddi Ja­gan, the chief ide­o­logue be­hind the drive for po­lit­i­cal unity since the early 1960s, and even from 1947, de­clared that be­fore shared governance can be dis­cussed, the po­lit­i­cal par­ties must en­gage in ‘build­ing trust and con­fi­dence.’ The com­ple­tion of the then pend­ing con­sti­tu­tional reforms and their im­ple­men­ta­tion in prac­tice were stated to be the bench­marks to judge whether trust and con­fi­dence were es­tab­lished. Co­op­er­a­tion agree­ments be­tween the PPP and PNC that fol­lowed, and the pol­icy of ‘build­ing trust and con­fi­dence,’ it­self, were even­tu­ally aban­doned by the PPP.

This his­tory has kept the end of eth­nic dom­i­nance as a fun­da­men­tal goal of our pol­i­tics. Recog­nis­ing this, the APNU+AFC coali­tion has put for­ward bold con­sti­tu­tional pro­pos­als to re­alise this ob­jec­tive.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Guyana

© PressReader. All rights reserved.