Searching for the next Head of State of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana
I support the main idea in Dr H. Jeffrey’s letter: “Political parties should choose leaders who are able to build bridges across communities” (SN 18-12-10). This urgent and most essential task demands statesmanship of the highest order. However, unless I have misunderstood him, I am not in favour of one reason stated in support of the idea.
An important “Office” such as the “President” of Guyana should not be decided on the basis of rotation, unless the candidate possesses the essential credentials and capacities to meet Guyana’s present and foreseeable needs.
As Guyana approaches the fiftieth anniversary of political independence, Guyanese need to ‘take stock’ of Guyana’s progress (or lack of) over the past forty-four years, and assess and evaluate our achievements, current and foreseeable needs.
If we are honest in our assessments and our evaluations we may arrive at conclusions somewhat similar to those outlined below:
1. We are no closer to achieving our national goal of “One People, One Nation, One Destiny”, than we were, when these words were first uttered in the 1950s by the late Mr. Brindley. Benn, a former Deputy Prime Minister of the PPP government. Indeed, we appear to be more disunited now than we were some 60 odd years ago.
2. Our economy, relatively speaking, has not grown significantly. In reality our economy is buoyed up by proceeds from the underground or parallel economy and remittances from relatives who are overseas. As a consequence, many Guyanese have developed an attitude of dependency.
When the earnings of relatives, for various reasons, decline, the remittances dry up and poverty becomes more widespread. A sufficient number of good paying jobs are simply not available. Consequently, there is a high rate of unemployment, and this is accompanied by significant underemployment.
3. There is a high degree of inequality in the Guyanese society. This has led to a vicious circle. People have less incentive to work hard, because advancement in society is very difficult.
4. There is a general breakdown of law and order. Increasing violent crime rates, rampant corruption and the cancerous narcotics trade seriously threaten social and economic stability. Both people and investment capital have taken flight. Many young Guyanese, who go overseas to improve their knowledge and skills, are reluctant to return.
Guyana becomes much poorer as a result of this continuous hemorrhaging – the loss of her most important resource – well developed human minds.
5. After 44 years Guyana has failed to transform a colonial elitist school system into a quality education system for all Guyanese. As a consequence, the standard of literacy so crucial to the impact and success of disease prevention, nutritional, health and environmental campaigns, has declined significantly.
6. Guyana cannot adequately defend itself against external threats – witness the CGX oil rig fiasco that occurred within Guyana’s territorial waters.
Clearly, what is needed to arrest Guyana’s descent into oblivion is a “Leader” who has the capacity to reunite the “people” of Guyana, facilitate the development of their respective talents, and mobilize them in a national effort to reclaim a future that is rightfully theirs.
Information gleaned from the printed press suggests that all is not well within the various political parties. For example, within the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) there are at least three persons who see themselves as that party’s presidential candidate.
Some of the contenders are claiming seniority within the party – “it’s my turn!” In the Peoples National Congress (PNC), there appears to be at least two factions.
A third political party, the Alliance for Change (AFC), has alternating or rotating leaders, each for a specified period of time. It is not clear that this arrangement is proving to be tenable.
Other political parties do exist, but aside from being “spoilers”, the significance of their roles is dependent upon the number of votes cast in their favour at the polls.
However, it is fair to say that over the past 50 years, neither of the major political parties, the PPP or the PNC, has been able to move Guyana steadily forward economically, socially or politically. I suggest, that until the reasons underlying Guyana’s lack of real progress are confronted, and honestly and courageously dealt with, Guyana’s rate of descent into oblivion will increase even more rapidly.
I suggest that the first step in this process of confronting and dealing with the reasons for our lack of real progress, is to understand who we really are, and how we arrived at our present predicament.
To be brief, with the exception of the Amerindians, almost all Guyanese are descendants of the victims of Dutch, English and French imperialism, spanning a period of about 500 years.
People of African, Chinese, Indian and Portuguese ancestry were never ever, and still are not “natural” enemies. There is a vast amount of evidence in our very midst that these various ethnicities enjoyed many conjugal relationships for generations.
It would be fair to say that after the emancipation of the African slaves in 1834, that the seeds of distrust, envy, and suspicion, among the descendants of the freed slaves and the indentured labourers who were brought in to replace them, were sown by the owners of the sugar plantations, who at that time were mostly British. This policy by the British became known as “divide and rule”.
The following is an example of this policy.
After their emancipation in 1834, freed slaves continued to work on the sugar plantations. They were paid very meagre wages for their labour. On the average each, labourer received four cents for one day’s work. Collectively, the former slaves saved sufficient amounts of money to purchase various large areas of land in Berbice, Demerara, and Essequibo from the Crown (as the government was then called). Today, these areas are known as villages. Examples are: Lancaster in Berbice; Victoria in Demerara; and, Queenstown in Essequibo. In time, the freed slaves and their descendants developed their lands into viable social and economic entities. As a result, they became less dependent on work on the sugar plantations for their livelihoods.
This independence on the part of the freed slaves and their descendents did not sit well with the owners of the sugar plantations since they could not, any longer depend on the regular supply of cheap labour that the freed slaves had provided. To force the freed slaves and their descendants back to work on the sugar plantations, the owners who controlled the drainage and irrigation of the colony, would willfully flood the villages so that the village farms will fail. After many years of poor returns from their farms, many of the descendants of the freed slaves became disillusioned and alienated from rural life. Many deserted their lands and migrated to the cities in search of better lives, thus becoming urban, or, city dwellers. Indentured labourers from Europe and Asia were then imported to make up the shortfall in labour on the sugar plantations.
The first two sets of indentured labourers (poor Europeans and Chinese), were not well suited to the conditions on the sugar plantations. The plantation owners then recruited labour from India. In the effort to make this last venture a success, Indian indentured labourers were offered land by the plantation owners to use for their own purposes when no work was available on the sugar plantations. This was quite different to the manner in which the freed slaves and their descendants were treated – thus sowing the seeds of ill will between the two groups.
The owners of the sugar plantations were afraid of a united labour force, since a united labour force would have been in a much stronger position to demand fairer wages for their labour. It was, therefore, in the owners’ interest to keep the workforce divided and weak. To some extent, this mutual suspicion or lack of trust towards each other has remained with Guyanese up to the present time. This disunity between the descendants of both the former slaves and indentured labourers has since been subtly manipulated and exploited ever so often by our former colonial masters, unscrupulous capitalists, labour leaders, religious leaders, and even some politicians to the detriment of all Guyanese.
The formation of the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) in 1950, was the first political organisation that sought to unite all working class people in Guyana (then British Guiana). The PPP was a multi-ethnic party, led by a young American trained dentist, Dr C. B. Jagan. Dr Jagan was the descendant of East Indian indentured labourers. He was Marxist, and very radical in his political philosophy.
The PPP was victorious at the 1953 general elections. However, the British government came under severe pressure from the government of the United States of America, which was not prepared to have another Marxist or Communist led government in the Caribbean. This resulted in the suspension of the new British Guiana Constitution within a few months. The democratically elected government was removed from office by the British government, and many of the leading figures in the PPP organisation were either imprisoned or interned.
This sudden interruption to Guyana’s political emancipation provided the opportunity for the more moderate middle class to try to seize the leadership of the PPP by urging Mr. L. F. S, Burnham, a British trained lawyer, and, Chairman of the PPP, to lay claim to the party leadership. Mr. Burnham was the descendant of freed slaves. His attempt to claim the leadership of the PPP was resisted by Dr Jagan. As a result, the party became split into the Jagan PPP and the Burnham PPP. The Burnham PPP was renamed “The People’s National Congress”.
This was not a racial (or, ethnic) split. It was a rural working class/urban middle class split. Both parties had supporters from both ethnic (or, racial) groups. The Jagan supporters were mostly rural (sugar estate workers), while the Burnham supporters were urban (city dwellers). Over the past 50 years, this split has been manipulated and exploited by politicians. The PPP’s mandate has now been hijacked, or, usurped by ultra-conservatives, who are no longer prepared to give the traditional prominence to the interests of the working class.
This so-called “racial” divide is man made and artificial. As I have said before, the descendants of African slaves and East Indian indentured labourers were never, and are not enemies. To reiterate, this perceived “racial” divide is more apparent than real. However, if this so-called “racial” divide is allowed to develop into a malignancy, it will most certainly destroy our young nation. In the words of Guyana’s greatest poet, and founder member of the Peoples Progressive Party, Martin Wylde Carter, “all (Guyanese) will be consumed”. Guyana needs a leader who is a statesman – a person who will exercise political leadership wisely and without narrow partisanship. A person with the capacities to bridge the so-called “racial” divide, reunite Guyanese and restore the PPP to what it was before it was split into two factions.
When the current political scene in Guyana is surveyed, almost none of the presidential prospects in any of the established political parties, in my humble opinion, appear to have the credentials and the experience required to fulfill the role of statesman, of which Guyana is in such dire need. .
It would, therefore, certainly be in the interest of Guyana and Guyanese, if all presidential aspirants of the present political parties were to demonstrate their love for Guyana and the Guyanese nation, by deferring or postponing their presidential ambitions, and work cooperatively and collaboratively in support of a statesman capable of restoring the social and economic health of this nation. Every true Guyanese patriot should demand nothing less.
Some months ago I read with measured satisfaction that a group had taken the initiative to search for suitable presidential candidates. I am, however, uncomfortable with the fact that the identities of the persons comprising the group are unknown. I would have expected greater transparency from persons who hope to enjoy the trust and confidence of the Guyanese public.
However, the idea of using a search committee to identify suitable presidential candidates is commendable. There are some outstanding Guyanese citizens who might be approached to serve as members of a search committee.
Towards this end, some selection criteria are offered which the committee may wish to use in their search and deliberations. These are not given in order of their importance. A presidential candidate’s portfolio should provide evidence of the following essentials:
1. A love for, and a thorough knowledge of Guyana and its peoples;
2. Capacity to lead and varied leadership experience;
3. Strong interpersonal, conflict resolution and bridge building skills;
4. Substantial business experience. The government of any country is that country’s biggest business, and the way that business is run, will affect every other business within the country;
5. Good character and personal integrity; and,
6. Capacity to be a statesman.
It must be emphasised that what is taking place presently in the Guyanese political arena does not bode well for the future of Guyana and Guyanese. If it were at all possible, the original multi-ethnic/multicultural Peoples Progressive Party of Guyana should be reclaimed by the workers of Guyana. There must be a thorough house cleaning. All the “pretenders” should be tossed out.
However, such a move may prove to be impracticable. It is, therefore, suggested that a new political party consisting of all patriotic Guyanese (a sort of “rainbow coalition”), and led by the newly identified statesman, be created to contest the 2011 general elections. There may be individuals within the PPP (such as Rajendra Bissessar), who are still faithful to the 1953 mandate of the PPP, and are awaiting the arrival of a new party that can provide hope of a better future for Guyana and Guyanese. They should be invited to join the new party. For the good of Guyana there has to be change. Guyanese must reclaim and reaffirm the goal: “One People, One Nation, One Destiny”. This may be Guyana’s only remaining opportunity of pulling back from the brink of disaster..
We either swim together, or, we perish – and all, “all will be consumed”. None shall be spared!
Clarence O. Perry