Burnham and Jagan bequeathed to us ethnic parties and ethnic voting
Barrington Braithwaite’s letter in KN of November 11th discusses the role of PNC in Guyana’s history. Barrington was prompted to pick up his pen in defence of PNC by Maxwell who wrote: “The PNC is the only main Party in Guyana’s history formed entirely and completely as a race party.” Later Barrington also blamed the colonial policy of “ethnic divide and rule”.
The Guyanese people have been totally consumed by ethnic politics and ethnic voting for the last 60-years. Maxwell blames PNC, Barrington blames PPP, Rohee blames the “white man”. (Recall Rohee’s personal attack on departing British Ambassador Wheeler).
I didn’t have to read Guyana’s history from the 1950’s to present from textbooks to know it. I lived it. And, I will tell you that we should lay the blame on two individuals who institutionalized ethnic politics in Guyana – Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham.
Jagan’s PPP and Burnham’s PNC were nothing but ethnic institutions whose central policy was to teach and cultivate racial politics. Both were founder-leaders until death. Both became deified and worshiped as ethnic gods by their respective ethnic groups.
Let me pose this question: Why didn’t Jagan pass the leadership over to one of the several qualified, loyal and dedicated Africans in the PPP – Brindley Benn, Cedric Nunes, E.M.G. Wilson, Ashton Chase – after one or two terms?
Does it take a rocket scientist to figure out that with Jagan serving as leader until death (50-years), the perception that PPP is an ethnic party would become concretized in the consciousness of the people?
And, after both Cheddi and Janet Jagan passed on, was it not palpable to the public that only an Indian can be leader of the PPP, and the Africans serve only as window-dressers?
When president Jagdeo came to the end of his term, he didn’t move-on without first making sure that he anointed another Indian to head the party. This party was shamelessly practicing blatant ethnic party politics in a multi-racial country. And, it did it with impunity. Almost no criticism from the ABC or EU countries.
And, on the African side, didn’t Burnham replicate what Jagan did, make himself the African deity and serve as the head of the party until death? And, after he passed on, the party demonstrated clearly that only Africans will be accepted as leader, with the Indians – Cammie Ramsaroop, Winston Murray, Speaker Sase Narine, Steve Narine – serving as window-dressers.
So why Barrington or Maxwell argue this question ad infinitum, always seeking to place the blame on the other guy or on the white man’s divide and rule policy.
The reality today is that the Guyanese people are totally consumed in ethnic politics – voting for ethnic parties almost down to the last man.
Ethnic politics has brought paralysis inside and outside of parliament – and our country abundant in natural resources remain underdeveloped. Per capita income remains a stagnant USD 2,500.
We need to talk about how to establish a genuine multi-racial democracy – one in which the baton of power passes from one party to another every two or three election cycles.
We should be talking about how to attract USD10-15 billion foreign investment to open factories using local resources to make things to sell to the world.
And, if this proves impossible, let us start considering a union with Canada or USA – this way we’ll attract unlimited investment and the problem of our intractable ethnic politics will disappear; this way we’ll raise our per capita income to USD 12,000 within 6-10-years (Puerto Rico just voted for full Statehood with the United States; Canada needs a tropical province to add to its Union).
In the meantime we should not be afraid to place the blame for our nation’s ethnic politics squarely on the shoulders of Jagan and Burnham – the same two men we like to revere as our ethnic gods – but who in fact bequeathed to us ethnic parties and ethnic voting.