My last column addressed the linkage between ethno-racialism and democracy. I argued that democracy in Guyana is constantly undermined by our ethnic problem, which unfortunately manifests itself in racial terms.
Our two ethnic groups behave as historical enemies with a long history of antagonism, which is most pronounced at the level of politics and economics. But make no mistake, that economic and political competition is a consequence of a larger problem that has over the decades been nurtured and exploited, first by the colonial power and later by our post-independence leaderships.
However, it is not entirely true to argue, as many people do, that the problem lies with the politicians; that were it not for politics our major ethnic groups would live in harmony.
Leaders exploit what is already alive among the people—the leaders arise from the ranks of the people and often articulate the silent and not so silent ethnic insecurities and fears of the people. It is for that reason that we have not been able to “solve” our racial problems. In fact, part of our difficulty in Guyana is that some well-meaning “non-racial” people set out to solve the problem, only to be frustrated when the people ignore their reasoning.
Today I want to posit that despite our rigid ethno-racialism, the two ethnic groups have from time to time rebelled against their ethnic parties when those parties went too far down the road of authoritarianism while in Government, and when they failed to be militant enough while in opposition. We have seen that in the cases of the WPA in the 1970s and 1980s and the AFC over the last decade. Both parties evolved within the context of runaway authoritarianism by the PNC and PPP respectively.
The WPA case is unique, in that important sections of both ethnic groups rebelled simultaneously and the WPA, representing the fusion of time, place, personality and politics, was able to tap into that rebellion which almost toppled the status-quo. The WPA had the capacity to capture the energies of the moment, and took it as far as it could, in the face of extreme State and Party repression. The other uniqueness of the WPA’s case is that the rebellion was not electoral, as was the case with the AFC.
Hence the question—how would the WPA have performed electorally in free and fair elections at the height of its popularity in the late 1970s to about mid to late 1980s? What we do know is that in 1992 it was roundly rejected by the very masses who had rallied under the party’s “multiracial banner.”
The lesson from the WPA case is that in ethnically divided societies like Guyana, moments of ethnic rebellion are temporary. The WPA may have made the fatal mistake of believing that its multi-racial following was permanent; that it had taken Guyana to a post-racial place.
Note, the WPA’s entry into the political arena occurred within the context of heightened authoritarianism by the then PNC government which, as it turned out, mistakenly thought that its lock on African Guyanese loyalty was permanent. Hence it was shocked when the WPA quickly developed a strong following among the African Guyanese masses and within key state institutions like the military and public service.
Some Burnhamist loyalists to this day hate the WPA for undermining a “Black Government.” What they fail to realize is that the WPA was both a product and a catalyst for an ethnic rebellion within the African Guyanese community that resulted from the over-reach of a government they voted for. The WPA was able to merge that African Guyanese rebellion with a similar Indian Guyanese rebellion against the PPP for being too soft on the PNC regime. It is that merger that makes the WPA stand out in the trajectory of Guyanese post-colonial politics.
History would repeat itself three decades later when sections of African Guyanese rebelled against the PNC and voted for the AFC in 2006. Unlike the WPA case, there was not a simultaneous rebellion among Indian Guyanese. This latter occurred in 2011, by which time the African Guyanese rebels had returned to the ethnic fold with the PNC being part of APNU partnership. Like the PNC in the 1970s, the PPP was shocked that Indian Guyanese had rebelled—it obviously thought that that group’s loyalty was permanent.
I have penned today’s column as a caution to the Coalition Government to pay attention to history and sociology of ethnicity in Guyana. The AFC and its Coalition partners may be in for a shock if they believe that the multi-ethnic vote of 2011 and 2015 is permanent. And the PNC may be in for a bigger shock if it interprets African Guyanese ethno-racial identification with the government as guaranteed electoral support in 2020.
The Burnham government was much more grounded in the African Guyanese ethnic consciousness, yet significant sections rebelled against it. This government is not as authoritarian as the Burnham government was, but there are growing signs that it is cut from the same cloth.
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.news. Send comments to [email protected]
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