This column is a reflection on another column that appeared in the Kaieteur News on April 1, 2019 under the caption, “Beware of the WPA.” That column was clearly written by someone from the PPP with acute knowledge of recent Guyanese and Caribbean political history and the WPA’s role in that history.
The objective of the column is obvious—plant seeds of discord within the APNU+AFC Coalition. The column correctly assumes that it is not the PNC-AFC alliance that is pivotal to the survival of the Coalition, but instead it is the root of the partnership that must be undermined—the PNC-WPA alliance.
According to the column: “The WPA is hanger-on within the coalition. But one of its leaders was one of the architects of the APNU after the earlier failed attempt, by the PNCR, to establish a Big Tent coalition. Despite this, the WPA has never been treated with the respect it felt it deserves within the coalition – and it has justifiable grounds for so doing.”
The writer makes two seemingly contradictory points which in effect captures the contradiction in Guyanese politics. First, it makes the point that the WPA has become part of the PNC. Second, despite this capitulation to the PNC, the WPA still has an independent streak that the PNC must be careful with.
The writer puts it this way : “The PNCR has to be very careful with the WPA. The President of Guyana who is tipped to be the Presidential candidate of the APNU+AFC slate should be wary of the WPA. The WPA has degenerated in recent months. Instead of standing firm in defense of the Constitution – something that is in the fine traditions of the WPA – the party of Walter Rodney has wavered between upholding the Constitution and seeking to protect its membership who are employed within the government. But this degeneration has not tamed its cunning ways. The WPA is capable of fomenting divisions within the APNU+AFC and this is what the leaders of that party have to be careful about.”
Since the column in question raises something which I think runs deep in our political history and culture, my response takes the form of some reflections on that culture. These reflections are not meant to support or refute the contentions in the column, but to put them in a larger context, especially for the benefit of younger readers.
Not for the first time, I am starting from the standpoint that the WPA phenomenon is difficult to fit into the settled bi-polar analysis of Guyanese politics—the WPA disturbs that inadequate construct. So here goes.
From the successful passage of the No Confidence Motion in December to the recent ruling of the Court of Appeal overturning that vote, Guyana was plunged into yet another period of hyper political anxiety. This time, it was commonly referred to as a period of constitutional crisis. Some of us preferred the other description—a political crisis.
But, whatever the description, we all agreed that something was irregular, even for a country like Guyana that has existed in a permanent state of anxiety. As the country catches its breath in between the Court of Appeal ruling and that of the Caribbean Court of Justice, which is expected in a few weeks, it is a good time to reflect on why Guyana continues to lurch from one crisis to another.
If one were to speak to PNC supporters, they would place all the blame on the PPP, with Mr. Jagdeo being singled out for special condemnation. Sometimes it is difficult to figure out whether the former president is feared or hated or both. PPP supporters on the other hand place all the responsibility for the country’s woes on the PNC.
There is an almost insane hatred of the PNC and all that it represents. Older members blame Mr. Burnham, who of course has been long dead. Those who dissociate themselves from the PPP and PNC blame both of those parties for the country’s woes. And then there is the so-called Civil Society which is a curious mix—I refer to them as PPP and PNC Civil Society respectively. There is nothing independent about these groups which ultimately line up with the two political tribes.
I outline the above to make the point that Guyana’s tragedy lies in that scenario—the convergence of diametrically opposed hardened positions. This is what is reproduced as Guyanese political culture, and it eventually devours anything that deviates from that norm. The struggle to maintain independent space has to be constant and is often fraught with danger.
Guyana is cruel to anything that reaches for political independence, even as it responds positively to that independence when it periodically becomes alienated from the partisan tribes.
A typical example is the popular construction of Walter Rodney and the WPA, which together represents a rare moment in our recent political history. But it is amazing how many Guyanese of all generations simultaneously acknowledge this moment and kill it. How many times have we heard the national mantra—the WPA died when Walter Rodney died. It is as if the country has no appetite for any divergence from the settled bi-polar norm. Walter Rodney and the WPA are reduced to a mere blip on our historical radar.
You must be PNC or PPP and no matter what you do you are shoved there by the two sides. When the WPA found itself with the PNC and others in opposition to the rampaging PPP, the inevitable question arose about the possibility of these two arch-enemies having to collaborate as friends. In the context of what occurred before, there was no way this could fly. Invariably, the WPA was painted as collaborating with the devil which killed its leader. Very few people stopped to think that it was the flow of history that took the two parties to that point.
From then to now the popular narrative from the PPP side has been that the WPA is now part of the PNC. And with the victory of the coalition, the actions of the PNC and WPA have given life to this narrative. The WPA’s uncharacteristic silence on the transgressions of a government to which it is partner in name only seems to confirm this narrative. And the PNC’s willful marginalization of the WPA suggests that the former only needs the symbolism of the latter.
Hopefully one day proper historical investigation would reveal that the old WPA did not die with Walter Rodney, but it did in 2011 when the force of history pushed it to form APNU with its old foe and the bi-polar political culture confined it to one side of the divide.
Some of us have attempted to balance support for the government with the traditional WPA role of independent thought and action. The experience has been wrenching. PNC leaders and supporters in keeping with the dominant political culture now expected loyalty—we are all one now. I , for one, was not going to allow myself to be bullied into that place. When I took the plunge and supported the WPA’s collaboration with the PNC, I was very clear about the conditions under which I was doing so–I was not trading WPA’s independence for being part of government.
For me, I decided to be guided by the Kwayana example of “independent partisanship” and “insider-outsider” praxis whereby one supports a government without being a prisoner of that government. My understanding of partnership is just that—we are partners. You may be a bigger party with a bigger voice and bigger membership, but I bring to the table that which you do not have—the critical element of distance from power as an end in itself.
My attitude to the PNC was guided by a convergence of that which unites us and that which divides us. And I vowed not to allow that which unites us to overpower that which divides us. I never bought into a very real and credible argument that criticisms of the government must be muted because it would help the PPP. The flaw in that argument is that a government bereft of self-criticism would in the end, act in ways that would help the PPP’s cause.
Since politicians, especially those with power, expect complete loyalty, I was soon relegated to enemy status with all the bad-mindedness that comes with that. I was separated from the rest of the WPA and there were whispers that the WPA didn’t want me around—I became in the eyes of the rulers, and maybe some WPA people, the wild man of the WPA.
It didn’t bother me much, for I did not sign up to please the PNC leadership. Even when my criticisms of the government caused its supporters to be bitter at me, it didn’t bother me much. I knew that while I supported the broad stated objective of the coalition, the ideological WPA in me meant that I had to oppose divergence from that stated objective.
In the meantime, the PPP and its cohorts tried their very best to turn me into a PNC member. For them, despite my criticisms of the government, which they often used against the government, I was still a PNC. If you construct Guyana as PNC and PPP, everything must fall into that framework—if you are not with us, you must be with them.
The column in the Kaieteur News ended by cleverly foisting my individual views on the WPA to make a larger point to the PNC: “The no confidence motion came. The WPA has refused to take a stand on the issue. It is “dancing between the raindrops.”
With the jobs of its members at stake, it is playing it safe. However, it recognized the opportunities which the no confidence motion presented to solidify its position within the coalition.
In January, of this year, the WPA set conditions for its continuance in the coalition. One of those conditions was that the government apologizes to its support base and the country at large for not living up to the promises enshrined in its manifesto of 2015.
The second condition was that there needs to be broadened leadership within the coalition. The WPA also called for a certain Minister to play a more prominent role in the leadership of the party. There is no evidence that that Minister is interested in what the WPA is proposing. The WPA is playing Kingmaker. The PNCR should be wary of its dealings with this party.”
Those are my conditions and the WPA has not adopted them. But I understand the objective of the writer. Elections are coming and the WPA has not publicly said where it stands in relation to the coalition going forward. But I know where I stand as an individual. As I did at the 2011 and 2015 elections, I will be guided by a convergence of the traditional WPA ideological moorings and what in my estimation is good for Guyana in both the short and medium terms.
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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