There has understandably been some commentary on the achievements and non-achievements of the current government. The government itself set the tone with a lengthy statement which has become the subject of discussion by a few columnists and beyond.
Predictably, the PPP has given the government a failing grade. Government supporters, on the other hand, have been full of praise for the administration and have been very hostile to any criticism. Their constant refrain has been two-fold. First, they speak feelingly about the bad days of the PPP. Second, they argue that four years is too little time for the government to create the miracles the critics wanted.
I recap the above as an introduction to my reflections today on one of the embedded causes of the recycled bad governance that we have experienced for the last six decades. Our deep ethno-political divide has rendered our dominant political culture one of the most perplexing in the Caribbean.
In Guyana, African and Indian Guyanese tend to critique and criticize the party and government of the opposite group, but when it comes to their group, they find every excuse under the sun to justify the most apparent faulty or bad governance. In the end, the quality of governance suffers, for no government anywhere in the world adheres to the tenets of democratic governance if it is not held accountable by a broad cross-section of its citizens.
Successive governments in Guyana have not been held accountable sufficiently by their supporters. Ironically, the Burnham-Hoyte government is the one that was most challenged by its own supporters. This was due mainly to the militancy of ASCRIA and the WPA, both of which had enough grounding among African Guyanese to influence a serious questioning of the party for which they voted.
In other words, major African Guyanese leaderships with standing in the community were prepared to risk alienating the governmental leadership of their group in pursuit of just and democratic politics. Further, significant sections of the African Guyanese masses were able to transcend their ethnic insecurity and fears to effectively challenge their government.
The tables turned when the PPP returned to power in 1992. The major Indian Guyanese organizations outside of the PPP did not lead any sustained challenge to the PPP’s acceleration of the very authoritarian governance and ethnic domination it decried when in opposition.
The minor exception was Ravi Dev’s ROAR, which challenged the PPP from an Indianist standpoint, which ironically was used by the PPP to convince the Indian Guyanese electorate not to rock the ethnic boat. My thesis is that the perceived and real insecurity and fear among Indian Guyanese was so strong it did not allow for any sustained questioning of their government or resistance against its wrongdoing.
In other words, ROAR’s challenge to the PPP had the opposite effect of ASCRIA’s challenge to the PNC three decades later. It took Nagamootoo’s break with Jagdeo to cause a large enough Indian Guyanese electoral rebellion that was able to help topple the PPP.
While the WPA sustained for some time a resistance praxis among African Guyanese and influenced a linkage with Indian Guyanese resistance, the AFC, did not develop a similar praxis and linkage. Younger political historians and sociologists would hopefully, in due course, tease out the underlying reasons for these different outcomes.
With the return to power of an African-dominated government in the form of the Coalition, some of us hoped that the uncritical response of the PPP’s constituency to their government would not be replicated. But we underestimated the extent to which the PPP’s politics of ethnic dominance while in office had blunted ther self-critical instincts among African Guyanese.
No major African Guyanese organization has been prepared to hold the government accountable. Sure, a few individuals like Lincoln Lewis and a couple of WPA leaders have attempted to advance critiques of the government, but the organizations to which they belong have not joined them. I strongly believe that this current government would have performed much better than it has done to date if African Guyanese leaders and organizations had inspired themselves and the people to hold them accountable.
So, in the end African Guyanese, despite discernable dissatisfaction with the government’s performance, have generally excused those shortcomings. There is a kind of loud suffering that refuses to evolve into serious questioning of power. And there is a very vocal political chatter that is consumed by an utterly uncritical mindset. One just has to peruse social media to get a sense of the extent to which that group views even the mildest criticisms of the government, particularly since the passage of the No Confidence Motion.
This writer, despite my known support of the government, is a frequent victim of the venom that emanates from that collective mindset. During the last four years African Guyanese organizations, including those to which I belong, have politely distanced themselves from me. Many have questioned my “ethnic loyalty.” Others have even questioned my sanity. I understand social and political origins of that mindset and do not dismiss it as craziness. There is some sanity to what appears in many regards to be the zenith of insanity. For me, it is always about how, in the circumstances, one can find possibilities for transformation.
The challenge for us as a country is still what it was when we achieved self-government decades ago—how do we balance ethnic fears and pride with our civic responsibility to hold our government accountable?
I am utterly convinced that despite advances at the level of popular culture and moments of enlightened resistance and policy initiatives, we have not done enough to transcend our plantation legacy. We recycle discredited governments and governance praxis out of fear of the “other.” In my own case, just last week I recommended a return to office of the present government, not because of anything transformative it has done, but because I think that it would do less harm to the possibilities for the progressive agenda to which I subscribe.
Unfortunately, that’s where we are in 2019—a choice between those who would stifle my freedom of expression and those who would point their guns at me. Both choices are vulgar, but for now I have convinced myself, and perhaps others, that the vulgarity of one is more dangerous than the other. Can somebody please make a liar of me.
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