As we prepare for another election. There has been a lot of talk about constitutional reform. But there has hardly been any mention of the most important obstacle to national cohesion in Guyana — the inability of our major political parties to arrive at a consensus on the way forward.
I mention constitutional reform and national cohesion together because, in one sense, they are related; but, in another sense, the latter is a constant challenge that does not have to wait on the former. In fact, if there is some progress on national cohesion, it could propel constitutional reform, largely because such reform would invariably require consensus on the part of the two political factions.
It should, by now, be clear to us that while multiple factors can explain Guyana’s socio-economic and political difficulties over the last five and a half decades of independence, the one that is most overpowering is the seemingly chronic ethno-political divide.
Our political leaderships from the 1950s to the present have been incapable of mustering the courage and the will to do what their counterparts in similar situations managed to do.
In recent times, leaders in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya, when faced with difficult situations, were able to rise above their narrow politics and reach for a political solution in the form of political power-sharing, if only temporarily. At some point, we in Guyana would have to face the fact that the greatness we confer on our two major political founder-leaders is severely diminished by the inability to find a workable solution to the most pressing challenge of their time.
I still believe that one of the most compelling factors that influenced the rise to office of the present Government was the very fact that it is a partnership. Despite the mass instinct for tribal politics among Guyanese, there resides a simultaneous instinct for political jointness. The dialectics of unity and disunity are a fact of seriously fractured societies, I make bold to argue.
It is whether the leaderships they throw up are enlightened enough to seize moments of hope and turn them into possibilities for reconciliation, consensus and national cohesion.
The Coalition gave hope to half of the population that the long night of ethno-political despair and disrepair could turn into a bright morning in which all Guyanese could be secure. From APNU to the APNU+AFC Coalition, the leaders showed that compromise and courage could lead to adequate, though not perfect, outcomes.
But the breakthrough of the partnership has been quickly followed by the hardening of ethno-political instincts, as shown by the results of the two Local Government elections since 2015. It is the continuing paradox that our leaderships, activists and scholars seem so incapable of working through. Many of us take the easiest way out by denying that a problem exists, and by sheltering under the customary empty rhetoric of oneness.
The President has on more than one occasion held out the olive branch to the PPP about becoming part of a broader partnership in Government, but the PPP promptly declined. Therein lies part of the challenge. History repeats itself.
In 1961, the PPP rejected calls for joint premiership, only to call for it when it saw power slipping away in 1963-64. It would renew the call in 1977 when the doors to power were being undemocratically shut. By then the holders of power were not interested.
Similarly, the PNC would move to power-sharing in 1985 when its undemocratic hold on power became unsustainable. Then the PNC would wait until the PPP had entrenched the most obscene Government in our history, before it came out for power sharing in 2002. By then it was too late; the other side had become politically mad. If that history tells us anything, it is that the PPP will have to lose another two elections before it reaches for power-sharing again.
Why have four generations of leaders found it so difficult to move beyond the narrow confines of one-party governance?
As I have argued before, I think part of it has to do with the fact that that form of governance is all we know—socialisation is a powerful phenomenon. The other factor at play, I think, is political selfishness, both at the level of the individual and at the level of the party—in many respects the two are interconnected. For most of our politicians, politics are about personal gratification—material and otherwise. So, for many of them, power sharing in a National Government amounts to less cabinet and parliamentary seats to share to the party faithful and less perks and positions with which to entice loyalty.
To really and truly embrace the idea and practice of a National Government, we must have leaders whose commitment to country goes beyond flag, anthem and other related symbols. The leaders must care deeply about our ethnic divide—ethnicity must be seen as much more than votes and routes to power.
Commitment to a National government must be both philosophical and practical. Leaders must be practical about the limitations of an ethnically divided country, while simultaneously dream and imagine something superior to what is.
Guyana is a work in progress as far as a joint Guyanese nationalism is concerned, but we must have leaders with the courage to lead the way and hold themselves up as examples of what that nationalism could be.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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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