Aug 04, 2020 Editorial Comments Off on Leo Despres and Outlining Division
In his book, ‘Cultural Pluralism and Nationalist Politics in British Guiana’, Leo Despres, an American anthropologist, came to the following conclusion about what was then the future of this country:
“…to summarize, we can be certain of several things. First, we can be sure that, as long, as Guianese society remains plural, sociocultural changes will generate tensions between cultural sections.”
This of course might be seen as an obvious conclusion. In countries where people who look alike and have lived with each other for hundreds of years, some form of plurality inevitably develops and often is accompanied by tensions. One would be hard pressed in Kashmir, for example, to see the difference on the surface between a Hindu and a Muslim. On the Korean peninsula, there are brothers who share the same parentage but unfortunately ended up on different sides of a crushing political divide. For decades, Northern Ireland saw rabid division between very similar-looking people, including families, on the basis of who was Protestant and who was Catholic. Guyana’s ethnic and religious plurality by comparison, with all its diversity, would inevitably be a site of at times tectonic tension. Despres, in this book that was finished in 1964 and published in 1967, made another observation:
“Second, we can be sure that, as long as these cultural sections are politically juxtaposed, the tensions existing between them will be extremely difficult to manage.”
If nothing else, the history of Guyana has been one of not simply dysfunctional political division but of a type of division that has its own academic label, ethno-politicisation. In plain language, our racial divisions and our political divisions are tightly interwoven, and the impact will be on our capacity to manage them. That we remain under-developed today is a direct result of our mismanagement of not simply our public service over the decades, but in virtually every single sector. We’ve never developed a cultural of efficient management of anything which is of course we have repeated turned control of key sectors of economy to external players. This brings us to the third observation, which Despres makes:
“Third, violent conflict will result from the political justification of cultural sections whenever nationalist leaders see fit to exploit the tensions between them.”
He would of course at the time be writing in the wake of the violence of the 1950’s and 1960’s, including the Wismar Massacre and the Sun Chapman, which would have occurred around the time he was finishing his book. His words of course would be prophetic consider that in all the decades since then, Guyana has had ethno-political tensions which have time and time again erupted. Our history, up until the last three elections, have been one of post-electoral violence, the eruption of seething divisions that we harbour year after year.
Despres, ultimately, outlined the framework under which these tensions thrived and in doing so gave what should be seen, a half century later, as the beginning of a solution for our problems:
“And, finally we can be relatively certain that these generalizations will obtain as long as Guianese nationalist elites accommodate themselves to vestiges of the colonial power structure.”
We have a new government in place. We have been sent the usual external encouragement on constitutional reform. We have heard the stock commitments on cohesion by politicians. If anything else, the past half year has shown us that we need to move beyond platitudes and postures. Guyanese citizens need to take the mantle or responsibility for true change from what the political ‘elites’ have established and begin the task of throwing off those vestiges, those remnants, of the colonial power structure. Only then, can we end our divisions and begin the process of healing as a nation.
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