Mar 03, 2021 Letters
I wish to comment on a letter written to another newspaper, Stabroek News on March 2 titled, “The Administration must govern openly to reduce inequalities within and between groups of Guyanese.” The letter was authored by Mr. Nigel Hinds. Mr. Hinds raised several crucial points regarding the state of society in Guyana and the urgency for good governance. I think Mr. Hinds’ letter was a wonderful articulation encapsulating the essence of the Guyanese predicament: that a nation divided will not stand. However, I want to elucidate some key points highlighted in Mr. Hinds’ letter to illustrate that the work of truly bringing a nation together goes beyond political branding, and it is yet to begin.
At every election, Guyana has faced racial tensions due to a longstanding rivalry between two major political parties that have found themselves configured along race/ethnicity. This is not entirely of their own accord, for history tells us how it happened. From the year 1950 onwards, two charismatic figures, Cheddi Jagan (of East Indian descent) and Forbes Burnham (of African descent), led Guyana out of British colonial rule. Their cause was unified and focused, that is to rid of the imperial order of the day. Once that was accomplished, the territory of post-independence politics commenced, where the landscape was not just about international relations but also domestic politics. Political competition for the Presidency ensued. Superpowers, namely the United States and Great Britain, did not stray away from being involved in Guyana during this time, and they played an integral role in shaping the nation’s political configuration, resulting in the system of governance and inorganic political philosophy we have today.
Because of political strife between the two young and visionary leaders, Guyana found itself clustering by ethnicity due to issues of trust developing between East Indians and Africans who were originally isolated and not socially integrated under colonial rule. The face and ethnicity of leadership would ultimately decide the course of race relations in Guyana. Though many scholars of Guyanese history treat the colonial period as the root of today’s political dismay, not much attention is paid towards how the legacy of political parties—the PPP/C and the PNC/R—have continued a tradition of divide-and-rule tactic once employed by the British empire. Throughout the post-independence era, domestic political parties have contributed tremendously to the disarray we see unfolding in Guyana, particularly at every major election. We cannot continue to ignore the reality that the two major political parties have caused and contributed to great angst and animosity in the social fabric over the last three decades.
We are still stuck in an age-old crisis. How do we promote better ethnic/race relations in politics in a fragmented society of which the political leadership taunts and torments the electorate and yet the electorate subscribes? This question is not only a matter for East Indians and Africans to decide on, but also Chinese and other nationals who call Guyana ‘home.’ So, I echo Mr. Hinds’ sentiment that everyone has to be included in governance if we are to see an easing of the racial turmoil.
Now, the question of how we include everyone in executive government is vital. We know representation matters in a diverse society, and we know the impact representation has on ours. There are different and interesting views out there; some allude to some form of shared-governance, which commonly seeks to focus on a top-down approach to politics whereby the elite representatives of the electorate share the executive arm (the Presidency and Cabinet) of government. My own proposal is a bottom-up approach to shared governance, whereby the electorate and civil society organizations are first and foremost embedded into the democratic functions of the National Assembly, including the ability to vote directly on certain legislation as well as having the ability to truly hold representatives accountable, rather than rely on the elite grouping to hold each other accountable. This is to encourage a participatory democracy that focuses on citizenry empowerment rather than the elite political class. But ideas are open to conversation and debate, as they should.
Lastly, there is another aspect of Mr. Hinds’ letter that I want to add commentary on. Mr. Hinds said, “The non-inclusive mentality seems to come to prominence once executive power is bestowed. Due to the support base of the two political parties, the vindictive actions largely target African-Guyanese and Indian-Guyanese depending on if the administration is controlled by the PNC or PPP.” He goes on to express disappointment in the situation that compels “well-intentioned Guyanese” to participate in derogatory talk against each other that goes outside of their character. Every Guyanese knows precisely what Mr. Hinds is talking about, including the political leaders. Yet, the leaders, who are elected, ignore the race/ethnic problem set before them.
The major political parties have paraded themselves as being representative of “all Guyanese,” a phrase often overused by their leadership. But do they truly represent much less commit to the interests of “all Guyanese” given their actions? What about their reluctance towards fundamental change that is required in governance and the electoral body (GECOM) to take Guyana out of the two-party ethnic dichotomy?
On the latter note, the political framework in place—democratic proportional representation—serves to include rather than exclude. By itself, political parties, though from within, form their membership according to representation. (Note, the electorate does not vote directly who gets to form the party’s core constituency). If this is so, why then do we still see heavily concentrated race/ethnicity between the two major parties? If the electorate could have voted who forms a party’s membership directly, would the end result be any different? And if Guyanese society broadly wishes for more inclusivity, why then are the PNC/R and the PPP/C still in power? Hopefully, these questions can promote the reflection needed as we brace for the age of oil production and newfound wealth, for our problems will not go away with riches to come.
Ferlin F. Pedro.
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