Before I return to Mr Vincent Alexander’s letter to address his substantive concerns on our ethnic problems, I wish to compliment him for eschewing polemics to engage in a dialogue in search of solutions to those problems.
I see Hegel’s model of tragedy as applicable to the condition of our major ethnic groups: “Tragedy is the conflict of two substantive positions, each of which is justified, yet each of which is wrong to the extent that it fails to either recognise the validity of the other position, or to grant it its moment of truth.”
I am hoping that our leaders would recognise the validity of the substantive positions from all “sides” in our Guyanese tragedy, and grant each its moment of truth in a spirit of reconciliation.
It is from that perspective we had proposed the Ethnic Security Dilemmas, in the late 1980s, as the structural factors that conditioned the political behaviours of our various ethnic groups and their leaders in the post-WWII era, when the question of who would succeed the British came to the fore.
African-Guyanese had long expressed concerns about rising Indian-Guyanese numbers on their political hopes. They articulated this as a major structural threat of being swamped and subordinated by a group they initially saw as “backward”. It was because of this African Ethnic Security Dilemma (AESD) that even the progressive Hubert Critchlow opposed expanding the franchise in the late 1940s. And it is because of the AESD that African-Guyanese, in the main, went along with Burnham’s rigging from 1968 onwards and with the PNC’s attempt last March.
The Indian Ethnic Security Dilemma (IESD), based on their “kith and kin” African-Guyanese domination of the security forces, in the words of Desmond Hoyte, was manifested during the 1960s’ ethnic riots. Jagan fought doggedly, but ultimately futilely, to have those forces balanced as a precondition for independence. Burnham ignored the ICJ’s 1965 report, which mandated that 75% of all new recruits be Indian-Guyanese until parity was reached, and disbanded the ethnically balanced Special Services Unit (SSU). He instead increased the armed forces by 600% with mainly African-Guyanese, and by the 1980s, Indian-Guyanese were being attacked with such impunity that Mr Eusi Kwayana said it “had the flavour of genocide”.
I do not believe that Vincent really disagrees with my formulation and effects of the ESDs. The first factor he identifies as the “real” cause of our conflict: “our ethnic differences, our historical cultural differences, including our belief systems, value”, serves merely to provide an ideological basis for acting politically within the structurally constituted and constitutive ESDs. Political action always presupposes some political ideology: ethnic differences in and of themselves do not cause conflict, only when they are politicised. Individuals always act from some ideological standpoint within fixed structures, even though sometimes unaware of those structures.
In their lived experiences, beliefs of members of groups will sediment into narratives which articulate “ideologies” that both explain and offer normative guidance for action. For instance, the African-Guyanese narrative of prior arrival, greater suffering, earlier westernisation, etc justifies a greater legitimacy to the national patrimony – including governing Guyana, and the willingness to act towards that end. They now reject the universal norm of equality that undergirds majoritarian democracy as a mechanism for settling political differences, even when all groups in Guyana are minorities.
The Indian-Guyanese narrative, on the other hand, proposing that they saved the sugar industry – and hence Guyana as a viable entity – since a peasant economy could not generate the funds necessary to maintain the hydraulics, avidly accept the majoritarian-mediated norm of political equality. They resent the existential fear created by their powerlessness in a society with its coercive arms dominated by their political opponents and manifested by episodic ethnic violence.
The second cause Vincent identifies: “our ethnic relations…built on discriminatory economic policies and oppressive relations between and among the ethnic groups…”, are merely the effects – whether real or perceived – of the rule by the “other”. Conflict arises when the aspirations of the various parties cannot be realised to an extent they believe is just, but where the “deprivation” – especially economic – is unfortunately relative.
We have insisted that Affirmative Action programmes be initiated and monitored by Ethnic Impact Statements to address African-Guyanese economic equity. There is, also, not so incidentally, the meta-ideology of racism in Guyana, which colours the ideologies of all groups, and which must be addressed.
I repeat that we have a very narrow window of opportunity before we are overrun by carpetbaggers. Let us insist that all groups be treated equitably.