Do not entrench ethnic divisions

Everyone in and out of Guyana concedes that our ethnic divisions have contributed to our historic state of underdevelopment following independence, when we were unable to translate our bounteous natural resources into a high standard of living for all our citizens. With the discovery of 13 billion barrels of oil (and counting) off our shores, there are concerns that we may repeat our historic failure.
However, there is much confusion in charting a way out of our political, economic, and social malaise. For the longest while, some have proposed obliterating the ethnic divisions through various mechanisms, like assimilating culturally or genetically. They saw this view encapsulated in the national motto adopted at Independence: “One People; One Nation; One Destiny”, which echoed Marcus Garvey’s “One God! One Aim! One Destiny!”
But across the world – as in Ukraine, Russia, and in most African countries – even when the people are of the same race and are culturally mixed, the divisions stubbornly persist. This was especially true during the modernisation drive after WWII, which was supposed to resolve ethnic identities. The answer, it would seem, is not to try to obliterate divisions – ethnic or otherwise – but to work out mechanisms that can deal with their imperatives.
Coterminous with the Independence Movement in the Caribbean, the Caribbean Anthropologist M.G. Smith had made a seminal observation that unfortunately was lost on the political elites. The ethnic divisions he analysed in his “Plural Society” model of our reality were not as static as the Marxists, who had appeared on the scene, claimed. The critical element in generating change was the insertion of each group into the political relations of their society. To the extent these were perceived to be unequal and leading to unequal outcomes in valued areas of national life, there would be challenges to the status quo.
The political parties that were formed during the decolonisation wave to take advantage of the universal franchise inevitably mobilised along the lines of cleavage then existent in their societies – class, and ethnicity. In Guyana, after a briefly united front, politics devolved into the ethnic competition in which it remains into the present. The 28-year period of rigged elections under the mainly African Guyanese-supported PNC further entrenched the ethnic divisions. After 1992, the mainly Indian Guyanese-supported PPP was perceived to have an “unfair” advantage over the PNC because of its “inbuilt majority”.
At this time, proposals for an “Executive power-sharing” model of governance entered the political lexicon as a fix for the political logjam on the assumption that, with “everyone at the table”, all groups would be represented equitably in the power relations. The downside of this arrangement, however, is that it entrenches ethnic voting, since power is legitimised only via this cleavage. In the 2000 round of constitutional change precipitated by the PNC’s violent protests, they agreed to share power in Parliament with a simultaneous reduction of the powers on the Executive residing in the Presidency. These Parliamentary Powers – for example, in the Parliamentary Sectoral Committees – remain underutilised.
Fortuitously since then, the demographics in Guyana have changed to produce the existential reality that we are now a nation of minorities, and neither of the two ethnic-based parties can garner a majority from their core ethnic base. As such, if they are rational, they would adopt strategies to also garner cross-ethnic votes to agglomerate the majority to form the Government.
This demographic-induced change was demonstrated in 2011, and again in 2015 and 2020, when Governments were changed via the ballot boxes. As such, the present PPPC Government has as much legitimacy to call itself an ethnically representative Government as the APNU/AFC Government did between 2015-2020. We must give the new form of governance time to demonstrate that all groups have an equal opportunity to enjoy valued aspects of the national patrimony. We do not need executive power-sharing to re-entrench ethnic voting.
As to whether particular individuals succeed would depend on individual efforts.