Fears and Conflict

(The following opening paragraphs were originally published in 2006. The more things change…)

“Guyana is once more demonstrating the basic truth of the insight that ethnic conflict is caused by the “fear of the future lived through the past.” The present impasse on electoral arrangements between the two major parties is merely the occasion for the conflict to escalate at this time, not its cause. Our collective fears, projected from our past, are the cause; we must remember this over the next few months.
“Our past has scarred into our collective psyches the conviction that our politics is not the politics of “in and out”, but the politics of “over and under” – the politics of “who pon top”. That kind of politics is the politics of exclusion, and we should not be surprised at the present accusations of “marginalisation” emanating from the African community. the charge flows out of fears based on the projections from our past. To dismiss the accusations out of hand is to miss the point; and, more importantly, to miss the opportunity to deal with the underlying fears that are the wellsprings of our intractable conflict.
“One fear that arises out of our past is the exclusion from the economic spoils inherent in controlling the state – leading to the cries of “marginalisation” mentioned above. Violent reactions arise out of collective fears when groups that are fearful lose their confidence that the state can arbitrate between the competing groups in a fair, just, and credible manner.
This is a Catch 22 situation for governments in an ethnically divided society, especially when there has been a history of earlier conflict, since no matter what the reality on the ground may be, the fear of marginalisation is already in the subconscious, to be projected based on the group’s own history. Violent reactions are even more likely when the state is weak and has demonstrated an inability to protect the physical wellbeing of the citizenry.
“In Guyana, the PPP/C Government has never been comfortable about the loyalty of the army and police – the state institutions that are mandated to secure the physical security of the citizenry. Its early optimism that things would sort themselves out on their own belied a naivety about the wellsprings of ethnic politics; which, more than any other politics, illustrates the truism that politics is merely the continuation of war by “other means”. Its unwillingness to professionalise the forces to execute the legitimate interests of the state in an impartial manner ensured that its regime would be perceived as weak by all and sundry.
“In a situation where the regime is seen as weak, groups that view their future with intense fears – again, remember we are all conditioned by our past – will challenge the state violently, especially if they can mobilise the state forces, or even keep them neutral; unless, of course, the group feeling besieged is presented with viable alternatives. The political system was intended to be such a system – one that would encourage “out” groups” to play by its rules. The PPP should remember that even the PNC state, which believed that it was a strong state on account of its control of the police and military, was in the end vulnerable. Force, in and of itself, even at the disposal of the state, cannot guarantee security. The only guarantee is that the state be seen as legitimate; that it be seen as impartial and just by all the groups in the polity.”
At the time of this writing (2006), the PPP was in office; today, the shoe is on the other foot. After five years in office, the PNC blew the legitimacy it gained through the ballot box in 2015. All it had to do was to understand the fears of the Indian-Guyanese constituency it had wooed the AFC to bring aboard. To its eternal shame, the AFC, unlike the UF in 1968, has remained in the coalition which is resorting to a rigging exercise cruder than anything Burnham had executed.
The PNC should know that, in this iteration, the international milieu has changed radically, and its regime survival will be even more tenuous. It should accept an internationally sanctioned, supervised GECOM count of the Reg 4 SOPs, or a recount of all ten regions, if it so desires.
Because there are now no inbuilt ethnic majorities, in five years, it will have an opportunity to compete on equal terms once again.