Home Letters Federalism is justifiable only where diversity is cultural and territorial
Ravi Dev, in his continued contribution to the civil conversation in search of solutions to Guyana’s ethnic problem, has once again made a pitch for federalism. On this occasion, he seeks to debunk what he describes as the reservation that African-Guyanese have expressed about federalism.
As an African-Guyanese who does not support federalism as a possible solution to our problem, I find it necessary to respond, since none of the anti-federalist arguments that Ravi attributes to African–Guyanese have ever been articulated or embraced by me.
Ravi contends that “the history of African-Guyanese having slaved to build the foundation of the country, their dominant creole values, their occupancy of the key state institutions, etc. have served to engender an entrenched belief of greater legitimacy to the national patrimony”.
While I appreciated his acceptance of the role played by African-Guyanese to build Guyana, I have never argued the case of their “greater legitimacy”. To the contrary, in my letter to the Editor of January 25, 2018, I referred to the collective right of all Guyanese to Guyana’s patrimony, and even proffered that “No one part of ‘Guyana’ can historically be attributed to any one ethnic group, except the Amerindians”.
In his pro-federalism argument, Ravi argues that “minorities across the globe from Assam to Zimbabwe have been clamouring for federalist principles to be instituted to protect their interest against actual or potential majorities.” This is exactly where Ravi’s argument for federalism flounders. Federalism is not about protecting minorities. It is about a certain degree of autonomy or self-determination (intra-sovereignty) for nations which had been subsumed in an imposed unitary state; or unitary nations which are prepared to give up their unitary status and some degree of sovereignty to benefit from the advantages of federating.
In each of the instances from Assam to Zimbabwe, those clamouring for federalism are not necessarily minorities. They are nations/tribes/ original countries; or homogeneous peoples associated with a specific land mass. In the case of America, it was individual colonies conglomerating/ federating. In the case of Nigeria, it was original nations/peoples who had been subsumed into a unitary state regaining a certain degree of self-determination by entitlement through the devolutionary process. Sudan opted for the creation of two states, rather than federating.
None of those scenarios is applicable to Guyana, particularly in relation to the Afro- and Indo-ethnic problems. Our diversity is cultural, but not territorial. Federalism is justifiable only in instances where the diversity is cultural and territorial; or where homogeneous groups are associated with a specific land mass. It is an intra-sovereign arrangement, unlike local government, which is an infra-sovereign arrangement.
It should be noted that federalism may or may not be equated to partition; however, in many instances, it does provide for secession, as occurred in the cases of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.