For peace and reconciliation

we have heard nothing but “social cohesion” over the last year. But how is this going to come about if we sweep so much of our differences under the rug. There is this refusal to acknowledge that our salient political cleavage is “race/ethnicity”. And that this orientation is due to rational concerns stemming from the reality of how power in all its various manifestations is distributed in our society.

This is nothing to be ashamed about, since this is the dominant form that politics has taken across the globe – including the “developed” countries, we seek to emulate.

Then there’s refusal of the political parties that purport to “represent” the interests of the people to be clear on “who speaks for whom”. The present state of affairs where the parties publicly assert that they are “multiethnic” while in private they are forced to send ethnic signals to ensure votes, has proven quite debilitating, to say the least.

In Guyana, the term “multiracial/ethnic” party is used even though the party in question has invariably not clearly spelt out its position on specific “ethnic” concerns. How can you be “multiethnic” if “ethnic is not on your radar?

“Multiracial” in other jurisdictions and expressions such as “rainbow coalitions” describe situations where the interests of the disparate members (including “ethnic ones”) are clearly articulated and represented by caucuses or subgroupings of the leadership. We don’t have this in Guyana: we simulate it by picking tokens from the various communities.

Going forward, we will have to accept that a party that speaks for an ethnic constituency is not, ipso facto, against the interests of the other constituencies. In fact, the leader who accepts true multiracial/multiethnic politics – where the ‘ethnic’ parties have to bargain with each other may better appreciate the problems of other communities.

Many who quote the success of Malaysia relative to us, forget that their success rides on the fact that their acknowledged ethnic parties came together after the elections in a multiethnic government.

A multiracial/ethnic government ought to be the goal; not the party – if the latter concept has not worked after fifty years.

Another factor that hinders any lasting reconciliation in Guyana is the pervasive contestation of our historical narrative and its rewriting to buttress the individual claims to priority in achievements and by extension to priority in rights to the national patrimony.

Claims are being substituted for truth. Another subtext is that the violations inflicted on groups from all sides of the divide have been papered over and the victims left not only to suffer but for the suffering by extension to be visited on their descendants.

To address these hindrance to real social cohesion, we have persistently called for a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”.

We first made the call following the ethnic riots of January 12 1998 in the hope that we would create something positive out of the great tragedy. Unfortunately it was never heeded and we careened into so many other greater tragedies.

Political parties continue to play fast and loose with the truth; saying one thing and meaning another. In going along we are perpetuating the morally debilitating practice where we knew the dictator was lying, the dictator knew he was lying but we pretended we were dealing with the truth. Pretty soon, very few of us could even distinguish the lies from the few truths that might have come our way. “Truth” became whatever the dictator said was true.

Guyana will never be capable of sustained development (in its wider sense) unless we destroy this culture of lying and make-believe and the participants in the political process are seen as legitimate by all Guyanese.

This condition does not now exist.

If we cannot deal with truth, however harsh it may be, then we will always be interacting with each other with distrust and suspicion.

Guyana will see no real progress without a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.