As the PNC elects a new leader, I return to a piece I penned a year ago, when I responded to an African-Guyanese activist who pointed out that we have been grappling for decades with the ethnic insecurities that have stymied the progress of all our peoples. Before answering the question he posed, I placed it in context: with oil revenues about to enter the economy, unless the African and Indian Guyanese major ethnic groups, who have been competing for power since 1955, arrive at a modus vivendi very quickly, we stand in danger of losing “corn and husk” to the carpetbaggers who will be descending on Guyana like locusts. We should be reminded that locusts leave nothing for others in their wake.
The activist slyly asked my opinion on the status of the Indian Ethnic Security Dilemma (IESD), which posits that even if their superior numbers were used to deliver the Government, they “would be in office but not in power”, because of African Guyanese occupancy of the strategic institutions of the state, especially its coercive arms.” He asked, more specifically, “Has it (the IESD) been resolved with the PPP’s return to office, with its strategic alliance with the US and Western powers which make African occupation (small numbers relative to the Burnham period) of the coercive arms of the state irrelevant?”
I thought a perceptive observer such as I knew the activist to be would have seen that the IESD is alive and well, as it rose to the fore before and after the elections. For instance, even though GECOM was a nominally “autonomous” state institution, several top officials in its Secretariat cleaved to the PNC after it became clear the coalition was losing the March 2nd elections. The Secretariat was dominated by African Guyanese, as was pointed out by the ERC, even as then Chair James Patterson, its HR Manager and DCEO Roxanne Myers “deliberately and wilfully” refused to give evidence on its hiring practices.
In wake of the brutal murders of the Henry cousins, after Messrs Granger and Harmon’s inflammatory rhetoric, we saw hundreds of Indian Guyanese flagrantly assaulted on the West Berbice Public Road, often in full view of the deployed Policemen and soldiers. A strike by the GPSU against the PPPC Government over grievances by nurses had been temporarily halted – but had been held in abeyance since April 2020, when those grievances were raised with the APNU/AFC.
As I have pointed out ad nauseum, it is not that Africans in state institutions are necessarily “racists” per se, but when placed in polarising fields such as elections or riots, where they are forced to make a choice between “us and them”, they will at best equivocate, and at worst take a side, which is more often than not against the PPP.
During the Buxton-based violence, for instance, soldiers refused to proceed in “hot pursuit” of gunmen who committed crimes in their presence.
In terms of the US and Western powers’ acceptance of democratic elections to choose our Government, I am not sure this creates an “alliance” against African Guyanese interests per se. Caricom, the EU, the Commonwealth, and so many others also spoke out against the PNC’s illegal grab for power. This is unlike, for example, the alliance that the West forged with the PNC after 1964 to keep out the communist PPP, when they closed their eyes to the PNC’s electoral riggings.
In pursuing their strategic interests against Venezuela, or towards their multinational oil company Exxon (with, ironically, its Chinese partner), the PNC had an advantage over the PPPC, since, as was argued by Ivelaw Griffith, Nigel Westmaas et al, the former’s “Strategic Culture” was closer to the Americans’ than the latter’s. It cannot be gainsaid that, in 2015, the PNC was assisted by the Americans to take the reins of power.
Very frankly, the PNC vis-a- vis the democratic West and additionally did not serve the interests of its African-Guyanese core constituency well post-2015, after their AESD was removed. They not only alienated African and Mixed-Guyanese voters, who would have gravitated to the WPA’s historically progressive line, but also the Indian Guyanese the AFC had brought in by gratuitously firing 7000 sugar workers. The PPPC was able to attract these crossover blocks and a majority of the Indigenous Peoples to take them over the line in 2020.
The new PNC leaders must return to the successful post-2011 strategy of courting crossover votes.