A Nigerian proverb advises: “In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams.” But the PNC and WPA representatives of African Guyanese, who insist we are in a moment of crisis, are not only building dams, but have given explicit and implicit support to eschew democratic elections to remove the PPP Government from office. PNC and Opposition Leader Mr Aubrey Norton left unchallenged a declaration by one speaker that African “kith and kin” in the armed forces would not turn their guns on PNC and WPA anti-PPP street protestors.
For me, I marvel at history repeating itself, and hope it will peter out as the “farce” that Marx predicted, since Guyana has had enough political tragedies. As I am doing in the present, between the 2006 and 2011 elections, I had argued strenuously against such street actions by the PNC, warning they invariably descended into anti-Indian violence. The proponents of street action then are the same as today, and they vehemently rejected my advice that the PNC adopt a moderate image to not alienate non-traditional voters. Again, as now, the “radicals” derided the thought the PPP could lose in majoritarian elections because of its Indian plurality.
In April 2011, just before the general elections, Tacuma Ogunseye addressed an ACDA meeting at BV, and in his words, “read the Riot Act”: “Come elections night, when the results come out, Africans must have a share in the Government, there must be a national Government or there will be no Guyana…Once the African people rise up in their great numbers, I dare the army to take the side of the PPP and against Africans. Our sons and daughters would not do that.”
He noted that that newly formed APNU, with the PNC as its overwhelming heft, had promised “shared governance” if they won.
When APNU, along with the Opposition AFC, won a majority in the National Assembly and left the PPP with a lame-duck Presidency, the calls for street protests faded. Similarly, when they coalesced for the 2015 elections and won, the shared governance with the PPP manifesto promise were deep-sixed, and the radicals all accepted positions in the coalition Government. No protests to institute the power sharing “long term solution” were launched. It would appear that what was sauce for the PNC and African Guyanese was not sauce for the PPP and Indian Guyanese. Maybe they felt the kith and kin armed forces might have turned their guns on them for bringing in the PPP?
We are now being lectured about the chasm between the “procedural democracy” of elections and the “substantive democracy” of “shared governance with all parties at the table”. But somehow, this distinction had disappeared between 2015 and 2020. And we arrive at the value of “trust”, which has once again been raised by the PPP as a threshold issue for any deepening of the “inclusive governance” institutions imposed in 2000, after the PPP was bludgeoned to the table by PNC street protests.
The present calls for protests to deliver shared governance remind me of what I wrote in 2011 following Ogunseye’s “Riot Act speech”: “Coming from an individual who had defended the gunmen operating out of post-2002 Buxton (who had massacred innocent Indian children and burnt a crippled wheelchair-bound old Indian man) as “resistance fighters”, it was not difficult to understand the fears aroused by the threat. And it was not just the memories of the gruesome recent past: we are again seemingly in the throes of another tide of criminal violence.”
Having encountered him personally at the most possibly five times since 1999, I cannot pretend to know what motivates VP Bharrat Jagdeo, who has again drawn a line (of trust) in the sand. But I know from that first meeting, when he was a junior Finance Minister, he was quite open to working with the Opposition, having had close relations during his stint at State Planning under Hoyte. I have always felt it was Hoyte’s “slow fyah; mo’ fyah” strategy” and its Buxton “Freedom Fighters” denouement that made him – then President – sceptical of the Opposition’s calls for “shared governance”. Now that the latter have confirmed the “kith and kin” propinquity of our armed forces, that arrangement could logically be seen by the PPP as a Trojan Horse for permanent PNC rule. A dam, and not a bridge.