With the elimination of the presidential candidacy of the PPP’s Bharrat Jagdeo in the 2020 elections, the process for that party to name a successor has begun. It has already thrown the media into a tizzy of speculation as to who will be that person. Over in the PNC, while there has been no exogenous event like a CCJ ruling to remove the PNC’s incumbent President, David Granger, from consideration, a three-way race between three senior functionaries for the PNC’s Chairmanship suggests that Old Man Time may have whispered into Granger’s ear.
While the discussion – such as it has been – has centred on the relative “youthfulness” or “experience” of the candidates, I would like to suggest that we have been presented with the opportunity to introduce a criterion that few would deny is necessary for a candidate from either side to be an effective president: a realistic and credible approach to address the ethnic insecurities in our country.
Across the globe, ethnic conflict has mushroomed to become the dominant political confrontation – often spilling over into violent confrontations. While many of these ethnic conflicts have an economic nexus, the intensity and persistence of the struggles indicate that there is something more fuelling these disputes. Man needs to be “somebody”, and this imperative unleashes drives that go to the heart of ethnic conflict. Presidential candidates cannot just exploit the psychological aspects of political behaviour.
Luckily, our new politicians have jettisoned “class” as the aggregator of our “objective” interests, as was the wont of the Jagan and Burnham generation. Class fails to satisfy the affective emotional need of Man to belong to a wider collectivity, and in Guyana is subsumed in ethnicity, which, being simultaneously instrumental and expressive, accomplishes both tasks.
A person’s conception of self is formed, to a large extent, by the socialisation provided by his primary (read ethnic) contacts during his early years, as he attempts to satisfy the basic needs of affection and belonging. Psychologists tell us of the processes of externalisation, projection and displacement that the child deploys to both define himself and, just as importantly, others. He projects and displaces much of what his group considers negative onto members of groups defined as “the other”. Thus, by the time the individual enters the wider world of economic and wider societal concerns as a young adult, the new influences are much more diffuse, with the class and other roles typically not as intense as the ethnic one.
On the other hand, his ethnic group is the home — the womb — to which he can always return, and from which he cannot be turned away. It is the only social grouping that accepts him for what he is, and not for what he does.
The need for self-esteem and self-worth in the individual is integrally connected with the esteem and worth of the group from which he comes, and is reflected in the recognition, attention, prestige and status the group has “earned”. If this is denied one’s group, the negative self-esteem results in the individual feeling debased, abandoned, and basically unwanted.
This reflection of the group’s ethnic identity in the individual’s identity has several consequences. The potential rage generated from these feelings if the individual or group is violated may be internally or externally directed. If it is felt that the ethnic group’s interest is threatened, the individual can be motivated to defend it at almost any cost, since to him it is also literally a matter of his own survival. It is for this reason that ethnic conflicts are so intense.
For the alienated group, active violence is seen as a defence of life: as Menachem Begin, once “terrorist” and later P.M. of Israel, said, “We fight, therefore we are.”
The political implications of the psychological aspects of ethnic conflict are several, but they all demand that our ethnic groups be treated equally. Firstly, the depth of the connection between the individual and his group must be accepted, and not dismissed by some “one-love” utopian exhortation. Economic justice alone is not going to solve the problem. The role of the Chief Executive, for instance, is a powerful symbol of group-worth in any society; any political solution must address the psychological need.
Additionally, Governmental policies on the whole must openly discuss the group-impact of their implementation: presidential candidates should promote the use of Ethnic Impact Statements in Guyana.