This article addresses a letter written by Mr Tacuma Ogunseye, in which he says that “the major hindrance to unity and progress (putting aside foreign influence and dictates) is the unwillingness of race groups to accept that there is need for adjustments in historical advantages they achieved in the colonial arrangement of the economy and the state. Each group wants to retain its advantages and seek to move forward without adjustments in the economic, political and social spheres.”
There are two questions that arise. Firstly, what exactly are these “advantages” that need to be “adjusted”; and secondly, what is Government’s role in facilitating necessary “adjustments” to create a more equitable society?
One aspect that comes to mind is the overwhelming African-Guyanese staffing of the coercive arms of the state, the Public Service, and other state bureaucratic institutions, such as GECOM. These disparities started as a colonial ploy to “divide and rule”. For instance, the Police Force was launched in 1839 with a majority of Barbadians, commanded by British officers, to deal with expected disorders by the newly freed slaves. But after the latter circumstance never materialised, African-Guyanese were henceforth preferentially recruited to keep the Indian Indentured labourers “in line”, with the “leaden argument” when called upon.
In 1965, as a precondition to independence, an ICJ Commission recommended that for the next five years, 75% of recruits and cadets be Indian-Guyanese, until they reached their proportion in the populace. However, Ken Danns showed that between 1970 and 1977, while the size of the Police Force was doubled by the PNC Government, 92.2% of recruits were African- Guyanese, with only 7.84% being Indian-Guyanese. The same was true for the other armed forces launched by the PNC.
In terms of rectifying this anomalous situation after free and fair elections in 1992, the 2004 Disciplined Forces Commission Report, which was unanimously approved by the National Assembly in 2010, had recommended that the Armed Forces should aim at achieving greater ethnic diversity. It does not matter whether one group does not want to give up its “advantage” or not: the state was given a mandate to equitably compose all state institutions.
I believe that another “advantage” that Tacuma was alluding to is the greater preponderance of Indian-Guyanese in the private sector, especially in business and agriculture, than African- and Amerindian-Guyanese. While this circumstance was due more than anything else to Indian exclusion from the state sector by the colonial administration, it should not be forgotten that that state also used a variety of stratagems in the post-slavery era to discourage African-Guyanese away from those areas. Remember the flooding of villages like Plaisance, and the denial of credit?
Historically, institutional and cultural structural features subsequently developed that discouraged African-Guyanese participation in business and analogously Indian-Guyanese participation in the state sector, especially in the Disciplined Forces. Sequestered in the interior, the Indigenous Peoples were peripheralised from both state and private sector initiatives, and are the most disadvantaged. The state has a duty to create equity in these areas because of its past discriminatory actions in creating the disparities.
We have suggested that entrepreneurial and affirmative action programmes be rolled out in areas where the Government should increase African-Guyanese and Indigenous Peoples’ participation in farming and business. For instance, the Caricom Development Fund’s (CDF’s) $2.6B Rural Agricultural Infrastructure Development (RAID) programme, which the APNU/AFC Government implemented since 2017 to develop sustainable farming in the African villages of Ithaca, Buxton, BV and Mocha, can be extended to other groups. Ethnic Impact Statements should be issued to monitor compliance.
Tacuma alluded to a recommendation he had made in the 1990s in reference to Indigenous Peoples being allowed to move away from the “one man one vote” system of democracy and “be allowed more representation in parliament than their numbers (would permit) in the present governance system.” He buttressed this call by noting, “our Indigenous Peoples were the first Guyanese to consciously engage in resistance against European colonial conquest – the first Guyanese to die in defence of the country.”
While I agree with his assessment of the contributions of our Indigenous Peoples, I wish Tacuma would expand on exactly how this extra representation for them would be achieved.