Back in 1990, as it became evident Guyana would have free and fair elections, and with the naiveté of a “just returned” Guyanese, I shared with the then three major political parties, the PNC, PPP and WPA, a paper: “For a New Political Culture”.
One of the major points I made was “…with an imminent majority of voters, in a political arena governed by majoritarian rules and universal suffrage, it was quite conceivable that the Indians could subordinate the Africans in perpetuity… Any proposed solution to Guyana’s problem must address this fundamental fear of the African Guyanese: the fear of being swamped and subordinated.” Majoritarian democracy, therefore, presented African Guyanese with a “Security Dilemma” they have to resolve.
I warned: “Groups in this situation are overwhelmingly initiators of ethnic violence, as they project their anxiety and insecurity onto the other group who are seen as threats to their survival. From this perspective, the response of the African Guyanese is not cultural; the same response has been elicited in culturally dissimilar groups such as the Malays who are in a structurally similar position economically in Malaysian society.”
In our specific circumstance, the Indian Guyanese, then, had their own “Physical Security Dilemma” where, even though their party may win “authority” at the polls, their “power” could be short-circuited by an African dominated Disciplined Forces that may not be as forthcoming as they ought to be against ethnically directed violence. Desmond Hoyte, leader of the PNC, would soon refer to “kith and kin” in the Disciplined Forces.
For reasons of their own, none of the parties was interested in the menu of institutional measures we proposed – one-term shared governance, alternating presidency, federalism, etc – to give life to the new political culture that would have as its major premise, the equitable sharing of power among the several groups in Guyana. Protests and ever-escalating violence duly followed the 1992 elections that ushered the PPP into office. The opening of the trial of the remnants of “Fineman’s gang” for the Bartica Massacre reminds us of the denouement of that violence that spanned 1998-2008.
Beginning in 2006 when ROAR joined GAP in an electoral alliance to contest the elections, I noted the diminishing numbers of Indian Guyanese and after my withdrawal from politics after the elections, I began to point out that the African Security Dilemma was coming to an end and their party, the PNC had no need to continue with its confrontational mode of politics that included street protests, which could always careen out of control. Especially in a polity where one group had actually formed an armed and violent African Resistance. African Guyanese, I said, could attain political power through the ballots – and didn’t need the “bullet” approach.
Several individuals, including Eric Philips, Lincoln Lewis and Freddy Kissoon, disagreed vehemently and accused me of wanting African Guyanese to commit political suicide. However, the 2011 elections had the Opposition parties, the PNC, which had rebranded itself as “APNU”, and the smaller AFC, checkmating the PPP in Parliament after it could only secure a lame-duck presidency. And when they coalesced in 2015, they delivered the coup de grace by ousting the PPP from office. The 2012 census had confirmed my estimation that Indians were “below 40%” – 39.5% to be exact. With the Indian Guyanese population showing no signs of stabilising much less reversing their percentage drain, especially in the new era of “visa at will” to the US, it is clear the African Security Dilemma has been resolved. In 2020, APNU will not need the AFC, excepting as window dressing. But the Indian Security Dilemma is now widened: in addition to their physical security fears, they now stand no chance of even securing political office.
In this climate, it is difficult to understand why the Government has not begun to implement the recommendations of the Disciplined Forces Commission to increase the number of Indians in the Disciplined Forces to their proportion in the population. And instead exacerbates their physical security fears with their top-heavy staffing of political institutions by Disciplined Forces officers.