We all know that we are in a crisis in Guyana – never mind us whistling in the dark about “Jubilee”. With murders and mayhem committed right next to police stations, business activity plunging by at least 30%, businessmen not investing, and fear enveloping the land, I wonder what else we could call it if not a crisis.
And behind it all is the “politics as war by other means” declared back in the sixties. While the politicians will deny it, the question then arises as to why we haven’t been able to end this war. One of the major reasons is that our politicians have studiously avoided identifying the nature of the war and so for almost half a century have been shadow boxing without offering us a chance of peace.
Our problem in Guyana is a political problem and it must have a political solution. The currency of politics is power, and politics is ultimately concerned with the competition of groups within a given society to capture and secure State power. There is nothing sinister about this struggle for power: the question is what would the power holder do with the power and would the power holder be given the legitimacy to use the power by the citizens of the country?
The composition of the competing groups varies with the nature of the divisions or cleavages in the society: all societies are split economically, most ethnically and some racially. The nature of the political competition depends to a large extent on which of the cleavages emerge and remain as the most salient.
In Guyana, we all know our political competition is based on the ethnicity/race (they are synonymous in Guyana) dominant cleavage and it not only suffuses politics but most of our other social interactions. But yet a powerful norm has emerged that rejects the public acknowledgement of this fact. In fact, if one dares to raise the issue in open discourse, apart from the distaste aroused, you are immediately branded a “racist”.
The main culprits who have purveyed this obtuseness have been the early politicians who have, by and large, dominated the politics of Guyana into the modern era. Their Marxist-Leninist ideological premises evidently compelled each of them to deny that when it came to protecting their political interests, Guyanese divided themselves on ethnic lines.
Every day of the year, these same citizens run around the country announcing strenuously we are all “one” – “Guyanese”. But when they went individually behind the blinds of the voting booths, they divided themselves as if they were all wired to some ethnic headquarters.
And it was not because they were “bad” but because of deep-seated, structural insecurities and fears coalescing around ethnic identity. And because these insecurities would be exploited by the same politicians who would sanctimoniously deny ethnicity’s centrality and spout the “all awe is one” mantra.
But there was another piece of evidence, proving the politicians knew very well of the ethnic self-identification by the people. Before ROAR, all of the parties in Guyana defined themselves as “multiracial” parties. The parties thus conceded that to be seen as legitimate, they had to try to convince the voters they had representatives from all the ethnic groups in their midst and were then competent to represent all their interests. Yet since the elections of 1957, all elections have been more or less ethnic censuses where the Indians voted for the PPP and Africans voted for the PNC. Other groups had to make their choice. Yet the parties insisted that they were multiethnic through the transparent subterfuge of “ethnic window dressing”.
But with all ethnic groups now “minorities” in Guyana, the uni-ethnic parties cannot even pretend to be wearing “multiethnic clothes” – read “tokens”.
This the PNC evidently did in 2015 by overtly coalescing with the AFC for its “Indian” 11%. Is the conflict over the conflict over? Will the PPP follow suit analogously?