The world is plagued with ethnic conflicts; there are few countries where there isn’t ethnic antagonism and ethnic aligned politicking and governance. A group excluded from Government or marginalised often turns to violence or some kind of destabilising activity in order to address its grievance. One approach in trying to resolve ethnic conflicts that have gripped so many countries is power-sharing (in which every group gets a fair share of State resources and/or its leadership is part of a Government championing its interest). It was proposed for Guyana decades ago.
Power-sharing is defined loosely and differently in every society. One model does not fit all, hence the variation in a power-sharing structure. The objective of power-sharing is to diffuse ethnic tensions. It is believed by scholars that if the leadership of groups were included in a Government (national and/or local), conflict would be lessened and greater energy and effort would be directed towards national development. With peace would come economic development and everyone would be a winner. With conflict, the nation cannot realise its full potential and everyone is a loser. Power-sharing has been talked about In Guyana since 1953 but has never been fully thought out and implemented.
Power-sharing has been bandied about over the last six decades in virtually every society with ethnic conflict and has met with varying degrees of success. In some societies, like in Europe, it worked rather well with some challenges. In Northern Ireland, for example, there were issues relating to disagreements over the implementation of a 1998 accord but a resolution has been reached over the last several months. In Africa and in some Asian countries like Afghanistan, Cambodia, Iraq, Syria, among others, there were challenges because agreements made between warring forces (tribes) were not honoured. Switzerland and Belgium are success stories. Power-sharing has been suggested by a few of us for Guyana but no serious effort was made to establish a structure and have a national discussion that could lead to a serious proposal and perhaps legislation or referendum for implementation. The nation should decide on whether power-sharing is needed and what form it should take.
The coming together in 1950 of various groups in the PPP can be viewed as a first effort at ethnic power-sharing. The term was not used at the time. The PPP was inclusive of all ethnic groups, but it was torn apart by personal ambitions and ideology and by the British imperial forces that used a long successfully tested strategy of divide and rule – that proved very effective dividing the country politically from 1955 till now with no solution on the horizon. When he was defeated in the 1964 elections, engineered by the British and Americans, Cheddi Jagan suggested a form of power-sharing, though he didn’t use the term, between the PPP and PNC. Burnham rejected the offer at the behest of the US and UK.
Jagan kept pushing for power-sharing with the PNC and later formal discussions were held in 1984 and 85. Burnham’s death brought an end to the discussion on power-sharing as Desmond Hoyte showed no interest in working Jagan and PPP. Power-sharing was discussed among the parties of the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (PCD) that was formed to oust the Hoyte dictatorship. For the 1992 elections, there was a formal agreement among the opposition parties on a joint slate against the PNC but it eventually collapsed over divvying of positions. PPP contested the elections on its own and won. Hoyte was not interested in power-sharing but after losing elections in 1997 and 2001 he embraced the idea.
With ethnic violence raising its ugly head in 1997 thru 2003, the PPP showed some interest. It was generally felt that the PNC could not be trusted with power or to honour an agreement and that it had to change its behaviour on ethnic violence. President Jagdeo, succeeding Janet Jagan in 1999 and elected on his own merit in 2001, suggested in 2003 that confidence-building measures were necessary before discussions could be held on power-sharing.
Having had a good term, Jagdeo was re-elected in 2006 but there was a lot of political instability with ethnic attacks. Jagdeo, to his credit, consistently supported inclusive Government (as his idea of power-sharing) and true to his promise did include a representative cross-section of the varied groups in his Administration. Jagdeo successfully put together a multi-ethnic coalition to win elections In 2001, 2006, and again in 2020. PNC failed to try that strategy until 2015 when it was forced to accept it.
Going back in the 1990s, a few intellectuals like Ravi Dev, Baytroam Ramharack, and myself proposed and still support power-sharing as a solution (devolution of power, among other measures) to the ethnic problem. But there was been little interest in the idea until racial violence reared its ugly head. Some African intellectuals like Vincent Alexander, David Hinds, Nigel Westmaas also theorised about power-sharing after the PNC’s repeated defeats in democratic elections. However, when the APNU came to power, they forgot about the idea until APNU lost power in the 2020 election.
In the 2015 election, Granger committed to power-sharing but once he became President, the idea was shelved. Confident of re-election, PNC eschewed power-sharing. As he was being ousted from office on August 1, Granger proposed talks for power-sharing. Jagdeo correctly rebuffed him. President Irfaan has also formed a multi-ethnic Government and is supportive of unity and inclusive governance as his promotion of power-sharing. Opposition elements are once again proposing power-sharing having failed to implement measures when in Government for over five years.
Violence is being undertaken to force the Government towards power-sharing. President Irfaan is right to rebuff them. He must stand strong against perpetrators of ethnic violence. Political parties must behave responsibly if they are to be considered worthy of being included in governance. They should seek to win crossover support from the other side as Jagdeo has done.