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When politicians in highly polarized societies speak grandiloquently and astutely on matters of great achievement to a national audience, I often wonder: who are they convincing? Is it possible to change the mind of a tribalist with a compelling presentation that proves you are worthy of their support? Is it possible to embark on development projects or programs that transform the lives of members of a community which can result in them ditching tribal obligations or traditional voting patterns? I have seen no literature which suggests the minds of ethno-centrists are malleable. They tend to view everything through the prism of the survival of the tribe at all costs. In his/her mind, any gain for the other tribe represents an existential threat. As a consequence, all your efforts are like throwing water off a duck’s back.
THE BASE IN TRIBAL SOCIETIES
The unthinking base cannot be moved by the quality of the leader, his good policies, his good intentions nor his interventions that may even save their lives, once the leader emerges from the other tribe, he/she represents a threat. There is no amount of argumentation that can persuade people who are proceeding from the belief that there is an existential threat to their ethnic survival. Trump knew what he was saying when he said: I could shoot a man on 5th Avenue and not lose a vote. So, who are you convincing in a tribal society when you work late nights, complete back-breaking projects and strain your vocal cords to explain your love of country? Besides an insignificant group of moderates, no one. You are simply crying to the desert or throwing water off the Duck’s back.
Once political parties and politicians conclude that regardless of what they do, they may never receive the support of certain communities, the implications are frightening for the average country. This usually results in those communities being denied or starved of resources and attempts to fix elections in anticipation that no amount of policy-making can garner political support from the other side.
As you may have gathered by now, nothing being discussed here is new, the case has been prosecuted ad nauseum by those who continue to advocate for constitutional reform. Lowe, Khemraj et al have all cautioned about the pointless national unity programs without a constitutional framework but their pleadings thus far, have been like throwing water off the duck’s back. No amount of social cohesion methods or inter-community sports competition can assuage the ethnic fears of communities across Guyana.