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This past week images of homes at Linden being bulldozed on the orders of the government of Guyana brought African Guyanese back to reality. I say African Guyanese, not because I feel that other ethnic groups condone the action, but because our ethnic politics have driven us to the point where we no longer feel the pain of the other. The images brought back memories of apartheid South Africa—dread memories. I wondered aloud about the lack of human feeling in the leaders who ordered that action. I wondered whether they understand our Independence mission. I cringed at the lack of public outrage, even among African Guyanese.
Why would the PPP leaders carry out such an ugly act in 2022? Why would a government in Guyana dare to even contemplate such action in an age of instant news where images go viral around the world in a matter of minutes? Why would a government sign off on such a move when it must be conscious of the potential ethno-racial outrage such action would generate? Why has the current government repeated many of the ugliness of the past and invented new ones since August 2020? Why the constant antagonization of the African Guyanese community?
First, the PPP, as a government that does not enjoy the support of African Guyanese, has obviously decided that it would use the power of the government and State to neutralize the African Guyanese community. Conscious of the history of revolts against past PPP administrations from certain centers of the African Guyanese community, the party has seemingly decided that it would use the “blank cheque” it has been given since August 2020 to instill fear among its opposite community. From the use of the police to vigilantes to now bulldozers, it has sought to govern by naked force fear. The tactic of handouts in one hand and force in the other hand is a well-known device in pursuit of socio-political control of the other.
The second reason lies in the nature of raw ethnic politics. As Dr. Henry Jeffrey pointed out on my program, Politics 101, the PPP could bulldoze the houses of members of a community that is politically opposed to it simply because it would not lose any votes—in fact it may gain votes. This is the sad reality of ethnic politics. Ethnic parties seldom have to fear blowback from their constituencies which would expediently justify the party’s excesses or remain silent out of fear of breaking ranks. The fear of giving ammunition to the competing group muzzles the “in group.” Morality is silenced as each group selects its own morality. The rebellion by sections of the Indian Guyanese community at the 2011 and 2015 elections which was induced by the perception of the AFC as an alternative Indian Guyanese party, has in the long run had a negative effect on cross-ethnic political consciousness and action.
A third reason the PPP government could be so bold to take that action in Linden lies in the willful cowardice of institutions and groups with mega microphones when it comes to matters of ethnicity and race in Guyana. I say willful, because these voices would instantly condemn racism in the USA and elsewhere but remain silent on similar acts in Guyana. These are groups that advocate for democracy, human rights, anti-corruption, better oil contracts, local content and other noble causes as if Guyana is a color-blind society. It’s a fatal flaw in our political culture. It is no accident that the images of the bulldozing at Linden have not been prominently displayed on the front pages of our daily newspapers and most of our electronic media—it is simply news that must be hidden and silenced. It is no accident that the plethora of Civil Society organizations have not expressed even mild outrage. Some would otherwise wax lyrically about human rights and worker rights, but when those collide with racial rights, they muzzle themselves.
A fourth reason the PPP could bulldoze houses in Linden with consummate ease is they know that the opposition PNC would not push back in a militant manner. Through its allies in the media, Indian Guyanese commentators, friendly emissaries and appeals to so-called moderates in the PNC’s leadership, the PPP has been able to contain any militancy that potentially came with Norton’s assumption of the party’s leadership. As an electoral party, the PNC has in recent decades done that clumsy dance when it comes to ethnicity and race. Unlike the PPP which has been able to seamlessly merge race with communism and laterally race with capitalism, the post-Burnham PNC has not been that creative. The outcome has been an inability to defend and advance the ethno- racial interests of its constituents. That was glaringly evident when it held power 2015-2020 and has been even more glaring since the PPP seized power in 2020.
So last week it was Orin Boston, yesterday it was Shawnette Bollers and today it’s the bulldozers at Linden. When will it stop? As I argue in this column, the PPP, PNC nor Civil Society has an interest in going there. As an activist active in the African Guyanese community, I confront the frustrations and anger in that community. My study of ethnic societies and of Guyana in particular tell me that it is only a matter of time before the dam bursts. When formal intuitions avoid overriding issues, informal actors fill the void, often with deadly consequences for all. Remember 2002-2008? I say no more.