Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
The belief that President Irfaan Ali’s government has been discriminating against Africans in its
widespread and ad hoc distribution of the resources flowing from Guyana’s hydrocarbon
patronage is on virtually all of their lips. It has also reached the ‘hallowed’ political halls of
Washington and was one of reasons the regime’s hierarchy was invited to have discourse with
the US Secretary of State just over a week ago. At all of the official Washington meetings, Dr.
Ali and his entourage were encouraged to have a more inclusive, equitable and transparent
approach to governance and development. Whether the good Dr., and indeed the Opposition,
understand what these urgings imply is left to be seen.
Last Sunday night, in addresses at the ‘Buxton Black is Beautiful Emancipation Cultural
Programme’, the African Guyanese leadership was urged to take steps to ensure that Africans
receive equitable benefits flowing from the country’s newly discovered resources. It was also
suggested that this would require proper planning that takes into consideration the financial and
other capacities of the various groups. It cannot – as at present – be founded upon notions of a
universal citizenry the absence of which is at the heart of the current political discord in Guyana.
Indeed, this kind of universalism has long been debunked by Marxist class analysis, and as we
will see briefly below, only exists conceptually in the more or less homogeneous societies in
which it was invented. What is certain is that it is not applicable to a fractured
multicultural/bicommunal society such as Guyana. When applied to Guyana, the result is what
some have called the ‘ethnic political dilemma’ – essentially a dilemma manufactured by those
who do not wish to escape Guyana’s inherited governance status quo in spite of the fact that
pessimism about its ‘universalist’ future has been loud and clear for eons. For instance, the
British Guiana Constitutional Commission Report of 1954 stated, ‘We do not altogether share
the confidence …. that a comprehensive loyalty to British Guiana can be stimulated among
peoples of such diverse origins.’
The above noted, for some time I have been arguing that governments should commit to
implement policies geared to establishing equitability in all areas of social life (SN:29/06/2011).
Later, I called upon the APNU+AFC coalition to do less preaching and to conceptualise and
implement policies to attain equitability. In the process, I have supported a gradually expanding
universal basic income, structured financial benefits for resident nationals in this era of oil, etc..
But look where we are today: still hearing lofty platitudes about the need for equitable
distribution and development!
In my view at least three elements are important if the poor and disadvantaged are to benefit
from a comprehensive approach to address the issue of inequality: an ethnic/class disparity unit
and audit, programmes to deal with the existing disparities and focused entrepreneurial,
financial, managerial and other support.
In 2020, I pointed the Ethnic Relations Commission’s National Conversation on Ethnic Relations
to the 2016 United Kingdom race disparity audit that resulted from widespread consultations that
included people of different ethnicities, governmental and non-governmental organisations, etc.
The UK government established a Racial Disparity Unit in the Prime Minister’s Office to direct
and monitor the process. The first report published in 2017 showed large disparities between
how people are treated depending on their race. This kind of study can be used to develop
achievable goals against which the various ethnicities and others could judge their progress and
the actual commitment of governments.
Secondly, so far as wealth and income inequalities are concerned, after the 1969 ethnic riots, the
New Economic Polity of the Malaysian government set targets to seriously reduce the extant
inequalities. The policy was quite comprehensive; dealing with wealth and income distribution,
ethnic Malay participation in the professions, education, and so on. As a result, the corporate
equity held by ethnic Malays moved from 2.4% in 1970 to as much as 16.2% in 2016, and the
amount of equity held by individual Malays increased from 1.6% in 1970 to 18% 2008.
Finally, ethnic disparities will not be sufficiently reduced in a timely manner, if at all, in a laissez
faire universalistic framework. Disadvantaged people need various kinds of support mechanisms
to establish successful businesses. Generally, poor people find it difficult to acquire adequate
financing, but crucial to long-term success are the management and technical support available to
new, expanding and troubled firms (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v =PR40zAeeGSM).
The above suggest the scientific approach that is required if timely success is to be achieved. Of
course, one must expect entrenched interests and governments themselves to possibly rant
against such a project. After all, it contains the worst nightmare of governments: concrete
benchmarks against which their usual empty rhetoric about democracy, transparency,
equitability, etc., could be judged. Furthermore, it could also lead to a redistribution of wealth
and opportunities, sometimes from the regime’s constituencies.
But here is the kick for those who believe that increasing equality is likely to quell ethnic
tension. The situation is far more complex: relative poverty is as – if not more – revolutionary
than absolute poverty. One 2020 article concluded ‘The findings suggest that policymakers may
need to be more attentive to perceptions that groups have of being deprived, rather than relying
solely on socioeconomic indicators of inequality to identify groups that may be motivated to
engage in violent collective action. While the results indicate that there is a clear need to unpack
grievances, they equally imply a need to keep an eye on the groups’ relative capacity to mobilize.
This approach to forecasting when and where rebellions and other protests might take place, and
working to ameliorate the inter-group dynamics that give rise to conflict, may be more labor-
intensive than relying on objective indicators, yet promises to help us create a model of conflict
that would better inform conflict management and peace-keeping efforts.
I believe that the PPP is aware of this contention and set upon ethnic/political dominance as it is,
it sees little value in equitability. Furthermore, last week I argued that the ethnic quarrels that
have plagued Guyana for decades are not about the fact of ethnic prejudice and discrimination
but essentially about the interpretation of those facts. With the same facts I can offer a different
credible interpretation, and that is precisely what happens in all competitive democratic political
situations. Since neither Indians nor Africans trust the leadership of the other side to interpret
the world for them, while increasing equality might be a necessary it is not a sufficient condition
to end the ethnic conflict. For the ‘inter-group dynamic ‘to be ameliorated a suitable system of
reconciliation is required!