Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
Most of us are aware that the complications arising from ethnic political allegiances are the major problems in Guyana today. Recently, there has been an upsurge of concern among Guyanese Africans everywhere about what they believe to be the PPP’s intention to construct apartheid-like conditions in Guyana. A recent letter to the board of directors of the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXMIN) from the Institute for Action Against Discrimination and the Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy stated that, ‘The PPP regime practices East Indian ethnic supremacy’, and called upon the bank ‘to halt all consideration of funding for all government of Guyana involved projects until the PPP regime cease its apartheid policies and practices inclusive government and enacts polices that promote inclusive growth and an inclusive democracy.’
For over a decade, I have been similarly accusing the PPP, so this realisation on the part of others does not surprise me. Accusations and counter-accusations about racism by the largely ethnically supported PPP and PNC have been the stuff of Guyanese politics: it is just that the PPP, unable to rule comfortably even when it had an ethnic majority, rather than making the necessary political compromises with its context, decided to permanently entrench itself in government. As noted, the political environment has not improved: if anything the ethnic situation has got worse and what is surprising is that at this point when the tension is greatest, the leader of APNU and the Opposition, Mr. Aubrey Norton, delivered a New Year message without clearly identifying and indicating how he intends to deal with this elephant in the room.
Norton’s New Year message contained the usual complaints about the wicked, discriminatory and incompetent government and myriad promises that when he and his is party come to office they will govern in the interest of all Guyanese. This is a hard sell given how his party has been historically perceived by at least half the country. He recognises this, and thus tells us that his promises constitutes his party’s vision: ‘This is our CONTRACT WITH GUYANA. This CONTRACT enshrines the Coalition’s development goals to creatively transform this country by focusing unwaveringly on its people. This CONTRACT is the Coalition’s pledge, and commitment to each of our citizens. It is the minimum standard to which the Coalition (in or out of government) holds itself and therefore by which the people can judge us. We will work assiduously to regain government to enable the implementation of our vision and plans which will benefit the people of Guyana.’
At the best of times, competitive democratic politics is about winning and holding government; when it is coupled with the protection of ethnic interests it becomes even more fierce and corrupted. As the PPP is at present demonstrating, the political system is permissive, so why should the populace believe the PNC, particularly given its recent track record of not fulfilling important manifesto promises? The bold letters cannot surmount the fact that political contracts of this sort are unenforceable. The Leader of the Opposition should not, therefore, expect Guyanese, particularly those opposed to him, to believe him. What real guarantee do they have that his largely ethnically supported party will fulfill his promises, and apart from waiting as he tries to remain in government during the next elections, what can they do immediately to ensure that their interests are being fairly considered every step of the way? The answer is none! And they will have none until Mr. Norton and his party frontally address the elephant in the room, i.e. a deeply ethnically/politically divided society.
Mr. Norton won his party’s leadership based substantially upon perceptions of him as a stalwart fighter for its core African constituency. That constituency now feels under attack and all he offers at a time when globally, politically and socially, ethnicity is being directly addressed, is the archaic commitment to good governance that has failed over the last sixty years! If he believes that by not frontally contextualizing the elephant in the room it will go away or that Guyanese, particularly those of the other ethnicities, will come to view him more positively, he is sadly mistaken. I can assure him that the PPP will seek to present him in the worst possible manner and that he is offering a double edge sword. The PPP will project him to his constituency as weak – unable to even hold to the position that brought him to the leadership – and as a racist!
Though politically inspired, both characterizations have enormous currency in an ethnically divided context. Remember Robert Corbin? After the PNC’s disastrous showing in the 2006 elections, the PPP helped to paint him as the weakest and most corrupt leader his party had ever produced. Yet under his leadership the PPP lost both the 2011 and 2015 elections! Furthermore, political strength is not determined by willingness to confront the police: when did the PPP ever do so, yet it won many political battles. Furthermore, apart from much talk, I cannot remember the PPP being able to stop the Coalition from doing anything, including retrenching some 7,000 of its supporters in the Christmas season. As to Norton being a racist, that label is commonplace in countries such as Guyana, where entire parties and anyone that does not kowtow to their oligarchic leaderships are labeled racist, traitorous, self-interested, revengeful, etc.
In the context of Guyana, the demand for political inclusion requires that the elephant in the room be frontally addressed. After six decades, look where Guyana is in terms of national unity, with the usual attempts to have a few Indians or Africans as representatives of their group in the largely ethnic parties! Mr. Norton, your Contract has no currency. The only real guarantee of political stability and that an ethnic group will be treated fairly in a timely manner is for their chosen representatives to be at the top decision-making table.