The apparent massive Afro-Guyanese support for and participation in and the apparent Indo-Guyanese absence from activities associated with the golden jubilee celebrations have led some to claim that the event will be more of an African fest than a national celebration than those who gathered to hoist the Golden Arrowhead on 26 May 1966 would have expected. I have had to point out on one such occasion that like most Guyanese, most Afro-Guyanese know that comparatively not much progress has been made over the last 50 years, but they are celebrating not so much the anniversary but their release from what they perceive to have been nearly a quarter of a century of PPP dictatorial rule.
Indo-Guyanese also know that not much has been achieved since independence, but had the PPP/C still been in office today, Afro-Guyanese participation would have been muted and critical. However, our Indian compatriots would have been flocking to Guyana to celebrate our 50th independence anniversary, which would have been demarcated to expose the years of the Burnham dictatorship and the ‘vast developments’ that have taken place since ‘the return to democracy’ in spite of the continued machinations of the PNC.
Fifty years after independence, the fact that at this stage of preparation the above is a widespread perception, is an extremely sad reflection of the state of the nation. Therefore, I again present the following commonplace ideas as but one suggestion around which we can pressure our leaders to immediately design a viable solution.
Sad as it is, the above scenario is mitigated somewhat by the fact that the difficulty does not lie with us, be we Indians, African, Amerindians, Portuguese, etc. – we are not more foolish or wicked than anyone else nor are our religions and cultures more corrosive. The dynamics of our seminal dilemma is better captured in the following 1861 comment, on nationality and representative government, by John Stuart Mill.
‘Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities. Among a people without fellow feeling … the united public opinion necessary to the working of a representative government cannot exist. The influences which form opinions and decide political acts are different in the different sections of the country. An altogether different set of leaders have the confidence of one part of the country and of another. … One section does not know what opinions or what instigations are circulating in another. The strength of none is sufficient to resist alone, and each may reasonably think that it consults its own advantage most by bidding for the favour of the government against the rest…’ (https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au /m/mill/ john_stuart/ m645r /chapter16.html).
I believe that both Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham and even Desmond Hoyte could be excused for not properly understanding the true political nature of the country they were ruling. A solution to the hopelessness suggested by Mill was only partly provided by Sir Arthur Lewis and developed by others in the late 1950s and 1960s. In those days it took considerable time for new social ideas to filter down and be properly inculcated.
The general thrust of their position was that for one to successfully manage divided societies such as ours there must be established some form of national executive power sharing governmental arrangement that brings all the major ethnic groups to the decision-making table.
One would have thought that after some five decades, most of our political leaders and those who seriously comment on our political condition would have grasped the essential difficulty, but such is not the case.
Only last Monday, regular commentator Emile Mervin presented a good account in the KN of the present state of the nation. And as a good commentator is expected to do after such an evaluation, s/he must attempt to answer that troublesome question: what is to be done? Alas, his answer is indicative of why this country might well comparatively remain essentially where it is when it looks back from its centenary celebrations!
‘Editor, there has been and will always be no shortage of opinions on Guyana’s political independence, but if the current and potential leaders really believe they can make a genuine difference in helping Guyana finally live up to its national motto, there has to be a three-pronged push to end ethnic voting, create jobs primarily for youths while stemming the related crime crisis, and eliminate systemic corruption in government.’
Since we are not going to end ethnic voting (the most important element of what is proposed), particularly in the conditions not too far from those outlined by Mill, the next best solution if there is to be timely development is to try to create arrangements to manage it sensibly. That is what Arthur Lewis sought to do and that is what we need to attempt.
On the face of it, the APNU+AFC came to office promising quick action to change the constitution and to establish a government of national unity, and the president has been speaking regularly about the need for national cohesion and national unity government. Indeed, his recent statement to the National Assembly is easily his most specific on the issue thus far.
He argued that the nation’s future depends on our rejecting winner-takes-all politics, which only lead to ethnic political rivalry and division. We need to proceed to build the requisite kind of national unity that has been evading us since independence (Wider political inclusivity needed. SN 13/05/2016).
But then he immediately proceeded to point us in a direction that suggests that he may not be serious and/or views national unity in too limited a fashion ‘The National Assembly,’ he claimed, ‘must take the first step on the long road to social cohesion, to political inclusion and to economic resilience.’
If the kind of national unity the president has in mind is that suggested by Sir Arthur Lewis, establishing it is not the work of parliament or the government but the work of the political elite, i.e. political parties, one of which President Granger leads.
As a matter of fact, in our context, you could establish a dozen ministries of social cohesion but national unity will not be built without the PPP/C at the political executive table. The result of the last national elections further clarifies this point: the coalition has no capacity and will not in the foreseeable future be able to develop an ability to go over the head of the PPP and win sufficient amount of their traditional supporters to be able to claim the existence of the level of national unity the country requires for its timely development.
The president as head of the APNU needs to state immediately in general but no uncertain terms whether or not his party is still in favour of sharing the executive with the present opposition as it was when in the opposition. If not, he will need to provide reasons. If yes, he should communicate this general position to the PPP and let them reject it and answer for their rejection. However, he will not be blamed when our centenary celebrations turns out to be an ethnic fest.