ONE of the consequences of the PPP’s two-decade tenure in office, is that it has become much more difficult to deal with Guyana’s long-standing ethnic problem. On the one hand, the PPP’s mode of governance, grounded as it was in complete political domination, which in Guyana translates into ethnic dominance, ensured that African-Guyanese developed a very deep fear and hatred for that party. On the other hand, those who benefited from the transfer of State resources into private hands were almost exclusively Indian-Guyanese. In addition, the PPP created a new class of mostly Indian-Guyanese bureaucrats, whose salaries, perks and power elevated them to elite status.
In other words, the PPP’s domination praxis was deeply ethnicised. I think this was deliberate. Whereas the African-Guyanese elites tend to have a simplistic attitude to race and ethnicity, their Indian- Guyanese counterparts tend to be much more aggressive on these issues. Part of the explanation for this lies in the relationship of our political leaderships to their followers.
PNC leaders and the African-Guyanese elites tend to be mostly urban in outlook and are usually out of step with the cultural motions of their followers. Race and ethnicity for them tend to be political tools to be used to gain power. There is very little ethnic emotions in their relationship to African-Guyanese—a tendency that is shared by African-Guyanese elites in general. There seems to be little confidence in the ability of African-Guyanese masses to overcome. Hence, there are little policy initiatives aimed at empowering the group beyond the bare minimum. African-Guyanese power elites, except for a brief period under Burnham, tend to accept the failed model of one tide lifts all.
PPP leaders on the other hand, have generally remained very close to the Indian masses. Hence, they are more sensitive to the ethnic reflexes of their followers. Many PPP leaders are rural people who, even as they look out for themselves, do not totally disconnect from the ethnic emotions of their followers. So, they are naturally less inclined to embrace the notion of “one size fits all” when it comes to ethnic empowerment. In that sense, they are much more ethno-racially literate than their adversaries.
When the PNC left office in 1992, they left behind clusters of African- Guyanese political enforcers and a class of government wage-earning bureaucrats. There was no new class of African-Guyanese entrepreneurs or super-rich African-Guyanese whose wealth came from the transfer of State resources. This is not to say that African-Guyanese were powerless in 1992. On the contrary, they controlled the military forces and the public service—political power.
From the time the PPP took office, it set about dismantling the centres of African-Guyanese power. It undermined the military and eventually co-opted its leadership. It further pauperised the Civil Service. It allowed bauxite to die a brutal death. In its place it created a tiny cluster of African-Guyanese hustlers by dangling before them individual wealth.
On the other hand, sugar was hugely subsidised as an ethnic gesture to sugar workers. State assets were transferred into the hands of both the old and new Indian-Guyanese economic elites. Indian-Guyanese bureaucrats loyal to the PPP controlled the levers of political power.
Indianists who sought to articulate an alternative Indian nationalism were bullied and eventually co-opted. By the time the PPP left office in 2015, practical control of all levers of formal power was firmly in the hands of the Indian- Guyanese elites. The PPP has left Guyana an ethnic trap that would stymie any effort at correcting the PPP’s wrongs.
What this has meant is that any turning back of the wrongs committed by the PPP has had ethno-racial consequences. Correcting sugar and rice means walking into an ethnic trap.
Given the ethnic manner in which the PPP treated with the sugar problem, any attempt to solve that problem is bound to have ethnic consequences. I don’t see how the government will do right by sugar and not face the politically devastating charge of racism.
Removal of PPP loyalists from mega-salaried government jobs has landed the government in the same trap. Most of these political positions were staffed by Indian-Guyanese, so if you were going to clean the system, you invariably would have to go after mostly Indian-Guyanese. The same thing goes for State Asset Recovery—who were mostly the recipients of State transfers? There cannot be avoidance of the ethnic trap if there is going to be any serious State Asset recovery.
On the other hand, African- Guyanese were so battered under the PPP, it really would take some particular policy initiatives to correct that. The ethnic imbalance in the commercial sector, for example, is so blatant, I don’t see how that would be corrected without direct government intervention. We are expecting oil wealth, but that wealth would be arriving in the context of an ethnically imbalanced political economy.
The new elite empowered by the PPP would not sit by and allow its newly appropriated wealth to be recovered by the government; it would fight with ethnic fear, economic sabotage and even violence. So, even as we criticise the government for its sloth in moving to dismantle the criminalised State, we have to be mindful of the ethnic trap it has to deal with.
More of Dr. Hinds ‘writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org