TODAY is the last day of the year—another year of frustration and dashed hopes has come to an end. We look forward to the new year, as we must, with some degree of optimism that things will get better. After all, we come from a long history of balancing agony and optimism, with optimism always finding a way to triumph.
We couldn’t overcome enslavement and colonisation without optimism—always believing that better days are coming. But that optimism has to be tempered by the harsh truths about our political reality.
We end the year with the erasure of any pretence that we could, soon, press forward as a united people—grounded in our diversity, but relentless in our pursuit of a joint civic nation. I don’t think the PPP in its present incarnation has much interest in a joint Guyana in which all ethnic groups can live in dignified peace. There is something that is very poisonous about untamed power—the sort the PPP had nurtured and got accustomed to between 1992 and 2015. And it still believes that, given our uncritical ethnic praxis, the party could soon resume its agenda of untamed dominance.
Since losing power, the PPP has been relentless in its narratives of doom and disaster. I make a distinction here between normal Caribbean-style opposition which finds fault with everything government does and the PPP’s ruthless demonisation of the government. The latter is not opposition—it is scum politics at its worst. It is a vile kind of politics mixed with ethnic emotionalism that can only, in the long run, serve to hold Guyana in a permanent state of instability.
For the PPP, then, 2017 was a year of boundless rage which culminated with the horrible spectacle in parliament. Along the way, it derailed the process used to choose the GECOM chair and then managed to present itself as the victim of an authoritarian act by the president. The party continuously fed its constituency the ethnic brew it concocted and by year-end the desired outcome was manifested as the government proceeded to lay off thousands of sugar workers in its courageous bid to turnaround the fortunes of the beleaguered sugar industry.
As I have argued many times before, the PPP’s ethno-political dance is predictable—in many respects, it has been a constant dance since 1955. But, perhaps for the first time, it has been able to disguise it as pro-democracy politics without much of a challenge from its partisan adversaries. The failure of the governing parties to preempt and challenge the PPP’s narratives within the Indian-Guyanese communities and among the middle classes of all ethnicities has allowed the PPP to sell its ethnic agenda as anti-corruption and anti-dictatorship politics.
While the PPP may have scored some temporary points in 2017, in the long run it has further damaged the country’s political psyche. It has widened the political gulf between the ethnic groups and has pushed African- Guyanese back to an uncritical place as far as the government is concerned. In the process, it has severely undermined the possibility of constitutional reform and a united front in the era of oil challenges. And, critically, it has already turned the next general election into an all-out ethnic slug-out.
On the other side of the political divide, in many regards, 2017 has been a disappointing year for the government on almost all fronts. It ended the year on the defensive over its handling of the contract with oil magnate, Exxon Mobil. It walked straight into the trap set by the PPP and other skeptics about the good intentions of the government. The last thing the government wanted was the appearance of being less than forthcoming. But, it ended up doing exactly that.The irony is that one of its partners in the government, WPA, called for the early release of the contract and subtly warned the government about the very negative outcome that eventually ensued. That the government didn’t even listen to one of its partners, speaks negative volumes about the state of the coalition itself. Earlier in the year, it was the very WPA that challenged the government on the way it handled the dismissal of Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine as Education Minister. In the ensuing public exchange between the WPA and the president, the brittleness of the coalition was exposed.
It was the year when 4,000 sugar workers were dismissed as part of the very bold move by the government to deal with the sugar industry. The government got the macro-economic narrative right—sugar was bleeding the country economically and could not be sustained. But it got the micro-economics, sociology and politics wrong. You simply cannot dismiss 4000 workers in a small economy like Guyana’s and not expect such action to have immediate, direct effect on households, extended families and communities.
Most sugar workers simply cannot walk off the estates and find jobs in other sectors of the economy. In the first place, those jobs do not exist. And even if they existed, those workers would most likely not be trained for them. So whatever compensation was available had to be given to the workers before they were relieved. And it was naïve not to expect the PPP to turn those blunders into an ethnic narrative.
Similarly, the scenario surrounding the appointment of the GECOM chair could have worked in the government’s favour, had it anticipated the reactions and approached the issue differently. When one adds the number of cases in which government’s action was deemed unconstitutional, 2017 may well be the worst year for the coalition.
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