We must vehemently reject Tacuma Ogunseye’s threats and his calls for identification with race as the answer to the problems of Guyana, as perceived by him. All of us Guyanese, and Afro-Guyanese in particular, must reject such calls from whomsoever, and in whatever form.
Ogunseye’s analysis, and call, is not new: it is a self-serving, self-fulfilling analysis and a call which has bedevilled us from the time that Independence appeared on our horizon. It is not the answer to the challenges which fate threw down before us sons and daughters of the many peoples who found themselves cast together on these shores.
As Ogunseye acknowledges, for the first time unreservedly, openly and publicly by someone who may be considered a spokesman for Afro-Guyanese, our elections were rigged at all times when the PNC won outright.
This public acknowledgement is potentially significant in that it could set the base for, and open the door to, clearing of our nation’s conscience of a long period of great injustice done to Dr. Cheddi Jagan, the PPP, and all who supported, and voted for, the PPP, in a period in which they were made to be fools. But instead of apologizing, begging pardon, and pleading “come leh me make up to you”, Ogunseye follows his acknowledgement of rigged elections – which inflicted traumatizing mental violence – with threats!
Ogunseye heaps blame on the late President Desmond Hoyte for yielding prematurely to pressures to hold a free and fair election in 1992, before using his rigged constitutional majority to change the constitution to one of ‘shared governance’. And what is ‘shared governance’? And what are we Guyanese to think of it? Is Shared Governance to be just a movement of the current disputations from the Parliament Chamber to the Cabinet Room? Are the shared Ministries to become individual kingdoms, each going its own way? Or, will all the Ministers see themselves as, and be required to be, members of a National Team, submitting themselves to the captaincy of the President?
One could sense in some of the calls for ‘shared governance’, yearnings to wanting to participate in, and to contribute towards, building our country, but Ogunseye’s call for ‘shared governance’ without an apology but rather blaming President Hoyte for a premature change to fair elections, could only be seen as seeking the same outcome as rigged elections by another mechanism, under a different name. So long as the rigged elections are not rejected by Afro-Guyanese, there will be a reasonable fear that ‘shared governance’ is to be rigged elections by another name.
Rigged elections traumatized not only those who were thus cheated but also those who rigged, and those who supported and denied the obvious rigging. The discomfiture of many Afro-Guyanese began early and spread gradually and slowly. As Donald Ramotar recalls from time to time, Dr. Jagan had perceived already in 1973 that a very large number of Afro-Guyanese were already unhappy with the ‘rigging’ solution and were not participating and stayed away from voting.
Whilst we have acknowledged the “potent” picture which challenged Afro-Guyanese as independence came, Afro-Guyanese must recognize the no less potent picture which Indo-Guyanese faced when they saw the overwhelming support from almost all other Guyanese for that first, blatantly- rigged election of 1968, and acceptance of the continued subsequent rigging of our elections which they could not stop. And Ogunseye should not expect Indo-Guyanese to be slower to perceive marginalization, discrimination and injustice, than Afro-Guyanese. If Ogunseye thinks Afro-Guyanese had problems, Indo-Guyanese had problems too.
Fortunately, Dr. Jagan resisted calls from within and without the PPP, to more robust and violent responses to protect and recover the rights of the PPP, because Dr. Jagan did not want to run the risk of things getting out of hand and escalating to the point of an out-and-out race fight.
Rather than threatening the PPP/C, Ogunseye should recognize how consistently and how far Dr. Jagan and the PPP have gone in seeking always to create situations for us Guyanese to work out our different and differing, opposite and opposing, experiences and views. Dr. Jagan and the PPP have always been for a people’s political partnership. How else can we think of the four founding persons of the Political Affairs Committee – Cheddi, Janet, Jocelyn Hubbard and Ashton Chase – but as a symbolic partnership of the significant social groupings in our country at that time. And Cheddi continued to reflect the same sensitivity in the PPP Governments of 1953, 1957 and 1961; and returned to the same task of embracing any, and all who were willing, in his PPP/C Government of 1992.
In June 1993, when Cheddi, after a long time, again led the Commemoration of the Enmore Martyrs, it was a sure bet that he would recount and reflect on our social political history from that time and end up, as he did, with the lament, “Why can’t old comrades be comrades again.” Clearing our slate of the rigged elections, as acknowledged by Ogunseye, would be a great step towards clearing the air so that “old comrades”, Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese and all Guyanese, no matter what their political persuasion, could be comrades again.
Now that we have heard Ogunseye’s threats, all of us Guyanese must redouble our efforts in pursuit of greater harmony so that we are not visited again in the run-up to, and after, this 2011 elections, with the massive street protests and calls to the Police and Army to support kith and kin, which Ogunseye threatens again, and with which we were plagued from the run-up to the 1997 elections, unto about 2008. Our nation was severely stressed and strained, but we held together. Ogunseye’s threats must find little, if any, fertile ground.
Recent commentators who advance various reasons for our fall from the average 7-% GDP growth rate over the post-Hoyte period of 1990 to 1997, should not fail to recognize that our society and economy survived, from 1997, over 10 years of deliberate, dedicated efforts to create an ungovernable Guyana, a situation that Ogunseye again threatens.
For the record, let me join in our Government’s call to put on the table all charges of ‘African political and economic marginalization, discrimination and exploitation by this mainly East Indian-backed PPP/C Administration’, of which I am a satisfied and proud member. And I have no doubt that once Afro-Guyanese put their body and soul and mind to it, they would be as successful as any other group.
The perceptions of marginalization and discrimination of Afro-Guyanese, no doubt spring from a seeming lack of success by Afro-Guyanese, as compared with Indo-Guyanese, in social and economic activities. It would be good to find occasion and fora for sound investigation and debate of facts, facts that go beyond anecdotes, facts which may be relevant to these perceptions. Questions to be addressed would include, firstly, the descriptions and numbers in the distribution of failures and successes in all their varieties across the entire Afro-Guyanese grouping and the entire Indo-Guyanese grouping; and, secondly, in what ways have Afro-Guyanese been more or less successful post-1992, as compared with pre-1992, and earlier? Also, we must investigate how much of any lack of success by Afro-Guyanese should be attributed to the attitudes engendered in Afro-Guyanese, particularly the young, impatient ones, by the threats and calls like those expressed by Ogunseye. How much of the post-1992 lack of success might have been self-induced and forced within Afro-Guyanese groups, when we think of the calls to hold back, not to participate – not to make things look good for this PPP/C Government – and generally to make things ungovernable for a quick return to a PNC Government?
Any group that is suffused with the threats and the calls to racial identification, of Ogunseye, would not be developing the attitudes, the skills, and the dispositions, favourable for success in this modern world.
Let there be a sorting out of facts, impressions, perceptions and anecdotes. Charges of discrimination in house-lot allocations were so addressed and the records showed that taking account of the locale, house lot allocations were as even-handed as could be. Even so, we recognize that one’s perception is one’s reality, and perceptions, like beauty, is in the mind of the beholder! Thus, as one of the great revolutionaries of the twentieth century admonishes, “Think not of the speaker, but hearken to his words.”
Ogunseye’s words may well be a response to a post-1992 problem that Cheddi put on the table from time to time: ‘from the viewpoint of a number of Afro-Guyanese, we had before 1992 a somewhat stalemated, balanced situation, with Afro-Guyanese holding on to political power and Indo-Guyanese having economic power. Now that we are in Government and those Afro-Guyanese find themselves, in their way of thinking, with no power, neither political nor economic, what are those Afro-Guyanese to do? What will they do?’ The analysis and threats of Ogunseye, reflecting unfulfilled aspirations, unspoken fears, frustrations and insecurities, is one example of what Afro-Guyanese may yield to. One senses a great loss in the early death of Cheddi, before he could have evolved a good response to ease those fears of many Afro-Guyanese and which form fertile ground for calls such as that from Ogunseye.
The race difference between the support of the PPP and that of the PNC has been noticeable but has not been the only difference. Many commentators, who should know better, seldom look beyond race to see that there are policy differences which are no less significant and which can be accounted for by our different histories and experiences. And to suggest a few differences in policy: Cheddi’s Kaldor, self-help budget approach of his 1961 administration which was so violently rejected; his emphasis on modesty in what we do; tight fiscal discipline and balanced budgets; and, after 1992, perhaps our attitude in starting the housing drive which so many people so desperately needed at a time when our country had no money.
We chose to award those first house lots, with just survey palls in otherwise unprepared, abandoned estate land, by lottery, amongst the most needy. We are not reluctant to distributing what little we may have, to as many as possible, even though it may be a little thin. We had the faith that in allocating to them pieces of unprepared ground, our people would have been motivated to the self-denial in savings and the sweat-equity in self-help, and that in time we would find the wherewithal to put in the services. This is the PPP and the PPP/C way of development, for our times, doing what we can do with what we have – and better from the ground up; from the widest base upwards rather than “trickle-down” from the top down. The PNC called for providing keys in finished houses, in paved developments. We are not against such when we have the money, but with the money Guyana could muster then, only one needy citizen would have been satisfied the PNC-way versus about 25 in our PPP/C-way! We of the PPP/C are inclined to hand-ups, helping people to help themselves, rather than hand-outs!
In matters of human feelings and perceptions, one should never be complacent; one always has to be assuring. Nonetheless, I make bold to say that Ogunseye’s analysis is losing its potency; his threats and his calls for identification with kith and kin are finding less fertile ground, even though danger will always be there. I see more and more Afro-Guyanese working with, and supporting, and voting for, the PPP/C, and they can do so with pride for they have many good reasons to so do. And those Afro-Guyanese who, for reasons other than race, support and vote for the PNCR, the AFC or any other, are welcome to do so too, for such is the nature of democracy! Ogunseye and others like him, have to get beyond the analysis that self-servingly perceives the initial racial clustering in our politics as insurmountable, and for all time: they have to get beyond wanting to build the new Guyana on continued, and even more consolidated, clustering along purely racial lines.
The elections of 1992 brought us to a new situation. Looking back now, and reflecting on the end of the apartheid era in South Africa, we needed to address then the trauma of the series of the rigged elections which Ogunseye now acknowledges, and clean our slate and free us all from that trauma – different trauma but trauma no less – of rigging, denying rigging or suffering from rigged elections, so that we may enjoy fully the benefits of the new era of free and fair elections. The way would then be clear for a series of confidence-building steps in our political arena which President Bharrat Jagdeo called for five, or so, years ago. Ogunseye’s acknowledgement and threats may give us a second chance to put that dismal period truly behind us! Let us work to make it so! It would be poetic justice and an unintended saving grace!
Samuel A.A. Hinds, M.P.