Ethnic Marginalization in Guyana – Part 2

The previous column makes the point that perceived or actual marginalization results from the political process which is bedevilled by ethnically skewed voting patterns. After elections party supporters expect to be rewarded. One of the easiest ways to reward supporters with patronage is to allocate public service jobs, particularly at the senior levels, to trusted supporters. Over the years this resulted in an inefficient state apparatus with more predatory instead of developmentalist instincts, to use the classification of Peter Evans. The present state systems will find it difficult to implement smart industrial policies and address coordination and market failures.

Loyalty to a political party is usually seen as the best path to economic opportunities and career mobility. However, the desire for economic gains often overlaps with ethnicity because of the intra-group social networks and the ethnically skewed voting patterns. It was also noted in the previous column that it will require intelligent empirical research to disentangle personal ambitions from ethnic victimization. This is some of the research in which the Social Sciences must be engaged.

development watchPeople are very protective of their turfs in each political party in Guyana and even in diaspora party groups. I once took out a photograph in New York with now President Granger. It sent shockwaves through the PNC. People felt I was coming for their jobs. The Brooklyn PNC group went crazy that outsiders can be close to their party leader. The rumourmongering took on a life of its own. Within the AFC there are those who felt upward mobility can only be gained through smooth talk and sycophancy to get to the ears of leadership. The PPP is always in a class of its own. Before losing the election it operated on the principle that it has to buy loyalty through patronage. It has done so making a few individuals of various ethnic background rich. I was told by someone if I joined the PPP prior to 2015 not only will I be given substantial financial rewards, but also my family members will be taken care of. The PPP will soon find out that this strategy does not work well in opposition.

The crucial question arising is how to break the political process that naturally results in marginalization. Since most of the masses are likely to vote mainly for their respective ethnic leaders, the strategies have to come from leadership if they really want to make the country a better place. Perhaps it is naïve to believe leaders would want to change the status quo. Nevertheless, it is still important to write down these thoughts. There must be a multitude of ways to minimize marginalization, but I will present three possibilities.

First, senior leaders in government, private sector, army, police and other agencies should be required to undertake diversity training. Diversity comes in various forms including gender, religious, age and geography. But in the case of Guyana ethnic diversity in leadership positions should be given prominence. These days one can hardly obtain a tenure-track academic position in the United States without writing a one page diversity statement in addition to all the other skills requirements. The same should be implemented for anyone taking up a senior post in government such as the level of Permanent Secretaries. I would argue that a leader is up to no good if most of the employees and advisers in an agency are skewed in favour of one ethnicity, age or gender and the leader does little to nothing to promote diversity. In addition, research has shown that diversity is very helpful in promoting technological advancements and other benefits.

Second, inclusive governance is high on the agenda of the APNU-AFC administration. I can understand where this is coming from since many of the tasks ahead require the cooperation of the PPP, which since 2011 is a party laser-focused on the pursuit of Mr. Jagdeo’s desire for a third term. The difficult tasks ahead to deal with the sugar crisis and the barter-induced artificial rice boom will require PPP’s cooperation. But inclusive governance has to be backed by constitutional mechanisms. One other possibility is to promote the emergence of a substantial and inelastic group of swing voters. One tweak to the present constitution would be to allow for post-election alliances instead of pre-election coalitions. This would add a high degree of randomness regarding the likely winner and therefore minimize race-baiting campaigning. It should also make voters more likely to vote as swing voters.

Third, Guyana is one of the few countries experiencing a population decline. This column has argued that the population is small and density needs to be increased to decrease the average cost associated with a polder system of drainage. The country also does not have a critical mass to settle the Rupununi so as to make a road or rail system to the Atlantic financially viable. Therefore, there has to be a radical immigration policy based on two principles. (i) The need to create a larger internal market and increase population density. (ii) It must shift the country away from having two large ethnic groups suspicious of each other to about five groups with none having an overwhelming majority.

The first principle is rooted in the logic of microeconomics. The second one is rooted in political economy. Ideally immigration from the diaspora is desirable and must be given priority. However, people from surplus populations would have to be encouraged to enter in order to create economic opportunities for themselves and existing locals. The second principle does not mean any existing group will see their aggregate number decrease. It requires bringing immigrants from surplus countries such as China, Brazil, India and Nigeria in such a manner that the country will have no group exceeding 25 per cent. So, for example, the East Indian population might increase by 200,000 but its relative percentage does not exceed 25 per cent. The same can be said for the African Guyanese population.

Comments: tkhemraj@ncf.edu

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