Mr Tacuma Ogunseye, arguing the case for Africans, has raised the issue of power-sharing as it can play a part in the governance of Guyana. My own view is that while he stands out as a voice for the future of all Guyanese society, he recommends marches as a means of achieving it. We need means that inform, educate, or appeal to reason or goodwill. He is in Guyana, and I am not, and perhaps he believes that none of these matter any more.
Political marches of one race, from when they started, and regardless of their cause, have terrified others. We do not seem to realise that what we have not done enough of is grounding, talking, conferences, on these important issues. I do not mean talks between two top men, as we suggested crudely in 1961. Who can today have anything to fear from sharing power? It is the only way to ensure peace. It is time in the 21st century with all the experience of the ages to consider the state as the province of all citizens and not as the privilege of any political party, race, set of ideas or economic class, majority or minority.
It was in 1961 that a group of us, crackpots, raised this terrible proposal as a way of easing tensions among ethnic groups then caught up in keen and increasing rivalry for the political leadership or control of the country. Our argument was for the security of Africans by constitutional means. Many, including those who claimed to be most progressive and forward looking, did not catch the essence of the proposal, that it was also one for an internal solution of the ethnic aspect of the Guyanese colonial problem. Since 1961, the long years and the greater layering of society, the added number of sub-classes of all types, have not removed the need for power-sharing. These factors compel a new conception of sharing. The racial factor is not removed but is not the only important factor. In fact, even if we were all of one race, power-sharing would be a very useful form of governance.
I defend the idea of power-sharing today for several reasons. One reason is that it gives losers a voice in the distribution of resources. Another is that it has the best chance of removing the ‘cat and dog’ spirit from the government and from the society. There is perhaps, one issue in power-sharing. It is how to acknowledge the majority vote without shutting the executive door against other representative groups.
For those who giggled at the idea and looked at it as primitive, let me review how it has again and again stared us in the face. Both the PPP chiefly, and also the PNC, spoke of coalitions, especially in 1964, on Nkrumah’s intervention. After the 1964 elections, the PPP leader at a press conference proposed joint premiership, and he also wrote to London for changes in the constitution to include the PPP, left out of a majority coalition government. In 1977 there was the PPP proposal for a National Patriotic Front. Walter Rodney in the WPA brought us the Government of National Unity and Reconstruction in 1979. In 1984 the UGSA proposed a Caretaker Government.
The PPP and the PNC were discussing a power-sharing project proposal by the PNC in 1985, now documented by Halim Majeed. Ravi Dev proposed a federal structure of government. During the Hoyte presidency, Rupert Roopnaraine proposed what became the June Accord, at a moment of crisis. During the post-1992 constitutional reform process there were proposals from civil society that were disabled by the two major parties. The crackpots were out of the way, but the need remained and could not be ignored. If anyone objects that many G-What countries have no power-sharing, I shall say that not so long ago their women citizens were second class without a vote.
It should be noted that the proposals at that time (1961) and since never won the approval of either of the great powers, the USSR and the USSR having at that time a strategic interest in the outcome of things in Guyana. Nothing in those proposals had a role, except one of neutrality, for those powers, both now long discredited.
The proposals, which began (1961) as joint premiership, with an upper chamber or reviewing house, with partition as a last resort, if the leaders could not agree, took other forms as time went by. One of these was a veto for the opposition leader. They spoke of “coalition.” It is well known that partners in a coalition can be dismissed by the head of government unless prevented by constitutional provisions from doing so.
What must now be seen as dramatic is the fact that the forces that dismissed power-sharing and their successors in half a century have not found a system within which all Guyanese − Indigenous, African, Indian, Mixed − can feel included. In the pressures of the sixties I handled the dialogue abrasively. There was another factor. To speak as an independent person of unity across race was to expose yourself to your own race as one “giving away power.” My apology in 1978 was very clear and public. It was given before many witnesses during the course of a lecture on “Racial Insecurity and the Political System.” In it I apologised for my handling of the race problem, not for my conviction.
One of the chief lessons of Walter Rodney’s praxis is how he moved various sectors to self-organise; workers, professionals, business, educators, religion, trade unions, forming the early structures of civil society, a work to which he donated many, many valuable hours. He was sure that this was good not only for democracy and self-representation but for human development. He strongly believed in working people in all occupations, farmers, housewives, professionals and technicians having a hand in the formation of policy affecting them.
Power-sharing today should be seen as power-sharing for racial or ethnic security, for gender security, for old age security, for the youth, for the disabled, for regional security, village and district security and participation. No one and no region should be left out. “Not one Cu-rass! Not a blade of Grass!” We can use sharing of governmental authority to create a society in which people of any race, gender, age group or location in Guyana do not feel left out or abandoned. I am talking of central government power. The trouble with the federations as proposed is that even in a province we can have ethnic recognition side by side with exclusion. Those who say that power-sharing is to be found in the regional system are really losing sight of the fact that groups can be excluded by the majority, but it is the central power that is crucial. It is here that the distribution of resources is centrally managed. Even the regions or provinces will depend on the centre in terms of Guyana’s economy for some years to come.
Many of our most learned sons and daughters admire certain features of governance in established systems and make little allowance for the pressure factors in emerging societies; emerging from where we were invaded, disrupted and transplanted. Some are impatient with the length of time emerging seems to take and want to be done with it. They miss too the tension between aspirations induced by communications and the pace of societies as they are of themselves. Is it better to order tensions to be silent, or to work to resolve them?
In developing countries with seeming plural societies that include some upward mobility, not all empowerment has to be based on legislation, if the governance is open enough to recognise self-organised professions, labour, health, media, forests, water control, climate, and natural resources, the arts and crafts, education, law, finance, engineering, the sciences, social work, information technology, law enforcement all should preferably voluntarily have means of pooling opinion, critiques of developmental procedures, and should have the right of being heard and respected. In a developing society it is criminal to dumb down these sectors. These should all publish and make known their findings and opinions in a way that the public can consume. This is one way in the 21st century that every cook can learn to govern. Civilised government will tend towards political power-sharing and empowerment.
How will majorities and minorities fit into power-sharing by any of its names and descriptions? Answers should arise from active conversations inside and across tribes and sectors.