Last Friday afternoon I attended the launch of Rudy Insanally’s The Guyanese culture: Fusion or Diffusion? at Moray House, and given that the author majored in English and literature, I was expecting to be presented with a treatise on Guyanese music, art, theatre, literature, etc. However, Insanally took the broader view of culture, viewing it as being the norms, values and beliefs of a people. And as Dr. Paloma Mohamed, who did the book review for the event, observed, on the whole the volume analyses some of our more pressing political issues.
Being the quintessential diplomat who spent decades in Guyana’s diplomatic service, Rudy possesses an in-depth and nuanced understanding of both his internal and external environments, and now in retirement, he seeks to apply this awareness in a constructive disquisition about our myriad political problems set in the framework of our developing political culture, which he defines as ‘the set of attitudes, beliefs and sentiments that give order and meaning to a political process and which provide the underlying assumptions and govern behaviour in the political system.’
The book consists of twenty chapters, from the first dealing with Our First People to the final one titled ‘The Next Fifty Years’. Along the way he pays a good deal of attention to governance, national unity and power sharing, social cohesion, etc., and although his account of the meanderings of the political elites is quite sound and informative, I will pay more attention to his ‘ideological’ positions on these issues.
A book on Guyanese politics must deal with race/ethnicity and Rudy tells us that most Guyanese will claim that no ‘true racial hatred exists among the ethnic groups/races in the country and that before independence the races lived in peace and harmony.’ However, he observes, ‘Our current reality is, if we are to admit it, that despite all our symbols of sovereignty, Guyana is to the foreign eye, a collection of tribes rather than a nation’.
A seasoned diplomat, he says that experience over the last half century has taught that some of our major problems, such as our border controversy, economic, social and environmental issues, are of such magnitude that they require unified action. ‘In the various councils of the world, if we do not speak with one voice and act in solidarity, the international community will remain deaf to our pleadings and contemptuous of our division. We are said to be, as one world leader once remarked, mere ‘specks in the sea’ of nations, of no real significance to the world and condemned to under-development.’
Insanally sees social cohesion as the glue that holds society together and Guyana has much need of it. ‘If truth be told,’ he argues forcefully, ‘the attitudes and behaviour of our citizens have not changed much since our independence. The social alienation which prevailed in the times of slavery and indentureship is still alive and well in our midst today. Admittedly, it may not be as overt and repulsive as it was in the early days of our history, but it is present nevertheless. Our hypocrisy may pretend that it is not there, and that, as is boasted, our nation is a model of unity and cooperation. To believe this pretense is to deny the reality of our society and worse yet to frustrate attempts to rid ourselves of’ this evil.’
He believes that to be successful the effort of the present government to build a cohesive society will depend upon there being a ‘clear basis’ on which to formulate the dialogue about social cohesion. National unity is critical and ‘must remain a top priority on our agenda. Without it, our politics will remain a plaything for our politicians. National trust and cooperation between our ethnic groups is a sine qua non for our survival as a nation.’
While most of what Rudy had to say is acceptable, there is no denying that modern political competition significantly worsened ethnic relations to a point where in 1954 the Report of the British Guiana Constitutional Commission could have questioned whether a ‘peoples of such diverse origins’ could ever become a nation. Around this period the prevalent belief was that countries such as ours were ‘condemned to under-development!’
However, a decade later, in 1965, Ernst Halperin, in his Racism and Communism in British Guiana, hit the nail on the head by pointing to the structural factor wherein both our problem and its solution lie. He argued that our racial condition ‘are not to be found in the …the unscrupulous imaginations of local politicians, or in a real or in imagined partiality on the part of the British rulers but in the very nature of the specific type of multiethnic communities.’
Rudy Insanally was then not wrong to posit that ‘Of all the proposals, those that call for power-sharing and the creation of a government of national unity are the most interesting and worthy of exploration. Public opinion appears to welcome the suggestion, in the belief that it offers greater equity, inclusivity and security to the population.’ He cautioned that the search for an appropriate power-sharing formula requires a profound analysis of the causes and the characteristics of our situation to facilitate the selection of appropriate governance arrangements.
Rudy noted that during the last election, the now president led one to believe that his party was interested in ‘power-sharing’ but now the present APNU+AFC governing coalition is being presented by some as representing ‘power-sharing.’ ‘But this cannot be correct since strictly speaking the arrangement … [a]s constituted, … excludes the PPP, a major party that garnered almost half of the votes cast in 2015 and represents a sizeable part of the electorate. One can no doubt refer to the sharing of responsibilities between the components of the APNU+AFC as ‘power-sharing’ but in no way can it be described as a ‘grand coalition’ of the principal political parties.’
Rudy Insanally is skeptical about the success of the government of national unity/power-sharing venture but his instinct suggests ‘that a better opportunity for discussing the idea of national unity may come, if, or when, the parties decide on the drafting of a new constitution.’