Rising to a fairer democratic level

Below are some important parts of a statement taken from a letter by former Prime Minister Samuel Hinds (KN: 02/02/2018), intended partly to place the blame for the violence that took place between 1998 and 2008 on the PNCR and its supporters, which came at a opportune time for this closing contribution on an alternative form of government for Guyana.

In my view, although stunning in its simplicity, it is one of the most important public statements to come from the leadership of PPP/C for some time. Make no mistake, the former PM truly believes  what he conveys and it is an accurate reflection of the political mindset of the PPP/C’s elite that it has quite successfully transmitted to the vast majority of their supporters. To use his term, at a ‘subterranean’ level most observers knew that the activities of the PPP/C government in the period were rooted in this kind of an outlook but it had to be openly admitted by someone of the Mr. Hinds’ stature in the party to make possible a more rounded analysis of the period.

Mr. Hinds stated that “The term ‘Jagdeo era killings’, which has even been repeated by President Granger, is to be regretted, as it is misleading. That submerged subterranean killing wave has its origin in the rejection of the PPP/C win at our 1997 elections, by an opposing and extreme criminal fringe with ethno-political pretensions and links, which, when our national security forces were not having any success in apprehending them, evoked a similar irregular counter-force. The period from 1998 to 2008 was one of great testing of our peoples and our country. …. Rather than make it appear that Jagdeo and/or the PPP/C was the cause of those troubles, I submit, that it should be recognised that our (PPP/C) handling of that period, though criticised from many directions, saw our nation through as a whole, avoiding the intensified polarization which was intended.’

Briefly, disruptive strikes by the Public Service Union and its allies began in the first year of Cheddi Jagan’s regime, but having a better understanding of his context than his successors, he acted more wisely, even setting up a broad-based committee and opening the government’s financial accounts for it to see if resources could be found to improve remunerations. Also, recognising his ethnic context, he was attempting by various means to broaden the base of his support on the ground. It is true that, like the present APNU+AFC government, from its early days in office, the PPP/C sought to place many of its own supporters in sensitive positions in the public service. In my view, after decades of autocratic governance it is a myth to believe that most such high offices are held by anyone but government/party apparatchiks. However, as I wrote before, almost immediately upon Cheddi’s death a harder line developed against the unions. ‘President Cheddi Jagan died on March 6th 1997, about five months before the committee completed its report and a truly transformative opportunity was missed. Some in government claimed that the committee went beyond its mandate and a dispute arose about who were the public servants to benefit from the $333.5 million: the nearly 10,000 usual public servants or the entire 22,500 public employees, including police, teachers, the army, etc.’ (Jeffrey, Henry. (2015) Political and Ethnic Dominance in Guyana. Gateway 2 Dialogs, London. Kindle).

The new regime was not going to be as placatory to the unions and perceived opposition forces as Cheddi had been and recognising what was taking place as a general tendency for ethnic societies such as ours, it concluded that the only avenue open for it to establish its democratic right to rule was to quell those disturbances, suppress the PNC and establish its political dominance. This is the process that led, inter alia, to workers being shot; collective bargaining being suspended and wage increases arbitrarily imposed; the security forces being manipulated and purged; the opposition opportunistically attempting to exploit escaping prisoners; security officials conniving with politicians; Shaka Blair, Ronald Waddell and Sash Sawh being killed; Mr. Hinds’ ‘similar irregular ethno-political counter-force’ materialising (and not out of thin air); Mark Benschop and others being imprisoned;  efforts by the PPP/C to establish its own business class and attempts to emasculate the African leadership and institutions.

To reemphasise, the PPP knew two routes were before it: a consensual type of arrangement or the establishment of political dominance. It deliberately chose the latter, and it was in the interplay of its drive to dominate and the determination of the opposition and their supporters not to be dominated that we find the answer to the development of the violent forces and counter forces of which the former PM spoke. As I said this condition is a natural outcome of our context, but blinded by the notion of ‘majority rule’ and not properly understanding that a static ethnic majority does not automatically have that right in a state as ethnically bifurcated as ours, it could not grasp and from Mr. Hinds’ statement perhaps still does comprehend, that our kind of society demands other solutions such as the one being described in this series of articles. Universally, many lives and opportunities are usually lost before political elites come to this realization, and since the 1960s many lives and opportunities have been lost in our struggle to find an acceptable form of governance. So, where do we go from here?

Guyana now has about 40% Indians, 29% Africans, 20% mixed, 11% Amerindians and others about 1%, and here I paraphrase a position taken in PPP/C can win in 2020 if’…. (SN: 15/06/2016). There now exists a sizeable ‘middle group’ consisting of the minor races and those of mixed African, Indian and Amerindian ethnicity. Because of the highly exclusive nature of Amerindian and Indian subcultures, those of African ethnicity constitute the largest proportion of this middle group. However, as a group these people are not hard-wired to the PPP/C or the PNC as are the vast majority of Indians and Africans. The PPP/C’s reign became as unacceptable to this group as it did to others and with the African component highly mobilised, the APNU+AFC coalition took government in 2015, promising to transform the political system in a manner the PPP could not stomach.  Given the regime’s myriad other shortcomings, if the PPP/C could sensibly reform itself it could win in 2020. We are now at a stage where the PPP/C has not reformed and the ruling group has not and clearly does not in the near future have any intention of fulfilling its promise to change the political system. Instead, it is mired in numerous blunders and we have arrived at a point where its most vociferous pre-election propagators of immediate radical social intervention are telling us that these must now await cultural changes, the reshaping of mass consciousness and so forth.  Of course, this is all utter nonsense, for even in the most conducive of environments, these objectives will take decades to attain and the kind of changes we are considering depends largely upon elite co-operation. Indeed, having recognised that, outside of its hard core supporters, the regime is not faring well in the public’s esteem there are now suggestions that it intends to stay in office by whatever means! This means, in our context, it wishes to take us down a path with consequences not too dissimilar from those of the PPP/C regime!

The decades-long political impasse has already cost us too much when solutions exist that can be just and fair to all. Maybe it took a coalition for us to appreciate the true nature of all of our traditional political parties and realise that a peaceful solution can only now rest upon the putting together of a new political force with clear and fairly detailed plans and unbreakable guarantees that election promises will be fulfilled. Based upon the present ethnic differentiation that contains a floating middle group and massive national and international mobilisation to establish substantial pre- and post-election verification mechanisms, one should be able to produce a post- elections outcome that will raise us to a fairer and more progressive democratic level.


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