‘Although it has bountiful resources, including gold and diamonds, Guyana is in the throes of one of the worst economic declines in the developing world. Its 750,000 people face chronic shortages of electricity, water, transportation, fuel and food. Jobs are scarce, and prices are soaring. … Its only thriving economic sector is the black market. … The World Bank estimates that Guyana has had the worst economic decline in the Third World over the last decade. … Hoyte imposed a three-year International Monetary Fund program that devalued Guyana’s currency by 70%, doubled interest rates to 35% and triggered 300% price hikes. …

About 20,000 workers from the state-owned sugar industry and all workers in the bauxite sector responded to the International Monetary Fund program by walking off their jobs. A sympathy teachers’ strike shut down the University of Guyana. … To soften the blow, the government gave state workers a 20% pay increase. But that was small change for salaries that dropped in value to $1 a day from $2.50 as a result of the devaluation. … Workers had to work two days to buy a pound of chicken or a pint of cooking oil. “A 20% increase is not enough. We need 1,000%,” said Lincoln Lewis, president of the Guyana Mine Workers Union.’ (‘Guyana Has Gold, Diamonds and Poverty : Despite Rich Natural Resources, Country’s Economy Is in Shambles’ Los Angeles Times, 28/05/1989).

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle claimed that politics is the master science ‘for it is this that ordains which of the sciences should be studied in a polis, and which each class of citizens should learn and up to what point they should learn them (and)… legislates what it is necessary to do and to abstain from.’ Perchance you disagree with Aristotle, consider what is now taking place in Venezuela, which has multiple times the oil Guyana has, the quotes above, the record of the PPP/C over its 23 years in office and what is taking place now and you will at the very least pause. 

The economic destruction referred to in the above quotes occurred under the Forbes Burnham/Desmond Hoyte regimes and was not mainly the a result of mismanagement but the existence of a political/ideological context containing international interventions, election manipulations, significant levels of internal economic sabotage/resistance and massive socio/ethnic alienation. In other words, politics was the root cause, but the geopolitics cloaked the more unique and caustic tendencies of this deeply divided ethnic society; allowing the belief that once majority rule/democracy was achieved development was more or less assured. 

Perhaps the first theoretical solution for this uniqueness came only in the mid 1960s (Politics in West Africa (1965) Sir. Arthur Lewis).  Lewis is considered the originator of the concept of shared governance: a mechanism to deal with those countries that European political theory had relegated as democratically doomed and were best left to limp along and be monitored so they did not become too much of a danger to their own populations and too problematical to their neighbours and the international community. Indeed, the persistent foreign intervention to help keep Guyanese politics on an even keel suggests that this is still largely the Western view of these kinds of countries – Fiji, Guyana, Sir Lanka, Northern Ireland, etc. – whose leaders have not yet understood that their circumstances require fundamental political accommodation.

The PPP/C came to government in 1992 and the negative implications of our uniqueness immediately began to flower. From then until about 2005 it had to face down various levels of opposition protests and did so in a manner which only exacerbated the political situation. Schooled – like most politicians even today – in the Westminster-type ideological context, the Jagans, Burnham, and Hoyte were set in their ways long before Lewis’ doctrine was published. Cheddi Jagan’s second regime ended too quickly for a proper assessment to be made and confronted by persistent protest, Janet Jagan, dogmatic and autocratic, helped by Bharrat Jagdeo, took the only route that made sense to her and steered the PPP/C in the inhumane direction of ethnic dominance which was quite opposite to the democratic path suggested by Lewis.

Economically, as the investment largely garnered by the Hoyte regime ran its course and the disruption continued, the economy declined/stagnated for 8 straight years. But by 2005, ethnic dominance appeared to be working: protests had significantly eased and by the 2006 elections the PNC appeared dead and all was smooth sailing for the PPP/C. The games the regime was playing with the economy –  rebasing it so it grew overnight by some 75% in 2006 – and its mad rush for investment capital from all and sundry led to reasonable levels of growth, but these approaches also fueled a significant level of corruption and massive socio/ethnic alienation in a context where largely due to migration, as a result of the unsettling political environment, the ethnic political base of the PPP/C was diminishing.  That party was jolted by the 2011 elections but it failed to heed the message and by 2015 the PPP/C was telling the world that the PNC had arisen from the dead and stolen the elections from under it!

Like its predecessor it was the PPP/C’s incapacity to sensibly deal with the alienation generated by the extant political arrangement that brought it down and so here we are today with a coalition government that is taking a similar route. The regime proceeds in its unaccountable fashion, e.g. failing to live up to its promised constitutional reform to establish genuine national unity and transformation. Indeed, its underperformance has become legendary: it is as if oil was found in Guyana so that the coalition government could give it away! Its behaviour is a result of the very reasons these types of countries are considered largely politically damned states – neither relevant constitutional mechanisms nor a meaningful public political opinion exist to hold them accountable. Thus, the government is making plans for the 2020 general elections certain that its core supporters will not break ranks once the PPP/C is the alternative. In this context, the most likely scenario after those elections is that the PPP/C will ‘lose’ and again take to the streets for a couple of days claiming that the elections were manipulated.

Speaking at the 20th anniversary celebration of Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement in April 2018, former president Bill Clinton stated that real democracy entails ‘majority rule; minority rights; individual rights; the rule of law; the end of violence; shared political decision-making; shared economic benefits’ and that ‘by creating a space for the identity and the interests and the values of all the people involved … (the Agreement) was a work of surpassing genius’.

The political elite in Guyana is yet to develop this deep understanding of its context and what the country requires.  As a result the chance of a proper political solution is worse today than it was in 2015. Then, the PPP/C was busy attempting to establish ethnic dominance, but at least APNU promised fundamental reform. Now, unless it makes root and branches changes, which is most unlikely, the PPP/C cannot morally demand shared governance and the coalition, ensconced in government, has reneged on its promise!

In any society, but particularly an ethnically divided one such as Guyana, if the political system is dysfunctional, irrespective of gold, diamonds, oil, etc., the result will always be suboptimal. Guyana will be in dire straits if it is unable to find what former US Senator George Mitchell, on that same occasion as Clinton, identified as ‘those political leaders who do dare greatly and succeed.’

henryjeffrey@yahoo.com

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