Clifford Krauss’ piece on ethno-political tension is flawed, overlooks key issues

Dear Editor,

Not too long ago, Clifford Krauss, an American Journalist, wrote an article featured in the New York Times titled “The $20 Billion Question for Guyana” in which he essentially tackles whether Guyana is institutionally and politically ready for the lucrative prospects of oil. The article received many criticisms, particularly from Guyanese citizens, both local and in the diaspora. Some accused Krauss of being “insensitive” and telling “half-truths” in his general portrayal of Guyana and its political issues. Others thought Krauss’s portrayal of Guyana was “accurate” and illustrates, some would say, “the real Guyana”.

Stabroek News published an Op-Ed which reviewed Krauss’s article as telling the story of a “proverbial knight in shining armour about to rescue that distressingly dismal, dusky damsel as he has painted Guyana”. That “knight” of course, is U.S. oil giant, ExxonMobil.

One Guyanese blogger deconstructed Krauss’s dismal picture of Guyana. The blog post argued that Krauss misrepresented Guyana with his sloppy style of writing, while “crafting a Cinderella love story” which tells the tale that “we need Exxon and Exxon apparently really needs us.” The Private Sector Commission of Guyana expressed a similar sentiment in their letter to Kaieteur News.

But Krauss is at it again with his latest submission to the New York Times. This time he attempts to capture the ethno-political tensions in Guyana and what that means for Guyana’s future of oil production. However, I feel Krauss fell short in several areas.

The headline of the article reads “Oil and New Leadership Raised Hope in Guyana. But Political Rifts Are Resurfacing.” What is interesting about this headline is that the article did not touch on matters leading up to the new leadership under the coalition Government, such as allegations of corruption made against the former Government, and the issues that followed the discovery of oil. For example, there is no mention of the criticisms experts and concerned citizens are raising surrounding the contract deal between the Government of Guyana and ExxonMobil, neither is there any mention of concerns looming over ExxonMobil’s contract monopoly. These are not issues Krauss is interested in highlighting to the international forum. Instead, Krauss endorses and utilizes a very particular way of writing which resembles propaganda that is far from fair journalism.

Here are some examples of where I think Krauss goes too far in his recent submission, followed by some immediate thoughts: –

“Afro-Guyanese typically live in the capital and several towns, where they hold most of the jobs in government offices and the security forces, while Indo-Guyanese generally live in rural areas as rice and sugar farmers.”

“And while Mr. Granger has followed through on promises to slash subsidies for the sugar industry, putting thousands of Indo-Guyanese out of work, he has not cut the bloated government bureaucracy, which mostly employs Afro-Guyanese.”

Firstly, where are the statistics to justify this assertion? This is an incredible way to represent the distribution of Guyanese people by ethnicity, classifying Afro-Guyanese as urban workers and Indo-Guyanese as rural workers. Krauss also admits that Indo-Guyanese are “numerous” in the business sector. Where is Guyana’s business hub if not in “the capital”? I am fairly certain it isn’t in the countryside. Where is the evidence that the “bloated government bureaucracy…mostly [employing] Afro-Guyanese” started with the current administration? Couldn’t the same be said of the previous administration?

Moreover, at what point in Guyana’s history has the public sector not been predominantly Afro-Guyanese? Let us think for a moment. Is Mr. Krauss aware of the fact that the streamlining of Afro-Guyanese into Guyanese public sector employment began under colonial rule? Krauss wants us to infer that this “government bureaucracy” employs “mostly Afro-Guyanese” because, he subtly hints, they are Afro-Guyanese. There is no doubt that Guyana has been plagued by the shuffling of ethnic domination between the PPP/C (predominantly Indo-Guyanese party) and the PNCR (predominantly Afro-Guyanese party). But to have Krauss, an international journalist, script us our political reality without dedicating the time to carefully understand the history of what has led us to our modern predicament should be deemed an insult to the people of Guyana.

For a nation that is gradually healing from a legacy of ethnic conflict, manufactured by European colonialism, Krauss walks a dangerous line. He comes very close to inciting ethnic hostility by building a conspiracy in which a pro-African public sector governs a state in which Afro-Guyanese are privileged to live in “the capital” and “several towns”. Is this what is meant by “Political Rifts Are Resurfacing”? These assertions are absurd, inaccurate and should be rejected!

Krauss is not interested, though, in how the Coalition Government, led by David Granger, won the 2015 elections under the slogan of ‘national unity’ which proved successful in bringing Guyanese of every colour and culture to the polls to give them the narrow lead.

“The opposition accuses Mr. Granger of laying the ground for fraud in the elections, and there have been hints by opposition leaders of protests to come.”

Krauss conveniently did not mention the Guyana Elections Commission’s and the international community’s response to accusations of fraud in the 2015 elections. Why didn’t he? “Mr. Granger instead broke precedent and selected his own chairman. The action was legal under the Constitution, but the opposition cried foul.”

Yes, the Opposition cried foul because the candidate did not come from their lists. And yes, this is unprecedented. However, the action of selecting a GECOM Chairperson was ruled by Guyana’s Chief Justice as Constitutional and the Constitution trumps tradition.

Krauss takes quite seriously his [poor] journalistic contributions about Guyana, its politics and venture towards oil. For whatever reason, Krauss expressed on Twitter that critics of his articles are diverting attention from Guyana’s oil production challenges. This is not evident to me. There has not been a single criticism I have read that ignores the challenges Guyana has to deal with regarding pre-oil production and post-oil production. Rather, many of his critics view his writings as possessing an undertone of sensationalism with an emphasis of painting a dark and gloomy, left-leaning communist country plagued by tribal rivalry that has made very little social progress since its Independence as a sovereign state. We have seen this sort of writing in many right-leaning American media and literature that covered Venezuela and its political crisis. And if you are not seeing this sort of pattern and focused only on the ‘dark and gloomy’ picture, then you are the one who is actually diverting attention – from irresponsible and inaccurate journalism.

But you know what? International journalists like Krauss who seek to undermine the developing world are not entirely to be blamed. The people journalists interview sometimes play an influential role in narrative construction. Sensationalist journalism craves a fragmented ethos and loves when our vulnerable egos are fragile enough to break away from national pride — this is what Krauss has tapped into and is smug about capturing. It is harder to unveil the deceit behind the mischaracterization of who we are when given by our fellow citizens and fed to sensational journalists who have zero interest in our collective welfare. In this peculiar case, international journalists like Krauss are not genuinely interested in getting to know Guyanese and their true stories because, according to another of his Twitter posts, that information simply ‘takes up space’.

Journalists like Clifford Krauss are only interested in creating divisive stories of nations that are undergoing social and political tensions. Even though Krauss has dug up some unfortunate consequences of our history, he is very selective about what he puts into his narrative. Krauss wouldn’t, for instance, talk about foreign meddling in Guyanese politics, or colonialism‘s impact on Guyana’s political prospects, or the legacy of colonialism that has led to tense ethnic relations — he isn’t interested in inviting these conversations to give a fair coverage of the issues he touched on. Good journalism would do so, but Krauss does not have ‘space’ to include these aspects.

It is quite unfortunate that we tend to buy stories like Krauss’s without careful thought and proclaim those stories as indicative of an accurate description of who we really are as a people and nation.

Yours faithfully,

Ferlin F Pedro

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