Party politics often forces Africans to subsume their collective interest to the dictates of the party

Dear Editor,

In my previous letter published in the Stabroek News Wednesday 5th September 2018 edition under the caption, `I continue to encounter on a daily basis African self-hate and cultural blindness’, I promised to address other issues raised in the column by Dr. David Hinds which President David Granger, in his speech to the Cuffy250 forum, cited as pronouncements not supported by research. In this letter, I will address the more politically sensitive and potentially divisive issue in the controversy, the attitude of Africans to party politics.

Mr. Granger quoted Hinds as saying that African Guyanese were “surrendering their collective dignity to the dictates of party politics”, “losing faith in the ability to overcome”, and “dumping the emancipation spirit”. Many persons may take the position that these are matters of political judgement and should be treated as such, and that care should be taken not to make them matters for serious disputation.

It would be a grave mistake on our part to treat with these matters as simple questions of political judgement. Not so; these are important matters that in the past had major implications for the African community and the nation and continue to do so. I sense that Comrade Granger, being a student of history and a politician, leader of an African based political party, and Head of State recognizes the importance of these matters, hence his decision to engage publicly on them.

We have to address the political and race realities involved in this discussion, bearing in mind the generational gap, the greater part of the population being young citizens with little or no knowledge of the politics of the 60s and 70s, moreso the country’s earlier history. These young people are unlikely without some help to recognize when issues of the past are recurring and influencing the present political, social and economic situation in the nation.

At this point, I wish to remind readers of the context of this discourse, an examination of these matters based exclusively on the African experience.

The political consciousness of Africans in Guyana and the political institutions they developed including political parties and party politics,  evolved and were influenced by enslavement and colonization. Enslavement did not permit any legal political expression of African interests or allow organizations to develop to pursue those interests. However, Africans developed organizational forms and political consciousness that were rooted in secrecy, and restricted to that community. It was only after the colonial state opened up the franchise after the abolition of slavery that African political consciousness began to be expressed organisationally in an open and legal way: major manifestations were the village movement, and later the trade union and eventually what is today the political party.

These initiatives were to promote the development of the individual and the community. Here I am forced to raise the issue of the individual vs the community (the collective). Here we have a clash of “worldview”. From an African perspective the community interest is more important than the individual’s; for the European, the individual is more important than the collective. Given our historical experience, it is not far-fetched to conclude that we came out of enslavement more Africanised than we are now centuries after emancipation. In our present condition, we place greater emphasis on the individual as against the collective – our Euro-centric mindset. This made it easy for us to accept the paramountcy of the party over the community which translates to the domination of party politics over community politics: if we were applying an African-centric approach we would have put limits on the party in keeping with African conception of governance. In a single race nation, this deformation is more manageable than in a multi-racial nation and poses more difficulties for organizations and political parties in these plural societies.

An African worldview dictates a recognition that there is a reality called  African politics that seeks to represent the interests of the collective, and this need for representation exists whether or not there is a political party. When a party is in the mix it may or may not represent the interest of the community or race. What is the African experience in Guyana in relation to the party?

The PNC evolved as a party built on African energy but declared itself a national party, freeing it from being accountable to the African community. From this point, the African community and the PNC have been caught in trying to navigate a difficult road of party vs community. It is here that we have to situate Dr. Hinds’ observation that African Guyanese were “surrendering their collective dignity to the dictates of party politics.” There are times when what the party sees as its interests runs into conflict with the interests of the African community.

Post-independence, African political leadership had the responsibility of leading the nation. In that process, the leadership failed to develop a politics that appreciated the existence and importance of African politics as an indivisible part of national politics, not understanding that objectively there could be no national politics in the absence of African politics and that to believe otherwise is a lack of understanding of the dialectics involved. In the absence of this recognition, national interests become separate from the African community’s interests, and the party dominates the community in the name of the nation. In this situation, the party’s “sins” become collective “sins”, since Africans are held accountable for the actions of the party even when those actions are disconnected from their interests. Indignities committed by the party become our collective indignities. There are many occasions where what the party sees as its interests runs contrary to African interests. Rather than resorting to historical examples, it may be more effective to illustrate the problem by using current examples.

The PPP after it came to office in 1992 implemented a well thought out strategy to contain the PNC and its supporters. A key element of the strategy was based on destroying the capacity of African organizations to defend African interests. Trade unions where Africans are located, i.e the public sector unions, were systematically weakened to a point of ineffectiveness. This was achieved by destroying the collective bargaining process, along with other anti-worker practices which deprived unions and workers of a meaningful say in determining the value of their labour power. These measures contributed to pauperizing a large section of the African community in a significant way. Many Africans lost faith in their ability to overcome adversities and abandoned the struggle in the name of personal survival. There is a general consensus in our community on the treatment meted out to us by the PPP/C in its 23-year rule and its negative economic and social consequences.

Given the above consensus, with the coming to office of the APNU+AFC government which received major support from the African community, it is only natural for Africans to expect a different treatment from what they experienced under the PPP/C rule. The APNU+AFC manifesto promised the return of collective bargaining and meaningful increases in wages and salaries. While collective bargaining has been accepted by the government, in reality the process is undermined by the regime, as is evidenced by the fact that to date, there has not been any wages/salaries agreement between the government and unions in the public sector; this is demonstrated in the present impasse between the Teachers Union and the Ministry of Education/government.

Since a large portion of those teachers are African, African politics dictate that the government negotiate in good faith and respect the worker’s rights to a living wage. To do otherwise, and continue the PPP policy of destroying collective bargaining and weakening unions is anti- African. This practice weakens the community by leaving its organizations unable to defend our collective interest “if and when the party is not in the office”. In the present dispute between teachers and the Ministry of Education, it is obvious that party loyalty – “don’t rock the boat” is being invoked, and workers are expected to conform to the dictates of the government. However, African politics requires a strengthening of the collective bargaining process and paying teachers a living wage,  even if this is against party interest.

This missive sets out to support the contention that party politics often forces Africans to subsume their collective interest, and at times their dignity to the dictates of the party, and to indicate that there is a lot of evidence, past and present, that party politics contributes to our people losing faith in our ability to overcome. This is reflected at present in the pervasive view in our community that we empowered the African political leadership and little has changed from the PPP’s time in office. To the extent that the party dominates with its questionable political conduct, and we the African community fail to take corrective measures,  we are surrendering our collective dignity to the dictates of the party and in so doing we are indeed “dumping the emancipation spirit.”

Yours faithfully,

 Tacuma Ogunseye

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