By The Piper
Commentators on Guyana usually use race as a point of departure in their analyses of politics, economics, and culture of the country. This is true for those both inside and outside the ‘land of many waters’. The basic narrative is that Guyana is a racially divided society, most stridently so between Indo and Afro-Guyanese. Others in the land of six races are usually ignored, although of recent, comments about the Chinese have bucked that trend. The time has come for us to take a time-out, and to carefully consider the extent to which these claims are true, and if so or not, what to do about them both in the short and long term.
I assert here that while racially constructed conflict is indeed present, it is not nearly as pervasive as most people suggest. I further argue that most of the racial stuff surface around elections, and especially through the period of campaigning. This last election was no different.
You will notice, however, that since May 11, the temperature surrounding racial claims have subsided, and even though the PPP has not yet indicated it will accept the results, its protest is basically grounded in the incompetence of GECOM. It is not about racial victory or racial defeat.
Critics of this position, including university scholars, columnists, letter writers, and bloggers will no doubt respond by saying that the recent elections confirm rather than reject the claims of a racially divided society. As usual, the arguments are based on a historical affinity between the political parties and racial groups, that is, Afro-Guyanese vote PNC and Indo-Guyanese vote PPP. Yes, there is some correspondence there, but the record of the political parties when in government belies that basic assumption.
The point made here is so easy to prove that it may appear simplistic. Both during a campaign and after the elections are over, the victor always stakes the claim to legitimacy on race neutral or multi-racial political discourse. Huge efforts are made to lure, co-opt, or simply and sincerely attract noted individuals to bring about racial balance in the cabinets and other high offices of the state. We see this happening now, and we saw it under every administration of the PPP/C – like them or not.
Let us not forget the WPA and the AFC, because they actually prove the point just as well. The WPA has been around for a long time and it biggest claim to fame is that it is anti-racist and multicultural. The WPA’s ideology and policy platforms are hardly known, and their leadership figures have never been the most important aspect of their presence. Very few could probably identify what the WPA stands for outside of its claims of being the backbone of an anti-racist movement.
The AFC did in a few short years what others have taken much longer to do, but on the same grounds, that is, multiracialism. From day one, Raphael Trotman and Khemraj Ramjattan represented the party as a sort of racial middle-ground, a place for those who want greater national unity might find a home. However you may skin the cat, it worked.
While the political parties are not innocent in whatever racial politicking there may be, they are not the worse. Most of the destruction actually comes from letter writers and bloggers who show no restraint in what they write, and who seem to specialize in a politics of personal destruction. If you want to see the most sordid side of what our fellow countrymen and women are made of, all you need to do is read the letters and blogs.
The new APNU-AFC government did the right thing to immediately fire those bloggers reportedly on the state payroll under the PPP/C. The question is – would it work towards legislation, or for that matter, enforcement of existing legislation that might put an end to the rampant racial politicking in the letter sections on Guyanese newspapers? Bloggers are more difficult to deal with, but as a lawyer, Khemraj Ramjattan, the new Minister of Public Security can find innovative ways to cool-off the hatred.
Guyana is a democracy and citizens should have every right to express their views. Many letters and blog posts are informative and balanced, and what we need do to do is build on the positive side of things.