Contributions Towards the Resolution of Conflict in Guyana

Written by Kampta Karran for Stabroek News on

Dear Editor, 

The issue of how to organise the administration of our public and private affairs for peaceful living continues to spur a lively debate. In defence of the majoritarian logic the word mandate is invoked. The argument goes something like this, it is obvious that the present PPP/C has the overall mandate to govern Guyana because it won an overall majority at the polls. 

However, working within the same frame of reference I have heard another interpretation which reasons the PPP/C did not get the mandate from those areas in which it did not secure a majority. Because of the present regional system and electoral district mapping, it is very easy to identify areas in which the majority of voters refused the PPP/C the mandate to rule them. These citizens are forced to accept the rule of the PPP/C because the laws of the country say they have no alternative. 

It will be remembered that the PNC has a history from 1968 to 1992 when it ruled Guyana without a mandate. All Guyanese were disenfranchised. However, irrespective of its poor track record in terms of democracy, this party was able to maintain its support, which, like that of the PPP/C, is tied to ethnicity. Today the PNC/R represents a large section of the voters [at least 42% of the electorate] which has given it their important mandate. Could not this notion of a dual mandate then be used to justify some form of power sharing government? 

In an effort to underestimate the value of race/ethnicity in the political equation in multiracial / multiethnic societies like Guyana, Marxists argue that racial/ethnic solidarity is skin deep and the modernisation theorists predict it will disappear, once bread and butter issues are resolved. Both of these schools of thought would have us believe that once material needs are satisfied, racial/ethnic conflict will decline and eventually evaporate. This conclusion flies in the face of empirical evidence. The one lesson the racial/ethnic conflicts around the world teach us is that people do not surrender their group autonomy or their right to self-determination over a mess of pottage. The case of French Quebec in Canada comes to mind. 

Deeper philosophical reflection inform us that the non-material needs far outweigh the bread and butter issues. In multiracial / multiethnic societies citizens put a premium on the right to equal participation, the group right to control the destiny of its members, the right to equal representation at all levels from Cabinet to the grass roots, the right to protect and enhance group identity and the right to respect, recognition and equal worth. These claims are all based on non material issues but if their satisfaction is not met citizens who feel disadvantaged will employ every means at their disposal to redress the situation. The Islamic response to The Satanic Verses, even in Britain, had more to do with the politics of respect and recognition than with economics. 

There is an interesting book by Fay that deals with multicultural methods. He argues in this book that you do not have to belong to a particular cultural group to study and understand that group. You do not have to be one to know one as it were. How-ever, to jump from understanding difference and know-ledge making, to the right to govern another group who in free and fair elections continuously rejects you at the polls, is stretching the meaning of mandate too far. One has to remember that Fay is addressing the issue of the methodology of multicultural research. He is not offering a methodology on how to govern societies marked by ethnic, racial and cultural difference. 

The construction of knowledge is a serious matter. It has to be facilitated by hegemonic power of one sort or another. For illustration, I will use Dr Kean Gibson's Cycle of Racial Oppression and Dr Judaman Seecoomar's Contribu-tions Towards the Resolution of Conflict in Guyana. Both books are recent and were presented to the public in Guyana. Yet those who have the capacity and the space to engage in public discourse chose to deal with Dr Gibson's work while Seecoomar's is ignored. Why? Because this writer is alienated from the institutions that are responsible for knowledge making. Those who present their writings in the public domain have kept their silence and after a time this very valuable book would vanish as if it has never been written. People ask of Gibson ""where is your methodology and empirical research, where is your deep analysis, where are your recommendations for peace and progress?"" All these legitimate concerns are addressed by Seecoomar. An equal consideration of his well-researched 303 page peer-reviewed Peepal Tree Press production, would greatly enhance our public debate about living peacefully with difference. I hope a counter hegemonic discourse would save this and other important race relations books from obscurity. Obviously, those who control and engage in public discourse, do not see it as their mandate to address serious work that addresses the urgent concerns of resolving the protracted communal conflicts that are threatening to burst the society asunder. 

The FITUG impact on the labour struggle, the George Daniels victory at the TUC election cannot be underestimated. They were valuable contributions to our labour struggles. However, there was nothing unpredictable about these occurrences. A quick glance at our labour history would give many examples of cross industry/cross ethnic labour co-operation. The labour struggle, in the main, deals with bread and butter issues. The casting of votes for a party has to do with political power, that is, the authority to distribute all things good. The very people who would vote for a George Daniels at the level of labour would withhold their mandate at the level of national politics. The stakes are higher. Ethnic/racial groups do not surrender their votes easily. They will vote for their ethnic/racial party just to keep the other ethnic/racial party from high office. Old people say, 'never throw out you bad for somebody else good.' Based on a trend analysis it could be concluded that this saying holds true for politics in Guyana. 

The glory days of inter ethnic/ inter racial co-operation in Guyana's politics is the period 1948 to 1953. But note how quickly it was destroyed. To argue that the rupture was caused by the CIA, Mr Burnham's opportunism, Dr Jagan's misreading of the geopolitics, would only shed light on part of the picture. Perhaps behind all this was the common sense understanding that the majority of Africans, the majority of Portuguese and the majority of Indians wanted to be ruled by whom they perceive to be their own kind. A power sharing formula then may have saved the day and all of us a lot of unnecessary pain. 

In this political gridlock elections where one ethnic/ racial group and its party emerge victorious, it will not be allowed to administer the affairs of the state successfully because the group who withheld its mandate at the polls will also withhold its support. Only some form of power sharing arrangement will unlock the full multiracial/multiethnic potential that is needed for peace and progress. This is a path recommended not only for Guyana, but to all divided societies by people who are committed to the ways of democracy. In a power sharing government that stretches from the Cabinet to the grass roots every one wins. 

Yours faithfully, 

Citizen Kampta Karran