July 29, 2016

Removing Post-emancipation systemic barriers

A few years back, Dr David Hinds proposed and defended the thesis that African Guyanese were suffering from the effects of “marginalisation”. In the face of widespread opposition, this writer agreed with Dr Hinds and wrote several articles explaining his position.

One reason why the charges of “marginalisation” were contested was by and large its articulation had been disjunctured from its roots of racism and African slavery. What was being ignored was, as articulated by Cornell West, “the lingering effects of slavery and past discrimination in the continued attack on black humanity and racist stereotypes which are designed to destroy black self-image,” and in the process keep Africans on the “margins” of society.

In Guyana, the promise of emancipation was also subverted. In economic terms, of course, most famously was the undercutting of the bargaining power of the freed slaves to sell their labour when the sugar planters were authorised and facilitated by the state to import cheap labour from, in order, Madeira, West Indies/Africa, India and China.

As to whether the ex-slaves could have actually extracted greater wages in an environment of plummeting sugar prices is another issue but the fact remains that the agency of the freed Africans to struggle directly against their oppressive conditions was weakened. They were marginalised.

Laws were enacted to compel individuals who wanted to purchase land to do so in plots of at least one hundred acres. This was clearly intended to discourage Africans from purchasing land since it demanded a substantial capital investment that could only be met by persons pooling their resources together. In those instances where the challenge was met – and in several instances where even whole plantations were purchased – the viability of the endeavour was frequently challenged by the refusal of the authorities to integrate the drainage and irrigation system to that of the nascent village movement. Today, we all appreciate the imperative of a functioning D&I system for our survival. Steered into the resultant growing urban centre of Georgetown, the efforts of enterprising Africans and Coloureds to break into petty retailing by supplying vegetables and ground provisions to the urban population, was nipped in the bud when the authorities favoured the newly arrived Portuguese, who quickly decamped the plantations for the retail trade.

Africans who had “gone into the bush” to try their hand in gold mining remained as petty “pork knockers” since the onerous land rights question were not lifted until the 1890s when the Portuguese were in a position to take advantage of the newly discovered goldfields in the Essequibo.

In all urban centres of the 19th century, an underclass developed with its distinctly picaresque orientation – this was true of Dickens’s London as with Rodway’s Georgetown.

In Georgetown the lumpen element just happened to be African. In the countryside, refusing to be driven back to the sugar plantations (excepting for the well-paid artisans who never left), the Africans were driven into subsistence agriculture.

The economic marginalisation of Africans that was the hallmark of slavery was therefore transferred into the “emancipation” era. As I have tried to explain so often, once a pattern of activity is transferred into habit by the workings of the institutions (both formal and informal) the individual becomes socialised into accepting it as ‘the way the world is’ and it becomes extremely difficult to alter – especially if the habits have been transferred across generations as it has been in Guyana. Witness Indians and the Police Force.

Most Indians and other individuals including many Africans – and that’s another story – look at the present situation of Africans and assert, “Hey! My foreparents came here with nothing on their backs and worked hard, saved as did my parents and so we’re doing better. Why can’t “marginalised” Africans do the same?” They ignore the possible “lingering effects” of the economic system and its echo in the psyches of individuals which may affect their ability to compete within the present system.

As it necessarily addresses this marginalisation of African Guyanese, the government must be careful it does not marginalise other groups such as Indian-Guyanese, as was charged by the Opposition Leader.


End of African Security Dilemma

I submit the following to reinforce a point to the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) which I had made to partisans of the People’s National Congress (PNC) back in 2009 on the need for political mobilisation that reaches across the ethnic divide. With the last of the Buxton gangs taken out the year before, and in anticipation of the elections scheduled in 2011, I wrote in, “Ballots not bullets”: “The hard line, and eventual violent strategy, of the Opposition PNC in the post 1992 era was reinforced by even more violent extremists that sought to protect the interests of the “minority” African section. There was action and reaction.
“The tragic irony of Guyana was that the Opposition politicians were locked into their real-politik past and refused to acknowledge that demographic changes were inexorably altering the premise of their ethnic security dilemma. Because of persistent migration by the Indians and Africans from the coast, Guyana was becoming a nation of minorities, with the Amerindians in the hinterland increasing both absolutely and relatively to form a critical “swing vote”. The African Security Dilemma had been solved and the once irrelevant liberal premise now offered a way out of our morass.”
Since then, not only have two elections – in 2011 and 2015 – confirmed by implication the thesis of the built-in majority in the Indian section of the population being long gone, the census of 2012 has now produced empirical evidence for it. In a population that has remained fixed at three quarters of a million, Indian-Guyanese had dropped to 39.8 per cent, African-Guyanese followed at 29.2 per cent but the “Mixed” populace jumped to 19.9 per cent and the Amerindian to 10.5 per cent.
In response to the thesis, one well-meaning African Guyanese leader asserted categorically: “Neither the [People’s National Congress Reform] PNCR nor [Alliance For Change] AFC or any combined Opposition will defeat the PPP electorally – at least not in 2011.” This is because, “The sad reality is that the vast majority of PPP supporters will not allow themselves to vote for any other party…If Indians did not vote for Desmond Hoyte who was very pro-Indian and who engaged the REFORM to bring about fundamental change in the PNC…why would they vote for the PNC or AFC now?”
I replied, “Well for one, time and circumstances have changed and the Opposition could have changed their tactics and strategy to exploit those changes. The fact of the matter is that the Opposition do not need “the vast majority of PPP supporters” to vote for them to create seismic changes in 2011…The major problem with the Opposition is that they have not been able to get out their voters to the poll. In 2006, only 69 per cent of the 492,369 eligible voters went to the polls. This means that the PPP’s 54.6 per cent winning percentage only translates into 37.7 per cent of the total electorate – even less than the likely total percentage of Indian voters.”
Fast forward to the present. It is a fact that the majority of voters identifying as ethnically “Mixed” has generally gravitated to the PNC and if this trend continues, Indians are now in danger of being locked out of power in perpetuity. The danger is exacerbated when one considers that the reservoirs of State power – the bureaucracy and the Disciplined Forces – are still dominated by African Guyanese.
But there is a great opportunity presented to the PPP to move more of them into a “swing vote” bloc if they are not forced to cast their ballots because of hardening of ethnic divisions. Since they have already favoured the PNC, it will be up to the PPP to promulgate policies and programmes that push a “Guyanese” agenda to which this group is more inclined, rather than an ethnic agenda that alienates them.
For the 10.5 per cent Amerindian voters now forming another segment of the possible “swing votes”, some of them will remain because of inertia with the PPP but as I pointed out in “Ballots not bullets” – “as with minorities the world over caught between competing larger blocs, the Amerindians tend to go with the group with the purse-strings and power.”
And then there is always the possibility of “power sharing”.

Fanning flames?

A letter in the Chronicle of July 10 by Solomon Sharma, “Remembering the Son Chapman Massacre”, was the second piece carried by the state newspaper during this month, on the identical theme. Back on July 6, an article captioned “Son Chapman memorial needs national recognition: say Lindeners at commemoration of tragedy”, elaborated on the “43 men, women and children who perished in the explosion that occurred on the Son Chapman 52 years ago”. The Son Chapman was a launch that plied the route between what was then “McKenzie” and Georgetown and the horrible incident during the civil disturbances of the 1960s occurred as the launch was near Hurudaia about 17 miles downriver.
What was noticeable about the two pieces in the state newspaper were several omissions. The first one was there had been an official Inquest into the tragedy, conducted after the PNC/UF coalition took office in December 1964.
The Inquest by PM Burch Smith and five jurors had 63 persons testifying between March 16 and 21, 1965, but concluded it could not determine who caused the explosion. No one was charged. Yet Attorney Llewellyn John was quoted in the article as “contending the explosion was an intention to punish the people of Linden by those who felt that they should not be discriminated against.” How could he positively know this “intention”?
The July 6 article instead said baldly, “Several theories were put forth as to the intent of the explosion and who orchestrated it. Some of the blame was placed on the PPP, the PNC, racial Indians seeking revenge for those Indians who were murdered, raped or had lost their properties to fires in Wismar.”
The last allusion, made in passing, was not even mentioned by Solomon Sharma. Yet on May 26, 1964, 3399 Indian Guyanese men, women (1249 adults) and children (2150) had been evacuated from Linden (then called Wismar/McKenzie/Christianburg) following the afternoon and night of May 25 when two Indian Guyanese were murdered, dozens of Indian Guyanese women were raped and 198 of their houses and businesses burnt to the ground,
This was all described by an official Commission of Inquiry into the atrocities which concluded: “This was a diabolical plot, ingeniously planned and ruthlessly executed… politically and racially inspired.” Following the sinking of the Son Chapman on July 7, three more Indian Guyanese were murdered in Wismar and 350 of them who had remained or returned after the evacuation were evacuated once again.
Sharma also said piously in his letter, “Many of us alive today never knew the men, women, and children of the Son Chapman Massacre, yet we remember them and reflect on their experience, because by their deaths we have an example of what hatred and brutality can lead to: the senseless loss of life, and endless suffering.” But the question I have is: were not the more than 3000 citizens—Indians—killed, raped, brutalized, and forced out of Linden also Lindeners and victims of a tragedy who deserved to be remembered?
The events of May 22-26 were precipitated by the murder of an elderly African Guyanese couple at the back of Buxton on May 21, 1964, during the “ethnic disturbances” that up to that point had been confined to the coast. And those murders were only the latest in a string of tit-for-tat violence unleashed after the PPP called a general strike in the sugar industry – overtly for “recognition” by the Sugar Producers, but actually a last ditch attempt to derail the imposition by the British and the Americans of Proportional Representation (PR) method of voting they knew would eject them out of office.
As I have said and written before, I believe if Guyanese are truly interested in peace and healing, rather than disingenuously fanning the flames of hate, they should propose a monument to all those 176 unfortunate souls who were killed in the 1960s madness.


After placing it on centre-stage during the campaign, “power sharing” seemed to have been dropped like a hot potato by the coalition APNU/AFC government, even though it had made it the sine qua non of its vision of democracy for Guyana. “Democracy”, of course, has become the standard for evaluating the credentials of governments across the world in modern times.

While we may all be a bit fuzzy on what exactly we mean by “democracy”, we should accept it’s merely a means to a particular end. To wit, the facilitation of a harmonious society in which each member can fulfil his or her human potential to the fullest. Even when we claim that we have a “democratic” government, it behoves us to always question as to whether its particulars are fully in sync with the idiosyncrasies and foibles of the given time, place and circumstances, to deliver us to our goal.

And this brings us to our “democracy” in Guyana. No one would deny Guyana today is “democratic” by many of the common indicators: freedom of the press, speech, movement, political participation, civic association, etc. But is our society more harmonious? Not many Guyanese would answer “yes”. Why have we been literally locked in combat for the past fifty years? We can blame evil politicians, nefarious foreign elements or other extrinsic factors, but we cannot avoid examining the nature of our society and the political institutions that are supposed to deliver the “good society”. Form does affect function.

After all, political institutions and structures provide the framework and incentives through which the moral links essential for encouraging the accommodation and cooperation between societal groups. We have to scrutinise our “democratic” political institutions for their effectiveness in facilitating societal harmony, given our particularities.

The first idiosyncrasy that jumps out at us when we compare our society to some more stable “democratic” ones is the depth of our societal cleavages. For many well-documented historical, psychological and structural reasons, we are the quintessential ethnically plural society. We are not unique; in fact most states across the world are multicultural, even though the cleavages and conflicts may not always be as intense as ours.

Looking at the ethnic problematic across the globe, we have only a few options available to us to escape open conflict much less just undemocratic government: obliteration of ethnic differences, partition or some form of power sharing. With the spread of the now universally accepted norms of equality and self-determination, ethnic groups across the world have balked at the first option, concluded that we are too intermixed for partition and so are only left with the last option – “power sharing”.

One commentator (Sisk) defines this as “a system of governance in which all major segments of society are provided a permanent share of power; this system is often contrasted with government vs opposition systems in which ruling coalitions rotate among various social groups over time.”

In addressing the problematic of institutionalising democracy in plural societies, the two broad approaches are sometimes subsumed under the rubric of “power sharing”. One popular conception views it as sharing the executive offices of a government proportionately among the political representatives of the several groups mobilised in society. This view, of course, conceptualises “power” as a unitary construct residing in the executive branch of government and implicitly contraposes “sharing” power with a centralisation of power under majoritarian rules. This popular conception, of course, is reflective of our historical experiences, which saw the powers of the state always controlled by a tight little oligarchy – first centred on a colonial Governor and then our Executive Presidency.

Power, however, is a much more nuanced concept and even if confined to being a possession, rather than inhering in relationships, the power of a state is much more diffused than an executive possession.

Power sharing, in the second view, would have to include the wider picture, and would have to encompass a much wider range of institutions – both within and without the state such as the bureaucracy and the armed forces.


Oil for development, not stagnation


Amidst growing excitement that the ExxonMobil oil find will catapult us into the “developed country” category, a decade ago we cited a study showing that countries that depended heavily on resource extraction in 1970 grew at a measly average of one per cent between 1970–1989 and wrote as follows:

A strong correlation has also been demonstrated between the growth of the resource component of the GDP and conflicts within the countries. While the causation for this effect is complex and contextual, it challenges the widespread hope that with increased revenue, our present squabbles will disappear. This effect of increased conflict is especially noticeable in divided societies and should be of major concern to our policymakers. Not surprisingly, most conflicts have at their base a nexus with economics and as the stakes rise with the flow of oil revenues into the national coffers, it is natural that competition for those revenues would increase. In divided societies it is not perverse for groups outside the administration to suspect that “in-groups” are being favoured.

If the increased revenues are not equitably distributed, the growth frontier of the country as a whole is inevitably constrained since the creative potential of significant segments of the population are not allowed to flower – and become lost to the society. All modern growth theories show that sustained high growth rates are only possible when the widest possible cross section of the society are involved. Social capital and all that. Increased conflicts – whether hot or cold – inevitably hinder economic activity and growth and in so many instances precipitate a spiral of increasing poverty and death in the midst of “plenty”.

The most significant factor in ensuring that countries remain locked in low growth rates and mired in poverty -= while the dollars keep pouring in – is what the economists like to call “rapacious rent-seeking” – but we laypersons recognise by the catch-all expression, “corruption”. Corruption, from all studies, appears to be the major by-product of resource extraction from even the developed countries – much less the poor ones like Guyana.

To avert such conflicts, we have to devise a model of development that will involve the greatest number of our citizens as the oil revenues begin to flow in the next decade. We propose that the Government initiate “a national consultation on development” – along the lines of the Constitutional Reform Process in 1999 – to create a more focused growth strategy, with the understanding that the oil revenues will be utilised to fund the projects proposed by the strategy.

A national consensus on development projects should go a long way towards ameliorating the conditions that precipitate conflict over “marginalisation” of any group. We suggest that “Ethnic Impact Statements”, which we have long advocated, accompany every project to address concerns over ethnic favouritism that have bedeviled us for so long.

To ensure that the oil revenues do not flow into the pockets of corrupt officials, it would be best to constitute an independent “Oil Fund for National Development” (OFND) that operates on transparent accounting rules to ensure that all oil revenues are accounted for. The rules of such transparency have now been fully endorsed by the international community so it would not present any problems to so called “privacy” needs of corporations.

Apart from denying pork-barrel schemes funded from the Consolidated Fund, the OFND will have to ensure that the oil industry does not flourish at the expense of other previously important production sectors, such as agriculture and fishing and ensure that the economy diversifies into manufacturing and higher technologies – and involve all sections of the society.

We have long advocated the need for us to have a development bank to kick start the needed investment we all know are necessary to lift us out of poverty. The OFND would provide our own revenue stream and the IFI’s do not have to grant or withhold permission. We do not believe that Government itself should necessarily get into the ownership of new productive facilities but should identify private entities which can be partnered and eventually assume total ownership. We commend the Entrepreneurial Catalytic State al la the Eastern Tigers.


Culture, Identity and Cohesion

According to President Granger, Social Cohesion is now the official goal of the APNU/AFC coalition. While there have been valid complaints by many citizens who are still hazy about what is the end game, intuitively they accept that “cohesion” cannot be a “bad thing”. The commemoration of 50 years of our Independence poignantly brought to the fore rueful thoughts about “what could have been” if we had not been as divided as we have been during that time.
Guyanese do not need experts in sociology or politics to also apprehend that while social cohesion is a state of affairs that is desirable, there are no silver bullets to getting there. In other words they understand efforts must take place simultaneously in a whole number of dimensions – at a minimum including social, political, economic and cultural ones.
Starting with the last, the cultural problematic is fundamental because it plays such a key role in forming our individual and collective identities. Who we “are”. When we were brought to labour in the plantations the Europeans – in our case, first the Dutch and then the English – invented both “race” and “culture” to “keep us in our place”. Which is to say, subservient and second class at best. The Africans were described as “savages” who had no “culture” and as such their “bestial practices” were to be extirpated as a salutary practice. They were to be “thankful” and grateful for being “exposed to civilised culture”.
The problem, however, is that when one is imitating a “standard” that is intrinsically yoked to the physical characteristics of “race” then it becomes absolutely impossible to ever reach that standard. Even those “Coloureds” who because of the rape of African women, had “half” or “ three quarters” white “blood” could never become completely “civilized”. This did not stop many from trying, even into the present. This one-sided clash of the dominant “white European” culture with the “African” did produce a hybrid culture – called “Creole” – that was the lived experience of the ordinary African, who stubbornly retained aspects of ancestral culture.
Persons become individuals with distinct identities through their own experiences and inculcated beliefs to form their memories that act as narratives of their “selves”. But man, unlike other animals, is enmeshed in social relations in which his identity develops and in turn those social relations are generally mediated by cultural norms in both the public and private spheres. In a society that is culturally homogenous, these are quite integrated but if the two cultures are different and clash, as with ordinary Africans, this can cause dissonances for the individual.
For ordinary freed Africans, this strain to emulate white/European culture was much greater than the Coloureds, since they were seen by others as an intermediate group. They were relegated to the lowest strata who could only move up by becoming educated, acting “proper” in imitating white behaviour and marrying “fairer” to join the coloured. This constructed identity out of the values and beliefs of the culture form the framework for the individual’s interpretation and organisation of new experiences. This would become very relevant when new immigrants would be introduced into the society to provide cheap labour on the sugar plantations. And form a new basis of comparison.
It is of more than passing interest that when the Portuguese from Maderia were brought as indentured servants they were not then, nor later, classified as “European” – even though they were phenotypically that. They were “Portuguese” to the British and seen by the freed African people and later indentureds as such – never white, notwithstanding the pretensions of the ones who later moved up the economic and social ladder.
While they imitated the ruling British/European lifestyle, their Catholic variant of Christianity also served to distinguish them culturally. Many of the ones in the lower economic oracles intermarried with Africans and adopted Creole Culture. There were very few men among the Chinese who were brought as indentured labourers and most intermarried with locals and adopted Creole Culture even while contributing their cuisine to the new land.
(To be continued)

Background to Constitutional revision


The philosopher Immanuel Kant succinctly posed the dilemma of organising a just state, two centuries ago, in these terms:

“The problem of organizing a state, however hard it may seem, can be solved, even for a race of devils, if only they are intelligent. The problem is, given a multitude of rational beings requiring universal laws for their preservation, but each of them is sincerely inclined to exempt himself from them, to establish a Constitution in such a way, although their private intentions conflict, they check each other, with the result that their public conduct is the same as if they had no such intentions.”

Kant’s concrete solution to the inevitable conflicts he identified in organised human societies was that institutions, as with all normative behaviour, would have to satisfy the “categorical imperative” to be moral and just. In one popular formulation, this categorical imperative states: act in accordance to rules that you would wish applied to everyone as if they were universal laws.

Mos commentators who followed him agreed with his stricture that institutions constituting a state must be organised in accordance with the principle of justice, but his criterion of the categorical imperative, proved nettlesome in real life.

John Rawls, the most influential of modern liberal political philosophers, came up with another formulation to guide the formation of social institutions nearly two centuries later, in 1971. It had the great virtue of simplicity.

In the opening line of his first section in his magnum opus “A Theory of Justice”, Rawls boldly declared only the principle of “justice” would generate the broad acceptability for the establishment of institutions necessary for societal stability: “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought.”

Recognizing that Guyana probably does not even reach Rawls’ definition of a society as “a cooperative venture for mutual advantage, it is typically marked by a conflict as well as by an identity of interests,” his definition of “justice” is yet very pertinent to our effort to construct a democratic state in Guyana: “…a way of assigning rights and duties in the basic institutions of society and they define the appropriate distribution of the benefits and burdens of social cooperation.”

In Guyana we all have to appreciate that the existence of the state itself is for the furtherance of the societal good – the public interest. Ultimately we believe that all Guyanese are looking to be culturally authentic, politically secure and economically sound. In the furtherance of these “public goods”, the people promulgate a constitution through which the government directs the state through policies and programmes in consonance with the prime directives of the Constitution.

In modern democracies, under the liberal paradigm, equality of treatment and equality before the law of the citizens stands at the very top of the imperatives.

We have proposed that under a federalist state institutions will be created to implement the policies of Ethnic Impact Statements, multiculturalism, federal form of government, Government of National Reconciliation, Catalytic Economic State, Affirmative Action, etc in the fulfilment of the national goals.

However, because each individual citizen or group of citizens are situated differently (according to specific criteria) governmental policies and programmes will inevitably have a different impact on different citizens.

The task of the government is to ensure that their differential treatment is not arbitrary and capricious and irrational – and that they further some societal good. There should be a correlation between the classification and the purpose of the statute so that citizens can presume the impartiality of the legislators. Thus even those adversely impacted may consider it an acceptable cost of achieving a larger societal goal.

In Guyana we would have to derive our substantive principles of justice for ourselves based on our history and present realities. Out of our experiences during slavery and Indentureship where they were denied, the values of liberty and equality are central to what we desire for the “good life”. These values must be central to any institution that seeks to address any aspect of our national life.


Rodney, culture and unity

Next Monday will be the 36th Anniversary of the death of Dr Walter Rodney. The Commission of Inquiry that examined the circumstances of his death has made its Report public. But Rodney made too much of an impact during his short life for his legacy to be reduced only to his death.

Rodney was deeply influenced by the three ideological currents that swept the Caribbean after WWII – Marxism, anti-colonialism and Black Power/Pan Africanism. A member of a study group that coalesced around CLR James in London as he studied for his PhD (1966) (“History of the Upper Guinea Coast 1545-1800”), he obviously agreed with the assessment of the great Marxist: “The race question is subsidiary to the class question in politics, and to think of imperialism in terms of race is disastrous. But to neglect the racial factor as merely incidental is an error only less grave than to make it fundamental.”

Rodney did not return to Guyana because of the complexities the racial hostilities engendered between 1962 and 1964 among the Indian and African segments. In Tanzania, where he taught at the University between 1966 and 1968, he criticised the transfer of power by the British to local African leaders from a Marxist perspective as a “briefcase revolution”. Refused a teaching appointment at UG in 1968 we went on to the Mona Campus of UWI, where he had studied for his first degree in history. He dismissed the Jamaican leader Hugh Shearer as another “briefcase leader”.

His slim 1969 book, “Grounding with my brothers” summarised the lessons he took outside the classroom and into the “gullies” of Kingston. He opened their eyes to Black Power: “Black power is a doctrine about black people, for black people, preached by black people….the colour of our skins is the most fundamental thing about us….In doing so I am not saying that is the way things ought to be. I am simply recognising the real world – that is the way things are.”

He pointed out the power of oppression to sustain identities: “So long as there are people who deny our humanity as blacks for so long must we proclaim and assert our humanity as blacks.”

Speaking in Jamaica with its 1% Indian population, and away from the challenges of his native Guyana, Rodney yet noted its racial divisions and pleaded for working class unity. He pointed out that to “whites” there were no differences between Africans and Indians: “Today some Indians (like some Africans) have joined the white power structure in terms of economic activity and culture; but the underlying reality is that poverty resides among Africans and Indians in the West Indies and that power is denied them. Black power in the West Indies therefore, refers primarily to people who are recognisably African or Indian.”

Describing Black Power as, “The hope of the black man (remember Rodney uses this term to include both Black and Indian) that he should have power over his own destinies”, Rodney made a point that is very apropos to Guyana today, “This is not incompatible with a multiracial society where each individual counts equally. Because the moment that power is equitably distributed among the several ethnic groups then the very relevance of making the distinction between groups will be lost.”

But after he returned to Guyana he acknowledged the salience of culture over class. While pointing out the homogenising impact of creolisation, Rodney conceded that Indians and Africans had not overcome their cultural differences to develop working class consciousness.

In his last book published posthumously in 1981, he concluded:

…the existing aspects of cultural convergence were insufficiently developed to contribute decisively to solidarity among the working people of the two major race groups. The obverse of this race-class conjuncture is that the development of class forces and class consciousness was inadequate to sustain unity of the working people across the barriers created by legal distinctions, racial exclusiveness, and the separate trajectories of important aspects of culture.”

Where do we stand today to create a Guyanese unity?


Indians and the Independence Jubilee

Now that the Jubilee Independence Celebrations are over, I suspect many like myself who were here for the inaugural event would have had thoughts from fifty years ago rise to the fore. I was a Third Former and distinctly remember my friends and I being quite sceptical anyone would refer to our country by its new name “Guyana”. Wasn’t “B.G.” our name from time immemorial?

After the ethnic disturbances between 1962 and 1964 that preceded independence in 1966, another clear memory was the event being seen as a “PNC” thing. The elections of 1964 was a most polarising one and pulled an astonishing 97% of the voters to the polls. If there ever was an ethnic census, this was one. My grandfather who raised me, had always been a supporter of Jang Bahadur’s Singh and was quite sceptical of the “radical” Cheddi Jagan. Yet he unhesitatingly voted for Jagan in ‘64.

In my village of Uitvlugt, the predominantly African section – “Cashbah” – settled as far back as the abolition of slavery – had become even more uni-ethnic; as had the other sections with their Indians. I doubt there were many Indian Guyanese who attended the independence celebrations in Georgetown. But I know none from the village went to the function that unveiled the Independence Arch on the Main Street in Casbah.

The selection of May 26 as the date for Independence by the PNC/UF government struck a raw nerve among Indians and I remember most adults agitatedly discussing the “provocation”. The date was the last of three days of “ethnic cleansing” in what is now called Linden – when three Indians were killed, dozens injured, 200+ homes razed and 3000+ Indian men women and children evacuated to Georgetown. A month-and-a-half later, a ferry from Georgetown to Linden was blown out of the water and almost 40 Africans perished. In 1966, “both sides” still nursed their grievances.

But what was it that caused the paltry participation of Indians in last week’s Jubilee Celebrations, at the National Park? I’m sure it’s not lingering resentment over “Wismar”. Even though a 2008 survey by Red Thread on the effects of the then Buxton-based violence on women on the East Coast showed that several relocated Wismar-victims still remembered the 1964 events (as did persons in Linden), this memory was not widespread.

While some suggest the PPP might have told their supporters to stay away from the festivities no one has really taken this seriously. And this leaves us with two other possible explanations: Firstly, after 1966, the PNC downplayed the commemoration of Independence in favour of Republic Day after the success of the first Mashramani celebrations in Linden in 1970. Mashramani was brought to Georgetown and promoted annually by the Government there and in the Regions. Indians were not culturally attracted to the activities of the Carnival “imitation”.

In 1980, Burnham fused “Mass Games”, that was inspired and facilitated by North Korea, into Republic Day celebrations. Most Indian parents resented the compulsory mobilisation of their children in school to participate in what they saw as the further glorification of Burnham. His massive portrait formed by thousands of children holding synchronised coloured cards convinced them the probably apocryphal story of emphasising Republic Day because it was only three days after Burnham’s birthday, was “true”.

Ironically, after its initial demurral, the PPP objected to the PNC’s shift of national celebrations away from Independence Day to Republic Day. And it was on the initiative of the PPP that May 26 was declared a National Public Holiday in 2004. But after some initial objections by its Minister of Culture Dale Bisnauth, the PPP pulled all the stops out from the 1990’s to get their supporters to come out and support Mash. Their success was spotty and more Indians came as spectators than participants.

In my opinion, if the government had included the Opposition PPP in the planning and execution of the Jubilee Celebrations, there would have been greater participation from this segment of the populate. Especially since it might have been less “Afro-Centric”, as even supporters of the government pointed out.


That Independence Date

As a footnote to the hype around the Independence Jubilee celebrations was the observation by two letter writers Rakesh Rampertab and Swami Aksharananda that the date chosen for Independence, May 26, 1966 was at best, insensitive to the sentiments of Indian Guyanese. And at worse, an act to remind them in perpetuity of their humiliation.

Just two years before independence, between May 22-26, three Indians in the community of Wismar had been murdered, 38 injured, six women and girls raped, 220 houses and businesses burnt to the ground and 3399 men, women and children – almost the entire Indian community – evacuated.

The CoI into the atrocities concluded: “This was a diabolical plot, ingeniously planned and ruthlessly executed… politically and racially inspired.” The “ethnic cleansing” was in retaliation for the murder of an elderly African couple, the Sealeys, aback of Buxton  on May 21.

The murders were only the latest in a string of tit-for-tat violence unleashed after the PPP called a general strike in the sugar industry – overtly for “recognition” by the Sugar Producers, but actually a last ditch attempt to derail the imposition by the British and the Americans of Proportional Representation (PR) method of voting they knew would eject them out of office.

The Wismar ethnic cleansing “tit” of May 22-26 was followed by the “tat” of bombing of the ferry between Wismar and Georgetown, the Sun Chapman, on July 6 and killing 38 African Guyanese aboard. Even though the Inquiry was inconclusive, the PNC and residents of Wismar maintained the bombing was the retaliatory work of the PPP.

That evening five Indians were murdered and seven seriously injured from the approximately 300 who had either remained or returned after May 26.

Rampertab pointed out the PPP did originally object to the PNC’s choice of independence date (they had boycotted the constitutional conference in Nov 1965). But they objected more vociferously when the PNC downplayed the commemoration in favour of Republic Day, February 23 after 1970.

They placed it on the front-burner after returning to power in 1992. Rampertab also claims that in 1962 it was PPP Minister Cedric Nunes who originally proposed the May 26 date. Hamilton Green, who was at the 1965 London Confab, claims May 26 was a “compromise” between preference between Burnham’s choice of February 23 (Cuffy’s Revolt) and D’Aguiar’s August 1 (Emancipation).

But the suggestion by Rampertab that the date should be changed would seem academic since it is a matter of the historical record, an order of the British Crown, granted us independence on May 26th. One cannot undo that circumstance.

The other suggestion would be to “let sleeping dogs lie” about that period in the 1960s when there were enough atrocities committed by “both sides” to spread around. But there are some who believe otherwise.

One such person is President David Granger. In a 2003 paper, without ever mentioning the preceding Wismar atrocities, he wrote: “The most alarming slaughter of the ‘Disturbances’ was that of 40 Africans on 6 July at Hurudaia in the Demerara River as they travelled in a motor launch to Mackenzie.”

The following year, a “Son Chapman Tragedy Commemoration Committee”, with the PNC integrally involved, organised a 40th Anniversary event at the fatal spot at Hurudaia on the Demerara River. Robert Corbin, leader of the PNC said, “a nation that fails to record its history is bound to make the same mistakes.”

After Granger became the leader of the PNC he attended the Commemoration ceremony in 2011 and declared he wished more people would converge at the spot. The Motto on the Monument at Hurudaia declared: “Those who forget the lessons of history do so at our own peril.”

In 2013, Granger and the PNC initiated moving the commemoration to the centre of Linden so the people there “would not forget”. When the PNC took office they would construct the monument.

We cannot undo the past but I believe we can have a memorial for ALL the 176 Guyanese who perished in the 1964 disturbances and need restorative justice.