[December 27, 1997]
I am writing to thank you for making Stabroek News available to us on the internet. May I also congratulate you on the wisdom of your editorials and the quality of your paper's reporting.
I want to add support to the exhortation of the Guyana Human Rights Association which you published on Dec. 22 under the headline `Political Solution to Racial Vulnerability Needed'.
Earlier this year, I spent time in conversation with Guyanese about what might be done to heal the divisions in our society and make Guyana a more harmonious place in which to live. Among the many thoughtful and concerned replies, one came with great frequency. It was "the politicians have got us here. It is their responsibility to get us out." This is a plea to their vision and imagination. How long will they continue to ignore it?
Whatever noises our political leaders make about the multiracial nature of their approaches, politics in Guyana, in the public mind, is about what racial group will control the resources of the state and its distributions. This is neither democracy nor good governance. It is prize fighting and it has within it all the ingredients for disaster.
When all the heat and passion is stripped away, all of us, whatever our group loyalties, have certain fundamental needs which have to be satisfied if peaceful living is to become widespread. The alternative is conflict.
We all have an overwhelming need for security. Without it, mistrust, suspicion and fear become widespread. It is one of the compelling reasons why we vote the way we do. Our kind holds out the greatest posibility for that security. This herd instinct will continue to dominate until our leaders recognise their duty to devise instructions and practices which encourage cooperation and collaboration instead of bear-baiting and sabotage.
Closely related to security is the human need to participate in those important decisions which affect our lives either directly or through our chosen representatives. Without it we feel rejects in our own land. Exclusion means total opposition and a continuous struggle to regain control. We also need to have our identity recognised and respected. This is our dignity and self worth.
In a multiracial society we tamper with it at our peril. Finally, and as vital as the others, is a need for distributive justice. Prosperity for the few and deprivation for the many simply will not do as social policy.
The foregoing are some of the principles which any serious attempt at solving the problems of Guyana will have to consider. None of this is new. Since the 1960's, the Guyanese intelligentsia have, in effect, been saying the same things in their New World publications. In his 1965 Whidden Lectures, Professor Arthur Lewis was emphatic about the need for participation and recognition of identity in the post-colonial process of nation-building. He argued that in a plural society the practice of party politics on the notion of winner takes all is a violation of the primary of democracy. To exclude losing groups from participation is not only immoral; "it is destructive of any prospects of building a nation in which different peoples might live together in harmony." The zero-sum nature of the two party political system is essentially the politics of class societies. It is bad for the plural society. Good political instructions for these societies have to be thought "through from the foundation up."
In an interview with Andrew Salkey in 1970 Walter Rodney admitted the existence of ill-will and suspicion between the African and East Indian sections of the population. He argued that simultaneous power sharing and ethnic development were twin approaches to the social development which are embedded in socialism. The ethnic groups must assert their identity, "must be built up, made conscious of their own potential, their own dignity, their own power as people, as Guyanese." At the national level the groups must be employed in building the nation through institutions which shared power and responsibility and worked towards publicly stated aims. He saw no contradiction between ethnic group development and the wider development of the society.
In Ethnic Conflict and Development: The Case of Guyana (1995) Ralph Premdas contended that unfettered participation in the social life of one's community is fundamental to the definition of identity and dignity for the individual. In Guyana, ethnic conflict has polarised communal life and reduced participation to a continuing struggle for domination between the groups. And so, "if development means liberation and freedom to grow in a healthy relationship with others, then ethnic conflict hampers, if not eliminates this avenue for personal growth."
In Revisiting Theories of Race and Class in the Caribbean (1992) Professor Clive Thomas was convinced that "Democracy confined to free and fair elections and ignoring ethnic security, and the needs and fears of the major racial groups would not be sustainable."
The point I am making here is that there exists both in Guyana and beyond a body of knowledge, expertise and approaches which can help us redefine our dilemma. I am not suggesting that any outsider can tell us what to do. Only Guyanese will resolve Guyana's problems. What they can do is help to facilitate the dialogue to nation-building - a process delayed for thirty one years while we played out in faithful detail the script bequeathed to us by our colonial masters. It is breathtaking arrogance for any one group to believe that they can do this on their own. The time has long come for us to throw away the old song sheet and extemporise melodies in our own idiom. Maybe, out of the present imbroglio will come enlightenment.