Visiting expert speaks on "Issues in Multi-ethnic Societies"

by Terrence Esseboom
Guyana Chronicle
June 10, 1999

GERMAN Professor Theodor Hanf Tuesday warned of the long-term dangers of politicising cultural "markers", while addressing a public forum at Park Hotel in the City.

Touchy issues such as ethnicity, language and religion, are politicised "when the particular marker is linked with privilege or with discrimination", Hanf explained.

Elaborating he said, "If on grounds of religion, language or ethnicity, one group gets advantages and another gets disadvantages, or if people believe that this is the case, then the political system is in for trouble."

Hanf is on a one-week stay in Guyana as part of the country's Constitutional Reform effort mandated under two accords ratified by the ruling People's Progressive Party and Civic (PPP/Civic) coalition and the minority People's National Congress (PNC) after the 1997 General Elections.

Included in a Menu of Measures identified in the Herdmanston Accord and the St Lucia Statement, the 1980 Guyana Constitution is to be reformed in time for the next national polls.

As part of that effort, a 20-member Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC) was set up with a July deadline to present proposals to the National Assembly. These proposals will form the basis for the new document.

A series of programmes is being undertaken by the CRC to fulfill the quest, and officials said Monday that they are on schedule to meet the date.

Ten experts, seven foreign and three local, have been identified to help the CRC team in the Constitutional improvement programme.

Hanf is the Director of Arnold-Bergstrasser Institute for Social Research, Research Professor of Sociology at the German Institute for International Education Research in Frankfurt, and also Honorary Professor of Political Science at the University of Freiburg.

Here under the auspices of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), Hanf is a leading international expert on different political systems, especially those involving non-homogeneous, or mixed societies, such as Guyana.

In his discourse on `Issues in Multi-Ethnic Societies', the professor noted that ethnic politics is not irrational, but an astute form of "interest aggregation."

The practice, he pointed out, makes sense to exclude a large number of competitors in an arena of economic competition.

The success of the victor is usually Pyrrhic, and to mitigate the ensuing conflict, power-sharing or consociationalism, is embraced as one way to solve the political turmoil in heterogeneous countries.

Under this model, both parties are " a position to inflict damage" on each other.

Switzerland, Lebanon, Malaysia, are among many other countries to have used this political tool to good effect, he said.

According to him, power-sharing is usually the outcome of a war, when both groups are in a `no-win' situation, and it is promulgated by some experts because it tends to prevent conflicts and stops civil conflicts.

It also gives each group a share of the benefits of power.

However, one of its principal drawbacks is that it usually does not contributes to a fuller integration of the nation, Hanf observed.

"If you have a formalised division among the groups the differences are going to stay," he said.

It has been discredited by some political and social scientists on the grounds that decision-making is a tardy process, and no "real" opposition exists in the country.

However, Hanf explained that the nature of opposition under the power-sharing strategy is usually more focused.

British expert on Local Government systems, Mr Rodney Brooke and Jamaican, Mr Carl Dundas with expertise on Constitutional matters, also addressed the CRC forum.

There were lively discussions between the visitors and the local audience, especially on the issue of power-sharing.

Canadian Professor Kathleen Mahoney, an authority on gender issues, will also address a public forum at the Park Hotel, Main Street tomorrow at 19:00 hours (7 p.m.).

A page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples