Power sharing is inevitable, all we are doing is postponing it
Stabroek News
February 26, 2002

Dear Editor,

Your editor's note at the end of my last letter on the issue of the ongoing dialogue between the two maximum leaders is most instructive (l8.2.2002). It raises some important points that need some explanation. With your permission, I would like to address a few of them.

First, by suggesting that I am flogging a dead horse because the major parties have not signed on to power sharing you are attempting to limit the objective of the conversation. Of course, part of our advocacy is meant to influence the leaders, but most importantly our mission has to be to inform the wider society as a means of mass empowerment. In that sense the horse is not dead; democracy is also predicated on the existence of an informed citizenry. Unless the ordinary people are informed about the issues at hand they would have difficulty making informed decisions at the polls and expanding their influence on the political process. The conversation on power sharing is not simply about the PPP and PNC leaderships, it is also about making the ordinary man and woman aware of an alternative approach in the fashioning of empowerment and liberation.

Second, the fact that the power sharing debate has been going on for 10 years without shifting the leaders' in its corner does not mean it must be abandoned or its messengers must stop plugging away. The debate on emancipation from slavery went on for 400 years. The debate on how to achieve political independence went on for over 100 years. The debate on power sharing should have begun in 1953, but our fear of "flogging a dead horse" steered us away from our historical duty. The fact that the leaders cannot ignore power sharing and that it has emerged at the center of the Trinidad and Tobago impasse shows that it has not been 10 wasted years. I am fired up in anticipation of the next ten years. Revolutionary change is never given; it is fought for and then won. And Stabroek News will go down as a champion in the struggle for change.

The conversation on freedom and empowerment, of which power sharing is a part, is permanent. The dialogue between the leaders, which you laud, must not be the only dialogue in Guyana. Most importantly there must be a dialogue between those of who have been lucky to get the opportunity to pick up some skills and the masses of our people whose sweat and sacrifices have made that education possible.

Third, I disagree that explaining the dialogue process, pointing out its deficiencies and implications are tantamount to ridicule. I do not ridicule the dialogue as you suggested, I simply disagree with the Stabroek News' assessment of the impact of the dialogue on a lasting peace. You point to the fact that the dialogue has contributed to easing tensions in the society, but peace is not simply the absence of conflict on the streets.

Peace assumes justice for all yet the dialogue has not addressed the issue of justice for African Guyanese and poor people of all races. Black youth are still being molested and killed by the police.

Peace assumes economic empowerment yet the dialogue has not addressed poverty and economic justice. Black people and Amerindians still cannot get jobs and contracts and poor Indians have to toe the PPP line to get jobs. Globe Trust and Linmine are still being strangled.

Peace assumes access to education and health care yet the dialogue has not addressed these issues. Guyana is still the most illiterate society in the Anglophone Caribbean. Our people are still disproportionately dying of AIDS and other preventable diseases.

Peace in multiracial society is predicated on a settlement of the racial distribution of the power of decision making yet the dialogue has not addressed that issue. Black elected leaders still do not make decisions that affect black people. The same can be said in part about Amerindian people.

Peace without justice and fair play is a fragile peace which will ultimately be the facilitator of a worse conflict. The naked truth is that the dialogue has been an exercise in political gamesmanshipła Tricky and Trawny scenario. It has not addressed the burning issues of the day. Can someone tell me how the work of the committees has affected the quality of the lives of the ordinary people at Tiger Bay, Linden, Port Mourant, Enterprise and Buxton? I detest violent conflict, but if I have a choice between a dialogue that masks my pain and defers my freedom and a confrontation that allows me to look my oppression in its eye and demand my freedom, I would choose the latter.

Mr. Editor, you cite Mr. Hoyte's concerns about power sharing and the fact that it has encountered difficulties in Northern Ireland and Fiji. But you did not say that Northern Ireland moved to power sharing when the conflict and crisis had reached the point of almost no return. When two sides have been slaughtering each other for decades, sitting down and sharing governance is not going to be easy. That is why we in Guyana must not wait until we start slaughtering each other before we decide to start sharing the power and responsibility of governance. You did not say that Power Sharing helped to stop civil war in South Africa and facilitated a relatively smooth transfer to post apartheid governance. At least the leaders of Fiji, Northern Ireland, and South Africa have had the courage to give power sharing a try and in the case of Northern Ireland they have given it two tries.

Share power when the conditions are conducive to do so. The point is that power sharing is inevitable in Guyana. All we are doing is postponing it. But the longer we postpone it, the more difficult it is going to be to manage it.

My disagreement with the PNC leader's response to the current situation is well known, but to use his stance to shoot down power sharing and its advocates is somewhat unfair to both Mr. Hoyte and the power sharers. At the risk of misrepresenting Mr. Hoyte's position, I don't think he is against power sharing in principle. He is skeptical about it. But to my mind he is skeptical about an aspect of power sharing that we power sharers are also skeptical about: how will it be operationalized structurally? We see that as a challenge for those of us who are arrogant enough to think that our nation can still be saved from self destruction - we are prepared to break out of the Westminster prison and try something else. What I think Mr. Hoyte is not skeptical about is the other aspect of power sharing: the need to create a common nationhood based on mutual respect and joint ownership and responsibility. The PNC calls it inclusive governance.

Mr. Hoyte comes from the reformist school; radical change is not appealing to him. His incremental reforms during the post Burnham era led to a relatively smooth regime transition in 1992, so he has good reason to believe in the utility of that approach. I think he sees the dialogue as a step in the direction of some form of meaningful r sharing. Part of my critique of that approach is that I don't think it takes sufficiently into account the deep alienation and crisis of belonging that has gripped the black community since 1992. Dr Jagan made the same mistake in relation to Indians during the PNC reign, but at that time there was a robust and radical WPA to fill the breach.

While Mr. Hoyte has lauded the dialogue, he has also criticized it. Mr. Hoyte would also concede that he does not have a monopoly on the wisdom of power sharing. My critique of the dialogue process is not that it has not been useful, but that one year after its birth it has outlived its initial usefulness. Its usefulness is also stifled by the unequalness of the two actors. The PPP, given its control of the instruments of decision making has institutional power and uses it, while the PNC despite its political muscle, does not have access to those instruments of decision making.

Finally, Mr. Editor, you wondered what I meant by mass participation in decision making. I suppose the theories and textbooks do not accommodate such a formulation. I hear you asking the following How can decision making be a mass exercise? After all don't we the people delegate that task to our elected leaders? Yes, but representative democracy is not confined to decision making by delegates that is one aspect of decision making. The other aspect is about the people in large numbers - Aunty Freeda, Cousin Nora, Uncle Ganesh, Miss Mabel, Pappa John, Rookmin and Walkabout--in their communities meeting and discussing and recommending solutions to their problems. It's about the people bearing witness in their own name.

Mass participation in the decision making process means, for example, that before the decision was taken to convert the East

Coars Railway Embankment road into a two-way highway, the people should have engaged in the villages -- in their wards and sections' in their church groupos, youth groups and Lodges; at the market place and the liming spots in discussing and recommending whether the project made sense, and if so what should be the speed limit and where there should be pedestrian crossings and sleeping policemen etc.

I am not tlking here of consultation, but about actual participation in making decisions. That for me is the essence of democracy. If I am redefining democracy and governance, I plead guilty, but I am not being original. Economists call this process "beneficiary participation in project design." It is not such a crazy concept as you seem to imply.

Yours faithfully,

David Hinds