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Alternative concepts of democracy have to be examined

Friday, May 19th 2006


Dear Editor,

Dr. Randy Persaud, in his refutation of Dr.David Hinds's contention that the PPP missed an opportunity to forge a national consensus in 1993, is indeed "welcome to the debating school on Guyanese politics," to use Mr. Frederick Kissoon's words.Unfortunately he has allowed academicism to cloud his thinking and to prevent him from making a contribution to bridging the 50 year- old racial divide that has made Guyana corrupt and backward. Guyana's backwardness is unimaginable. A registered letter posted to me from Georgetown on April 25th has not yet arrived on May 11th. One posted to me from Belize was at my house in 5 days. That is a measure of our backwardness.

Forging a consensus in this backwardness requires an understanding of what causes the racial divide and the genius to think of strategies to bridge the divide. In Dr. Persaud's second letter on "African suffering and Guyanese politics in the age of negotiate or we will shoot," he shows some understanding of the problem when he notes that East Indians and Africans were both at the receiving end of economic exploitation by the planters and the state machinery. But then, in contradiction to Michel-Rolph Trouillot, whom he quotes approvingly, he is silent in respect of differences in the ways that the two races were exploited.

Mr. Frederick Kissoon in another article, alludes to Adamson's analysis in "Sugar without Slaves: The Political Economy of British Guiana, 1838-1904," which highlights the following crucial distinction.

The planters had expected the enslaved to remain on the sugar estates and to work for wages instead of just for upkeep. When the ex-enslaved decided to leave the plantations and used their savings to buy struggling plantations at exorbitant prices as Eusi Kwayana and Tchaiko Kwayana tellingly describe in "Scars of Bondage," the planters decided to drown the villagers periodically. They exercised their influence in the state to tax the former enslaved Africans to pay, in part, for bringing in indentured workers, primarily East Indians, to replace the labour that was withdrawn. They saw to it that the Afrikans were denied loans for any business operations.

The exploitation of the indentured East Indians was different. Wages were low, hardly enough to survive, and living conditions were horrible, as Dr. Persaud describes, noting the logie in which he was born. But, in typical divide-and-rule fashion, many indentured East Indians were given land near the sugar estates in contrast to the wholesale robbery of Afrikans who purchased their villages at inflated prices.

The planters by then, had recognised the brutality with which they treated African families and made amends by encouraging East Indian families to develop in accord with their culture. The East Indians have to be given credit for their frugality, their hard work, their willingness to delay gratification and to accumulate wealth.

Africans, in the meanwhile, were scattered into balata bleeding, timber grants and gold mining and dispersed in ways that often destroyed stability in family relationships. Many were forced to seek a livelihood in Georgetown, the place that Dr. Persaud observes produces no commodities. In fact, Georgetown "produces"commerce and goverance. While it is true, therefore, that East Indians never enslaved Afri-cans, it is important to note those differences in planter exploitation. Amy Chua in "World on Fire," refers to "path dependence" which can "play a tremendous, unavoidable role in group economic success. Access to capital is so important to economic success... that already prosperous ethnic groups have an enormous market advantage."

Perhaps "enormous" overstates the market advantage that East In-dians developed in Guyana because there was considerable differentiation in the way that the planters, in their usual divide and rule tactics, distributed benefits to the East Indians. But, by the beginning of the 20th century, market advantage there certainly was.

Africans correspondingly developed what is now considered an unsung advantage in working in administration, particularly government administration. During the period when, as Dr. Persaud notes, Africans controlled state power, if anything, that bias towards administration was emphasized at the expense of developing attributes appropriate for market advantage." When President Hoyte, with the help of the IMF, switched the economy in the late 1980s to greater marketisation, the advantage of acquired administrative skills was diminished. What mattered most was the market advantage that the East Indians had acquired from the latter half of the 19th century. The supposedly "communist" Dr. Jagan strengthened those advantages during his years in office during 1957 to 1964. Any socialism that Dr. Jagan strengthened was in the realm of rhetoric.

An opportunity to combine the respective strengths ofmarket advantage enjoyed by the East Indians and administrative skill sheld by Africans existed in1993. Recognition of that economic strategy would have required a corresponding political forging of consensus as Dr. Hinds and the WPA envisaged.

There would have been nothing unalterable about the respective advantages of the racial groups. East Indians would have acquired administrative skills while Africans would have ventured more into the market as they had begun to do during the period of shortages. It was, and still is, a noble vision. The WPA had surrendered a regional seat to the PPP to fulfill that vision. That Dr. Persaud would fall for the petty and mean description of Mr. Hoyte as an "Electoral Bandit" and the WPA as a "2% Party" indicates that he places little importance on ideas when they come from Guyanese and does not recognise the need for that genius in the life of a nation to spot opportunities and to take advantage of them.

Dr. Jagan and the PPP did not have that genius. The PPP still does not have that genius as their present careering into Elections, for which we are not prepared, indicates. Dr. Jagan was battered by disappointments and inconsistencies and thought of the future in the context of re-creating the past. But one expects his bright young cohorts to have the imaginativeness to spot that opportunities were missed. In that respect, Dr. Persaud has failed, caught in Trouillot's "silences."

I have not seen Dr. Hinds's article in Social and Economic Studies but 1993 was followed by a switch of East Indians into the top decision making positions for which they had little experience. A calamitous deterioration in government services followed. The squeezing of Africans out of the top positions in Government because of distrust without corresponding openings for Africans in commerce and business, led to unnecessary bitterness and to the deepening of the racial divide. The fact that an African who is a member of the PNCR cannot be trusted to work in a senior position in the Government, other than if s/he is a toady, indicates that the consensus for which Dr. Hinds and the WPA yearned, is far from being forged. These are not issues that can be addressed without examining alternative concepts of democracy. Is our governance system presidential or parliamentarian? Is our democratisation bottom-up or top-down? These issues have not been faced up to seriously not even when the constitution was being revised in 1999. In the meantime, we have become a narcotics economy that has thrown up drug lords who are claiming that they are respectable citizens. Ideas coming from a party with a 2% vote can sometimes be worth a lot more than those that originate from a Party with a 50% vote where the thinking is defunct, if I may borrow a phrase from the great economist, Keynes.

Dr. Persaud should avoid majoritarian positions when they are defunct.

Yours faithfully,

Clarence F. Ellis

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