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We need to concentrate more on what
we share, and less on what divide us

Dear Editor,

R.J. Rummel, in the works “Understanding Conflict and War: vol. 5: the just peace”, advises that an essential element of peace-making is to achieve a “Balance of Powers - an interlocking of mutual interests, capabilities and wills”. Conflict, Rummel's views seem to suggest, and perhaps these are views with some universality in their sharing, arises out of situations in which people and groups want something, and the methodology they might employ to get what they want.

Obviously the wants of every person and every group will oftimes be illegitimate, perhaps unreasonable, maybe even downright irrational. But in extreme situations where conflict and violence over a status quo erupts or shows a potential to erupt, advises Rummel: the principals and third party perspectives should embrace a principle that “You make peace by balancing powers”.

It would not be much of a stretch to posit the proposition that the conflictual nature of the pattern of interaction between the two primary populous groups in Guyana , fostered for the most part by decades-long divisive style of politicking, threatens the very viability of the state. And in extension of such view, it is also quite apparent that neither of the two political behemoths are prepared to address the visibly deteriorating situation from a perspective considerate of the reality, preferring instead to issue anecdotal analysis and prognostications to give lie to what is glaringly obvious to all but the most politically obdurate.

But, other than the two dinosaurs and with everything to gain from a maintenance of the status quo, and sundry talking heads occupied in political spinning and punditry, most of the other members of the political class recognise that we are in an ethnic and racial log jam, and clearly structure their activism with such considerations in mind. Ravi Dev, the most ethnically outspoken and transparent Member of Parliament, defines our current situation in Guyana as something of an “ethnic dilemma”, and argues for a resolution model that is not prima facie inconsistent with Rummel's generic solution of “balancing powers“. Peter Ramsaroop of the Guyana Third Force courageously and vociferously confront the raw reality of this “ethnic dilemma” from a perspective and view that rejects any influence of racial affiliation and pandering, eliciting in the process no small amount of political and personal chastisement and vituperation for refusing to mimic an ostrich in response to impending danger.

Freddie Kissoon, in his inimitable Guyanese style, continues to flail at the political, psychological and sociological structures that house, maintain and sustain the environment defined as an “ethnic dilemma”. And the newest party on the political scene, The Alliance for Change, was formed in response to, and issues a mission statement designed to respond to, this political mire of an “ethnic dilemma”. These individuals and organisations, like Rummel, appear to recognise that peace is something worth fighting for, and that to get to it requires a conversation among people and groups who have disagreements over who should have what, and how and when.

Rummel organises the process of making peace by “balancing of powers” under 9 sub-principles as follows:

(1) CLARIFY THE CONFLICT SITUATION

(2) DEFINE A “YESABLE” INTEREST

(3) INVOKE OVERRIDING INTERESTS

(4) FOCUS ON EXCHANGE

(5) EMPHASISE LEGITIMACY

(6) KEEP ISSUE AND POWER PROPORTIONAL

(7) DISPLAY COMMITMENT

(8) CONSIDER CREATING DISTANCE

(9) RESIST AGGRESSION

Looking at them outlined here before our eyes, it is almost as if the formulator of these sub-categories had Guyana in mind when they were being advanced. More than anything we need to come together on a consensus that accurately illuminates and sets out our conflict situation. We need to begin by dealing with those little things that are more easily resolved before moving on to the larger issues. When Mayor Guilliani was pilloried for going after by-law infringements like public drinking of alcoholic beverages and the squeegee people at major intersections in New York City , he responded that sometimes you have to go after the little things in order for the bigger things to fall in place.

We need to concentrate much more on those important things we share in common, and less on those that divide and set us apart one from the other. We need to foster a climate where inter-group communication can flourish. We need to address those issues that are legitimate sources of grievances in a manner that is fair and balanced and thus acceptable to the other side. We need to avoid the excesses that will leave one side with a sense or feeling of being cheated, of being done in. We need to resonate the degree of empathy necessary that will assure each other of our commitment to the common cause. We need to, where and when necessary, create breathing space for emotions to retire, to dissipate, to work themselves out. And last, but certainly not least, we need to resist that urge to rationalise the use of unlawful and extra-judicial force and violence as an acceptable mechanism for getting what we want, regardless of the strength or legitimacy of our claims.

Guyana is just one of perhaps hundreds of geographical areas on this earth afflicted with conflict and tension conditioned by political, social and ethnic differences. In the Middle East it is Jews and Palestinians locked in conflict over land and statehood. In East Asia India and Pakistan almost came to a nuclear exchange over sovereignty of the Kashmir region. And in the Sudan déjà vu reminiscences of the horrors in Europe perpetuated by the Nazis and the decade past episode in Rwanda abound in the goings-on in Darfur .

The one positive is that in all of these situations the different parties are engaged in an effort to find peaceful solutions for the conflicts that ensnare them. We in Guyana should not wait until our situation deteriorates to the point where those others are at before we begin the process of resolution and reconciliation.

Robin Williams


Kaieteur News

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