Déjà vu minority rule

Déjà vu minority rule

Photo : Ravi Dev

ROAR of Ravi Dev

What is unfolding in Guyana is a return to the rule by a minority regime that was practiced by the PNC between1968-1992. The P.N.C then inherited the colonial state – pretty much a “crown Colony” governorship, with all its apparatus intact in 1964. It then not only maintained the structural pattern of domination established by the British, but once he jettisoned his junior coalition partner the United Force in 1968, he successfully increased the extent and reach of that domination. While he attempted to maintain a façade of “multiracial governance” – as is now happening with the Indians from the AFC - the critical difference was that an African and Coloured middle-class elite replaced the departed Whites as the mediating minority group in charge.

Burnham did not balk at utilising the “control” form of governance for the ethnically fractured Guyanese society. The scholar Ian Lustick in Israel had proposed the model in a normative sense and suggested that one of the competing groups in a deeply divided society such as Guyana may seize the state and maintain hegemonic control over the entire society. This is what Burnham was allowed to do so since his constituency dominated the state coercive institutions and the bureaucracy. He pointed out to them the alternative was to be ruled in perpetuity by the majority Indian segment under Cheddi Jagan.

Lustick contrasted this variant of authoritarian rule with another approach, consociationalism, which described and sought to foster a cooperative approach to governance in severely divided societies. Even though there had been sporadic attempts by both jagan and Burnham to work out some form of consociationalism, they never went anywhere. With the benefit of hindsight, Burnham, having been underwritten by the US, had no need to compromise. When he decided to rig elections after 1968, the Americans even proposed selling him electronic voting machines which could be programmed to perform that trick quite efficiently. Burnham went with the simplier and less obvious route of the overseas vote and proxies domestically. Granger’s PNC government also seems to have elections under control since they have abjured wooing crossover votes.

The armed forces were expanded tenfold by Burnham, with a ninety percent African membership to provide the coercive basis for the P.N.C.’s rule. By 1976 they had reached the staggering ratio of one armed personnel to every thirty-five civilians. The present PNC of David Granger is already quite advanced in this move with the Peoples’ Militia, the Reserve, the Cadet Corps in place. It would appear that rather than resuscitating the National Service, the new Youth Corps will play that mobilizational role.

 During the 1970-89 period, private goon-squads that supported the PNC, wrecked havoc on the civilian population – especially on Indians. By mid-1985, anti-Indian depredations had reached such staggering proportions that one political activist, Eusi Kwayana, wrote that “it had a flavour of genocide”. According to Fr Andrew Morrison of the Catholic Church, in his book, Justice, claimed the House of Israel – a PNC backed group that was armed by the party, formed the core of the “kick-down-the-door” bandits. It was this type of banditry that segued effortlessly into large scale kidnappings, robberies and murders between 1992-2001, after the five “freedom fighters” took over. There are alarming signs that the rate of armed robberies are increasing in the present. What’s ahead?

During his watch, Burnham nationalised 80% of the economy and provided rewards far in excess of the “Guyanisation” the middle class P.N.C. elite had hoped for. Not only was their class expanded but also they obtained a powerful device to keep dissent in line. Party membership and support for the Party’s position became prerequisites for maintaining a job. In Burnham’s words those who were fired, stayed fired. The Co-operative was to be the vehicle for rewarding the lower class African Guyanese and was to be the cornerstone of the economy. In the present, the revenues from oil in the post 2020 era will provide the wherewithal to repeat the elite experiment. Over $25 million has already been allocated to four African villages – Buxton, Ithaca, Mocha and BV to jump start their agricultural co-ops.

Indian-based organisations were co-opted through the opportunism of their leadership, to rubber stamp P.N.C.’s policies. These leaders were placed in highly visible, but essentially powerless positions, to create a façade of a non-racial Government.