Hamilton Green’s opposition to having “ethnic balance in the security forces” on the basis of what he perceived as based on “ulterior motive” is an attempt to open the possibility for a future political dictatorship backed by the coercive arms of the state (published in Guyana Stabroek News July 28, 2021). There is no conceivable justification for having a disciplined force that bears little resemblance to the population. An inclusive security force will provide shared responsibility and address a longstanding ethnic security dilemma. Mr. Green noted that the issue of balance “came up over fifty years ago before an international panel”. Indeed, in 1965, as a precondition to Independence, the ICJ Commission recommended that for the next five years, 75% of recruits and cadets be Indian-Guyanese, until they reached their proportion in the populace. A subsequent study by Professor Ken Danns showed that between 1970 and 1977, while the size of the Police Force was doubled, 92.2% of recruits were Africans, with only 7.84% being Indians. Burnham disregarded the commission’s report and constructed the “paramountcy” of the PNC with assistance from the security forces.’
In an attempt to rectify this anomalous situation following free and fair elections in 1992, the 2004 Disciplined Forces Commission Report, which was unanimously approved by the National Assembly in 2010, had recommended that the Armed Forces should aim at achieving greater ethnic diversity. The 2004 Report of the Disciplined Forces Commission recommended “professionalizing”, “decentralizing” and “balancing” the forces. Guyanese who made presentations to the Commission remember all too well Desmond Hoyte’s references to “slow fiah, mo fiah” and his “kith and kin” comments at the Square of the Revolution. The 2004 Disciplined Forces Commission report states as one of its recommendations on the army: “With regard to manpower, the Commission recommended that recruitment procedures should have a particular focus on the Indian-Guyanese community because of its general disinclination to join the Force; this should not be done to the neglect or exclusion of other ethnic groups…The Force should adopt recruitment procedures which must take into consideration cultural, sociological and psychological imperatives, designed to attract Indian-Guyanese in particular to the GDF.”
The PNC cannot yet be counted on to renounce its penchant for violence and its willingness to use the security forces to maintain political power illegally in the future. The fact remains that there is a real concern among Guyanese regarding the disciplined forces. The army, despite its limited success in protecting our national sovereignty, has a checkered legacy in domestic politics (seizing ballot boxes, kick down the door banditry, swearing loyalty to the Burnham dictatorship, murder of Rodney, etc.,) even though we are appreciative of the fact that to date military officials have refrained from intervening independently into the political process. Had there been street protests during the stand-off following the flagrant rigging of the 2020 elections, the PNC would have leaned on the disciplined forces for support.
Mr. Green knows that an African-dominated security force constitutes a serious issue for Indo-Guyanese. The overwhelming African-Guyanese staffing of the coercive arms of the state, the Public Service, and other state bureaucratic institutions (including GECOM), which traditionally reflected a European bias to “divide and rule” must be replaced by a system that promotes equity and fairness, without sacrificing professionalism. Moreover, it is unfair to ask Africans to disproportionately shoulder the burden of defending the citizens of Guyana from both foreign and local enemies. In our multiethnic society, the Amerindians and Indians must play an inclusive role in our national defense. Balance in the security forces can be achieved over time through “targeted recruitment”, rather than a quota system which may not identify our best and brightest servicemen.
While the state can correct the imbalances in its public institutions, the greater preponderance of Indians in the private sector, especially in business and agriculture, was due to Indian exclusion from the state sector by the colonial administration. On the other hand, the historical, cultural and structural features that subsequently produced disparities can be addressed through an affirmative action program to increase African-Guyanese and Indigenous Peoples’ participation in farming, business and other government-sponsored programs. Ethnic impact statements, which examine how various communities are impacted by government policies, with a willingness to make adjustments, should be considered as another safeguard against perceived ethnic dominance or deprivation. This, of course, would require dialogue and a cooperative working relationship between government and opposition.
By Dr. Baytoram Ramharack