In his letter seeking to rebut assertions made in my last column, “Addressing Objections to a Federalised Guyana”, Mr. Vincent Alexander claims that “Federalism is justifiable only where diversity is cultural and territorial”. Noting that I claimed, “minorities across the globe from Assam to Zimbabwe have been clamouring for federalist principles to be instituted to protect their interest against actual or potential majorities,” Vincent flatly asserts, “This is exactly where Ravi’s argument for federalism flounders. Federalism is not about protecting minorities.”
But this is just not so. Federalism as a form of governance was introduced with the formation of the American Republic and given its theoretical justifications in the “Federalist Papers” written by Hamilton, Madison, and John Jay. Madison’s Federalist Paper 10 deals with groups defining their interests differently (he calls them “factions”) and addresses the challenge of “majority factions vs minority factions” within states. Hasn’t this been our challenge in Guyana?
Madison concluded, “The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States.” And this fissioning and containment of factions/ethnic groups is exactly what a Federalised Guyana will encourage. For instance, Indian Guyanese – compromising a large majority in, say, Berbice, might not only NOT have common interests with Indian Guyanese in Demerara or Essequibo, but may find common cause with say, African Guyanese in Demerara on the issue of, say, Bauxite.
Then, there is Vincent’s categorical insistence – as captured in his caption: “Our diversity is cultural, but not territorial. Federalism is justifiable only in instances where the diversity is cultural and territorial; or where homogeneous groups are associated with a specific land mass.” And once again, Vincent is off base. The primary requirement of modern federalism is that a national minority must form a majority, and be granted political power, in at least one of the states. In invoking only Indian and African Guyanese, he elides what he had implied about Amerindians earlier in his missive: they are “homogeneous groups…associated with a specific land mass.” Being such a small minority, even though they are the Indigenous Peoples of Guyana, Federalism the only mechanism that will allow them to exercise Executive power above the village level.
But in looking at the coastland, Vincent is assuming that ethnically homogenous homelands for the other groups in Guyana is a sine qua non of a federalist approach. In the present world, where identity-driven aspirations are stronger than ever, this idea is completely false, impractical and, more importantly, immoral. Plurality is, and will continue to be, the reality of both the Nation-State and its sub-divisions. The question is how do we get them to live with each other harmoniously.
In Guyana, we saw the African Ethnic Security Dilemma of exclusion from Executive office explode in rigged elections and violent attacks against the state. And this is where integrative federalism – with is multi-tiered and intricate, non-pyramidal matrix of governmental structures in separate states – comes in. Such a matrix adequately deals with the two major conflicting demands: of problem solving by consensus building as well as minority protection. Because of our fortuitous majorities by different ethnic groups in various areas of Guyana, no one group will be completely locked out of Executive office. As we have highlighted over the last decade, our new demographics that has created a nation of minorities where either of the two major ethnic groups can form a government at the center.
In closing, Vincent invokes the bogeyman of “secession/“partition”. But apart from explicitly denying that option constitutionally, the very fact of our heterogeneous state populations should discourage it. His citation, however, is indicative of the fear in many Guyanese leaders that Federalism is simply a stalking horse for partition. One of the features of the federalist integrative approach however, is that it actually disincentives for secession since politics is not an “all or nothing” proposition.
Finally, a Federal structure will facilitate the formation of a second chamber in the legislature. Because, each state would have ethnically different majorities, the representation drawn from state-constituencies would most likely reflect the ethnic diversity of our country. This fortuitous circumstance gives us the opportunity of securing ethnic representation at the center. This second chamber should have the power to scrutinize legislation in general, but specifically enumerated powers in reference to ethnic issues.