Why not federalism?
June 24, 1999
The federal system proposed by GIFT and Mr Ravi Dev's ROAR as a solution to the problem of ethnic conflict has much to recommend it on the surface. In the first place, it involves the devolution of considerable power from the centre to the new states which may seem attractive on first principles though given the paucity of human resources and the severe problems experienced, for example, when resposibility for sea defences and drainage and irrigation was assigned to the regions one wonders how practical it is. Secondly, it presumably creates a choice for those who want to move from one state to another for reasons of ethnic security, perhaps the implicit subtext. How much that would occur in practice given the existing centralisation of some facilities (hospitals, the university, the best schools, port facilities, a more developed urban setting) is a matter for speculation. Of course the new states can be developed but that will take time and a pioneering spirit. Thirdly, the restructuring will involve each state setting up its own police force which it is argued will reduce ethnic insecurity.
The main reason why many persons are very strongly opposed to the federal solution here, however, is that it seems tantamount to a confession of failure [please note: link provided by LOSP web site]. It is equivalent to admitting that after living together for l50 years the experiment has failed, the unitary state has failed, and it can only be saved by dividing it into what may well become ethnic enclaves. There is something profoundly unsatisfactory and defeatist about this. It does not seem right. Something deep in us, some residual nationalist spirit, tells us that however bad and hopeless it may sometimes seem when tribalism asserts itself in election years or in other clashes the situation in so many offices and so many communities where people of different ethnicity work and live happily together continues to give a contrary indication. It tells us not to give up, to look for other solutions that do not give in to separatist tendencies.
We believe GIFT and ROAR are in good faith. They have reacted to a situation and come up with a solution which they genuinely believe will help to solve it or to reduce tensions. In our opinion they are wrong, the implementation of a federal solution may well reveal or create further stresses or tensions that they cannot now foresee and heighten secessionist tendencies.
It will be interesting to see how the Constitutional Reform Commission handles these proposals. Certainly none of the parties in Parliament has shown any interest in these ideas and they remain at this stage very much on the fringes of the constitutional and political debate.
A © page from: Guyana: Land of Six Peoples