A new offering on racial conflict resolution Arts On Sunday
By Al Creighton
Stabroek News
May 30, 2004

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Publications dealing with the problems of race and ethnicity in Guyana are now as topical as they have ever been, and timely, considering the relevant developments after 1997. Ideally, it is expected that they should be helpful, contributing to a better understanding if not to conflict resolution. Some have lived up to that expectation, but there are those that have contributed to the problem by being partisan, inciteful or shabbily researched. Some of these works are the symptoms that prove the existence of a problem which they are more likely to aggravate than to resolve.

Racial Conflict Resolution and Power Sharing in Guyana - Selected Readings edited by Kampta Karran takes its place among those with useful insights to offer. But that is largely due to three of the five essays in the volume, which also has two book reviews and an Editor's Note. This is Issue Number 19 of Offerings, a series founded and produced by Karran. Number 18 was another collection of articles and discussions on the same subject, Race and Ethnicity in Guyana : Introductory Readings, also edited by Karran.

Racial Conflict Resolution is deemed helpful quite in spite of the Editor's introduction, which purports to summarize the situation in Guyana. It wipes a broad brush over the issues of racial conflict, proposed resolutions including alternative systems of governance, the issue of power sharing and the PPP/Civic's response to it, Karran's notion of the marginalization of minorities and groups and associations that claim to represent ethnic constituencies.

This introductory note is guilty of sweeping generalizations; it is cursory and fairly superficial, seeming to sacrifice accuracy for brevity in its attempt at a general overview. For example, despite the picture presented by Karran, the GIHA (Guyana Indian Heritage Association), Come Home to Roger on HBTV Channel 9 and ACDA are not representative of, do not reflect the views of and do not have the broad support of the racial groups they purport to represent. Karran cites GIHA as if it were the voice of Guyana's East Indian community, and Roger and ACDA as if they were spokespersons for the Black community. A closer look might help him to find that they come under attack and are opposed by large sections of the ethnic groups he claims that they speak for, and their constituents might well be a minority of the respective racial blocs.

Karran's comment on the role of "neutral and respected third parties" contains further inaccuracies. For instance, the UG/Clark Atlanta Univer-sity conference on Conflict Resolution was not designed to be a response to the topical Guyana situation. It was part of a broader academic programme, which is developmental in its provision of training and research resources to support a taught course run jointly by both institutions. The conference was meant to look at similar situations and models across the whole world, and not to focus on Guyana.

But Karran continues his thesis in the first article in the Reader. His main argument is thin and his thesis flawed, again grossly generalized and simplified. The PNC Reform, for example, and the entire black community in Guyana do not speak with one voice. Their views and actions are not one and the same. Post-election violence in Guyana since 1997 has been more political than "racial in character", and the Reports of GIFT (1998) and GIHA (2003) are partisan, polemic documents which cannot be given as factual proof. The same goes for the talk shows on Channel 9.

He proceeds to examine historical evidence to trace the nineteenth century roots of Guyana's racial problem, but flawed premises lead to false conclusions. He runs into trouble on many counts, not excluding the great logical leap in his implications that the events/causes/outcomes of racial tensions in 1905 were similar to those of 1998.

Yet, as an editor, something must be said for Karran's ability to attract and to assemble the work of a number of highly respected and influential authors, whose contributions lend his collections considerable strength. Eusi Kwayana's Diasporas in a Strange Land is proof of this. Here is a seasoned political activist and analyst who has reached a point in his life when he can reflect on his own commissions of the past and apply dispassionate self-criticism. In this essay, he immediately establishes a position that cannot be covered by Kampta Karran's editorial preface : "each group has or ought to have the right to full dignity which must include a share in the government. … This does not mean I support ethnic parties. I do not. So what can we do if, despite what leaders prefer, and so many profess, parties turn out to be mainly the possession of an ethnic group? We can make sure that there is no ethnic government."

Kwayana's analysis includes criticism of "a cloud of activist Saints, with clean hands, who had never hurt anybody in thought, word or deed and who see negative race politics everywhere but in their own corner." His opening statements are followed by careful and insightful analysis. His review of the historical evidence shows, as Walter Rodney does, that racial conflict "was not unavoidable" (History of the Guyanese Working People). He finds in this history, some reasons why it arose and some evidence of accord among the races, thus providing some hope in the dangerously divisive present.

Many of his lines are particularly instructive and worth quoting. "Unless we place the country before the party when the country is in crisis, we shall all be creating political squalour in which no healthy development can take place." And "it is useful for young readers growing up in the bosom or shadow of a political preference to know some of the bright spots in the inter-racial relations, in order to face the future with hope."

The strength of this publication continues with David Hinds' essay on Race and Democratic Transition in Guyana, dealing with the transition from authoritarian rule to democracy. The PNC had "presided over the most authoritarian Caribbean state", but, after the 1992 elections he asks, "why has the end to authoritarian rule led to instability and confusion instead of democratisation? While the racial factor is a constant in Guyana, I am arguing that the adversarial actions and choices of the two main parties, separately and together, have failed to meet … major challenges. … the key to this failure lies in the choices and actions of these parties at critical junctures."

Hinds' paper examines the PPP's "adversarial" choices before and after 1992. these include their failure to enter into a pact with the PNC when there was an opportunity in 1990; and their failure to go into the elections with a united PCD (People's Coalition for Democracy). His solution, which lies in the dismantling of race-based parties and governments, which create conditions for rivalry and instability, is not much different from those of Judaman Seecoomar.

In Local Government and the Growth of Inter-Ethnic Cooperation in Guyana, however, he presents the recent political experience in a slightly different way. Guyana has never been a declared one-party state. Despite nearly three decades of rigged elections, … of "party paramountcy" and … an all-powerful Executive Presidency, it has always maintained the faade of multi-party democracy." Seecoomar argues, much like Hinds does, that race-based politics leads to a struggle for exclusive control of power and withdrawal of loyalty by an opposition who feels sabotage is justified. He emphasizes the benefits of multi-racial cooperation for the common gain in another paper that lends strength and value to Racial Conflict Resolution and Power Sharing in Guyana.

It is significant that these three, Kwayana, Hinds and Seecoomar, who provide the superior analyses in the book, are able to recognize that this phenomenon in Guyana is not the inevitable outcome of race hate. The hostilities are motivated, not by race as partisan groups have claimed, but by a destructive brand of politics.

Tara Singh and Dhanpaul Narine advance the case for power sharing in Guyana, as "an idea whose time has come", while two book reviews by Hinds and Frank Birbalsingh round off the volume. On the whole the collection could have been improved by more thorough editing and proof reading since several typographical errors escaped. Then, given what was achieved in Offerings 18, the quality of reproduction, packaging, printing and presentation in this issue is found wanting.

But it would be churlish not to appreciate the effort of an editor whose sharp sense of carpe diem led to the quick assembling of helpful, timely papers in short time to seize the moment when Guyana's politics of race is topical. And even while we isolate Karran's errors in this volume we need to remember that he who has never made a mistake is he who has never done anything. Or, as they put it in the Orient, "man who says it cannot be done must not interrupt man who is doing it."