News Americas, PHOENIX, Arizona, Weds. May 4, 2011: When I came out in support of Tacuma Ogunseye’s call for African Guyanese to take to the streets in Guyana to demand power sharing, I did so because I sensed that people were playing politics with the issue. Let me preface today’s offering with a few general observations.
First, I make a distinction between the Indian masses whose lives are as miserable as Africans and the Indian government which is as unaccountable to Indians as it is to the Africans. Second, I do not blame the Indian people for the plight of Africans; in the same way I don’t blame the African people for the suffering of Indians under the PNC. In both cases I hold the governments responsible for the excesses. Third, nobody can seriously accuse me of remaining quiet when Indian people are under attack–my record speaks for itself.
Fourth, I am not advocating violence against Indian people or the Indian government. That is the worst solution; all of us will be consumed. I am instead supporting African defiance and militancy against those who are intent on confining their role in Guyana to something called “opposition.” Fifth, I do not absolve African people from fault for our collective condition. But our problem is not simply that we like to party and spend lavishly as some Indians think. Our problem is that we have not cherished enough who we are – self-love. Finally, I am sure the cynics in our midst will say that I do not speak for African Guyanese. That is their business. I speak as an African Guyanese. When I put my life on the line to fight and help bring down an African Guyanese government, I never did so to install an Indian Guyanese government. We in the WPA fought for a Government of National unity. So I am not a “just come” to power sharing.
Despite attempts to frame it in violent and racist terms, Tacuma Ogunseye’s call has served the purpose of putting the question of race and governance back on sensible footing. From Eusi Kwayana’s call in 1961 for joint premiership to the PPP’s call for a National Patriotic Front in 1977 to the WPA’s 1979 proposal for a Government of National Unity and Reconstruction to the PNC’s call for Shared Governance in 2002, the issue of power sharing has been about how to achieve security for all races beginning at the political level. All of the proposals I referenced above started from the position that intra-racial solidarity is a given in our political culture. Kwayana captured the essence of problem in 1961 this way: “We have known all along that the Indians would not trust a Black leader and that the Africans would not trust an Indian leader.” That reading was correct in 1961 and it is even more correct fifty years later.
Power Sharing, therefore, is not simply about a political system – that’s the institutional aspect of it. The advocacy of power sharing is rooted in the very notion of the fundamental human right of each ethnic group to determine how the government of Guyana is operated. As Kwayana put in in 1961: “Equality of rights and power for African and Indian as custodians of the whole. Justice by Law for minorities.” When we African Guyanese advocate power sharing we are not begging the PPP to share with us. We are instead affirming the right of the descendants of enslaved Africans to joint ownership of a space which is watered with three centuries and more with their sacrifices. If we co-own Guyana then we must co-govern it. If you deny us the right to co-govern then you are saying we do not co-own. And that we will not accept.
I refuse as an African Guyanese to accept a political system whereby African Guyanese children cannot aspire to be the President or be part of the government of Guyana. People sit around and clap-trap about whether power sharing would work or wouldn’t work. They can continue to do so. This is not about majoritarian democracy; this is about the honor, dignity, human right and birthright of the African Guyanese people. These cannot and should not be equated to some simplistic notion of democracy, especially by those who because of the numerical strength of their ethnic group don’t have to worry about being excluded. Do those Indians from ROAR, PPP, AFC, PNC and Civil Society know that every time they open their mouths to tell us that Power Sharing won’t work that they are in fact telling African Guyanese to accept their internal colonization? I am pleading with you my Indian brethren and sisterin to please desist from disrespecting us like that. Democracy for you can mean numbers because your group has the numbers—majoritarian democracy. Democracy for us cannot mean mere numbers; it means numbers and substance (substantive democracy).
These people lecture us on the need for democracy as the solution to our problems. They tell us that our call for power sharing is undemocratic. But we say power sharing is a higher form of democracy because it prevents one group from dominating the other. Some of you are satisfied with wooing a few Africans to your side and some Africans are satisfied with wooing a few Indians to their side. That, as our experience in Guyana since 1955 has shown, is nothing more than a passport to ethnic domination.
We Africans are democrats. When we fought against and threw of the physical chains of slavery, we struck a blow for democracy. We ensured that those ethnic groups that came after did not come as slaves. When we stood on the frontlines with others to dismantle colonialism we did so for democracy. When our own kind subverted democracy in our name, we took to the streets to stop them. Yes, the streets. We are democrats. But we do not want a democracy whereby others speak for us and decide for us. We earned the right to sit at the table as genuine co-equals and should and will accept nothing less. Jagdeo can boast about his crowds at Linden. But he does not speak for or represent the interests of African Guyanese. He is our president but not our leader. He cannot tell us we have “blood on our hands” and want to be our leader. We want to speak for ourselves and lead ourselves. We want the right to self-determination. Mr. Ravi dev can call that a “false dilemma” but as our ancestral wisdom taught us “If you nah live a house, you nah know whey e ah leak.”
Mr. Dev tells us to consider the PPP’s “inclusionary democracy” and ROAR’s Federalism. Dev is a serious man. He knows race better than many. But in this instance he is taking Black people for granted by asking us to consider the PPP’s inclusionary democracy. Mr. Dev, for your information, it is the PPP’s inclusionary democracy that we are aiming to put an end to. The PPP’s inclusionary democracy is best described by another name: Inclusionary Domination. African Guyanese are not expelled from Guyana. There is no ethnic cleansing. Their representatives are in parliament and on Boards. But they are systematically marginalized from the decision making councils of government. They are included in the system, but they are dominated by those who hold the power to decide whether they are hired or fired. Some African Guyanese individuals are included in the cabinet but on terms that are dictated by the representatives of Indian Guyanese. Dev tells us to consider Federalism as an answer, but under Dev’s federal system we would have three East Indian dominated governments – Essequibo, Berbice and Guyana and one African dominated – Demerara. That’s not equality. We Africans don’t want favors and handouts. We want power–the ability to help determine “who gets what, when and how.”
There is a new class of anti-African Black people whose blackness is confined to their Black skins. They are race-traders who seek to trade the dignity of African Guyanese for handouts. This is what I exposed in Buxton last year–the grave insult of having their children dance for the chief in exchange for a dance-hall. When we Africans say Massa Day Done we must mean it. We are saying no to Internal Colonization whereby we have no voice in our own country.
Mr. Dev tells the Black party and other activist to try to woo Indian voters. Well if he, a professed Indianist, couldn’t woo Indian voters away from the PPP, why does he think we can do it? Mr. Sam Hinds, an African, tells Africans to vote PPP in order to be included. He tells us in effect to condemn election rigging before we can enjoy full citizenship in Guyana. It is clear that the logic is that before we Africans sit at the table we must bow down before the almighty PPP and repent. African Guyanese people have nothing to apologize for or be ashamed of. If the PNC wants to apologize for its past excesses, that’s their business. But significant sections of Africans Guyanese fought against the PNC. That is a fact that cannot be washed away by Mr. Hinds’ strange condemnation of his race. Mr. Hinds’ friends on the other side do not have to rig national elections because they have the numbers. But he may want to check the 1961 High Court ruling on the election in the Huston constituency. When all the Africans were voted out from the PPP executive in 1959, no less a person than Ms. Janet Jagan equated that action with what was happening in apartheid South Africa. As Chalkdust, the calypsonian, said in song “Dey can’t fool me – I in town too long.”
Ravi Dev accuses me and Sherwood Lowe of ignoring Indian fears, of limited context and of being concerned solely about the fears of Africans. That is unkind. Sherwood Lowe has already replied to him. Dev knows only too well that my political activism is located in a broader multi-racial praxis. I deliberately put that in my letter last week because I anticipated this charge, even if I didn’t expect it from Ravi Dev. We are calling for power sharing– not African domination of the government. Inherent in that is an acknowledgement of Indian fears and their right to participate as equals in the governance of Guyana. Must I remind Dev than when Africans were using Buxton as their base to attack Indians, Bro Kwayana, Sister Andaiye and myself, in spite of the potential danger to our lives, were forthright in our condemnation of such acts. When Indians were the victims of ‘kick down the door” violence in the 1980s, it was Eusi Kwayana and the WPA that elevated that phenomenon to national prominence. When basic food items were banned in the 1980s which many Indians believed was aimed at “starving” them, it was the WPA which spearheaded the “food rebellion in 1983. It was the WPA that called two “days of rest” against the food shortage in 1983 which were opposed and boycotted by the PPP. It was the WPA that organized the Sugar and Bauxite Unity Committee that comprised Indian and African workers who coordinated strikes in the sugar and bauxite industries and held marches to press for a lifting of the ban on basic food items. And in all of these activities we Africans were on the frontlines opposing a government of our kind. Yes Ravi, Ogunseye and David Hinds were there. For the record, I never saw Sam Hinds, Westford, Webster, Lumumba and company there. This for me is not theory; its practice.
We acknowledge Indian fears, but Indian representatives must not use those fears to justify Indian domination of and African exclusion from the government. When the PNC used African fears to dominate the government and excluded the representatives of Indians, they were wrong. Now the PPP is doing it, they are equally wrong. Mr. Dev turns us into bullies or he may think that we are natural bullies. What a revelation! African Guyanese have been bullied into inferiority for the last twenty years yet when we say enough is enough we are called bullies. Is it possible to bully others to give you what is rightfully yours–your fair share of the political resource of decision making?
Dev comes back to the PPP’s song that Africans are not marginalized because we do not provide proof of marginalization. I have said over and over that we can argue over the manifestation of African exclusion, but the essence of the marginalization lie in the institutional framework. The central question is not how many Africans get scholarships to go to Cuba or are in big positions, but who has the authority to make those decisions. It’s like the slave master pointing to the number of house slaves as evidence that slavery is not really slavery. It’s like beating someone and then asking them to give evidence of their beating.
Dev raises the question of the military. Africans dominate the army and police but those institutions are controlled by the political state. The military in Guyana does not have any autonomy as is for example the case with the military in Latin America. But parity of the armed forces cannot be discussed outside of parity in the economic sector and in the government. Let’s put everything on the table. If we are going down that road let us be honest. You want more Indian soldiers and police, we want more representation for Africans in the economic sector, in particular the private sector. You want more Indian civil servants; we want more investment and jobs in bauxite. But before we get there let us settle the big one – We want part of the power of decision making to be in the hands of African Guyanese representatives. That is not negotiable.
David Hinds is a professor of Caribbean and African Diaspora studies at Arizona State University and executive member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA). More of his writings can be found on his website at www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com.