To Charrandas, or not to Charrandas?
Dr. Carolyn Walcott & Dr. Terrence Blackman
This weekend the GBJ looks at the prospects for Guyana in 2019. Two weeks ago, GBJ writer Dr. Carolyn Walcott visited Guyana for a few days to take the temperature of Christmas at home before the big day. As expected, the city was abuzz with activity; traffic was jammed at almost every corner, and business seemed bright! GBJ walked down Regent Street, beginning our trek from Albert Street and ending at the corner of Orange Walk. There was scarcely room to walk. Merchandise spilled onto the pavements, and shoppers deluged vendors with purchases and inquiries. Pedestrians and motorists seemed to merge into a single mass consumed with the hype that is often associated with Guyanese Christmas. There were many bargains to be had, and businesses, particularly the retail businesses, seemed to be doing well.
Christmas is typically the largest economic stimulus for many nations worldwide, as sales increase dramatically in almost all retail areas. The GBJ, in a future report, will quantify the monies generated during the 2018 holidays. It will also estimate the percentage of the retail industry’s total sales in the year that is generated at Christmas, and the increase in employment typically needed to support the Christmas season.
On our walk through the city, the GBJ noted a few striking social changes to the city’s holiday atmosphere. Spanish is now a language frequently spoken by store attendants, and we noted, with interest, the deluge of Chinese enterprises that permeate the fabric of the new business landscape of Guyana. However, business appeared good for everyone as the Guyanese prepared for the Christmas holidays.
On Thursday, December 13, the GBJ attended the University of Guyana’s Press launch of its first publication. Entitled “Dynamics of Caribbean Diaspora Engagement: People, Policy, Practice,” the book is an output of the Diaspora Conference, which was held in June 2017. During the discussions, the issue of a business takeover by non-Guyanese emerged as both a question and a concern. However, it was quickly addressed by the Head, Office of Migration, Department of Citizenship, at the Ministry of the Presidency, Aubrey Norton. Norton assured the audience that Government was conscious of this phenomenon and remained committed to ensuring that Guyanese, including those abroad, received the appropriate incentives and the necessary support to develop and grow businesses.
The GBJ also noted, during its visit, the evident increase in international business interest in Guyana. Guyana’s impending oil future largely drives this activity. To assess the level of engagement of the citizenry in this regard, the GBJ held several brief conversations with a range of citizens, in particular, with those engaged in small businesses. Our conversations reveal a mix of optimism and uncertainty as many citizens remain unaware of how they can tap into the oil business. Many lack the expertise or access to expertise to develop their products and services to target inbound investors and external markets. One hairdresser opined that while Guyana’s business environment will likely receive a significant boost with oil, she doubts that ordinary citizens will reap any real socioeconomic benefits. Another citizen, a taxi driver frequented by GBJ reporter Carolyn Walcott, is no longer plying the Stabroek Market area for passengers. He now relies exclusively on driving Exxon Mobil employees to and from one of the worksites daily for substantially more than what he received waiting for passengers daily. “Life is better for me already,” the taxi driver beamed as he boasted of making over GYD 200,000 per month using far less effort. An academic, however, was less optimistic about the future. She shared that while the country was likely to advance economically, she was concerned that allocating resources toward basic infrastructure would likely not be prioritized. In a subsequent conversation with an official within Guyana’s energy sector, they noted that such infrastructure, i.e., improved education, roads, and hospitals, are all essential components of an emerging national strategic plan. That plan, according to the official, will be a blueprint for forecasting and visioning not only for the business environment but for Guyana’s sustainable development beyond oil.
GBJ returned to NYC on Dec 17. As we were preparing this story, news broke on Friday, December 21, 2018, that Guyana’s APNU/AFC coalition government had fallen after the success of a no-confidence vote in the National Assembly. A general election is likely in ninety (90) days. This was almost two years before President David A. Granger’s constitutional term is complete.
The collapse comes less than four years after the APNU/AFC Coalition, promising a new style of inclusive politics, defeated the PPP/Civic party that had held power for almost a quarter of a century. The ruling APNU/AFC coalition lost the no-confidence vote after the switch in the allegiance of a single lawmaker, Charandass Persaud, an Indo-Guyanese MP, belonging to the junior party, The AFC, in the coalition.
The APNU/AFC coalition had indeed been very slow in putting together a cohesive and coordinated framework to prepare the country for the first commercial production of oil, scheduled in 2020. Still, the success of the no-confidence vote has shocked all stakeholders, and it has completely rearranged the political landscape of Guyana.
This vote is likely to exacerbate the ethnic and racial insecurities that are endemic to the Guyanese socioeconomic, political, and cultural landscape. The two main political parties in Guyana, the PNC and the PPP, have traditionally and continue to be based along racial lines: one, the PNC, drawing support from the descendants of Africans brought to Guyana by the Dutch in the 17th century, and the other, the PPP, from the descendants of the Indians brought by the British a couple of centuries later.
Guyana gained its independence from Britain in 1966. In the first three decades of independence, the Afro-Guyanese-based PNC political party controlled the government. In 1992, the Indo-Guyanese party, PPP, gained the upper hand in the country’s elections. It controlled Parliament and the presidency until it lost elections to the APNU/AFC coalition in 2015. The PNC is the major party in the APNU/AFC coalition. This period of Indo-Guyanes rule led to widespread resentment among Afro-Guyanese, who were shut out of government and business, just as the Indo-Guyanese said they were before coming to power in 1992. Many Afro-Guyanese see this no-confidence vote as an unfair and to some extent, an underhanded attack on the Afro-Guyanese government. These feelings are being amplified because of its timing which coincides with the treatment for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in Cuba of the seventy-three-year-old President Granger.
There are deeper issues here that will be explored in future contributions to the journal. How does Guyana escape its racial insecurity trap? Evidently, both the Afro and Indo Guyanese and other communities, most notably the Amerindian community, need to be more effectively integrated into the governing apparatus. At the core, is our unchallenged but as yet unproven assumption that our political arrangement, i.e., (the British model of) parliamentary democracy, best serves developing countries in general and Guyana in particular. The literature reveals very scant evidence of its success in multi-racial and multi-ethnic contexts.
“Most experts on divided societies and constitutional engineering agree on several points. First, they agree that deep ethnic and other societal divisions pose a grave problem for democracy and that, ceteris paribus, it is more difficult to establish and maintain democracy in divided than homogenous societies. Second, the experts agree that the problem of ethnic and other deep divisions is greater in countries that are not yet democratic or not fully democratic than in well-established democracies.” — Arend Lijphart
 Lijphart, Arend. 2002. “The Wave of Power-Sharing Democracy” in Andrew Reynolds, ed., The Architecture of Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 37.
We note here that the class-based commonality that allowed Cheddi Jagan and Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham to form the PPP quickly collapsed at its first test. The same is true of the political arrangements of Fiji, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc. The steady line of doomed third parties, essentially class-based structures, suggests that addressing ethnic insecurity is the predominant political obstacle to harmonious development. It is unlikely that political arrangements that fail to confront this dimension will succeed. We observe that Malaysia, and to a lesser extent Singapore, have explicit ethnic quotas and references in their constitution, institutional structures, and political representations arrangements.
We are reminded at this juncture of the mythical, last “grand bargain,” which was rumored to have been under very serious consideration between Dr. Cheddi Jagan and President Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham at the time of his death in August of 1985. The rumored deal was supposed to have resulted in the appointment of Dr. Jagan and others in a Government of National Unity, which would have extended for an indefinite period. It should be noted for the record that Dr. Jagan had consistently made calls for a government of National Unity.
The GBJ strongly believes that the success of the no-confidence motion and its aftermath, coupled with the emerging oil economy, has once again provided the key stakeholders with the opportunity to act boldly to seize a “grand bargain” that would see a genuine Government of National Unity preside over the emerging oil economy for the next six years. The broad outlines of the marriage of the economic, security, and environmental bonafides of the three key ethnic groups and their potential impact on Guyana’s social cohesion are clear. The GBJ believes that a movement of this type in the political sector now would provide the impetus for robust economic growth in 2019.
In closing, we are encouraged by the many appeals for calm among all parties involved in moving Guyana forward. The GBJ believes that Guyana’s national stability is paramount. We believe that political instability leads to a climate of uncertainty which undermines possibilities for business growth in Guyana. We believe that the Guyanese institutions, in particular its courts, are strong and that they will rise to the challenge of adjudicating the matters which will come before them during this period. We urge the leadership on both sides of the aisle to maintain a spirit of dialogue and respect for our democratic practices and the rule of law. Finally, we wish you and your families a peaceful, productive, and above all, prosperous 2019.