• 24 Feb, 2024

PPP not helping Indo-Guyanese enlist in the armed forces

PPP not helping Indo-Guyanese enlist in the armed forces

PPP not helping Indo-Guyanese enlist in the armed forces

The issuance of a wanted bulletin for 71-year-old Tacuma Ogunseye, three weeks after the infraction, sequestering him in shackles (as reported by Demerarawaves), and then identifying the WPA executive as a “Negro” is not the kind of image that should ever be projected in modern Guyana. That imagery invokes historical memories of a sordid past. To be sure, whatever is made of the charges against Tacuma, based on Anil Nandlall’s reference to Section 3 of the Racial Hostility Act, Chapter 23:01, he had it coming.

Tacuma has a checkered history of anti-Indian rhetoric, stretching back to the violence emanating from Buxton that was led by criminal elements following Mash Day 2002. Freddie Kissoon, who investigated the Buxton violence, wrote “It was a sickening manifestation when day after day, the gunmen killed people using ethnic criteria and Mr. Ogunseye supported them” (SN, 4/12/18). But it was the sage of Buxton, Eusi Kwayana, who was forthrightly disappointed: “Tacuma Ogunseye whom I have called Brother Tacuma for some thirty years, has described the story of Buxton as a liberation struggle. At no time in our long association have I disagreed more with him…I have attacked what he now supports or justifies.”

Guyanese, and surely Tacuma as well, knew what he intimated when he spoke uninterruptedly from the canter in Buxton on March 9th. He initially admitted guilt, indicating he would agree to treason, with an explanation. Nigel Hughes evidently advised him of the consequences of taking such a perfidious path. On that infamous day, he was race-baiting, with hopeful anticipation, urging, as did President Hoyte in 1997, that “kith and kin” must target people who did not look like him and depose the duly elected government. Hoyte’s admonition led to massive street protests and violence against Indians, eventually forcing Janet Jagan to reduce her presidential term by two years.

Unfortunately, a similar narrative of inflammatory and inciteful rhetoric has become commonplace. It is owned and promoted by social media operatives. But there is a more perilous motivating element fueling the rhetoric. Tacuma and others seem to have permanently renounced electoral politics as a democratic mechanism for being elected to office.  David Hinds, who was a candidate on the electoral list of APNU/AFC in 2020, was the first to declare the elections null and void. Tacuma echoed complementary sentiments when he iterated “we cannot wait on elections to resolve this matter,” while advocating for a boycott of the upcoming local elections. Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton, who was a keynote speaker at the March 9th meeting, said that Tacuma was unjustly being ostracized for exercising “free speech,” but he could have chosen “better language.” He was unwilling (or unable) to condemn rhetoric that most Guyanese considered inciteful and hateful.

PPP ignoring race as a central problem

One is inevitably led to the conclusion that the loudest opposition African political voice has become an echo chamber with significant influence. Electoral politics, where winning is guaranteed by swing and crossover votes in a country with ethnic minorities do not seem to matter to the opposition. Mr. Norton understands the art of politics and the realm of possibilities in a divided society. He is certainly aware that the PNC won the general election in 2016 with about 4,545 votes and the PPP is in the seat of government with a one-seat majority (over the coalition) in the parliament. Why then would Norton, who in all likelihood will receive the majority African votes, commit hari-kari before high-stakes elections that will fall short of an electoral victory by alienating crossover and floating votes? We can only surmise that Norton might be hopeful that street protests will save the day for the PNC.    

But it does not have to come to that. Episodic moments are reflections of the symbolic marginalization some people genuinely feel in society. The fact that there is no ongoing national dialogue between government and opposition, and now, the government’s position that trust does not exist, is an indictment of the “one Guyana” initiative. Regardless of the minimally effective outcome, any ongoing national dialogue might produce, they might still be of significant value in our fragile republic. Marginalization, real or imagined, must be addressed, with a willingness to rely on evidentiary and credible data.

Instigators will find ways to invoke the call to arms and use these episodic moments to energize people into engaging in street protests. With a watchful Venezuela, Exxon and foreigners exercising greater control over our economy, a perception of economic deprivation, and a belief of one group reaping corn and husk, who knows what unexpected political situation awaits? Nigel Hughes predicted one possibility – an emerging lumpen criminal class that ultimately feels excluded from the oil windfall may resort to robbing and kidnapping, as has become widespread over the last few years in neighbouring Trinidad. We hope it does not come to this.

For the PPP, ignoring the central problem of race is placing the entire nation at risk. Indians, who are largely supporters of the PPP, and who have frequently felt the brunt of political violence might have to bare the chafe again, with the PPP government as a bystander. In 1964, Home Affairs Minister Janet Jagan, resigned in tears, following the atrocities in Wismar, citing a lack of control over the police. During a Parliamentary discussion on “Recruitment to the Police Force” on October 5, 1967, an anxious Cheddi Jagan said “wherever there are multiracial societies, the Police and Security Forces should reflect a broad cross-section of the particular country’s population. That concept was accepted by the P.P.P. Government, it was accepted by the British Government, and it was accepted as a matter of principle…” Yet, the PPP continues to ignore this problem.

If the ruling PPP really believes in One Guyana, it is incumbent upon the government to integrate the disciplinary forces, not by a quota system or displacement, but incrementally through projected attrition, to ensure that Indians and Amerindians equitably share the burden of providing the public good of law and order and defending this country. This has been recommended by a Parliamentary-approved Disciplined Forces Report. National dialogue, and integration of the disciplinary forces, and other institutions, will go a long way towards preempting appeals to kith and kin that can lead to racial incitement under a PNC or PPP government.