Divided societies like Guyana suffer from a phenomenon whereby historic events which, when they occurred, gave rise to allegations of ethnic bias, never seem to go away. The West Indies Federation, which lasted from 1958 to 1962, is one such. It is an historic event which is hardly relevant to contemporary Guyana today. Yet the debate on Jagan’a attitude to the Federation rages, as if the event occurred yesterday, and not more than 50 years ago. It is contextualized to the current ethnic controversies, one of which is to seek to continually paint Jagan as a racist, or at least to allege that he was motivated by ethnic considerations. His role in the establishment of the University of Guyana has become another. But that is for another time.
An editorial in the Stabroek News of December 19, 1986, on ‘Regional Integration’ stated that ‘…others, notably Eusi Kwayana (then Sydney King) attributed Jagan’s opposition [to the Federation] to his unwillingness to be swamped in a predominantly African grouping. C.L.R. James is also reported to have made a similar assertion. In response to the Stabroek News editorial, Jagan replied as follows:
The power of the United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) to refer the Guyana-Venezuela Border Controversy to the International Court of Justice (ICJ, also known as the World Court) and the jurisdiction of the ICJ to entertain and determine the matter, both provided for by the Geneva Agreement, have been shockingly distorted by Analyst in a February 6 article in Kaieteur News entitled “Recourse to the ICJ is on the basis of a consent regime.’ He argues that the ICJ needs Venezuela’s consent before it can exercise jurisdiction.
On November 7 the same analyst, under the moniker of Peeping Tom, said in Kaieteur News that Guyana has “bungled its handling of the territorial controversy” and “will not achieve its objective of having the matter placed before the ICJ.” This prediction ignominiously failed when the UNSG on January 30 chose the ICJ as a means of settlement. No doubt this failure prompted a change of identification from Peeping Tom to Analyst for his February 6 article so as to disguise his authorship of the November 7 failed prediction. His opinions in the February 6 article are as shallow as the prediction made in his November 7 article.
By Article IV(1) of the Geneva Agreement of 1966, the Governments of Guyana and Venezuela committed to choosing one of the means of peaceful settlement provided for by article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations (UN), if the Mixed Commission did not arrive at a full agreement for the settlement of the controversy within four years. Judicial settlement was one of those means under article 33. But the part of the article providing for the parties to choose the means of settlement is qualified by Article V. It provides that they are to refer the decision of the means of settlement to an “appropriate international organ on which they both agree,” but failing agreement “to the Secretary General of the United Nations.”
After the conclusion of the mandate of the Mixed Commission, the Governments of Guyana, Venezuela and the United Kingdom entered into an agreement known as the Port of Spain Protocol in June, 1970, which suspended the operation of Article IV of the Geneva Agreement for twelve years. This meant effectively that the formal search under Article IV for a resolution of the controversy was suspended for the period. Guyana and Venezuela undertook to “explore all possibilities of better understanding between them.”
Wracked by dissention and uncertainty, compounded by the dismissal of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, known by the nickname of Crocodile which he embraces, the army on Wednesday occupied strategic points in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, and deposed President Robert Mugabe, aged 93 and in power for 37 years. The army, led by General Constantino Chiwenga, said that it was not a coup. It appears as if efforts are being made to attain a peaceful and lawful transition of power from Mugabe to a government led by Mnangagwa.
The unfolding events, as they became known, show that Mnangagwa was true to his nickname. In collusion with the army, he was patiently awaiting an opportune moment to move against Mugabe who appeared determined to promote his wife, Grace Mugabe, a deeply unpopular ZANU-PF official, who represents the post-liberation ZANU-PF group, G40, to succeed him. This would have resulted in the sidelining of the army and the veterans. There was open, verbal, warfare, between these two distinct sections of the Zimbabwean ruling class. The people of Zimbabwe, downtrodden by poverty, have been unmoved by what is clearly a palace dispute.
The drive for ethnic dominance is an unavoidable consequence of our social history. It manifests itself in numerous ways and appears in discourses relating to social and economic policy. More importantly and fundamentally, it appears in political competition. Ideas of ethnic dominance have always shaped our society, and politics could not have escaped it even if it had tried. Our main political parties understand this reality but have each constructed an historical narrative that tells an alternative story. The narratives have subsisted together with and have had a parallel trajectory with the drive for ethnic dominance.
Even the youthful leaders who formed the early political movement, the Political Affairs Committee of 1947 and the Peoples Progressive Party in 1950, did so with the understanding that ethnic unity was a vital pre-requisite. The split of the PPP in 1955, although overtly between ‘moderates’ and ‘extremists,’ were led by an African Guyanese, Burnham, the ‘moderate’ and the walkout was against the Indian Guyanese, Cheddi Jagan, the ‘extremist,’ resulting from a demand made by Burnham for ‘leader or nothing.’ But within a short time the split inevitably developed into ethnic dimensions. The ethnic violence of the 1960s and two decades of authoritarian rule have together ensured its rigidity and sharpened its significance as a factor in Guyana’s politics unlike, say, Trinidad and Tobago, and have brought home the need to create political and constitutional structures that would undermine its political potency.