The founders of Independent Guyana made a solemn promise that they will deliver us from poverty and lead us not into political division. That’s right. The message carried a messianic fervor. At least so it was received.
The large body of the poor and disadvantaged had known that they were exploited. They also knew that until 1950, no one outside of their own class ever took more than a passing interest in their welfare. To be then elevated to the centre of attention, to be told that with the vote they will determine who governs them, to be told that they are the revolutionary class which will determine the future of the country, was heady stuff. It was a completely new experience for them. Also significantly new was the message of ethnic unity, which they were hearing in political, and witnessing in organizational terms, for the first time. They eventually saw the evidence of strength provided by 1953. It imbued them with a sense of pride, purpose and anticipation that has endured throughout the decades.
The leaders of the PPP of 1950, who must bear the burden of being identified as the founders of Independent Guyana, inspired as the young can be with the slogans and ideals of the French Revolution, the American Revolution, the Great October Socialist Revolution, the Indian Independence Struggle, young of age and intoxicated by courage and idealism, understood the challenge of British Guiana. They knew that only a united nation can win its liberation. They knew that only a nation that thereafter remained united, can then defend and guarantee its freedom, security and development. This was their undertaking in return for the trust and support of the people. They received it in lavish proportions.
There are many today, still alive and active, who were moved by these events. They still have clear memories of and nostalgically reminisce about the events of 1950 – 1953. They talk about the high hopes and dreams. They had the feeling that something big and positive was going to happen. They did not fully understand exactly what. But they knew that at the end of it their lives were going to be better.
Historians have said that a more natural relationship between our major ethnic groups is one of competition and antagonism. That was how our nation developed, not by our choice, and these developments grew deep roots. Therefore 1950-1955 was a contrived flash in the pan of history, not a movement that grew out of an inevitable historical process. The inevitability of its demise was the consequence of historical, cultural and economic forces beyond the capacity of the arranged marriage of 1950 to resolve. So they say. But dreams do not come from facts. They transcend them.
Because the hopes of the historical period of 1950-1953 have endured and the promise has remained unfulfilled, we, the heirs of the founders, have the historical duty and challenge to fulfill it.
The PPP has tried on two occasions. In 1963 it proposed a coalition government with the PNC. In 1977 it proposed another coalition government under the Patriotic Front Government, with an agreed pogramme, conceding an executive presidency to the PNC. Both were rejected. But in 1985 it entered talks at the invitation of the PNC for a coalition. The talks, first, at the insistence of the PPP, about an agreed programme rather that positions in government, were terminated by the PNC when Burnham died and Hoyte became President.
After several years of internal debate since 1992, the PNC, by now the PNCR, proposed a system of shared governance. The PPP’s response was that when the constitutional reforms were implemented and trust developed between the parties then a greater degree of inclusive governance can be placed on the table for discourse.
Has the time come?
Implementation of the constitutional reforms is almost over. Criminal terrorism has subsided. Political tension has decreased. In our adversarial political system it is hardly likely that significantly more trust will develop. The President has suggested talks even though he did not specify an agenda or potential outcomes. Nor did he link them in any way with inclusive or shared governance.
Notwithstanding the impending elections season, the time may well be opportune when the President’s invitation should be actualised. While it is hardly likely that any discussions will make substantial progress before the election period starts, it would set a tone for the election campaign. And, by popular will, the next government will have to start its term of office with its sight on the promise. This would be an auspicious beginning.
But the promise cannot be achieved on the premise of merely sharing power. This is an opportunistic approach for a division of the spoils of office, not the undertaking of responsibility for delivering the promise. There is a vast array of institutional mechanisms and constitutional arrangements, not excluding a coalition arrangement with an agreed programme, depending on political realities, which can deliver the desired outcome.
A lot has to change in Guyana before the promise can become a reality. The first is that Guyana has to be transformed or has to transform itself from adversarial to collaborative politics. If not, any effort at inclusivity will quickly collapse. Cheddi Jagan had always insisted that it was not the offices or the positions that were important, but the programme. Why not try to settle a programme first? The collaborative spirit might develop from this.
The fulfillment of the promise was seen by our founders as their duty and destiny. We, their heirs, have a responsibility and an obligation to this and future generations to see it through. Let us – man, woman and child – businessman, public servant, professional, student, worker and farmer – make the delivery of this promise our pledge on this the forty-fourth year of our independence.