By Melina Harris
MY experience of politics in Guyana is quite limited. Having re-migrated to the country of my birth last year April, I have yet to experience elections season in Guyana, until now. Stories across the diaspora warn of increased racial tensions and an upsurge in crime and violence. However, my experience so far has been different. Even though the main political parties have only recently launched their respective elections campaigns, there is an infectious and strong message of hope and unity spreading throughout the country. One might opine that the citizens of this great nation are moving past divisive racial politics and are unifying in order to secure better lives for themselves and generations to come.
The March 2, 2020 Elections have been dubbed the “mother of all elections” and it is easy to understand the reasoning behind this title. Since the discovery of vast oil reserves in our waters by ExxonMobil in 2015, Guyana has emerged onto the world stage in a big way. The consequent management of our soon-to-be-acquired wealth is now hotly contested between the two major political parties: the current coalition government under the banner of A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU + AFC) and the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).
The current coalition– APNU+AFC government– has embarked on an ambitious elections campaign consisting of 16 planned rallies across the nation. The campaign launch at D’Urban Park on 3rd January 2020 attracted thousands of boisterous supporters who revelled and cheered as they were addressed by President Granger who asserted that “we have a plan!” Scores of Guyanese of all ethnicities and ages travelled from various parts of the nation to express their support for the coalition government, and when this newspaper spoke with many in attendance, the key messages were that citizens were seeing progress and development within their communities, under the current administration. Whilst expressing his commitment to the citizens of Guyana, President Granger said that “Guyanese will never be poor again… the wealth belongs to you and the government will ensure you benefit”.
It should come as no surprise that citizens of a resource-wealthy nation such as ours would wish to benefit from the proper exploitation of these resources. However, Guyanese have been aware that the equal dispensation of benefits deriving from our resources has not always been fairly meted out to all factions of the Guyanese population. During the PPP/C tenure in office, which lasted some 23 years, many contend that only a small group of friends, cronies and relatives were the primary beneficiaries of the nation’s wealth. Although the PPP/C regards itself as a multi-ethnic organisation, it is a fact widely known and accepted throughout the country and diaspora that their main base of support derives from Indo-Guyanese. The PPP/C General Secretary and frontman, Bharrat Jagdeo, once famously remarked that the PPP/C is indeed “a coolie people party”. Race-based rhetoric has always played a significant role in Guyanese politics; however, the present campaign strategies, even those employed by the current PPP/C party, seek to move beyond race and instead seek to spread a message of inclusivity and unity.
As a young child growing up in Guyana, I was brutally aware of race and ethnicity. Coming from a multi-ethnic background and one which encapsulates all of the official races in Guyana, I could not be more Guyanese. Perhaps, the outcome of years of integration and the emergence of a largely mixed-raced younger population has led to the decrease in racial tensions we have experienced over the years. Guyanese are also now more educated, more well-travelled and better connected to the world than at any time in our history. Perhaps we are finally moving past our aesthetic differences and uniting to further our common goal, which the President has eloquently stated, is the realisation of the “good life for all”. Or perhaps, the de-escalation of racial tensions has come about as a result of a largely inclusive and diverse coalition government where citizens see themselves reflected in those who they have elected to govern them. In any case and if current circumstances are to be taken into account, rampant racism and racial divisiveness seem to be a thing of the past in Guyana.
Another key area of growth within the political sphere is the rising culture of accountability and transparency within government. The present administration promised to make government more transparent and accountable and one might argue that they have made positive strides forward in accomplishing this goal. Transparency International, the global coalition against corruption, highlights Guyana in its list of improvers for 2018 with a rank of 93 out of 180 nations and a score of 37 out of 100 – where 100 represents a “highly clean” nation and 0 representing one which is “highly corrupt”. Since 2015 and the election of the current administration, Guyana has moved from a score of 29 in 2015, with a high of 38 in 2017, falling to 37 in 2018. Statistics for 2019 have yet to be released. For the time being, perceptions might remain unchanged despite veritable progress being made in fighting corruption; however, progress under the present administration has been steady. Guyanese are hopeful that our long history of corruption is taking its place firmly in the history books.
As political parties take their campaigns and manifestos to the villages, towns and communities across Guyana, it is hoped that their messages of unity, peace and prosperity will firmly take root in the fertile soils of our minds where they should remain long after campaigns have been concluded and a suitable leader is elected or re-elected. Guyana is on the cusp of immense socio-economic development and all Guyanese, at home and abroad, should foster and adopt an ethos of togetherness and unity as Guyana emerges from its divisive past. Guyanese are eager to take their rightful place in the world and should elect representatives capable of realising this goal.