In a statement yesterday, the Chairman of the Joint Services, Brigadier Godfrey Bess, reminded citizens of Guyana that, irrespective of its ethnic composition, the Joint Services of Guyana is an apolitical institution and will continue to serve the people of Guyana. The Chairman said that the Joint Services is guided by the Constitution and not by any “partisan values and interests.” Brigadier urged “social activists and commentators to refrain from misleading and mischievous remarks which incite racial tensions.” Stabroek News remarked that it is “unclear what exactly triggered the statement today.
The statement of Brigadier Bess appears to be a response to the inflammatory remarks by Mr. Tacuma Ogunsaye of the WPA which sought to drag the Joint Services into an ethnically partisan activity the objective of which appears to be the removal of the Government. It should not be surprising that the Joint Services would want to distance itself from the remarks made by Mr. Ogunsaye and to emphasise its loyalty to the constitution while disavowing partisan values and interests.
Addressing a joint public meeting between the APNU and the WPA on Thursday last in Buxton, where two weeks ago residents violently resisted the arrest of an alleged drug trafficker, Mr. Ogunsaye called for June 12, the day for local government elections, to be a day of “national resistance and African uprising,” with which Mr. Aubrey Norton, Leader of the Opposition, agreed, although he indicated that APNU would contest the elections in order not to cede control to the PPP of local government bodies in areas where it has political support.
The report on Friday last of the meeting by Demerara Waves stated: “Urging Guyanese to get ‘battle ready,‘ Mr. Ogunsaye believed that the Afro-Guyanese dominated police and soldiers who, he said, mainly support the Opposition [and] would stand with Afro-Guyanese in resisting the mainly Indo-Guyanese supported PPPC. ‘We come to tell you that freedom is not far away. We come to tell you that we will ensure that our brothers and sisters in uniform do the right thing and this thing will be over quickly.’” This is a clear call to “battle,” which ordinarily means war, which in turn implies violence. It is not the first time that Mr. Ogunsaye has associated himself with political violence. The Attorney General, Mr. Anil Nandlall, has listed a number of serious offense that may have been committed and has called for prosecution.
Guyana’s military has come a long way since he days of ‘party paramountcy’ when it was required to swear political loyalty to the ruling clique, sustained in power by rigged elections, in which the military was unfortunately forced to assist. Its role came up for discussion in the constitution reform process in 1999-2000, particularly after calls by late PNC Leader, Desmond Hoyte, during post-election violence in 1997, for the military to show loyalty to its “kith and kin.” The Constitution Reform Commission considered it necessary to enshrine the role of the disciplined forces in the constitution to which it would be loyal and so recommended. In 2001 the Guyana constitution was amended to include article 197A on ‘Defence and Security.’
The provision reads: “(1) The State’s defence and security policy shall be to defend national independence, preserve the country’s sovereignty and integrity and guarantee the normal functioning of institutions and the security of citizens against any armed aggression. (2) The Defence and Security forces shall be subordinate to national defence and security policy and owe allegiance to the Constitution and the Nation. The oath taken by members of the Defence and security forces shall establish their duty to respect the Constitution. (3) The Guyana Defence Force established under the Defence Act shall in the discharge of its constitutional responsibilities function in such a manner as to earn the respect and enjoy the confidence of citizens. (4) The Police Force established under the Police Act shall function in accordance with the law as the law enforcement agency off the State responding to the daily need to maintain law and order by suppressing crime to ensure that citizens are safe in their homes, the streets and other places.”
Despite the subversion of the disciplined forces from Independence until the restoration of democracy in 1992, and notwithstanding a high degree of ethnic imbalance, the disciplined forces have maintained a dignified role of constitutional propriety since 1992. When called upon to assist the Police during the post-election disturbances from 1992 to 2001, it performed with distinction. The same sense of purpose was displayed in suppressing the criminal terrorism between 2002 and 2008, which Mr. Ogunsaye defended as Africa liberation struggles for which he was condemned by Mr. Eusi Kwayana. No doubt there were great pressures on the disciplined forces and challenges to its loyalty to the elected authorities, but its commitment to the country, and not to a political agenda, prevailed.
Guyana’s disciplined forces have come of age after thirty years of democratic rule. Having faced down the challenges of the past, it did not intervene to support the rigging by APNU+AFC of elections in 2020 which was led by a strong contingent of retired army officers. Guyana’s military has come of age.