Rihanna, the Barbadian-American singer, became popular with the song ‘Umbrella,’ released in 2008. ‘Umbrella’, along with later songs, are the basis of her status as a megastar and a billionaire entrepreneur of the ‘Fenty’ line of products. ‘Umbrella’ contains the lines: “With you I’ll always share…Know that we’ll still have each other.”
The symbol of the umbrella recently took on a different dimension in Guyana. A photograph of James Bond, a leading PNCR activist, holding an umbrella over the head of an Indian male in the company of other Indian male persons, was widely circulated on Facebook. Mr. Bond attracted abuse as a ‘house slave’ and ‘house negro,’ epithets once reserved for leading PPP members and supporters such as Sam Hinds, Roger Luncheon and Odinga Lumumba, now broadened to include public servants such as Ean McPherson, personal assistant to the Speaker, racially abused by MP Maureen Philadelphia, a nursery school teacher, for protecting the Mace of Parliament during the recent disturbances created by some Opposition members in the Parliament Chamber. Photographs of Indians with umbrellas sheltering Africans and vice versa then emerged with the meme, ‘the umbrella challenge,’ on Facebook.
While ‘racial’ or ‘ethnic’ slurs and abuse is increasing, a significant development has taken place among those African Guyanese purporting to defend African interests. In a letter to SN on 4 January, Tacuma Ogunsaye of the WPA, a decades long African rights campaigner against the PPP, said that while in the past he had decided to confine his political activism to the African community, and while he cannot say with certainty that his decision was politically correct, the political challenges of the growing oil and gas sector makes it imperative for Guyanese to rethink their political approach. He concludes: “This requires a new beginning, based on the conviction that our nation’s patrimony belongs to all Guyanese. I conclude by appealing to the nation that we commit to a new national engagement where one speaks for all and all for one. Where one defends all and all defends one.” Ogunsaye was an important ideologue in the Guyanese African rights movement which, in recent times, has become more vocal.
But with recently elected PNCR Leader Aubrey Norton’s policy announcements to seek ‘cross over’ support from the Indian community and holding the PPP’s feet to the fire, policies developed since the pate 1950s, neither of which has dented PPP’s ethnic and other support over the past 50 years, the impact of Ogunsaye’s new approach may be minimal. The burgeoning Facebook offerings by Rickford Burke, Mark Benschop, David Hinds, Norman Browne and Sherod Duncan, the recent disturbances in the National Assembly by Opposition MPs supported by Mr. Norton and Mr. Harmon, including presumably the ethnic abuse of Ean McPherson, the scathing criticisms against the PNCR by A. A. Fenty in Friday’s SN under the headline “PNC – Politics of National Confrontation,” all point to a continuing political trend.
Added to all this is the continuing struggle for dominance in the PNCR over the positions of Representative of the List and Opposition Leader, with PNCR leadership standing behind Mr. Norton and Mr. Harmon invoking the APNU+AFC coalition. Leader of the AFC, Khemraj Ramjattan, has announced support for Mr. Harmon. But the latter is on the losing side. David Granger no longer holds a leadership position and will have to succumb to pressure to give up his position of Representative of the List, if he wants to maintain unity in the PNCR. Mr. Harmon was badly defeated by Mr. Norton. The AFC will make no difference to the outcome. An eventually united PNCR will, at some point in the future, have to confront the dog wagging its tail – the consistent failures of its policies of ethnic violence and political confrontation.
Its early days for predictions about 2022 and our post-oil, political, future. If a rich and prosperous US can have a January 6, 2020, surging on a wave of lies about rigged elections, why can’t a rich and prosperous Guyana? Would wealth automatically dissolve differences? The US has proved that wealth, unevenly distributed, can have a negative impact on stability. All the signs point to a future in Guyana of unevenly distributed wealth, with the well-positioned raking in billions and a scramble by the remainder of the population for the trickle down. The question is, will the distribution be so skewed that our fractured polity remains unhealed, leaving a large enough opening for those promoting divisions to thrive? And even if oil wealth is equitably distributed, is oil a solution to our badly scarred political landscape?
In a stable, liberal democratic, regime, it would be expected that changes in government would occur periodically, giving opposing elites an opportunity to share the spoils of office and keeping their supporters quiet. Guyana is an unstable liberal democratic regime where only one group of elites have access. Is this not enough to maintain on the front burner the dire need for a political solution? Should the case of Kazakhstan, with 30 billion barrels of oil, 19 million people and a government that is immovable, with only one set of elites sharing the spoils, be a country that Guyanese ought to be paying attention to?