Viewpoints on Energy, Geopolitics, and Civilization
Sandra Weiss: Guyana conflicts or inclusion
Melissa Ifill, Guyanese historian
In Guyana will oil create conflicts or greater inclusion?
Historian Melissa Ifill says that the oil boom in Guyana is a challenge for democracy and the country is not prepared for this. The IMF estimates that GDP will grow 86 percent in 2020.
Where do these doubts come from?
We distrust politicians. We fail to hold them accountable. . Corruption is a problem. We are ranked 85 out of 180 countries in the Transparency International index. Guyana is a small country, people know each other and tend to excuse members of their own party and ethnic group if they are corrupt.
This can be improved with stronger controls and better institutions. Isn't that what all politicians are promising right now?
While in opposition , the two major political parties make numerous promises which they fail to keep while in government. We must not forget that we have an ethnically based party system: one part y largely represents the interests of Indo-Guyanese (PPP), and the other largely the interests of Afro-Guyanese ( APNU-AFC ). This division characterizes the entire society. Once in power, those who govern are expected to give advantages to their people. And no politician is free of this, because otherwise he would undermine his own power base.
How should this be imagined in practice?
We carry a weigh from the legacy of European colonization. After emancipation of enslaved Africans, indentured immigrants were brought from India, China, Madeira in large numbers to work on the plantations. The most successful and enduring of the schemes was the East Indian indentureship scheme. The small European upper class secured power by separating ethnic groups and sowing distrust among the groups, and that distrust still exists, particularly among Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese. Our society is divided along ethnic lines. Business associations, NGOs and civil society groups are also impacted by prejudice and racism and notions of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. There are very few neutral instances. The exceptions are perhaps the university and the unions. However, as soon as the election campaign begins, the divisions begin again.
Does the political ideology play a role?
At the program level, both parties are very similar. There is a neoliberal consensus. After the PNC’s socialist government led us to over-indebtedness in the seventies and eighties, later governments under pressure from the United States, changed to a neoliberal course and remained faithful to it. The IDB, World Bank and the IMF remain the main donors.
But oil provides financial independence. Doesn't that open the doors to new political parties?
If you look at the demographics, yes. The number of those who identify with one of the two main ethnic groups is decreasing. Approximately 19 percent of the population self-identifies as mixed, although this is not yet politically reflected. There have been a few non-ethnic parties, but they are still marginal. At the time of the elections, even the mixed people affiliate with one of the two big parties, depending on their social environment.
What role do indigenous people play?
They represent approximately 10 percent of the population and for the most part are subordinate and excluded from genuine participation at the highest levels in our political system. They have increasingly though been advocating for their other rights, for example, title deeds to their lands and access to financial support for their projects but some paternalism still prevails.
Is it possible that there is a conflict or an eventual civil war over oil wealth?
I see a civil war unlikely, although outbreaks of violence are possible. In our history there were ethnic conflicts and violence particularly during elections. The last two campaigns were not accompanied by inter-ethnic violence. It would be a shame if oil led again to more violence, but it cannot be ruled out. When a group feels excluded, it can fuel violence. So I hope that politicians recognize the challenges and dangers of the oil boom and adopt a more inclusive policy. Although that is also a double-edged sword, because if the two parties share power, then we no longer have an opposition that exercises a control function.
Sandra Weiss is a political scientist and former diplomat. Until 1999 she worked as an editor for the AFP news agency. He is currently an independent journalist, reporting on Latin America for several German newspapers, including Die Zeit and Die Welt. Her views are not necessarily those of Petroleumworld.
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Editor's Note: A version of this article was published in Spanish by DW, on Feb.23 , 2020.
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Petroleumworld News 02 24 2020
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