Unity is a far-off drcam The people of Guyana are ready to set aside racial divides, but the politicians won't let go of the past John Young in Georgetown
lGuyana] are never an' gry md the women are never cross. Life flows along on a perpetuai strem of love.' So rrore the novelisl Anlhonl Trol. lope on his risil to Lhe South Ampri-
away to form the People's National Congress (PNC). The PPP won the
I961 eiection, but Cheddi Jagan s
socialism maile the British and Americans nervous at the time of Cuba md the "Domino Theory". In the 1964 election, overseen by
md Brmham tme 10 porer TVo yem later Gulana gained indF used
Much water has flowed under Guyana s many bridges since then. On Milch 25 the country goes to the polls and we ile toid thar. whoever wins, there wi1Ibe many mgn, men and women. For a South Afiican, there is a fmilitr frcl ro the piace: Guym held fat dlections for the fust rime in 1992, and the major political ptrties sup porl is ethnically based. Former socialist ieaders are grappling u'ith globalisation and rf irg to sell thelr products to the Euopem Union. The election comission is uder fire. I ihought the oniy links betwren
pendence. The PNC rerained power untiltheendof the Cold We The PPP .lFims thar the 1964 vote ws rjgged b) Britainmd the CIA. md that the PNC rigged every election thereafter
Guyana and South Africa were cricket and Sir Richard Luyi, the pre-independence governor In the capita'I. Ceorgetown. I lefl the cen ral parh on one of fte brmd avenues md neariy-feU into a roadside mal. An Afrikaans-speaking Rastaman saved me. Clealy there was more to
Jagedo's firct as m incumbent. Eleven pilties ile contesting tlle poll. bur feu' will u in rhP 6J
this place thm I had thought. The Dutch one mntrolled Guyma md they built a sea s'all to protect the nerow sfip of lmd on which 90 90 of Guyma's 780 000 people Uve. The CEO of the state-run Guyma Sugar Corporation, Brian webb. a South African, iives in "Goedver. wachting" , 'A lot of things made me feel at home," he says, "lil<e Duban Road and Mandela Avenue." Webb has also been made to I'eel uelcome:
"The Guyanese have been very friendly md very hospitable" Bur rhe pre-election political dis. couse is ftr fi:om Sriendly According 10 Clive Thoros, a developmmt studies academic, "politi6 is a malignant md mal*olent force" in Guyma. The 1991 @Nm hs lndo4ulmse making up 49.4". of the popu.lalion:
Afro-Guyanese 35,69b ; aboriginal Amerindians 6,8%; with whites, Chinese and mlxed race accouting for the rest. The latest opinion poll gives the People s Progressive Parlv. Ci\-ic 5000. and the People s National CongI ess,/Reform 36% a depressingly simile ratio to the race grcups they have come to represent. Both major parties have the sme root: the People's Pro$esslve Pafty (PPP). As Guyma approached inde.
pendence, Forbes Burnham broke
ln typial pmr oionial ircn5: Bunham moved quickl) inlo the nonaligned camp and nationalised ali major industry After his death in 1985 Desmond Hoyte became presi' dent and started to iiberalise the emnomy In 1992 Ho),te ntrro$ l)- lost the election to Jagm. Umest erupted in 1997 when rhe PPP won again. Jagm died in I99;. Next week s ele.
tlon will be President Bharrat
ffits. Ttreethnicline of
deflect some lndo Cuyanese from the PPP The combi nation of the puiy for Amerindian Impie, the Gul'ffia Action Panfi md the old-schml sociali.b of the !\'orii ing People s Allmce could win a seai 6 they try to brcker a goverment of and
mtional wit]] But, judging lrom the parties' media mpaigns, unity is a distmt
The independent media moni. toring panel's fist report comented on the "two extremes of Guyana s pea[itr media mlx govermental confols at one end of the spectrm md a ffiry&EfoHli at the ofier The end mult is m impudent destruction of norms and codes of conduct on which civil society is based."
Both parties run bizarre T\r adverts in which actors portray the
parl] as helpless, stupid and mctring. One newspaper ran a headline: Howe charged with moisting schmlboys. The Holte in question was a schoolteacher In another case. a leader of lhe opposition
news organisation was accused of focusing on a PPP sticker on a car involved in m accident. Under Burnhm. newsprint was a restricted import item. He also introduced a developrnent support
communications course to train state proThe couse still exists md
"jounalists" to advertise
the Guyaru Chronitle is m orgm of the state/goverment/paltr Radio is also state contxoued. The "scar!. ftee
Election watch: A man rides past â‚Źmpaign posteE for the PeoPle's Prcgressive Party in GeorEetown. Riots there are fears ol gimilar violence next week' PHoTo: aP erupted when the party won the 1997 election
for-a1l" among the 20 television stations has to be seen to be believed. SeLf-styled talk show hosts abuse md accuse with abmdon.
5690 of the is not happy with the sork-
Attitudes founcl that
coutr]' ings of democrac!: Of those, the mjorit] de AfreGuymse md IndG Gul-mese.
Thomas's assessment of this: "Ou greatest asset our rich cu1- our ltrgest tual dl1'ersitl' ls nou' liahil it1:''
"People want decency back in this country. They want to be able to relate to one another in a civilised way; they are fed up with division and people who preach division"
difficult tbr that to be taken as racial discrimination." Both parties claln ru bp multi-elhnic but lhe poll says neither wili attract 1090 of the "other' race group. An lndo-Guyanese businessman believes that the day after the poll will be "riot day as usua-l' md the laryell' do no]hing . black secfin forees
''Race free zone" si[ms arc elPn ' \rhere and my experience rvas of ;r friendlt: multiracial socjew but Jag.do says: "Election periods tre alwavs !â‚Źtv diYisive. " He is oplmisic ftougl r: Eslwialll with the:oung people. Thet, don'r cary 0re baggage of the past. Peoplc
ae just tired of this mce politics. ' Corhin agrcs: "Bolh pmies moEnise that this countrJ Cannot move
foir.ild without co-operation.
But lheir media cmpaigns shou' tiut it is the politiciors u:ho @'t let go ol thp past. th ich is as hotly contpsted as the present.
Jagedo says: "Ou one big family inciuding all People want decency back in this comtry: They want to be able to relate to one mother iI a clvilised way; ihey are fed up $'ith division md people who preach division. " At a press conferenre across tosr
theme is love.
I heard the same thing. An lndoGuyanese womil ciaimed the PNC was running a "campaign of allinciusiveness". It was "sad that the PPP is stooping to such levels. it is disguting to ali people of Guyma". PNC mtional chair Robert Corbin believes there has been some movement on the race'in-politics issue: "The first corect dereIopment is thal therc is open rccognition that there is a prcblem-" Things can easily be misinterpreted. "Because of our political climate. even if the PPP indulges in political discrimination, it is not
To the PPE Jagan is a Nelsou Mandela-like figure tr'ho endured 28 years in the trilderness. According
to Corbin, the pre-independence loting system prcduced very skewed results and it was the PPP who wouldr't accept democracll There's no agreement on Mmdeia either. Jagedo says: "The one thing that uied us here irl Guyma wtr the struggle of the South A.ftim pmple." Corbin says that the PPP were Iatecomers ro the solidarjty cam paign: "When it became politicaliy nice it was a useful platform for them, but it never gah'anised and united us as it ought to bave done." Whichever partL wins the elcc. tion, there is much work to do. ' Much of Guyana's asset base is
still in state hands and mighi be dif' ficult to sell if the privatisation debate reaches a conclusion. Guyma has baLtite. the raw material of alu-
miniun. Before nationalisation Canadian company ALCAN eml ployed 8 000 people. Nou jobs number in the hundreds and one of the plants is almost closed.
uvana Drociuces the WOrld'S
dustry is on the verge of collapse and sugar production is stil] below 1976
ievels. ihe year the Sugar Cor-
porxrion $as nauonaiised. A suhsidian,of Murray & Roberls (South A-frim) nos'manages it. Goverment supporrers wart suga to stay in "the hand. oI the [orkers but il nepds investnent. "Some of the technology is frorn the 1930s," says Webb. The World Bank ma1 o[fe] lo3ns for modernisation and offshore oil could boost the economy Touism has mlimited
potentiai. Persuadingthis South African to retwn will not be difficult. Gu- anese hospitality is overwheiming. The vasl inrerior has the brearhtaking 223m Kaieteur FalIs, huge rivers and lush forests. Georgetom is a channlng if $mewhat dilapidated old colonial town, the grid pattern foUowing the canals of the diligent Dutch. Dignified unoden houses line the te-lined avenues with distinctive "Demerila shutters" to iet in the cml Atlantic bffize. Unesco is considedng it as a s0rld heritage site. Trcllope had one criticism of the capjtai: "If tirere be a deficiency in Georgetour. il is rn respecL to cabs ... about noonday one's incLhation for walking becomes subdued. Cabs would certaidy be m addition to t}le luuies of the place." Thls is mother mpect of moderrl Guyma that South Africans would recognise: Georgetou,n norr has thouwds of tuis.
The people of Guyana are ready to set aside racial divides, but the politicians won't let go of the past.