Editorial

Ethnic politics going regional?

Sunday, October 07, 2012    

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Ethnic politics going regional?

Politics in the Caribbean has been dominated by a multi-party system which has degenerated, in most countries, into rivalry between two parties hostile to each other.

These parties take the form of aggregations separated by adherence to different political philosophy, traditions and history. Their party affiliation can only be outwardly identified by the colour of the attire they wear to party functions and their loud proclamations of party loyalty. Without either verbal or sartorial identification it is lagely impossible to differentiate party members and supporters.

Where the parties are separated by their membership, consisting almost entirely of one ethnic group, and where the leadership is controlled by one ethnic group who act in the interest of that ethnic group above and beyond the national interest, then what exists is tribal politics.

Critics have often pointed to the politics of Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago as examples.

The two dominant political parties are controlled by people of Indian and African descent. The respective ethnic groups are tribes, ie defined in the dictionary as groups of people united by common ethnicity, culture, customs and traditions.

These two tribes comprise most of the population and when their respective parties are in power they practise the politics of discrimination; directing the benefits of being the Government to their tribe, sometimes to the almost total exclusion of the other tribe.

This form of racism is institutionalised and constitutes the political culture and the practice of governance behind the facade of nondiscrimination. The specious facade is ethnic tokenism, for example, where the executive power is vested in the president then someone from the excluded tribe would be appointed to the purely titular post of prime minister, or one or two cabinet posts would be awarded to persons from the minority tribe.

Tribal politics has, in recent times, become even more fundamentalist by the practice of political ethnic cleansing where all the jobs and contracts are awarded on the basis of ethnicity and not on merit. Political ethnic cleansing in Trinidad and Guyana has gone regional and extra-regional by filling posts in embassies and international organisations with persons who do not have the required technical competence or professional experience.

Political ethnic cleansing at the regional level appears to have reached a new height. The governments of Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana have announced a plan to create a food security facility in food production in Guyana as a way to reduce its dependency on imported food and mitigate the effects of the global escalation of food prices.

We are not aware of this being the start of a genuinely regional plan in which other Caricom countries would be invited to join. If this is to be a form of regional cooperation why not wait until all Caricom members are party to the initiative?

In any case, why “reinvent the wheel” when there is already a Caricom Food and Nutrition Security Policy and Action Plan 2012-16? In 1976 the Caribbean Food Corporation (now absorbed into CARDI) was established in Trinidad. There is also the Jagdeo Initiative on Agriculture.

Tribal politics must not be allowed to mutate into political ethnic cleansing and certainly not to become another centrifugal force contributing to regional fragmentation.

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