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Acting in Our Self-Interest

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 31, 2007

I suppose I can say publicly what Selwyn Ryan (See Express, December 23) can say privately and obliquely when he speaks about the specter of the non-representation of twenty five percent of the population and the impending disenfranchisement of Africans in the political process that is likely to happen here eventually if we do not attend to this situation. Forbes Burnham and the PNC ruled Guyana by fair means and foul although they were fewer in numbers than the PPP until the PPP booted them out never to see power again in the foreseeable future.

Accordingly to Professor Ryan, or at least that is how his thinking goes, it behooves Africans-i.e., the member of the PNM-to find a way to accommodate the thousands of persons who did not receive any seats in our Legislature through our first-past the post system. Therefore, it is in our own best self-interest (and I speak as an African and a member of the PNM) to correct this situation before it deteriorates.

Professor Ryan is correct in his analysis. He recognizes that there is something fundamentally unjust about a system that penalizes large segments of the population who do not reside in an area that contains a densely populated racial group. One is not necessarily blaming the Electoral and Boundaries Commission for this condition; one is simply saying that it is easy to establish what one scholar calls "the tyranny of the majority."

There from, one can argue that this is a political rather than a legal issue. Others may argue that it is a moral issue; one of natural justice and common sense. Whatever side of the fence on which one finds oneself, the question remains: could we, in good conscience, deny representation to one quarter of the population and not realize that at some time in the future it will come back to haunt us; particularly Africans?

As a group, Africans do not possess a great deal of personal wealth. We do not corner the professions and our group interest is not as strong as it ought to be although there are times, such as the last elections, when the tribal instinct tends to triumph. I use the term tribal interest in the same way that Noam Chomsky uses the term, human nature, as a creative impulse inherent in our human-ness.

Placed in such terms, the question comes down to whether we want to create a developed society by 2020; a just and moral society by 2020; or a developed society that both moral and just.

If we say we want to construct a better society, it follows that it is in our interest to construct a society that distributes the power at the legislative level in a better and more just manner. Professor Ryan says the time has come when we must find a way at the highest level of government to give expression to any party that receives one quarter of the votes.

Nor do I think it appropriate for the Prime Minister to treat with the leader of a legitimate party such as a COP in a way that can be interpreted as being demeaning to his status as confirmed by the polls. Much of what cements a democracy and prevents it from solidifying entrenched grievances revolves around the respect we accord to legitimate leaders whether they are in power or not; whether they hold a seat in the Legislature or not. No one can dismiss the achievement of Winston Dookeran outright. He and his followers have a right to be heard in the highest echelons of our government.

In a famous debate with Michel Foucault, Chomsky observed that although we, in the Western world, are not in a position to create a society of "ideal justice" we are certainly in a position to create a better society. He noted: "We are in a position-and we must act as sensitive and responsible human beings in that position-to imagine and move towards the creation of a better society and also a better system of justice." In this day an age it makes no sense to take advantage of one's political adversary.

We need to fix our constitution in this regard. It may mean looking at our constitution and coming up with a specific solution to this problem. It may not mean writing it over as it may require a specific amendment on this ground alone. We may want to agree on a national referendum specifically to deal with this anomaly.

Whatever we do depends on the enlighten leadership of the PNM and the UNC. No party can continue to disrespect the wishes of its populace and get away with it forever. It is in our best self-interest to direct our parties to begin to discuss this important issue. PNMites (read Africans) may enjoy certain advantages today. It is in our own best self interest to ask whether political justice deferred could not come back to haunt us.

We owe Professor Ryan a lot of gratitude for raising such an important question. It is now left to our population to respond.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is

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