Friday, December 23, 2011

Democracy is more than voting and elections: Lessons from Guyana and the Caribbean

In this time of seismic changes internationally, it is becoming clearer each day that new forms of politics are needed to give expression to the deep desire for transformation of this social system that places profits before humans. From Egypt to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the people are finding out that the entire process of voting and elections is stacked against change. After rising up against the Mubarak regime in January and February, the electoral process in Egypt has handed a parliamentary majority to social elements who want to roll back the rights of women. In particular, the Salafists (one of the more conservative branches of the Islamic faith) have risen to second place after the November ‘elections’ in Egypt. Those who were able to use the mosque as a platform for political engagement during the era of repression have emerged with over 60 per cent of the Parliamentary seats, i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists.

The Salafists, whose members follow a strict form of Islam, benefit from support from the most conservative forces in Saudi Arabia.

The other recent lesson has been that of the DRC where the state structures of Mobutism are now occupied by a clique around Joseph Kabila. This society which is larger than the size of Western Europe lacks the infrastructure to organise real elections but the United Nations and all of the top members of the United Nations Security Council supported a farcical procedure where voting was supposed to have taken place. As I wrote this article, the press reports were that Kabila was ahead of Mr Etienne Tshisekedi, the principal contender out of a field of more than nine presidential candidates.

Most of the media reporting on the elections in the DRC focused on logistical questions about how to count the votes of more than 30 million voters in a society where there were more than 18,000 parliamentary candidates competing for 500 parliamentary seats. As in many parts of Africa, politics is now a vocation for those involved in influence-peddling so that many of the politicians are not interested in question of social justice. This does not mean that the people do not want justice.

Today I draw from the lessons of the recent elections and the aftermath in Guyana in South America to draw attention to the clear reality that prolonged political mobilisation is needed for a new form of politics, because, even when people vote, their votes are not respected. The shooting of unarmed protesters in Georgetown Guyana, this week holds a very bad omen for the manipulation of racial divisions so that a discredited leadership can stay in power.


Another front in the global struggle for social justice is now opening in Guyana. Guyana, we should recall, was the home of Walter Rodney, who was assassinated in 1980. Much like the struggles now taking shape in the USA, the Middle East, and other places, workers, students, mothers, fathers, and the population of this South American nation have once again joined the global struggle for political and economic change. Since political independence, Guyana has been overseen by political careerists who manipulate racial insecurity between the Indian and African workers. Read more