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Trinidad and Tobago Ethnic Conflict, Inequality, and Public Sector Governance
Ethnicity, Inequality and Public Sector Governance Series Series Editor: Yusuf Bangura The series on Ethnicity, Inequality and Public Sector Governance is the first major comparative study on ethnic inequalities in the public sector. It examines the complex ways ethnic diversity affects the constitution and management of the public sectors of multiethnic societies under formal democratic rule. Contributors have analyzed the structure of ethnic cleavages, including variations within each group; collected detailed empirical data on four public institutions: civil service, cabinet, parliament and party system; examined the rules that determine selection to these institutions; analyzed whether the distribution of offices is ethnically balanced or uneven, and studied voter preferences in constituting these institutions. They have also examined the potential of ethnic inequalities to generate conflict and the effectiveness of institutions and policy reforms for managing diversity and inequality. The research on which the series is based employs a typology that classifies countries according to their levels of ethnic polarization: those in which one ethnicity is overwhelmingly dominant; those with two or three main groups; and those in which the ethnic structure is fragmented. 15 countries were studied in the project: Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Botswana, Ghana, Fiji, India, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Switzerland, Tanzania and Trinidad and Tobago. The research was funded by the Ford Foundation and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) in addition to UNRISD core funds. Michele Tan, Anna Hemmingson, Carl-Johan Hedberg and Toshihiro Nakamura provided research assistance at various stages of the project. Gabriele Kohler, formerly UNDP Resident Representative in Latvia, and Nils Muiznieks, Minister for Integration in Latvia, supported the international conference held in Riga, Latvia, in which the research findings of the project and their policy implications were discussed. Titles include: Yusuf Bangura (editor) ETHNIC INEQUALITIES AND PUBLIC SECTOR GOVERNANCE Florian Bieber POST-WAR BOSNIA Ethnicity, Inequality and Public Sector Governance Niraja Gopal Jayal REPRESENTING INDIA Ethnic Diversity and the Governance of Public Institutions Ralph Premdas TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO Ethnic Conflict, Inequality and Public Sector Governance Forthcoming titles include: Jon Fraenkel ETHNIC STRUCTURE, PUBLIC SECTOR INEQUALITY AND ELECTORAL ENGINEERING IN FIJI
Onalenna Selowane ETHNICITY, INEQUALITY AND PUBLIC SECTOR GOVERNANCE IN BOTSWANA Karuti Kanyinga ETHNICITY, INEQUALITY AND THE PUBLIC SECTOR IN KENYA Nataljia Kasakina and Vida Beresneviciute CONTINUITY AND CHANGE IN LITHUANIA Ethnicity, Inequality and Governance Abdul Raufu Mustapha ETHNICITY, INEQUALITY AND THE PUBLIC SECTOR IN NIGERIA Artis Pabriks IN DEFIANCE OF FATE Ethnicity, Inequality and Public Sector Governance in Latvia
Ethnicity Inequality and Public Sector Governance Series Series Standing Order ISBN 1–4039–4971–9 You can receive future titles in this series as they are published by placing a standing order. Please contact your bookseller or, in case of difficulty, write to us at the address below with your name and address, the title of the series and one of the ISBNs quoted above. Customer Services Department, Macmillan Distribution Ltd, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS, England
Trinidad and Tobago Ethnic Conflict, Inequality, and Public Sector Governance Ralph Premdas Professor of Public Policy at the University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago
© UNRISD 2007 All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without written permission. No paragraph of this publication may be reproduced, copied or transmitted save with written permission or in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, or under the terms of any licence permitting limited copying issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 4LP. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages. The author has asserted his right to be identiﬁed as the author of this work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. First published 2007 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS and 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010 Companies and representatives throughout the world PALGRAVE MACMILLAN is the global academic imprint of the Palgrave Macmillan division of St. Martin’s Press, LLC and of Palgrave Macmillan Ltd. Macmillan is a registered trademark in the United States, United Kingdom and other countries. Palgrave is a registered trademark in the European Union and other countries. ISBN-13: 9780230521827 hardback ISBN-10: 0230521827 hardback This book is printed on paper suitable for recycling and made from fully managed and sustained forest sources. Logging, pulping and manufacturing processes are expected to conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 09 08 07 Printed and bound in Great Britain by Antony Rowe Ltd, Chippenham and Eastbourne
List of Tables
1 Ethnicity, Inequality and Conflict: An Introduction
2 The Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago: Historical and Constitutional Evolution
3 Struggles over the Distribution of Posts in the Public Service, Private Sector, Cabinet, Parliament and Presidency
4 Identity Politics: Struggles over Symbols, Culture and History
5 Partisan Politics, Electoral Systems and Ethnic Strife
6 Modes and Mechanisms of Inter-Ethnic Conflict Management
List of Tables 1.1 2.1 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4
3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 3.10
3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 6.1
Ethnic groups and population shares Population of Trinidad and Tobago by race, 1946 Appointments to posts in the public service, 1981–1991 Ethnic allocations in the public service 1990 (percentages) Ethnic composition of clerical class (all grades), February 1993 Ethnic representation in the public service. Senior administrative posts (Administrative Officers IV and V), 1992 (percentages) Ethnic distribution of posts, 1970–1992 (percentages) Promotions in the public service, 1981–1991 Temporary appointments to the public service, 1981–1991 Acting appointments in the public service, 1981–1991 Comparative diversity in selected public enterprises, 1993 Number of Trinidad and Tobago nationals receiving scholarship and advanced training awards, by ethnicity and field of study Trinidad and Tobago 1990 Defence Force (percentages) Trinidad and Tobago 1992 Police Service (percentages) Distribution of ethnic groups in private, public and self-employed sectors Distribution of ethnic groups in economic sectors Partisan ethnic composition of parliament over ten general elections Ethnicity and national awards
18 44 55 55 55
56 56 57 57 58 59
60 60 61 64 68 71 149
Foreword Ethnic inequalities in the public institutions of multi-ethnic societies constitute one of the most intractable problems of our time. The issue is often linked to inter-group perceptions of comparative endowments and advantages, which often turn on broader interrogations regarding the terms of citizenship and participation enjoyed by different groups in the state. The governmental apparatus of the state itself has become a major site of inter-ethnic rivalry, pointing especially to access to jobs. In many developing countries, the government is often the largest employer. Government jobs are prized not only because they award stable salaries, but also because they bring much prestige to a communal group and facilitate access to services. How these jobs are allocated has emerged as a persistent problem in inter-ethnic relations. Implicated are vexing issues of inequality, discrimination and favouritism. These issues raise a fundamental question of how to develop inclusionary democratic institutions in environments of ethnic diversity. Crafting inclusionary and equitable democratic institutions is perhaps the most challenging problem of governance in multi-ethnic societies today. In this book, Ralph Premdas examines these issues as they relate to Trinidad and Tobago, which is characterized by multiple fissures along the axes of race, religion, language, region and values. As he points out, an ethnic division of labour tends to pervade Trinidad’s labour market, with Afro-Creoles found mainly in the Public Service, professions and oil industries, and Indians in the sugar sector and business. The ethnic conflict between the two main communities has focused on issues of equality and distributive justice, specifically revolving around rival claims over the distribution of material resources, such as jobs, state projects and subsidies. Premdas offers a systematic treatment of the issue of ethnic inequality in both the public and private sectors. Because the issue of cultural recognition is often bound up with the problem of material inequality, he also devotes a significant part of the book to culture and identity politics. How multi-ethnic states have managed the issue of distributive justice over both material and symbolic goods is salient for the development of these states as viable, just and stable polities. Premdas provides an extended discourse on the modes and strategies of managing the country’s communal and inter-ethnic conflict vii
that the disparities in resource allocation and symbolic recognition tend to engender. The book highlights the need to rethink the institutions and policies that have informed competitive politics, access to public institutions, and symbolic recognition of cultures in the public sphere. The ‘firstpast-the-post’ electoral system confers enormous advantages to winners. In a situation where the two main ethnic groups are roughly equal in size, only a small number of constituencies and votes often divide winners from losers. However, since the main parties draw their core support from specific ethnic groups, the electoral system has served to reinforce the ethnic divisions. It is not surprising that the composition of governments has tended to be heavily skewed in favour of the ethnic group perceived as the electoral base of the winning party. Even though each party often attempts to heal the wounds by appointing to government individuals from other groups, these measures have not provided substantive guarantees against exclusion. The lessons from Trinidad and Tobago should be important to policy makers concerned about conflict management, especially in equi-bipolar societies where groups are likely to see conflicts and resource allocation in zero-sum terms. Fortunately, Trinidad and Tobago has so far avoided the type of violence that often marks the politics of societies with bipolar ethnic structures. UNRISD is grateful to the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) and the Ford Foundation for their financial support for this research. As is the case with all UNRISD projects, work on this project would not have been possible without the core funding provided by the governments of Denmark, Finland, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. THANDIKA MKANDAWIRE DIRECTOR
Preface The research that led to this book was part of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) project on Ethnic Structure, Inequality Governance of the Public Sector. It was undertaken while I was teaching at the University of the West Indies at St Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago. Several persons assisted me as I attempted to assemble an enormous amount of data from a wide variety of sources. Among these are several of my doctoral students, including Wendy Williams, Rishi Maharaj, Kerry Sumesar Rai, and Wendy Quamina York. Outside of the Caribbean, I must thank the sterling support from the UNRISD staff in Geneva and in particular the project’s leader, Yusuf Bangura. The idea of inequality bound up in ethnic competition and conflict is a perennial problem in the Third World. In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, the issue is so salient that it permeates all aspects of national discourse, often threatening to tear the society apart at its ethnic seams. To document the connection between ethnic identity and distributive justice is difficult since accurate data are hard to come by. Also, because it is a sensitive issue, most persons would prefer not to discuss it. I was very fortunate that the Centre for Ethnic Studies in Trinidad, now defunct, had undertaken the task of charting employment patterns along an ethnic axis in both the public and private sectors and successfully completed it. We rely on their report for much of the data on the material distribution of job recruitment and promotion in the apparatus of the government. However, the distribution and inequality problem is not confined to material and measurable things alone, but also to cultural and symbolic goods. This takes the researcher into a diffuse and highly subjective area of exploration in which deep familiarity with the cultural context of the state is an essential prerequisite for assembling and interpreting the data. I had lived in Trinidad and Tobago for some 15 years and this assisted me immensely in considering the cultural and symbolic aspect of the research problem. After all is said and done, the remaining challenge relates to finding solutions to manage the strife of inequality and ethnicity that has bedevilled the society. I was assisted in this task by my previous research work with UNRISD when a group of us dealt with mechanisms of ethnic conflict management about 15 years ago. Overall, ix
the project was very engaging and I benefited from the conferences where I was able to witness the efforts of others considering their own societies in terms of the interplay of ethnic identity and inequality. RALPH PREMDAS UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES ST AUGUSTINE, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Series Preface UNRISD is an autonomous agency engaging in multidisciplinary research on the social dimensions of contemporary problems affecting development. Its work is guided by the conviction that, for effective development policies to be formulated, an understanding of the social and political context is crucial. The Institute attempts to provide governments, development agencies, grassroots organizations and scholars with a better understanding of how development policies and processes of economic, social and environmental change affect different social groups. Working through an extensive network of national research centres, UNRISD aims to promote original research and strengthen research capacity in developing countries. Current research programmes include: Social Policy and Development; Democracy, Governance and Well-Being; Markets, Business and Regulation; Civil Society and Social Movements; Identities, Conflict and Cohesion; and Gender and Development.
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1 Ethnicity, Inequality and Conflict: An Introduction
This book examines ethnic inequalities in the public institutions of governance in Trinidad and Tobago (hereafter Trinidad) as well as the strategies for managing the communal and inter-ethnic conflicts that such inequalities tend to engender. In what follows, several concepts and themes assume salience: the multi-ethnic state; the ethnic phenomenon; distributive justice and inequality; adaptation of political structures and institutions in democratic governance; the role of symbols of recognition in representation; and strategies of conflict management (power sharing; resource allocation; public policy, etc.). In this introductory part of the book, we explore these ideas and their importance. The overall context is the multi-ethnic condition, which today typifies the social and cultural composition of the contemporary state in both developed and underdeveloped countries, but with the cleavages being found to be more extensive, exclusive, and deeper in the latter. Of the around 200 sovereign states in the world, few are ethnically homogenous; nearly all bear the mark of ethnic and cultural heterogeneity. The structure of this pluralism varies considerably in terms of the number of ethnic communities, their respective sizes, the depth of their differences and similarities, and histories of inter-communal relations. Among these states, it has been estimated that there are about 4,000 ethno-cultural entities; 40 per cent of all of the states contain five or more such communities; less than a third have ethnic majorities; some, such as Nigeria and India, possess over one hundred ethnic groups; others, such as Guyana, Belgium, Northern Ireland, Trinidad and Fiji, are ethnically bipolar. In many of these instances, the ethnic pluralism was created recently by the processes of colonialism. The relations between these ethnic segments have varied from domination and genocide to different 1
2 Trinidad and Tobago
levels of accommodation and sharing. Some ethno-national groups seek accommodation in internal autonomy within a diversified, but extensively decentralized state, while others attempt to dismember the state as an authentic vessel of belonging, demanding a separate sovereign territorial sanctuary on the grounds of security and community. By itself, all of this is not particularly worrisome, apart from the fact that from cultural pluralism, encapsulated in both unitary and federal states, has emerged a large degree of internal strife that have often spilled over borders, destabilized international peace and security, and created several costly and cruel humanitarian crises. Ethno-national strife has featured as the most frequent source of open armed conflict in recent years, requiring the deployment of over 70,000 UN peacekeepers costing more than $4 billion annually to maintain (Brown 1996). Refugee flows have reached about 15 million externally and about 25 million internally most associated in one way or another with ethno-national conflicts. The crux of the problem pertains to the establishment of just and democratic governments in which are implicated vexing issues of inequality and discrimination stemming from skewed state policies aimed at the allocation of material resources and symbolic recognition. What is this ethnic phenomenon that has imparted both positively and negatively community and catastrophe respectively to the contemporary world? Ethnicity features as a critical concept in this work, pervading practically every aspect of the discourse. It may be defined as collective group consciousness that imparts a sense of belonging derived from membership in a community bound putatively by common descent and culture (Eriksen 1993; Smith 1990; Gellner 1983; Hayes 1962; van den Berghe 1991; Hobsbawm 1990). Among many other groups in which one may participate and simultaneously share multiple identities, the ethnic group is distinguished as a special sort of community, comprehensive in scope and compelling in allegiance, that confers gratification attending to an inner demand of a deeply embedded need for meaning and belonging. Ethnic membership serves as a badge of identity and tends to be expressed institutionally in an extended kinship network (Horowitz 1985). In addition to its symbolic role in conferring individual and collective gratification, ethnic identity serves as a security blanket in numbers and, consequently, a buffer against uncertainty and adversity. In this regard, ethnic identity as a subjective link becomes a resource that is mobilized to serve instrumental needs in contact and competition with other groups in accessing jobs and opportunities (Horowitz 1985; Premdas 1993a: 1–22).
Identity politics usually entails a zero-sum struggle in which the claims of one group, frequently expressed in terms of cultural symbols, can only be met by a corresponding loss of face as well as relinquishing of space and privileges of other competing communities. Assertion of a separate and unique cultural identity in contest with other communities has led to a system of identity politics marked by a positioning for privileges. In this context of group rivalry for resources, recognition and influence, ethno-cultural communities and their symbolic manifestations have emerged not as idle or innocent decorative social constructs in a multicultural landscape. Rather, given the arena of deeply divided plural societies, such as in Trinidad and numerous other places in the world, they have been readily transformed into emotively charged groups that are manipulated for narrow political ends, possessing the potential for disrupting and perhaps damaging irrevocably the social order. The issue of equality and inequality in the context of inter-ethnic rivalry under the pervasive condition of multi-ethnicity in the contemporary state is the pivotal point that runs through the corpus of this book. In common with other multi-ethnic states of the Third World, Trinidad has a problem of inequality in resource allocation and income distribution and it is this issue of resource allocation in ethnically and racially divided states that most often bedevils inter-group relations, becoming a perennial problem in finding a formula for intercommunal accommodation. Generally, resource allocation throws up issues regarding equality and distributive justice, involving claims and counterclaims over the equitable distribution of material resources such as public jobs, state projects and subsidies, as well as symbolic recognition (Despres 1975; Cohen 1974; Premdas 1989). The word ‘equality’ can, however, be the source of much controversy and ambiguity. Hence, Michael Walzer has referred to the idea of equality as a ‘procrustean bed’, a phenomenon of ‘false appearances’ (Walzer 1983: xii). It is an intensely contested idea evoking a variety of meanings and practices which require some exploration so that its specific application is clarified in this work (Pojman and Westmoreland 1997; Clayton and Williams 2000; Mason 1998). Equality is a multifaceted and multidimensional concept, with many criteria for measuring its content and form, sometimes pointing in inconsistent and contradictory directions, but always fashioned in its particularity in terms of the user’s self interest and purpose (Phillips 1999). It is frequently taken as an integral part of, if not conflated with, another ambiguous and highly charged term, justice (Rawls 2001;
4 Trinidad and Tobago
Campbell 2000; Ryan 1993; Miller 2000). It has been invoked by practically every revolutionary or reformist social movement seeking an end to exploitation and oppression as emblematically represented by the clarion call of the French Revolution: ‘liberté, egalité, et fraternite’. Its pervasive usage, however, is belied by its lack of self-evident clarity and consensus. Whatever it designates, it clearly requires specification. For some, equality commands the creation of radical condition of levelling, a flattening of the pyramid of resource endowment, privilege and social asymmetry, so that everyone is the same. Many Marxists espouse this homogenous condition, arguing that the condition of inequality resides within the overall organization of society itself, pointing specifically to the mode of production and property relations. A critical precondition of this variant of equality therefore entails the abolition of private property. Hence Marxists tend to dismiss the preoccupation with the various formulas for the settlement of rival claims over the material distribution of ownership of property and wealth and all the associated and elaborate ‘ritual claims’ for redress, deeming all of these activities to be a bourgeois exercises and calling instead for a radical restructuring of society to achieve justice, equality, and the realization of full human potential. Diametrically opposed to this view are those who argue against the socialization of private property and the interventionist role of the state as the means towards equality, pointing instead to another doctrinaire perspective in the workings of the market – the invisible hand of the market – as being best equipped to advance the ideals of equality and just distribution (Nozick 1973). Clearly, each of these perspectives has difficulties, inadequacies, and contradictions so that other schemes of egalitarianism have been proposed. A couple of these alternative ideas will illustrate this point. From one point of view, equality simply refers to sufficiency so that everyone, without exception, has enough to meet his or her basic needs (Sen 1992; Phillips 1999). In this instance, a humanitarian vein responds to the social imperative of eliminating poverty by providing minimum needs universally through public policy that establishes a welfare state (Rawls 2001). Another position argues for a moral dimension in egalitarian order under which everyone is treated with equal respect in a sort of public egalitarianism attested to by the salience of courtesy and public sensitivity in human relationships ‘rather than the details of the counting house’ (Kymlicka 2002). These are just some examples of the multifarious definitions and applications of claims for equality. For our purposes, however, while aspects of these ideas of equality are
valuable, we have stressed dimensions of the equality concept that are most pertinent to our purpose. We shall consider these in the next section. First of all, and perhaps the most common theme that is embedded in the discourse on equality, is the distributive idea. As Waltzer remarked: ‘Human society is a distributive community we come together to share, divide, and exchange’ (Walzer 1983: 3). Distribution most often refers to a demand for the equal allocation of both material and symbolic goods in society, and in the context of inter-ethnic competition and conflict, it usually relates to groups rather than to individuals. Enclosed within this distributive paradigm are predominantly two more specific approaches and an implicit formula for assigning shares. One of these is concerned only with the distribution of ‘outcomes’ of whatever is produced or whatever is at stake regardless of the contribution of labour or capital towards the input that created this good (Rawls 2001). This ‘outcomes’ approach to the problem of equality has been widely criticized for creating paternalism, dependency and free riders, giving rise to an alternative method in the distribution of the final product or good. In this alternative way, what one gets is closely related to what one contributes, so that input and output are causally connected (Nozick 1973). This idea of equality is often referred to as ‘equity’, stressing the ratio of input to output, rendering the application of this formula easy and uncontroversial only where the claims are to material goods that can be quantified and measured. By contrast, when the items to be distributed are non-material and symbolic, this tends to make the process of allocation a highly subjective and controversial one. Many movements demanding ‘equity’ – such as those by minorities and women who have experienced discrimination – have often simply demanded redress in ‘equity’, calling for ‘equal pay for equal work’. However, for some discriminated and oppressed groups that have been marginalized historically, the demand for ‘equity’ has gone beyond the specific formula of calculating input/output relations in the production and distribution of material goods and has now included past injury and injustices requiring special compensatory reward. Labelled ‘affirmative action’, the remedy sought usually includes quotas and special provisions instituted to bring a disproportionate number of the victims into employment and other benefits. This is a sort of rectificatory justice to redress historic wrongs, creating what is in effect a system of ‘reverse discrimination’ with the long-term aim of achieving a more equal society. In this work, the ideas of ‘affirmative action’, ‘equity’, and ‘reverse discrimination’ in establishing a more
6 Trinidad and Tobago
equal and just society are now only beginning to surface in Trinidad as part of the political discourse. We shall take note of them in the text when the occasion arises. Related to equality conceived as ‘equity’ in the form of a ratio of ‘equal pay for equal work’ is the idea of ‘equal opportunity’ in the demand for justice. The ‘equal opportunity’ rhetoric is essentially a critique that focuses on alleged discrimination in access to jobs and promotions, particularly in the public sector but also in the private. This ‘equal opportunity’ perspective of the demand for equality is not an ‘outcomes’oriented demand in creating an egalitarian order. It is not preoccupied with apportioning shares after the production process is completed, but in creating a non-discriminatory gender- and ethnicity-neutral environment in accessing jobs and obtaining promotions and other goods. In other words, it is not interested in equality in distribution, but only in creating a ‘level playing field’ centring on equal opportunity for positions. This perspective of equality, while serving to provide equal opportunity for employment and promotions, may well create a very unequal society in terms of how the outcomes in the production process are distributed. In this book, in the Trinidad context, most of the demands for equality by the aggrieved ethnic communities are about equality of opportunity, free from arbitrary ethnic discrimination in obtaining jobs in the public service and the private sector. Another perspective of equality that is highly pertinent to this work addresses the perception of comparative collective shares and benefits that the communal groups in the culturally plural society enjoy relative to each other. In practical terms in these multi-ethnic states, the problem of inequality occurs in the theatre of inter-ethnic group competition over the distribution of material goods, but not restricted to it. The incidence of inequality assumes a particularly piquant and penetrating quality where comparison engages the images and stereotypes of rival ethno-cultural communities in the same state. It is in this comparison factor probably more than anything else that resides the explosive dimension of the unequal distribution of resources and recognition. It is therefore necessary to consider, however briefly, how this comparison factor operates in competitive ethnic group behaviour. The role of the comparison factor in inter-ethnic relations has been usefully located within what social psychologists call ‘social identity theory’. In this explanation, the theory begins by affirming the need of the human creature and an ethnic community for a distinctive positive social identity in a process of social differentiation and categorization (Taylor and Moghaddam 1994: 95–118). Accordingly, society is perceived as a
place of conflict rather than cohesion. The theory attempts to explain inter-group behaviour through psychological processes such as identification, social comparison, and the need for distinctiveness. Social psychologists Taylor and Moghaddam note the significance of this pattern of behaviour for inter-ethnic group relations underscoring the importance of comparison in this process: ‘Since only through social comparison is social identity meaningful, it is the relative position of groups that is important. Therefore, competition and conflict are seen as essential aspect of the inter-group situation’ (Taylor and Moghaddam 1994: 95–118). In this regard, Henry Tajfel pointed to the propensity of group loyalty to be sustained intensely and irrationally not for ‘greater profit in absolute terms’ but in order ‘to achieve relatively higher profit for members of their in-group as compared with members of the out-group’ (Tajfel 1974). In other words, it is not important that a group sees in rational terms that its behaviour in a conflict is inimical to its interests; what is more salient is that its adversary should not gain any advantage. Many of the claims for recognition and equity seem to be elucidated by this dynamic. Often occurring in a context where the conflicting groups share the same territorial state and in which a particular distribution of statuses and resources prevail, the struggle pivots around the unwillingness of one party to permit the other to profit from its actions. The comparison factor assumes a logic of its own, as if infused by jealousy, and wreaks havoc and harm on all parties in a policy of mutual denial. It is this comparison factor that in many ways underlies the claims of ethnic communities for recognition in a policy regime of multiculturalism (Premdas 1997a, 1997b). Another perspective of the equality concept that will be significant in this work but is not related to the ‘outcomes’, ‘equal opportunity’ or ‘communal comparison’ approaches considers it more broadly from the perspective of institutions. In this view, beyond material distribution, equality and justice can be conceived as encompassing a wider set of features referring to the structural dimensions of society, such as the institutions of decision making, property relations, cultural imperialism, patriarchal family patterns, social rules, exploitation, powerless and marginalization in various forms, and so on. In this regard, equality and justice may be conceived as being shaped by certain institutions, practices, and processes. Iris Marion Young underscored this argument thus: philosophical theories of justice tend to restrict the meaning of social justice to morally proper distribution of benefits and burdens
8 Trinidad and Tobago
among society’s members. While distributive issues are crucial to a satisfactory conception of justice, it is a mistake to reduce social justice to distribution. I find two problems with the distributive paradigm. First, it tends to focus thinking about social justice on the allocation of material goods such as things, resources, income, and wealth, or on the distribution of social positions, especially jobs. The focus tends to ignore the social structure and institutional context that often help determine distributive patterns (such as) decision making power and procedures, division of labour and culture. (Young 1990: 15) Equally significant, the distributive model of equality and justice has tended to privilege an individualistic ontology, targeting individuals as its subject of interest to the neglect of groups and collective movements. Many claims for equality and justice today are advanced by social movements representing collective claims for rights and redress for alleged discrimination, repression and exploitation. Claims for group rights have come forcefully from the feminist movement as well as environmentalists, indigenous peoples, and ethnic and racial minorities. While their grievances can often be measured in terms of individual injury, more often it is derived from institutional factors related to membership of a group. In this case, it is clear that individualistic-oriented systems of justice are inadequate in offering remedies. Young argued: Most theorists take it as given that justice is about distribution. The paradigm assumes a single model of all analyses of justice: all situations in which justice is at issue are analogous to the situations of persons dividing a stock of goods and comparing the size of the portions individuals have. Such a model implicitly assumes that individuals and other agents lie as nodes, points in the social field, among whom smaller or larger bundles of social goods are assigned. (ibid., p. 18) This critique of the distributive paradigm of equality and justice is necessary since a great part of this work delves into material distributive representation in the public and private sectors of Trinidad as well as into issues of symbolic recognition. Most of the text enters into detailed analysis of these aspects of the problem of inequality. However, in the final chapter, which deals with modes of managing the ethnic malaise and conflict in Trinidad and similar multi-ethnic societies, both the structural features of the society and also the historical and institutional
factors are examined. The significance of noting the role of historical and institutional structures in the distribution of resources and symbols of recognition is to move away from assigning any direct or indirect guilt or blame for injustices to any particular ethnic community. Much of what has occurred in Trinidad in the distribution of benefits and burdens stemmed from the preceding colonial experience and the institutions that were bequeathed at independence. In examining the evidence about the distribution of material goods and symbols of recognition, one of the two major communities may appear consistently as the advantaged beneficiary of the distribution process while the other is the victim. It may also appear that the distress of one community was caused by the deliberate action of the other. Considering just the end-state in the distribution of benefits and burdens can easily slip into an invidious game of racial and ethnic finger pointing. It is important, therefore, that the structural and historical context be situated as a major part in the explanation of the distributive effects in Trinidad. No ethnic community as a community stands as the explanation of the inequities that have come to be represented in the contemporary public institutions of governance in Trinidad. The final concept of equality that will be explored in this work refers to ‘sectoral balance’. This engages with the idea that a type of equality is achieved where different ethnic communities dominate different sectors of the economy and society. The idea of balance is found in several multi-ethnic states, including Fiji and Malaysia. In this practice of ‘balance’, there is an informal agreement that is not accompanied by written laws or compromises in sharing the resources of the state or in sharing power equally. In Fiji, it was embedded in Fiji’s multi-ethnic politics by practice whereby sectoral pre-eminence was distributed as follows (Premdas 1993b): (i) The Fijians controlled the government, in particular, the Prime Minister’s Office. They also owned 83 per cent of all the land; (ii) the Indians dominated the sugar industry as well as most of the small and medium-sized businesses; and (iii) the Europeans owned the very large businesses, such as banks, hotels, factories, and so on. This distributive sectoral ‘balance’ was not a rigid formula for the sharing of resources in all its details. Room existed for one ethnic group to penetrate and participate another group’s domain to a small extent. For instance, the government used subsidies to encourage the entry of Fijians into businesses, while the prime minister, an indigenous Fijian, deliberately appointed several Indians to his Cabinet. Fijians leased their land to Indians and others for the production of sugar, which was the largest export crop. In the end, this limited ‘mix’ had moderated
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the sharp edges and virtual monopoly rights in the sectoral division of labour that inhered in the ‘balancing’ concept. Clearly, a ‘balance’ assumes asymmetrical areas of dominance. In an inter-dependent order, each group requires the input of the other group to survive and maintain its standard of living. Each group becomes its brother’s keeper in a mundane, practical, self-interested sense. For sometime until the latter part of the twentieth century, there was a de facto ‘balance’ in the sectoral dominance of the political and executive parts of the government of Trinidad by Afro-Creoles and of the sugar industry and small commercial businesses by Indians. As pointed out earlier, the personnel in the government bureaucracy has tended to be skewed in favor of the Afro-Creole community – in part for historical reasons. In the colonial society, persons of African descent availed themselves of an Anglicized missionary education, unlike Asian Indians, who feared religious conversion. The result was the dominance of the public bureaucracy by one community, which came to regard it as its own preserve (Premdas 1995). Whatever the reasons for the imbalance, they are deemed by the Afro-Creole community adequate to justify claims of a ‘historic right’ to over-representation in maintaining the skewed ethnic distribution in the public service. In turn, this fuels inter-ethnic struggles over counterclaims for ‘equity’ defined as proportionately greater representation by the disadvantaged community. The arguments go back and forth and feed into the view that ethnic dominance in certain sectors is consistent with the idea of equality. Hence, whenever the issue of inter-communal equality arises in Trinidad, there is recurrent talk of asymmetrical sectoral ‘balance’ often found in the subtext of many discourses on distributive justice. Afro-Creoles may feel justified in their predominance in the public service as a legitimate way of offsetting Indian predominance in the business sector. This is a claim that affirms the existence of the balancing concept in practice to impart and justify some sense of equality between the major ethnic communities. Overall, the issue of inequality derived from inter-group perceptions of comparative endowments often turns on broader interrogations regarding the terms of citizenship and participation in the state. Trinidad shares with other multi-ethnic states of the Third World the problem of ethnic inequality, which has evolved into a perennial problem in finding a formula for inter-communal accommodation. However, the issue tends to take concrete form, focusing as it does on claims over the distribution of material resources such as public jobs, state projects and subsidies (Despres 1975; Cohen 1974; Premdas 1989). In Trinidad and in other colonially structured plural societies, such resources tend
to be dominated in particular economic sectors by the different ethnic segments in the plural society. At the level of the public sector, especially in respect of public employment and contracts, the problem of inter-ethnic rivalry derives indirectly from zero-sum competitive majoritarian politics, which confer most benefits and privileges to electoral winners in an invidious game of ‘winner-takes-all’. In Trinidad, as in most of the Third World, where the government is the largest employer, competition for government jobs has been a characteristically persistent problem in inter-ethnic relations. Thus, the crux of the problem and the thrust of the solution are erected on the assumption that inter-ethnic strife is ultimately grounded on differences over material interests that are amenable to rational pragmatic negotiated solutions. This position reduces the affirmation of the cultural symbols of rival ethnic communities to ‘masks of confrontation’ and a calculated strategy aimed at maximizing material gains (Vincent 1974: 375–9). It assumes that through rational discourse a formula for equity can be found in the fair distribution of material resources. Crafting such a magical formula, however, tends to run counter to an array of incommensurable and indivisible social and cultural symbols which wrap, enclose and define the identity of the groups in conflict. Both material claims and cultural symbols must enter any acceptable solution thereby rendering compromises difficult if not impossible. In this regard, the issue of distributive justice has raised critical questions regarding whether or not material distribution should be the only criterion in evaluating equality and justice. Many conflicts between ethno-cultural communities occur first at the level of symbols. Some symbols are more conspicuous than others and are often drawn into contestations with other groups. Struggles have occurred over flags, anthems, attire, etc. in which contestants define themselves around a set of exclusive symbols. The quest in these contests may be over status, recognition, resources, or power, but they are always wrapped around distinctive cultural symbols and claims. In the use of symbols, a particular mode of contest is engaged of an uncompromising nature. Unlike material good, symbols are not divisible objects and are almost always anointed in the sensitive self-definition of a group. Symbolic claims therefore carry the entirety of the moral and spiritual qualities that a society assigns to its dignity and destiny. As collective artifacts and idiosyncratic behaviour traits, symbols carry the burden of representing the whole of a community’s beliefs and interests. To insult symbolically one of its members is to insult all. When struggles occur between ethno-cultural communities, symbols serve as the ready swords that are
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crossed. To wound or slay an ethnic enemy is most profoundly to insult or disrespect or desecrate its symbols. It is an act of collective sacrilege, the same as stomping on sacred territory. It incurs unrestrained wrath, a sort of fury that fires all of the being, individually and collectively. Yet symbols are as easily used as inter-cultural insults as they are objected to furiously by the same offenders. They impart hurt easily and incur just as quickly an intemperate response. Defacing cultural symbols and hurling innuendoes are the easiest way to win eternal enemies. They are not easily forgotten. The culturally oppressed carry the wrong against them deep in their myths and traditions and generations relive the grievances as part of their self-definition in ritual condemnation of the evil ‘other’. They await their time of revenge while their hearts burn on the fuel of ritualized and cultivated hate. The point about this extended comment on the dynamics of cultural symbolism and identity theory is to show that the claims of equity in resolving ethnic strife are not merely about material goods that can be easily and rationally resolved. Within the elegant mathematical formulae in proportionately distributing shares a wider set of psychological, symbolic and cultural issues are implicated, underscoring the salient fact that equity is really an incommensurable subjective claim wrapped in the peculiar subtleties and idiosyncrasies of communal identity and dignity. Indeed, all issues such as the claims and counterclaims regarding perceived inequality, cultural recognition, sectoral dominance, alleged exploitation, uneven regional development and so on are directly or indirectly wrapped and charged in the cultural symbolism of a society entailing a different order of discourse. In effect, mathematical formulae in the allocation of material resources are a sort of surface solution with the capability of resolving some self-evident contentious items over the short term. Sooner or later, the cultural forms that suffuse and impart meaning to the life, dignity, and identity of a community tend to seek ‘more equitable’ solutions. If power and material resources are the end point of the ethnic competition, then cultural symbols surround, suffuse and anoint the victors. In the old colonial script, in regard to Trinidad, the maintenance of British control of the levers of power and resources of the state was anointed and legitimated through their hegemonic cultural symbols and narratives. Struggles over culture and symbols then are not peripheral to power and identity but very much at the heart of it. This brings us to the final salient variable in this work dealing with the institutions of democratic governance. In the typical Third World environment, such as is found in Trinidad and Tobago, multiple fundamental
fissures exist along the axes of race, religion, language, region, values etc. so that the state is only a legal artefact under which resides a multiplicity of sociological nations, each with its own institutions and practices. The most challenging problem facing governance today is how to discover and adapt democratic principles and institutions to these environments. Consequently, in adopting a democratic system, as Yusuf Bangura argued, ‘the need is to craft institutions that manage plurality within competitive politics rather than adopting or resorting to the much discredited zero or one party frameworks of the 1970s and the 1980s’ (Bangura 2001: 6). It is essential to locate the current quest for democratic governance in multi-ethnic societies, most of which are located in the less developed countries, within the larger ongoing process of post-colonial experiments for well-being, security and justice. In the more than half a century since the end of the Second World War, worldwide decolonization in the Third World has witnessed the creation of over one hundred new independent sovereign states. As what has been conceived as ‘Three Waves’ of tectonic change, most of the new states have since progressed from initial constitutional government, to socialist experiments, to authoritarian one-party and military regimes culminating with a new phase of democratic transition (Huntington 1991; Young 1999: 64–99). The Sub-Saharan African experience illustrates aspects of these transformations as Michael Bratton and Nicholas van de Walle describe:
At the turn of the decade (late 1980s), the predominant types of regime in Africa were military oligarchies, civilian one-party systems, or hybrids of the two. The most common institutional formation was a plebiscitary system in which a personalistic leader, who had come to power by a military coup, had constructed a single ruling party that periodically ratified its limited political legitimacy through ritualistic, non-competitive elections. In 1989, 29 African countries were governed under some kind of one-party constitution, and oneparty rule seemed entrenched as the modal form of governance in Africa; only 11 African countries were ruled directly by the military without the pretence of political party institutions. (Bratton and de Walle 1998: 8). This record changed dramatically after 1990. In the five years that followed, the number of African countries holding competitive legislative elections more than quadrupled to 38 out of a total of 47 countries in the sub-Saharan region. (ibid., p. 2)
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Only three of Africa’s states – Botswana, Mauritius, and Gambia – have survived as democracies since independence, the others being ‘characterized as neopatrimonial because of the degree to which a single domineering leader personified and in effect owned the political system’ (Diamond and Plattner 1999: x). Under pressure from the international financial institutions, the strategy of transforming the inefficient authoritarian states initially stressed a programme of structural adjustment, which over the course of a decade proved generally ineffective. Then especially with the publication of the World Bank’s The State in a Changing World, a new focus was identified in governance and political institutions as the key variable for successful change as Yusuf Bangura commented: During the 1980s, there was much resistance in Africa, and indeed elsewhere, to this global trend in market-based policy-making, but by the 1990s virtually every African country had accepted, even if reluctantly, the logic of market liberalization and the policy prescriptions of the multilateral economic institutions. However, the poor record of policy implementation and macro-economic indicators in most countries convinced the lending agencies and bilateral donors that the reform agenda in Africa should not just focus on price liberalization and stability. It should also address institutional or governance reforms that can guarantee the rule of law, secure property rights, promote transparency and curb corruption. (Bangura 2001: 1) The mantra of change has now focused on how to engineer appropriate institutions of democracy, holding a promise of deliverance from poverty, inequality, and authoritarianism. While democracy may minimally entail the challenge of constructing participatory systems of governing, it has tended to derive its institutional forms from the peculiar social structures and histories of western states. In any discussion of the phenomenon, it is important to remember that ‘Western Democracy’ has flowered and flourished on the soil of relatively integrated societies where many of the fundamental issues around the social order had long been settled and embedded in indigenous cultural habits and practices. In orders to be legitimate and win widespread citizenship allegiance, governance must be inclusive in a system of sharing power at all levels of government, including cabinet, parliament, the public bureaucracy, local and regional authorities and other bodies. In a communally divided society lacking shared beliefs and identities, all political structures, however
neutrally designed, tend to be tainted and imbued with suspect ethnic motifs and interests. The contemporary independent state of Trinidad is now caught up in an inter-ethnic struggle for ascendancy between Afro- and IndoTrinidadians that at one level seems to be more about material resources than about cultural and symbolic forms. As is the case in other polyethnic states around the world, very often, the aspect of inter-ethnic rivalry that seemingly defines and underlies the conflict and bedevils accommodation points to claims over the distribution of material resources such as public jobs, state projects and subsidies, and, in general, to issues regarding equity and distributive justice mainly of material possessions (Despres 1975; Couglan and Samarsinghe 1991; Premdas 1989). This is the case because the escalation of ethnicity as a problematic political force is most likely to occur in plural societies where a substantial order of inequality exists among ethnic populations in respect to entitlements, opportunities, and access to material resources and where the state has become the principal arbiter of economic well-being. Ethnic conflict has been most rampant in the Third World where typically the state continues to be the principal actor as far as economic development and the economy are concerned (Worsley 1984: 235–95; O’Brien 1986; Nash 1990; Breuilly 1993). Whatever the case, few would deny the linkage between ethnic tensions and economic conditions. As often occurs in colonially restructured plural societies such as Trinidad and Tobago, such resources and economic sectors tend to be dominated by different ethnic groups. Often the personnel in a government bureaucracy is skewed in favour of a particular group or ethnic community vis-à-vis the colonial state because of historical reasons such as location, Christianization, and so on. At the public level, especially in respect of public employment and contracts, the problem derives in some cases from zero-sum competitive majoritarian politics, which confer most benefits and privileges to winners in an invidious electoral game of ‘winner-takes-all’. To solve this seemingly intractable issue of communal struggle, an array of conflict resolution mechanisms, institutions and practices have evolved which we shall consider at length in a separate chapter. Some observers have advocated power sharing as the key to eliminating ethnically exclusivist regimes, while others have argued for a predictable process of allocating resources through fixed quotas, proportions, and shares (Lijphart 1977; Lewis 1965). The idea behind such proposals is to depoliticize the sharp and deadly rivalry for power and resource allocation by minimizing or removing it from the sphere of electoral
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contestation. The emphasis is on maintaining order and stability by neutralizing the turbulence of ethnic claims and counterclaims and charges of ethnic exclusion, discrimination and favouritism over jobs and state benefits. Overall, the causes as well as the solutions offered are all founded on the overwhelming pre-eminence assigned to the political and economic factors. Because a substantial part of the distributive effects on who gets what among the ethnic communities in the state follows from public policy, a section of the work enters into a detailed analysis of elections, electoral politics, and electoral systems for their impact on collective legislative and executive decision making. All of this, however, calls for a deeper understanding of the society, how it was created and how its ethnically plural features became articulated and embedded in modern democratic politics. In turn, this requires not only a historical narrative of the society in its creation, but also a theoretical structure that offers insights into how such a culturally fractured society tends to operate. Chapter 1 discusses the problem of distributive justice and the challenge of crafting democratic institutions in the context of multi-ethnic environments. It also offers a theoretical framework of the plural society model followed by a commentary on the dynamics and tensions of ethnic politics in Trinidad. In doing this, we also briefly consider the political evolution of the colonial society, focusing especially on the package of institutions such as the party, parliamentary and electoral systems that were bequeathed by the departing imperial power at independence. Chapter 2 provides a historical portrait of the construction of Trinidad’s multi-ethnic immigrant society. Chapter 3 enters into a detailed statistical analysis of inequality in ethnic representation in both the public and private sectors. Chapter 4 discusses the dynamics of elections and electoral systems in relation to the problem of legislative representation and social cohesion. Chapter 5 analyses the role of symbols in ethnic competition in Trinidad, showing how the conflict is played out in a variety of sites. In Chapter 6, the architectonic problem of conflict management, which presides over the entire apparatus of the state in maintaining its stability, integrity and viability, is analysed by considering institutions that can be mobilized for this purpose. In Chapter 7, the final chapter, we consider the problem of justice and governance from the perspective of the colonial institutions that had established the limiting framework for any sort of reform. In this final part we also, briefly broach the issue of what can be done, pointing to the role of political will as against the
store of knowledge that is available to manage the ethnic malaise in Trinidad. We must begin, however, by offering a short commentary on the ethnic dynamics in the politics in Trinidad as well as an overview of the main demographic, economic, and political characteristics of the country. This is followed by a short exploration of the underlying plural society model, which informs the conflict theory of the work as a whole.
Ethnic dynamics in Trinidad and the challenge of governance Below the surface of Trinidad’s political peace are a number of ethnic tensions that was likely to explode at any time. (Yelvington 1992; Oxaal 1968; Premdas 1992, 1993; Hintzen 1989; MacDonald 1986; Sandoval 1983; Naipaul 1979; Wood 1968). The image of a politically stable and economically prosperous state conceals powerful internal contradictions in the society. Many critical tensions prowl through the body politic threatening to throw the society into turmoil. Perhaps the most salient of these tensions derives from the country’s multi-ethnic population. Among the 1.3 million citizens four distinct ethno-racial groups can be identified: Africans, Asian Indians, Europeans and Chinese. For more than a century and a half, these groups co-existed in Trinidad, but failed to evolve a consensus of shared values that would have promoted a sense of common citizenship and a shared identity. Below the veneer of intercommunal camaraderie lurks a sense of deep ethnically rooted sectionalism, which pervades the society like blood the body (Anderson 1983; Premdas 1995). After the colonial power departed in 1962, governance in Trinidad and Tobago was rendered doubly difficult as the new state found itself preoccupied by the rival political claims of the country’s two largest ethnic sections, constituted of Indians and Africans who were in antagonistic relationship to each other. This is the basic contradiction in the state coming to occupy centre stage in governance and political life defining issues and dominating daily discourse. Each ethnic section sees its interests differently in relation not only to its symbolic and cultural life, but also to claims for power, recognition, and economic resources (see Table 1.1). In turn, at the political level, inter-communal competition focused on the issue of establishing legitimate rule in a form of government that does not pose a threat to the survival of the other group’s identity and interests and that ensures that the values of the state, symbolic and material alike, could be equitably distributed.
Trinidad and Tobago Table 1.1 Ethnic groups and population shares Ethnic group African or Afro-Creole Indian or Indo-Creole Chinese Syrian/Lebanese White/Caucasian Mixed Other Ethnic Groups Not Stated Total
Population 444,804 452,709 4, 322 936 7,302 207,280 1,720 24,053 1,143,126
Percentage 38.91 39.60 0.38 0.08 0.64 18.13 0.15 2.10 99.99
Source: Central Statistical Office, Trinidad and Tobago (1990).
In part, the source of inter-ethnic malaise in Trinidad stems from the inherited colonial institutions. The governmental system bequeathed by Britain was not an arrangement that guaranteed the fulfilment of the political and cultural aims of the respective ethnic communities in the newly independent state. Indeed, the inherited British parliamentary system was erected on a particular electoral institution – a zero-sum competitive party system – which tended to inflame ethnic passions and apportion privileges very unevenly. This internal contradiction in Trinidad’s polity was the most potent threat to the stability of the society. Ethnic dominance in government and identity politics in society bedevilled governance and soon became a way of life fraught with an immense undercurrent of sectional alienation for the losers in the competition for recognition and resources. Each election that came tended to raise anew all the unresolved issues of ethnic equity, much of this related to institutional appropriateness in a plural society. As it happened in Trinidad, one ethnic group in an essentially ethnically bipolar state had captured power for almost three decades after independence and in the perception of the other major ethnic community instituted an order that was ethnically repressive and discriminatory. When the out-group eventually captured power, it in turn was similarly accused. An election campaign assumed the form of identity rivalry expressed in a collective communal struggle in which the claims of each community as a whole were reignited anew and expressed in uncompromising terms. Repeated victory by one sectional community over the other was not accepted by the vanquished group, which withdrew its moral support from the state.
The plural society model, consensus, and power sharing The problem of democratic governance and ethnic domination in multi-ethnic states has been broached by several scholars (Lustick 1979: 325–44; Premdas and Hintzen 1982: 327–54), but the approach which offers the most assistance in this inquiry refers to the work of the socalled ‘plural society’ theorists such as J.S. Furnivall and M.G. Smith. Drawing on data from his experience as a British colonial officer in Southeast Asia, Furnivall succinctly set forth the fundamental features of this type of society thus: In Burma, as in Java, probably the first thing that strikes the visitor is the medley of peoples – European, Chinese, Indians, and native. It is, in the strictest sense, a medley, for they mix but do not combine. Each group holds to its own religion, its own culture and language, its own ideas and ways. As individuals they meet but only at the market place, in buying and selling. There is a plural society, with different sections of the community living side by side, but separately within the same unit. Even in the economic sphere there is separate division of labour along racial lines. (Furnivall 1948: 304) This description had come to fit the social structure of nearly all the post-colonial states and the need existed for a working model to explain the problems of unity and instability that had come to bedevil the newly independent states of the Third World. It was this demand for theory that led to the rediscovery of the work of J.S. Furnivall especially in the hands of M.G. Smith, a scholar of the Caribbean. Furnivall continued his observations of plural societies thus: In a plural society there is no common will. In a plural society then the community tends to be organized for production than for social life. nationalism sets one community against another union is not voluntary but imposed by the colonial power. the plural character of the society [causes] its instability, thereby enhancing the need for it to be held together by some force exerted from outside. the rulers and the ruled are of different races. (Furnivall 1948: 304) In these statements by Furnivall, all of the salient traits of the classic ‘plural society’ model were enunciated. These included: (1) the presence of a diversity of cultural sections; (2) the sections live within the same civil state but tend, for the most part, to reside separately
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within their respective geographically articulated cultural systems; (3) interaction among the sections do take place, but these are instrumental, confined mainly to economic exchanges; social exchanges are sparse; (4) the economy of the plural society tends to be structured into specialized sectors, each serving as the preserve of a cultural group; (5) the state itself can be regarded mainly as an economic enterprise for which it was formed, requiring the importation of alien labour from different cultures; (6) there is no commonly shared citizenship, nationalist outlook, or joint political will; instead, the state is sectionally fragmented into rival sub-state consciousness clusters (ethno-nationalism) with each community suspicious of the other; (7) the internal cultural diversity of these plural societies is the source of centrifugal forces tending the state to endemic conflict and persistent instability; (8) to maintain the unity and integrity of the plural society requires a dominant force usually consisting of a minority cultural section which controls the means of state coercion; and (9) from the foregoing, the plural society as a whole is marked by inequality in the ranking of the cultural sections within the state. As a whole, examined from the foregoing characteristics, the plural society gives the impression of a makeshift state consisting of a collection of culturally unrelated persons forced to coexist by reason of a larger economic enterprise. These societies were colonial constructs erected for export production of primary goods, requiring imported labour to work on plantations, mines, and forest and fishing areas. They were not true ‘societies’ in the sense of a community bound by a set of shared values and customs and roles. They were literally at war with one another, marked by sectional disunity, domination, coercion, conflict, and inequality. They were constructed from the territory of the conquered non-white Third World following European imperialism. While we have found value in many of the insights from the plural society model, there are a few features that are controversial, if not incorrect. We shall point to these, which do not by themselves invalidate the usefulness of the model, in shedding light on the behaviour of post-colonial multi-ethnic states. To begin with, in the original model, Furnivall argued that minority European domination was both inevitable and essential in maintaining the unity and stability of the state. It is critical to note that Furnivall’s definition consisted of two major parts – one cultural and the other political. His definition tied these two components together in a tight relationship of interdependence, arguing that political domination by a minority section was essential to the stability and order of the entire society. There was an implicit causal
connection between the two variables of ‘culture diversity’ and ‘political domination’. In this regard, Furnivall was not merely interpreting the empirical evidence of culturally plural societies but literally justifying the incidence of ethnic domination, arguing that such control was both inevitable and necessary. M.G. Smith, a Caribbean scholar who analysed the ethnic problems faced by the new nations of the Caribbean and other Third World societies, had followed in the path of J.S. Furnivall, elaborating on the need for a ‘central regulative organization’ to impart stability and unity to the centrifugal forces that threaten to tear the plural society apart at its ethnic seams. Argued Smith: Even in a plural society, institutional diversity does not include differing systems of government. The reason for this is simple: the continuity of such societies as units is incompatible with the internal diversity of governmental institutions. Given the fundamental differences of belief, value, and organization that connote pluralism, the monopoly of power by one cultural section is the essential precondition for the maintenance of the total society in its current form. (Smith 1969: 6) The problem with this position in part indicates the overdrawing of the cleavages within the plural society detracting from the unifying and shared features that are usually present, making the society possible in the first place. Instead of consensus, which implied that a minimum body of shared values must exist in order for unity to be maintained in society, Furnivall and Smith perceived division, conflict, instability, and coercion as the normal situation. As a form of conflict theory, the plural society model ran head-on into its opposite formulation found in consensus theory, which argued that all societies, including those in the Caribbean, required a set of shared common values to survive. Many criticisms from leading scholars condemned the model, arguing that it was a poor description of social reality. Among the scholars in the Caribbean who opposed the plural society model were Lloyd Braithwaite and Raymond Smith who took umbrage with the view that the ‘plural societies’ were not as thoroughgoingly divided as Furnivall and Smith had claimed (Smith 1967; Braithwaite 1954). As Parsonians, they argued instead that every society must have some set of integrative values to survive (Parsons 1952). In this sense, the plural society model was charged with empirically misrepresenting the basis on which these societies persisted. Marxists joined the fray condemning the plural
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society model from the perspective of ideological bias, charging that it implicitly encouraged ethno-nationalism and sectional racism. In all of this criticism, what could not be gainsaid was that cultural pluralism had created deeply divided societies, which predisposed them to political instability. If the consensus theorists can be viewed as optimists who harped on the unifying features of these ethnically divided societies, the plural society theorists can be viewed as pessimists who focused on the fissiparous features tending towards crisis and instability in disunity. We have chosen the plural society model over the consensus model since the condition of disunity and instability is more frequently found in these states. One other area in which both Furnivall and Smith had erred is in their argument that cultural pluralism inevitably required a system of domination, specifically by a more powerful minority community, to maintain order. In my own criticism of the plural society framework, advanced at a conference at which M.G. Smith was present, I argued that the claim that institutional pluralism necessarily engendered a system of ethnic dominance was unjustified. This postulate sounded more like prescription than good theory. I was flabbergasted that when I put this view directly to Smith he confessed that he had set forth his view of ethnic domination at a time when he was still inordinately under the spell of Furnivall and that he had since changed that position. Smith had revised Furnivall in radical ways, jettisoning some of the main ideas in the earlier plural society model. What emerged in ‘the later M.G. Smith’ was a more nuanced and credible model of pluralism. It is important to identify the main departure that Smith made from Furnivall. Smith had come to recognize that pluralism did not inevitably entail political domination. He had candidly revised his position departing fundamentally from Furnivall. Argued ‘the later Smith’: Initially, within this general category of plural societies I reserved the label for those in which a culturally distinct demographic minority exercised political dominance, as in most 20th century European colonies. While it is clear that societies dominated by culturally distinct demographic minorities are ’structurally peculiar’, and merit special study, it is best to relax this restrictive demographic criterion to include as plural societies all those that incorporate social segments or sections characterized by institutional differences In the broadest sense then any society whose members are incorporated into mutually exclusive categories or groups, distinguished by
such differentiae as race, language, religion, ethnicity, provenience, or descent will exhibit social or structural pluralism and constitute a plural society. (Smith 1984: 152) In effect, ‘the later Smith’ had concluded that ‘in many plural societies, there was no single dominant cultural section; rather, there are two or more segments of coordinate status and strength, neither dominating the whole’. (Smith 1984: 153). In 1993 at a seminar held in his honour, Smith reiterated his departures from Furnivall: ‘Thus, neither do I now hold that all plural societies presuppose sectional domination Neither in my current view are all plural societies characterized by normative dissensus nor are they all maintained by force or fear’ (Smith 1991: 13). In moving away from the presumption of inevitable dominance in plural societies, but without conceding anything to consensus theorists who argued for integration and assimilation, Smith left open new options for accommodation between the communities in plural societies. It is here, building on the plural society model, that consociation and power sharing, which negate exclusivism, come into play. The need existed for innovative institutional designs for democratic governance in these plural multi-ethnic states. Clearly, institutions and practices of democratic governance required new modes of collective decision making departing from standard zero-sum, ‘winner takes all’ exclusionary parliamentary practices in western democracies. The work of the consociational theorists, such as Arthur Lewis and Arend Lijphart, would provide the answer to the erroneous view of Furnivall on the inevitability of ethnic domination in plural societies. They proposed a special mix of consensus non-exclusivist institutions in coalition power-sharing arrangements as a democratic alternative to domination (Lijphart 1977; Premdas 1991a: 71–93). Many contemporary adherents of the plural society model, such as Arend Lijphart, have implicated the zero-sum parliamentary competitive party system that has been grafted onto a multi-ethnic state by the departing colonial power as the main source of political instability in multi-ethnic states (Lijphart 1977). Ethnically driven election campaigns tend to sustain a spiral of communalised conflict in which victory and control of the state apparatus is thus seen as an instrument of ethnic pre-eminence and preference (Premdas 1995; Milne 1982). Yet, finding ethnically plural systems that have adopted more inclusivist electoral systems in the real world is difficult. The political terrain is littered with the ruins of many experiments in zero-sum democratic systems, leaving a legacy of domination in its wake. Today a new temper of democratization is current,
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especially in the multi-ethnic states of the Third World, arguing for a new order of democratic governance that avoids exclusivist institutions and that promotes power sharing. The plural society model in this opinion offers some of the best insights into the form and functioning of multi-ethnic societies that are prone to deteriorate into disorder and domination (Gurr 1994; Rabushka and Shepsle 1972).
2 The Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago: Historical and Constitutional Evolution
Introduction Situated in the southern Caribbean just seven miles from Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago is a small twin island multi-ethnic state with about 1.3 million people. Its people have a per capita well-being that has ranked it 49th in the UNDP’s medium Human Development category. Trinidad is the larger of the two islands in terms of both population (1,220,000) and geographical size (4,820 square kilometres), and has a more variegated population of six ethnic communities, while Tobago – with only 51,000 people and 303 square kilometres – is almost entirely ethnically homogeneously Afro-Creole. Until 1888, when it was joined to Trinidad, Tobago was under separate British administration. In Trinidad, two main ethnic groups predominate – Afro-Creoles of African descent and Indians of Asian descent. These communities are of almost equal size (Table 1.1). While the population size of these two major communities is relatively the same, this has not always been the case. Until the mid-twentieth century, Afro-Creoles were the largest community in the country, but thereafter its predominance was steadily whittled away relative to the Indian population, with this fundamental reconfiguration of the demographic mix impacting on the structure of political power. Inter-ethnic relations are publicly cordial, but patterns of cultural differences separate the main communities into contesting sections in quest of social, economic and political pre-eminence. As a plural society, Trinidad lacks strong overarching unifying institutions and is frequently submitted to centrifugal political pressures and tensions that threaten to rend the society apart at its ethnic seams. A vibrant parliamentary democracy, independent since 31 August 1962, Trinidad became a republic in 25
Trinidad and Tobago
1976 but remains a part of the Commonwealth of Nations. Generally, elections have been regular, free and fair and the process of political succession has been orderly. Two main political parties, each representing one of the two main ethnic communities, dominate the political arena, competing until 2007 for 36 seats in the House of Representatives. For the first 25 years after independence, the Afro-Creole political party, the People’s National Movement (PNM), won consecutive elections dominating the political arena under the leadership of Eric Williams. From 1995 to 2001, the Indian-based party, the United National Congress (UNC) led by Basdeo Panday held political power. After an ethnically charged stalemated deadlock in terms of the number of parliamentary seats (18–18) obtained by the two parties in the December 2001 elections, and a period of tense stalemate for almost a year, the PNM returned to power under Prime Minister Patrick Manning after achieving a majority of parliamentary seats in the 2002 general election. The economy of Trinidad is based mainly on minerals (petrochemicals, petroleum and gas) and, until 2004, on sugar, with the former accounting for about 52 per cent of all export earnings and providing about 32 per cent of all government revenues. The discovery of petroleum at the turn of the twentieth century and, more recently, of extensive gasfields have radically transformed the economy from agricultural (mainly sugar) dependence to petroleum and gas so that Trinidad stands apart in this respect from other Caribbean countries. Like many plural societies, Trinidad’s economy displays ethnosectoral differentiation so that Afro-Creoles are found mainly in the public bureaucracy, professions, and the petrochemical industries; Indians predominate in sugar and commerce, while the small European, Chinese, and Syrian communities are found mainly in trading and business. An industrial economy (agriculture less than 2 per cent of GNP with white-collar jobs accounting for about 60 per cent of all employment) has created a large middle class. Unemployment hovers around 7 per cent and some 30 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. Residentially, while there is no segregation and the public arena is fluid, free and highly ethnically interactive, most persons live in regions, villages, and neighbourhoods that display a strong measure of ethnic concentration and self-selectivity. Professor Colin Clarke described this phenomenon thus: the distribution of Creoles and Indians remained stable overall, though, in detail, segregation between the major racial components increased. (Clarke 1993: 121)
The Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago
Post-independence decolonisation (1960–80) did not bring about desegregation at the national scale. Indeed, segregation increased between whites, browns, and blacks, decreased between Hindus, Muslims and Christians, (among Indians) but increased between whites, blacks on the one hand and Hindus on the other. Increased spatial separation between black and Hindu (from 52.9 % to 56.9 %) was significant because these two populations were the key elementsdemographically and attitudinally- in Creole/Indian confrontation. Black penetration of the sugar belt through suburban sprawl from Port of Spain remained a minor phenomenon of little significance nationally. (Clarke 1993: 117) There is a proliferation of faith-based organizations and religions, with Catholics numbering around 30 per cent; Anglicans 11 per cent; Pentecostalists 10 per cent; Hindus 24 per cent; Muslims nearly 6 per cent; and a smattering of Rastafarians, Bahais, Buddhists, and other religions. Hence, in a relatively oil- and gas-rich economy, race, ethnicity, region, religion, and culture serve as coinciding cleavages, especially separating the two main communities. To a substantial extent these facts of social division describe a society that is deeply divided. The main problems that bedevil the state point to inter-ethnic malaise, which tends to imbue and define many public issues. Crime is widespread and a high incidence of inequality and poverty persist, in spite of the rich endowment of mineral wealth and a well-educated population accustomed to free speech and democratic rights.
Colonization and the creation of a multi-ethnic state Insight into Trinidad’s cosmopolitan multi-ethnic society can best be attained by first examining its peoples, who they are, how they came to Trinidad, their culture, participation in the economy, and their relations with each other. This background is essential in undertaking the main issues and themes of this book. Claimed by Spain in 1498 when Christopher Columbus – on his third voyage – arrived in the New World, Trinidad did not possess precious metals to attract extensive settlement for almost three centuries. In fact, the Spanish did not establish their first permanent settlement until 1592 and, even then, it remained but an isolated outpost with a tiny population and minimal commercial economic activity. At contact, the Spaniards encountered about 30,000 native Amerindians (Arawaks and Caribs), many of whom would be enslaved as part of the encomienda
Trinidad and Tobago
system (land with people grants) while others were exported to work on plantations in other parts of the Caribbean (Brereton 1981: 4–6). Over the years, the Amerindian community declined and almost disappeared. Today, remnants of the Amerindian community, almost entirely now racially mixed and numbering about 300, live in Santa Rosa, Arima. To change the course of Trinidad’s neglect and isolation, in 1777 Spain decided to open the colony to new population infusions, and on 24 November 1783, it offered attractive incentives for new settlers, promulgating a ‘Cedula (Decree) de Population’ to achieve this end. With this signal event, a demographic revolution ensued, bringing to Trinidad a substantial French settler community, derived mainly from the Eastern Caribbean (Wood 1968: 12). They arrived with their slaves and made a decisive impact on the local economy, establishing the plantation system of large-scale production of sugar. They were given generous parcels of land, about 30 acres for each white settler and half as much for each slave they brought with them. Less generous incentives, half as much, were also offered to Mixed Race Mulattos and Free Africans. At the time of the Cedula de Population, Trinidad’s population was only 2,763, of which Amerindians numbered 2,032 (74 per cent), whites 126, African slaves (first imported in 1517) 310, and free non-whites about 295. However, 15 years after the Cedula, the demography of Trinidad was transformed dramatically. By 1797, the population swelled to 17,718 of which 2,151 (12 per cent) were Whites, Amerindians 6 per cent, African Slaves 56 per cent, and 4,476 (33 per cent) free non-whites (Free Mixed Race or Coloureds, and Africans). The economy correspondingly was transformed into what became a typical Caribbean plantation prototype, characterized by plantations, slaves, and sugar, coffee, and cotton production for export markets. Hundreds of plantations were established. In 1797, Britain, through conquest, took Trinidad from Spain, but the entry of the British did not alter the open door policy of immigration. New population groups were added to the medley of peoples already present, a number arriving after the Spanish Wars of Independence. Around 3,800 came from Venezuela, Martinique, Guadeloupe, St Vincent, Grenada and Dominica (Wood 1968: 73). Of these, a special strand arrived from Venezuela called peons, a mixture of Amerindians and Spaniards, to work on the cocoa plantations. By 1803, the colony’s population had grown to 28,000, comprised of Whites 2,261 (663 English, 505 Spanish, and 1,093 French), African slaves 20,464, and free non-Whites 5,275. The island had become populated preponderantly by French migrants and it had become mostly French speaking. Sugar
The Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago
production became the most significant commercial crop, with cocoa, coffee and cotton in a secondary place. The British settlers, mainly Protestants, overwhelmingly Scottish and Irish, constituted a minority and entered into trade and business activities. Slavery was abolished by an Act of Emancipation in August 1833, becoming law on 1 August 1834, but with a waiting apprenticeship period that finally ended the system on 1 August 1838. In a panic, the planters commenced a search for new sources of cheap labour. Among the early new recruits were Africans who were freed from captured slave ships by the British Navy. By 1838, 22,359 such Africans came to Trinidad as free settlers. Earlier, free escaped Black soldiers from the United States arrived – about 920 in 1824, and 830 in 1838. By 1838, the population of the colony had swollen to 36,359, consisting of 3,993 Whites, 12,006 Mixed Coloureds, and 20,656 African Apprentices. This population in its size and variety would undergo even greater changes from the mid-1840s onwards, further transforming Trinidad, making it even more ethnically and racially diverse and cosmopolitan. To replenish their lost supplies of cheap labour, the planters and the colonial government tapped a variety of sources, experimenting to ascertain the suitability of the new recruits to the harsh tropical conditions made doubly difficult to endure because on the regimentation of work on the plantations. Much to their surprise and against their best hopes on emancipation, the planters witnessed a virtual exodus of the freed slaves away from the plantations to alternative places of survival on the island. Enslaved African labour was the backbone of the plantations and so, following emancipation, it was necessary to find new sources of supply for their survival. At first, the surrounding areas in the Caribbean were exploited with a bounty paid for each labourer recruited. From 1839 to 1849, about 10,278 West Indian Afro-Creoles were landed in Trinidad as free labourers (Wood 1968: 65). However, on arriving, instead of staying on the plantations, most left, gravitating to the free Afro-Creole communities. Black American soldiers were also sought out and, in 1839, some 216 came, in 1847 about 1,301 but by 1848, most of them returned to the United States, leaving only about 148. Another five arrived in 1851 after the Fugitive Slave Laws were passed. Hence, the American market for African labour failed to meet the demands of the planters. Africa itself was again sourced and this time the focus was on Sierra Leone and St Helena, which were destinations to which freed slaves captured from slaver vessels were taken. From Sierra Leone, on 9 May, 1841, about 181 came and in 1842, about 514. By the end of 1850, 3,157 had arrived from Sierra Leone and 2,676 from St Helena
Trinidad and Tobago
(Wood 1968: 79). After 1851, none came from Sierra Leone until 1860 when a last few arrived. Hence, the African source proved unproductive. By 1861, African immigration ended with a total of 3,383 derived from Sierra Leone and 3,198 from St Helena. When the Caribbean, American, and African sources proved unsuccessful places for replacement labour, Europe was tapped. Of all the European sources, Portugal offered some glimmer of desperate hope. The Portuguese had a long history in the slave trade – second only to Britain – and they had entrenched themselves in Brazil, which became a source of slave labour supplied to the Spanish colonies. In the wake of the slave emancipation in the British territories, some 41,000 Portuguese were brought to Trinidad, Guyana, St Vincent and St Kitts between 1834 and 1880. These came mainly from the Atlantic Provinces of the Azores, Madeira, and Cape Verde Islands, with Madeira proving most lucrative (Ferreira 1991). Portuguese labour was enlisted for the Guyanese plantations next door to Trinidad, some 12,000 Madeirans settling successfully between 1835 and 1846. The successful settlement in Guyana led to the arrival of larger numbers of Portuguese in Trinidad to augment the four shiploads carrying about 161 Azoreans that had arrived in 1834. Between 1846 and 1848, about 1,200 Portuguese arrived in Trinidad from Madeira, some seeking economic betterment while others, a group of Presbyterians, sought refuge from religious persecution (Ferreira 1991). In the first half of the twentieth century, there were small infusions of new Portuguese, so that the size of the community had increased to about 3,400 by 1960. The contemporary Portuguese community has, however, seen its numbers significantly dwindled because of migration to North America and intermarriage. It would evolve into a prosperous group, becoming entrepreneurs and professionals and despite their reduced numbers and hybridization, it has been argued that ‘they have managed to preserve a few cultural reminders’ so that they ‘may still be identified on the basis of shared ancestry, memories and those cultural reminders not the least of which are vestiges of Portuguese language’ (Ferreira 2000). Of all the post-emancipation sources of labour to Trinidad, the most successful and lucrative proved to be from India. Indian arrival in Trinidad was part of a larger programme of labour recruitment to the Caribbean and other British colonies from India. Today, East Indians (Indians hereafter) constitute about 20 per cent of the English Commonwealth Caribbean, concentrated mainly in Suriname, Trinidad and Guyana where they make up over 50 per cent of the population. Altogether, from 1838 to 1917, about 551,000 Indians came
The Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago
to the Caribbean in the wake of the abolition of slavery and the ensuing shortage of labour for the maintenance of European plantations (Samaroo 1996: 1; Tinker 1974). Indians came as indentured labourers, mainly from the North of India in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar with a smaller number coming from South India. They spoke a variety of languages, including Bhojpuri, Urdu, and Bengali and the overwhelming majority of members were Hindus, with only about 10 per cent being Muslims. The first batch of 396 arrived from Calcutta to British Guiana on 5 May 1838 on the Whitby and the Hesperus, and, over the period of their transshipment until 1917, they were implanted at various times throughout the Caribbean. They were distributed as follows: British Guiana 238,909; Trinidad 143,939; Guadeloupe 42,326; Jamaica 37,027; Suriname 34,404; Martinique 25,404; French Guiana 8,500; Grenada 3,200; Belize 3,000; St Vincent 2,472; St Kitts 337 and St Croix, 300 (Samaroo 1996a). After their indentureship period was completed, most Indians opted to remain as permanent residents. The broader picture of Indian immigration to the Caribbean would be replicated in separate parts of the Caribbean. The first batch of 225 Indian labourers to Trinidad arrived on the Fath Al Razack on 3 May 1845. Over the next 70 years, from 1845 to 1917, some 143,939 arrived in Trinidad, with only 33,000 returning to India. Recruited as indentured labourers initially on five-year contracts and then on an additional five-year period for eligibility for free repatriation, the Indian influx reached 27,000 or 22 per cent of the Trinidad population in 1871, with about one-seventh of them by that time born locally; 70,000 in 1891 with most born in Trinidad; 110,911, or 33 per cent of the population, by 1911. Coming at first as temporary sojourners, they eventually became permanent settlers. Most were Hindus with about one sixth Muslims. For the most part, they came as single men. In migrating, Indians had crossed the religiously forbidden ‘kali pani’ (dark waters) and with this event as well as their indiscriminate mixing with others from different castes, they would experience trauma, being forced in their New World environment to reinvent their castes and other traditions. Deployed on plantations, they occupied the very quarters abandoned by the former ex-slaves, becoming chattels and acquired the most degraded position in society. Within the Indian community, caste was jettisoned and reinvented imaginatively and familiar ancestral names were modified and opportunistically altered to enhance personal status and economic chances. Indian languages were lost with some retentions in limited use. Overall, a process of ‘creolization’ engulfed the new Caribbean residents so that in succeeding generations they
Trinidad and Tobago
would become less similar to their old ancestral communities and more uniquely Caribbean. On the expiry of their indentures, even though most initially continued to work for the plantations, Indians eventually left to begin their own autonomous lives. They would inaugurate a commercially viable rice industry as well as work initially on cocoa plantations, which were enjoying much prosperity – especially after the price of sugar had virtually collapsed. By 1891, about 43 per cent of the Indians were still on sugar or cocoa plantations with others clustering into rural villages in such familiar place names as Naparima, Chaguanas and Tacarigua (Ramsaran 1993: 8). It was the system of land grants in lieu of repatriation introduced in 1869 that enabled Indians to remain in Trinidad. While this greatly facilitated the establishment of an Indian peasantry, it also assisted in resolving the recurrent problem of labour shortages as well as limited squatting on Crown lands. At first, the land grants were 10 acres, then 5 acres plus £5 pounds for each Indian who chose not to be repatriated. Between 1869 and 1889, some 3,979 grants in land and cash were awarded to Indian settlers with 1,168 on 10 acre plots, 1,460 on 5 acre plots with £5 appended; 15 on 5 acre plots alone and 1,873 awards of £5 each to wives. This amounted to a total of 19,055 acres awarded to 2,643 men. Overall, this ‘land commutation scheme’, as it was called, lasting only a short period from 1869 to 1880, benefited only a small proportion of the Indian population and the land that was given to them, as Brereton pointed out, was ‘generally remote or poor quality lands’ (Brereton 2005: 15). A further £16,665 was paid to Indians to commute return passages (Ramsaran 1993: 10). Apart from obtaining land in lieu of repatriation, many of the ex-indentured labourers purchased Crown land so that between 1898 and 1917, of 156,885 acres that was sold to 17,103 persons, some 51,139 acres went to 6,804 Indians (Ramsaran 1993: 10). In effect, ‘the great majority of ex-indentureds who acquired lands bought them, either from the Crown or on the private market’ (ibid.). Indians became entrenched predominantly as rural dwellers so that by 1921, only 1.9 per cent resided in the main urban township, Port of Spain, while only 1.28 per cent lived in San Fernando, the second largest township. Indians, in replacing Afro-Creoles as the new plantation labour supply, suffered a degree of contempt from the ex-slaves for voluntarily enrolling themselves in the dehumanizing toil and drudgery of plantation life. In addition, the Indian arrival had diluted the bargaining position of the Afro-Creoles for better wages and working conditions on the
The Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago
plantations. However, open conflict or confrontation between these two groups was partially averted because they were culturally very dissimilar and kept apart by the pattern of residence in which Indians were predominantly rural and Afro-Creoles were predominantly urban. Yet, from all of this, there was still much room for fear, distrust and misunderstanding between these two communities from the inception of their colonial encounter. Apart from their pattern of residence, this did not become a major issue because of the abundant supply of land – a resource that did not serve as a bone of struggle between the two groups. Besides, Indian contact with Afro-Creoles was very minimal and their occupational specialisation further kept a wide space of peace between them. This did not prevent negative stereotypes and images of each other from being formed. The colonial authorities clearly benefited from this inchoate malaise between Indians and Africans by contributing to a contrived system of divide and rule. By the turn of the nineteenth century, the Indian community had stabilized into permanent intergenerational formations with clear niches in the geography of human settlement, in the economy and in their peculiar social institutional structure. They evolved their own associational life and were gradually coming to terms with the Christian preferences of the colonial system in which they lived. From initially boycotting the English elementary schools, they would, at the beginning of the twentieth century, build their own schools and commence a slow, but steady trek into the system for a western English-based education. They were becoming ‘Creolized’, fashioned into a new Caribbean person with the only home that they knew to be Trinidad and not India. Even as they maintained a residue of their ancestral customs and religious affiliations, they became literate in English, speaking the local lingua franca as other Trinidadians. When the system of indentureship terminated in 1917, the overwhelming majority of Indians were locally born. Their pattern of life in the rural areas, their occupations, religion, and values clearly demarcated them as a distinct group in the plural society, even as they shared the island with a collection of other peoples, a common colonial master, and aspects of language and education with other communities. They nevertheless remained at the very bottom of the stratification system regarded very much pejoratively as ‘coolies’, as outsiders even though by the mid-twentieth century they had been resident in Trinidad for more than one hundred years and were overwhelmingly locally born. It would not be until in the second half of the twentieth century that they would seek to take an equal seat at the table
Trinidad and Tobago
of all Trinidadians, participating fully in the political system and making claims to economic equity even as most rose to a middle-income wellbeing away from the deprivations and drudgery of the plantations. Their numbers would grow so that by the third part of the twentieth century, they emerged as the largest ethnic community in Trinidad, superseding the Afro-Creoles. Herein, in closer contact with Afro-Creoles, and in greater numbers, would be laid the ingredients of simmering and incendiary conflictual relationships. A significant number of the community became Christians, especially concentrated in the Presbyterian Church, while at the same time other Indians have engaged in a major revival of their Hindu and Muslim past (Premdas and Sitahal 1994). Adding to the polyglot nature of the emergent Trinidad population were the Chinese, most of whom came as indentured immigrants on three-year contracts in the ongoing efforts to find labour for the plantations. While some Chinese were present in Trinidad prior to the emancipation of slavery, some 2,500 arrived as indentured labourers between 1853 and 1866. More arrived at the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century as free voluntary immigrants. The indentured Chinese came mainly from the Hakka and Punti communities in Guangdong Province and suffered a devastating fate of numerous deaths while in Trinidad (Look Lai 1998). The survivors moved away from the plantations, many establishing themselves in the restaurant trade. The Chinese government was alarmed by the treatment of the Chinese indentured labourers and, in 1860, they decided to regulate their flow into Trinidad. In the Kung Convention of 1866 it demanded that all Chinese recruits be given free repatriation after their indenture. This proved to be an uneconomic proposition thereby bringing an end to Chinese labour migration to Trinidad. However, another stream of Chinese arrived between 1910 and 1940, mainly as merchants. By 1946, the Chinese in Trinidad numbered 5,641, but a fair number had intermarried, so among them there were around 3,670 Mixed with other races (Look Lai 1998). By 1990, the Chinese community numbered 4,314; they were prosperous and found predominantly in business and the professions. A very small, but wealthy and influential segment of the population was the Syrian-Lebanese community, who constitute less than 0.5 per cent of the population. They arrived in small numbers from around 1902, from what used to be called Greater Syria and is today Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. They were almost entirely Christians, mainly Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, but in time all became attached to the
The Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago
Catholic Church in Trinidad. Their small numbers at the turn of the century were augmented by new arrivals between the two world wars. They entered business mainly in the fabric and clothing sector as well as in dried goods, and over time, through diligence and careful management, they emerged as business entrepreneurs, some very large and influential. While they have lost much of their old language, they have retained some traditional practices and a consciousness of themselves as a separate Middle Eastern community, sustained by the fact that, for the most part, they have barely intermarried outside their community. At the same time, like all ethnic communities, they have acculturated to Trinidadian ways and are assimilated within the larger Creole culture of Trinidad society. Thus, from a variety of sources, a polyglot of peoples arrived as settlers in Trinidad. The nineteenth century was the high point of mass immigration. Most members of the two largest communities – Afro-Creoles and Indians – arrived in Trinidad during this period without coming to know each other, a demographic and social fact that would imprint an enduring fateful characteristic to the country’s ethnically fragmented social structure. The nineteenth century was also the time when several other ethno-cultural communities entered, such as the Chinese and Portuguese. By the end of the nineteenth century, the general outline of Trinidad’s multi-ethnic structure had become established, the pattern of life, residence, occupation, religion, and so on etched into the social system. The system of stratification continued for some time to be one described as ‘colour-class’ with those who were white on top of the status pyramid (Braithwaite 1974). Descendants of the Europeans constituted a significant community in Trinidad. Today being given the collective label ‘French Creoles’, they subsumed descendants of the colonial French, British, Spanish, Italian, and German settlers. The French settlers, who had initially stoutly espoused and defended their language, Catholicism and culture, eventually reconciled themselves to the Anglicization of the island and its practices. The contemporary French-Creole community in Trinidad number less than 1 per cent of the population, but constitute the wealthiest section. From being planters and landed aristocrats, engaged in sugar and cocoa plantation production, they have now reclassified themselves as big business entrepreneurs and managers. Their old stranglehold in the colonial period on the highest official government posts was ended decisively with the arrival of independence in 1962. In the contemporary period, they are residentially self-segregated in exclusive highincome neighbourhoods sharing some of this space with upper-class
Trinidad and Tobago
Afro-Creoles and Indians. As a group, they are reputedly clannish, engaged in little informal contact with non-whites in their private social life and tend to marry within their own group (Glazier 1987: 321–37). They control certain strategic businesses and have reconstructed their Trinidadian identity so as to engage a transactional link with homes in North America. For the most part, they are not visible participants in the political process. Into the twentieth century, the Afro-Creole population had emerged as the culturally ascendant group, largely responsible for defining the ways of life of the average Trinidadian. Until the 1970s, they were the largest community and their numbers are further inflated when they are combined with the Mixed race section of the population to which they are traditionally affiliated politically. However, as a group, they are highly differentiated even from the time of their entry into Trinidad, coming as they did from different countries and tribes in Africa, from the other Caribbean islands, and from the United States. They can nevertheless be conceived as falling into two parts. First, are the Mixed Race or Mulattos, a group that had defined itself historically and traditionally as a separate community with its own values, aspirations, leaders, history, origins, and identity. Derived mainly from European – African miscegenation, they tended to envisage themselves as more similar to their European component than their African, claiming European traditions as their own and had even at one time owned extensive plantations and slaves. Literate and educated, they have often provided the leadership of the entire Afro-Creole community, challenging the racial restrictions that relegated them to inferior positions. As a community, they tend to occupy an intermediate socioeconomic niche, with many becoming wealthy, owning businesses and occupying many professions. Their numbers have grown to about 18 per cent of the total population and bear internally differentiated distinctions of their own so that they cannot be strictly regarded as a unified organic community, such as is exemplified by the Indians and Afro-Creoles. Nevertheless, they have played a significant role in politics, as in all other spheres of local life. Their brown colour continues to privilege them even in the modern period when colour is supposedly no longer as powerful a factor in determining status. The second segment of the Afro-Creole group refers to persons drawn from three historical strands: ex-slaves and their descendants; the Blacks who came from the Caribbean islands either as slaves or as freemen; and descendants of Africans who came from Sierra Leone
The Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago
and St Helena. Together, this group has composed the overwhelming majority community in the country since the beginning of the nineteenth century and through most of the twentieth century. A small part of this group of the Afro-Creole community consisted of free blacks who were outside the plantation system. From within this entire AfroCreole bloc emerged the proletarian Black masses in Trinidad, poor and oppressed, originating from different parts of Africa and with a variety of cultural differences, suffering equally under the anvil of plantation toil. In the years following emancipation, this preponderant mass of AfroCreoles would produce an intermediate stratum of educated and skilled persons blossoming later into a vibrant middle class of professionals. These changes arose because of the public educational system, which more than anything else catapulted the downtrodden towards greater opportunities found in the public bureaucracy and teacher services. In the twentieth century ‘the Black bourgeoisie’, as they were depicted by an eminent sociologist (Oxaal 1961), along with the Mixed Afro-Creoles, would accede to the political positions vacated by the departure of the European expatriates. The Black middle class would lead the independence movement under the leadership of the eminent Oxford-educated historian, Eric Williams. The public bureaucracy and the professions became the home of this Black middle class. They are educated, articulate, and cast in the western cultural mould. Below this middle stratum was the majority, the Black masses, which, by the turn of the twentieth century, was living predominantly in the urban townships, such as Port of Spain. They fashioned the lingua franca Creole language and evolved popular music that included calypso and elements of what later became the Carnival festival. After leaving the plantations, the emancipated Afro-Creoles established villages and a peasantry evolved. But most would gravitate to the townships and to the oil fields especially during WWI and WWII, which offered abundant opportunities for employment. Even so, the drift away from the plantations was not complete since by 1878 as many as 25 % still worked for wages on the plantations. However, among those who remained on the plantations, many emerged as skilled factory workers. Being mainly Christian, most Afro-Creoles took advantage of the new educational facilities, while Indians remained illiterate and unschooled. This would translate into the acquisition of public service jobs and skilled training. Yet large numbers of them were unemployed, especially in the urban areas. Families tended to fall apart, leaving women in charge, and delinquents abounded. From this sub-group evolved a black underclass of very poor individuals. The victories of the PNM movement
Trinidad and Tobago
were fashioned by the leadership of the ‘Black bourgeoisie’ but based on the support of the underclass Black masses serving as its reliable loyal backbone. The two largest groups in this segmented mosaic of Trinidad then consisted of Afro-Creoles and Indians who had came to see each other in very stereotypical terms. One observer, Dr Tohill, a medical doctor, depicted the stereotype candidly: The two main groups of labour in Trinidad are the Negro and the East Indian from India. It is a curious thing that the Negro labourer has gravitated to the oil fields, and the Indian to the sugar cane estates and the cocoa estates. The reason is probably largely physical. The manual work entailed in the oil fields is of a very heavy nature, involving road making, the lifting into place of heavy machinery and pipes, the looking after boilers and engines and the various equipment of a rig of derrick. The Negro has a magnificent physique, and is eminently suited to manual labour in the tropics. His cheery disposition and devil-may-care outlook on life are a great asset, and make it much more easy for him to do heavy work in gangs than the Indian. The Negro will sing songs and chants when doing an extra heavy piece of manual gang work, rather like sailors at sea. The Indian is more adapted to working alone or in sparsely scattered groups where he can carry on a mild and desultory conversation. Also, he does not have the physique of the Negro, and is ill adapted for heavy work. The Negro is happy-go-lucky, the Indian contemplative and calculating. The Negro spends all he earns on his belly and clothes. The Indian on the other hand saves all his money, even at the expense of starving his body, and incidentally his family. The Negro is quite thriftless and the Indian thrifty. Who can say which is the happier, or which of these two races gets the most kick out of life? We can only judge by our own experience within ourselves. I know that the Negro gets a great kick out of life and thoroughly enjoys it, but the Indian – who knows? He is contemplative, secretive and without humor or any sense of music beyond his very elementary chromatic scale. The Negro is a born musician, an actor and an expert in the art of make believe. Perhaps it is this latter that is such a great asset to them. The Negro can over-compensate for his inferiority complex, but the Indian never. The Negro will get tight on rum as a matter of course; the Indians rarely do; they prefer opium or ganja or some drug on which they can waft their miserable bodies into a
The Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago
world of fantasy. There is little intermixing between the Negro and Indian in Trinidad; they keep very much to themselves. (Tohill 1939: 173–4)
Ethnic and race relations in the post-independence era The diversity of peoples in the Caribbean created a demographic condition that was conducive to social status differentiation along racial and colour lines. The Amerindians, Africans, European whites, Asian Indians, and Chinese, were cast in a formal pyramid of rank defined and stratified by phenotype, especially by colour. The colonial society that was established by the metropolitan powers led to the deep inscription of an ethnic and racially stratified order that would, in its essential features, persist into the twentieth and twenty first centuries. However, while ethnic and racial prejudice during the earlier colonial stage of settlement was overt and unapologetic, towards the end of the twentieth century after decolonization was practically completed, it assumed indirect and subtle forms that were ingrained in routine customary and institutional practices. In the modern era, with independence won and the former British Caribbean region, including Trinidad, in the hands of the non-white population for the most part, new modes of discrimination, prejudice, and racism have emerged. In other words, while the formal trappings of social differentiation and discrimination built around phenotype have been removed, inequality and oppression still persist. Racial and ethnic motifs are manifested in nuanced ways so that while the historical context of the nineteenth century has changed, and the political, social, and economic milieus have been transformed, oppression continues, the victims and victimizers are now differently attired. Basic structures of struggle in the context of scarce resources and the quest for power and privileges point to a new drama in which old colonially inspired themes of distinction and discrimination are still played out. The actors in the diverse Caribbean landscape are not now antagonistically the same: whites against non-whites. It is now mainly non-whites against non-whites, blacks against blacks, blacks against browns, high browns against low browns, Africans against Indians. In most of the Caribbean, the actors are now non-white. In Trinidad, ethnic and racial prejudice pervades the practices and customs of the society, setting the Indian and Afro-Creole communities against one another. Paget Henry traces how this antipathy was constructed on the anvil of colonial practices of subordinating and dehumanizing their victims (Premdas 2004). He depicts the process of
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psychical scarring by which a socially biologised Indian and African was created: we need to follow a little more closely the Indian passage through this Caribbean race/ethnic ritual that transforms autonomous cultures into ethnic groups. I call this passage an ethnic ritual because it can be theorized as a process of limination in which as ‘other’ or anti-structure to the white supremacist order, one is stereotypically biologised, raced, dehumanized and put through a long period of social and cultural death. (Henry 2004: 4) Henry underscores that there was a pattern of both degrading and destroying the old cultural selves of the Indians and Africans through what he calls ‘a ritual passage’. In this design to achieve control over the behaviour of its victims, the racist colonial order re-engineered the social biology of Indians and Africans, obliterating their autonomy and humanity, casting them into new categories of self-despising creatures, rendering them into socially scripted automatons unable to love and appreciate each other, ready only to hate and berate each other. They were ‘coolietized’ and ‘niggerized’, in his words. Henry gives us some insight into how this new identity was skillfully crafted: Like African slavery, Indian indenture profoundly racialized the identity of the Caribbean population. Their hair, skin, and other biological features were associated with specific capabilities and incapabilities. Europeans saw them as mild mannered, heathen, submissive, thrifty, miserly, hard working, and of course, sources of cheap labor. These features together with their ‘brownness’ produced the white supremacist stereotype of ‘the coolie’. This coolietization of Indo-Caribbean identity in the Euro-Caribbean mind established the bases for the processes of dehumanization and social death that start the movements through the ethnic ritual. Like the niggerization of AfroCaribbean identities, coolietization was a process that biologised Indo-Caribbean identities and thus decultured them. It displaced their spirituo-religious self-understanding and replaced them with images of devalued plantation workers. (ibid.: 5–6) From this colonial process in creating ‘Indians’ and ‘Afro-Creoles’, deeply embedded stereotypes were constructed. These have persisted to the present day and are now found in the institutions of contemporary Trinidadian society. The construction of the ethnic identity for both the
The Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago
Indian and the Afro-Creole occurs today in the nurturing embrace of the nuclear family, the extended relationships of kin and neighbourhood networks, and elementary and secondary schools. Within this matrix of institutions, both Indians and Africans are not isolated from each other. They learn very early from adults and friends of the existence and imputed character of ‘the other’ and easily absorb the prejudices and the stereotypes that these communities share. To the African, the Indian is not to be trusted. Selfish, the Indian is seen to be overly preoccupied with the pursuit of business goals and family interests in a clannish way that undermines public and community participation and obligations. Politically, Indians are portrayed as intent on capturing the government so as to control public service jobs, which are deemed the historical prerogative of Africans. Indian encroachment therefore has to be vigilantly monitored and contained. Culturally, Indian heritage is denigrated as ‘coolie culture’, backward and unenlightened, as compared with the creolized British norms and language acquired by the African. Indians are judged as uncouth and uncultured, a view derived from their historical rural isolation and usually display this by the measure of poor grammar, table manners, and civic etiquette. Together, it is a totalizing stereotype in the belittling and demonizing of the Indian who even after nearly 150 years in Trinidad is deemed less than a full member of the society, without legitimate rights in the political sphere. The Indian reciprocates in degrading the African, incorporating a combined cluster of biological, social and economic traits in his own counterperceptual apparatus. To the Indian, the African is lazy, undisciplined, brutal, spendthrift, ‘happy go lucky’, promiscuous and thieving. As against the Indian home, the African is seen as untidy. While the Indian woman is celebrated as a paragon of a housemaker and dedicated sacrificial wife, the African woman is deemed to be unruly and irresponsible. Indian men are seen are reliable breadwinners while African men are condemned as rootless and irresponsible, especially in their perceived promiscuity, which leaves a legacy of weak families run by single mothers. Africans are perceived as spendthrift, inclined to luxury and ostentation while the Indian, deemed miserly by the African, views his habits of saving as sacrifice. Africans are seen as easy to incite to violence and readily steal to fulfill a need. These are damning values held as social mirrors in mutual contempt. In the cradle of small communities and neighbourhoods, in which most Africans and Indians live, these stereotypical images are relentlessly inscribed in the behaviour of the young long before the accuracy of the claims can be experienced and verified. These stereotypes act as an
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ideological map in creating, discerning, interpreting and reaffirming the boundaries between the rival communities. In the post-independence period, these dichotomous views, which establish veritable communal solitudes, are enacted in the choices of close friendships and membership in voluntary associations. Much of the inter-ethnic prejudices have been fostered by the phenomenon of separation by space in the creation of ethno-regional enclaves in Trinidad since colonial times. The pattern of residence of the major ethnic communities has accentuated cultural pluralism by the grid of ethic ghettoes and neighbourhoods. Colin Clarke identified six predominant ethno-regions in Trinidad and Tobago and his recent survey concluded that in terms of relatively discrete ethnic settlements during the immediate two decades of the post-independence period there has been practically no desegregation at the national scale. In fact, the level of segregation had increased between whites, browns, and blacks, as well as between whites and blacks on one hand and Hindus on the other (Clarke 1993: 121). The rapid modernization and industrialization of Trinidad did not alter the ethnic pattern of residence: ‘Black penetration of the sugar belt through suburban sprawl from Port of Spain remained a minor phenomenon of little significance nationally. Young educated Hindus stayed in their parents’ villages and commuted to white color jobs in the towns’ (ibid.). The predominant pattern of ethnic residence has been broken at many points creating ethno-spatial mixes and some intermarriages, but this has not been reflected in shared values and community cohesion. Commented Clarke: ‘high segregation and low exogamy certainly characterize Indians and therefore IndianCreole relations at the nation scale’ (ibid.). Indian – African rivalry has served to reinforce and increase segmentation and prejudices through the agency of schools and religious practices. It is in the schools, which tend to be predominantly African or Indian with similar ethnic concentrations in terms of teachers, that these prejudices are reinforced. Eric Williams, the first Prime Minister of independent Trinidad and Tobago, had proposed that ‘the educational system be the midwife of the emerging social order’ (Williams 1950: 10). This was the argument in the light of the fact that up to the period of independence, Trinidad and Tobago had evolved from colonial practices a school system that was essentially segregated into Hindu, Muslim and Christian schools, with public schools also preponderantly uni-ethnic (Tewarie 1984: 1–12). Towards the end of the twentieth century the pattern of separatism – with the accompanying effects on inter-ethnic
The Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago
prejudices – remained. One research project that examined Indian– African relations in one typical school concluded: it has been espoused in texts and hailed by intellectuals and non-intellectuals alike, that education and educational institutions provide a forum for the eradication of racism. Based on our experience as teachers and the on the research we have conducted, we conclude that this is fallacy. In fact, schools are an ideal place to observe racist behavior and attitudes, both among teachers and students as well as between students and teachers. (Mathison and Carew 1994: 44) In the area of religion and associated symbolic ritual, these adversarial images are further anointed and legitimized. Indians tend to be Hindus and Muslims while Africans are predominantly Christian. There is certainly some inter-communal crossing of confessional and ecclesial memberships, but even in the instances where a number of Indians have become Pentecostal and evangelical Christians, and some have become Presbyterians, these congregations have tended to be preponderantly Indian, led by Indian pastors. The same is true in the case of those Africans who are Muslims. Confessional and ecclesial coincidence with ethnic identity tends to be the norm and this, in turn, contributes to the shaping of the stereotypes. Reverend Idris Hamid concluded that the schools had become a breeding ground of ethnic antipathy and outright racism. (Hamid 1971: 1; Premdas 1996b). Vida Naipaul, Trinidad’s Nobel Prize laureate, observed the problem of Afro-Creole–Indian antipathy as the key problem for development. Naipaul was invited by Trinidad’s prime minister, Eric Williams, to return from England and give an evaluation of the contemporary Caribbean condition. This he did in his work, The Middle Passage (1962). He expressed the sentiment ‘that racial co-existence, if not cooperation, is of urgent importance to the West Indies’ (Naipaul 1962: 14). He looked at the colonial inheritance, especially regarding the problematic part played by colour and status in Indian–African relations: ‘Like monkeys pleading for evolution, each claiming to be whiter than the other, Indians and Afro-Creoles appeal to the unacknowledged white audience to see how much they despise one another’ (ibid.: 78) Accepting whiteness as the measure of what is good and preferable, the two non-white groups engaged in unrelenting warfare egged on by their intellectual political leaders: ‘But Trinidad in fact teeters on the brink of racial war. Politics must be blamed; but there must have been an original antipathy for the politicians to work on. Matters are not helped by the fierce rivalry
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between Indians and Afro-Creoles as to who despises the other more. This particular rivalry is conducted by the liberal-minded’ (ibid.: 77) For Naipaul, this was clearly a case of displaced aggression. The colonial master had now disappeared from the scene, leaving its scripted automatons to despise each other, each ignorant of and caring little for their considerable ancestral cultural heritages.
Constitutional reform, decolonization, and the politics of ethnic preference After being under Crown Colony governance since 1797, when the British assumed control of Trinidad, it took more than another hundred years before an element of popular representation was introduced in the colonial council. In 1925, the Crown Colony system was jettisoned and for the next two decades, gradually, the colony moved towards universal adult suffrage in 1946, internal self-government in 1956, and, finally, independence in 1962. During this journey, propelled by a combination of external changes in the international order and internal pressures from popular agitation, mass political parties emerged, especially following the introduction of universal adult suffrage. In turn, this heralded the mobilization of voters into an assortment of racial and non-racial groupings. By 1946, Trinidad and Tobago’s population had reached a bit more than a half a million with Afro-Creoles constituting about 47 per cent of the population and Indians 35 per cent. (Table 2.1). Table 2.1 Population of Trinidad and Tobago by race, 1946
White Black East Indian Syrian Chinese Mixed or Colored Total of which: Indian Creole Chinese Creole Other Carib Not Stated TOTAL
15,283 261,485 195,747 889 5,641 78,775 8,406
27 469 351 02 10 141 15
66,696 26 124 557,970
120 00 00 1000
The Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago
Following the introduction of universal adult suffrage, a new political arena was constructed, littered by an assortment of independent candidates and ad hoc political parties vying for public office. It was, however, under the leadership of the PNM and its charismatic Afro-Creole leader, Eric Williams, that some order in the organization and articulation of public opinion occurred, bringing an end to the disarray in the political arena. Launched in 1956, the PNM’s charter proclaimed a commitment to promote equity in a multiracial society: ‘We are rather a rally, a convention of all and for all, a mobilization of all the forces in the community, cutting across race and religion, class and colour, with emphasis on united action by all the peoples in the common cause’ (Ryan 1972). In practice, however, the PNM appealed predominantly to Afro-Creole voters. Ethnic identity had already assumed salience when Indians were mobilized under the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), and French Creoles under the Party of Political Progress Groups (POPPG). At first, the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) joined forces with the French Creole party during the 1952 election to oppose all other parties. In the partisan competition, the PNM emerged as the most formidably organized formation, beginning with its victory in the 1956 general elections, in which it won 13 of 24 seats. By 1960, however, the three-party ethnic triangle had given way to a bipolar structure in which the PNM directly confronted the Indian-based DLP. With this event, Trinidad was seemingly settled permanently into the destructive morass of an ethnically bipolar partisan order. In the 1961 election that set the stage for independence in 1962, for the first time the two major ethnically based parties squared off with practically no other meaningful contestants. The two of them shared the 30 seats in the House of Representatives, pointing to the elimination of individual independent candidates and third parties as the political arena became increasingly polarized. The intense pressure from the campaign aroused the communal sensitivities of both Afro-Creoles and Indians to an unprecedented pitch, driving the two communal sections apart as never before. The 1961 election, the last before independence, was therefore the most critical contest, since the victors of this election would be placed in a strategic position to define the fate of its political and ethnic adversaries. In the election campaign, the threat of open violence was very palpable. The polity became deeply polarized with the ethnic division becoming thereafter the defining mark of subsequent elections. Two ethnically based parties bestrode the political landscape, sharing all of the seats in Parliament. The PNM became so dominant over the next six elections and for a stretch of 25 years that it established a
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virtual one-party state. To be sure, especially after the PNM had been in power for several years and incompetence and corruption had become pervasive, splinter organizations outside the two-party system emerged, basing their appeals in part on class and intra-communal divisions. In 1981, one such party, the Organization for National Reconstruction (ONR), appeared, but was decimated in the general election. In 1985, another, more powerful such party arose in the National Association for Reconstruction (NAR), which defeated the PNM. But these were aberrations and deviations from the norm of the embedded ethnic partisan preference practiced by Trinidad’s citizens. The ethnic partisan pattern had reflected and reinforced the general political disposition of AfroCreoles and Indians to vote for their communal parties. Paradoxically, while successive election campaigns have tended to stimulate ethnic tensions, this has not been reflected in everyday life, which appears to remain relatively harmonious. The ethnic factor became so entrenched that it tended to enter into every aspect of political behaviour and into all public institutions animating their life, crippling their vibrancy in a broken political will. The PNM led the colony to independence in 1962 and for six consecutive parliamentary terms, until 1986, served as the ruling party. The Afro-Creole community, which constituted the largest community (43.5 per cent) at that time, was able to repeatedly return the PNM to power. This was made possible because a substantial part of the Mixed race group (17 per cent) supported it, as well as a smattering of others. In effect, to the African communal core, the PNM, especially while in power and controlled immense patronage and privileges, was able to cobble together and consolidate its electoral majority from the Mixed Races, Europeans (French Creoles), Chinese, and a small but significant slice of the Indian middle class. Wielding undisputed paramountcy over the polity and society in its control over jobs, contracts, and other values, the PNM at once became a tower of strength and place of reverence in periods of plenty and, as time would tell when the economy took a downward spiral, a source of all sin in times of adversity. The PNM’s consecutive victories were registered in a ‘winner takes all’ parliamentary system based on single-seat simple plurality. In effect, this parliamentary and electoral system, when articulated into the ethnically communalized structure of partisan choice, meant that the defeated party was almost totally excluded from power and privileges. The political system provided no incentive to consociation and power sharing across the ethnic divide, but reinforced the sectional cleavages breeding alienation within the out-group. To be sure, the PNM did appoint a
The Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago
few Indians to its cabinet in governing, but in a country where most Indians were Hindus and Indians became the largest community in the country, no Hindu was ever appointed to the PNM cabinet in the 26 years following independence. For Indians, this smacked of discrimination, which they saw manifested in the stacking of the public service with PNM supporters and in the skewed allocation of other benefits and resources of the state. An immense target, the PNM was humiliated in 1986 when it was able to obtain only 3 out of 36 seats in Parliament. This occurred after a steep economic decline, when the PNM was weakened and widely perceived as corrupt and incompetent. Dr Williams had died in 1981 and the loss of his charismatic presence coincided with the loss of economic wellbeing in the society. Indians as a whole saw the PNM as an instrument of ethnic repression and in 1986 they would join forces with other dissident groupings, made up of disenchanted sections of the Afro-Creole and Mixed Race communities as well as French Creoles, in dislodging the PNM from power. Petroleum prices had collapsed and Trinidad’s oilbased economy was falling into recession. Rampant corruption and incompetence also drove the electorate – regardless of ethnic identity – away from the PNM and into the hands of the new multi-ethnic formation called the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR). Constituted of an unprecedented alignment of disgruntled Indians and Afro-Creoles, it represented that elusive multi-ethnic formation that had hitherto failed to appear in Trinidad’s modern mass politics. NAR called itself a ‘rainbow party’ bound by ‘One Love’. The ethnic unity in NAR, led by Afro-Tobagonian A.N.R. Robinson, was short-lived, however. About one year later, after victory in 1986, the NAR was split fatally between an Indian group led by Basdeo Panday and the Creole group led by Prime Minister Robinson. The Indian group reconstituted itself as the United National Congress (UNC) under Panday’s leadership. After five years of rule, NAR returned to the electorate for a new mandate to continue to govern. By 1991, however, new discontents were unleashed in the society, largely as a result of the implementation of the IMF austerity programme that included the retrenchment of public servants as well as the reduction of their wages and salaries. The ‘rainbow’ consociation of inter-class and inter-ethnic amity embodied in the original NAR was severely eroded and was now under a serious challenge. Strong ethno-communalist sentiments had reemerged in the wake of the economic crisis and the attendant austerity measures implemented by the NAR. This returned to haunt them in the 1991 general election. The essentially three-way contest was a mixture
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of old and new motifs in Trinidad’s politics. NAR lost the elections, gaining only two seats out of 36, with the Creole-based PNM and the Indian-based UNC sharing the remaining seats with the PNM getting a majority and returning to power in an ethnically divided electorate. In the next election in 1995, the UNC under Panday, dramatically won in coalition with NAR, bringing to power the first Indian prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago from 1995 to 2000. The next three elections were a toss-up, with the UNC and PNM alternatingly winning and losing, before the PNM eventually returned to power in 2002. In all of these elections, the common element was the persistence of ethnic voter preference for the two main ethnic parties. The PNM and UNC represented their old ethnic popular bases; these parties could count on a solid core of ethnic constituents to vote for them even when the confrontation brought them to the edge of mutual self-destruction.
3 Struggles over the Distribution of Posts in the Public Service, Private Sector, Cabinet, Parliament and Presidency
In concrete terms the issue of inequality and distributive justice often turns on the governmental apparatus of the state itself becoming the most visible arena of inter-ethnic rivalry pointing, especially in terms of access to jobs and employment. In Trinidad, as in the Third World more generally, the government is the largest employer and civil service jobs are prized. How these jobs are allocated bedevils inter-group relations, becoming a perennial source of disputes and controversy. Generally, and most frequently, issues regarding equality and distributive justice revolve around claims over the distribution of material resources such as public jobs, state projects and subsidies (Despres 1975; Cohen 1974; Premdas 1989). In Trinidad and other plural societies, such resources tend to be dominated in particular economic sectors by the different ethnic segments in the population. As pointed out in Chapter 1, the personnel in the government bureaucracy has been tilted in favour of the Afro-Creole community in part because of historical reasons, pointing to the fact that in the colonial society, persons of African descent availed themselves of an Anglicized missionary education, in contrast to the Asian Indians, who feared religious conversion. The result was the dominance of the public bureaucracy by one community, which came to regard it as its own preserve (Premdas 1995). In turn, this fact has supplied the grist for inter-ethnic struggles over counterclaims for ‘equity’ by the disadvantaged community. In common parlance, however, the demand by the aggrieved group, mainly Indo-Trinidadians, for ‘equity’ and the establishment of an ‘equity commission’ was more precisely about ‘equal opportunity’. As pointed out in the introductory chapter, ‘equal opportunity’ is about 49
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access to values, such as jobs in both the public and private sectors, without the restraint of discrimination due to gender, race, religion or ethnicity. Such arbitrary ascriptive factors tend to distort the recruitment of personnel for posts and other opportunities, breeding discontent and alienation. Importantly, while Indians may point to their proportional under-representation in the public bureaucracy as stemming from ethnic discrimination, they have not demanded a programme of ‘affirmative action’ for compensation for an alleged historical wrong. The equality sought refers to a demand for equal access without arbitrary hindrance, not equality of incomes and well-being in the society as a whole. However, the issue of relative group well-being prowls through the discourse of equality among the ethnic communities. Often, it is conceded that Indians are proportionately under-represented in the Public Service, but in the same breath, it is asserted that Indians are over-represented in the private sector so there is a perception that one imbalance is offset by the other. This idea of relative group wellbeing is very much a part of the discourse on equality, but it goes hand in hand with the demand for equal opportunity as an individual right. In what follows, we shall look at aggregate data describing Indian representation in the Public Service relative to their proportion in the population. It will be seen that, indeed, Indians were underrepresented, but not to a remarkable degree. It is often denied that AfroCreole over-representation is deliberate, noting in counter-argument that they have had a longer history of entry and employment in the Public Service. We shall now consider the empirical data that are available. The pattern of ethnic politics in relation to resource allocation and distributive justice has manifested itself visibly in aspects of the executive branch of the government since independence in Trinidad. Two particular sites where this pattern can be usefully analysed are the Cabinet and the Public service. We shall first consider the Public Service. This will then be followed by an examination of the pattern of ethnic employment and ownership in the private sector.
The Public Service and ethnic representation The Public Service has emerged as a primary arena of rivalry between Afro-Creoles and Indians, throwing up many issues of equity in representation and persistent complaints of discrimination. As the main source of employment in the country, the Public Service inevitably drew intense scrutiny from ethno-cultural communities for its practices in
The Distribution of Posts 51
employment and promotion. In the early colonial period under British rule, the Public Service under European dominance was slow to yield its privileges and its levers of control to the non-white population. It was only in the twentieth century that it did so, particularly to the Afro-Creole and Mixed sections of the population. Access to public service positions, in theory driven by merit, required a measure of educational attainment and training. In the mid-nineteenth century, a public educational system was established and even though for a long time it was rudimentary and inadequately staffed with trained personnel, it provided an avenue of educational exposure and a critical ladder of acculturation to those who availed themselves of its services. It was the Afro-Creoles and Mixed segments that attended the schools, preparing the way eventually for job opportunities in the emergent public bureaucracy. Indians, arriving in 1845, were reluctant to attend these schools, which were mainly under Christian denominational management for fear that it might compromise their religion and culture. This reluctance was to persist during the nineteenth century until a second and third generation of Indians became permanent residents in Trinidad. Largely located in urban areas, mainly in the capital Port of Spain, public service opportunities were much more easily available to urban dwellers, the Afro-Creoles, than to the rural population, which was predominantly Indian. Hence, a combination of urban residence and English education allowed the Afro-Creole and Mixed race communities to embed themselves strategically in the Public Service, which over the years they came to regard as their own preserve. When Indians started to build their own schools and started to enter the public schools in the first half of the twentieth century, they began to see the Public Service as a positive alternative to the drudgery of rural sugar, rice and cocoa production. The Public Service, including the Teaching Service, carried the added attraction of being white-collar jobs with monthly salaries – a symbol of achievement and pride for many Indian parents. Steadily acquiring literacy, education, and creolized English ways, Indians by the decade after independence had become a force to reckon with as they converged on the Public Service for jobs. There they encountered the entrenched Afro-Creole and Mixed groups in what would become an ongoing zero-sum struggle. This confrontation would add to the other antipathies that already separated the two groups, with each making convincing claims to equitable access to the limited resources offered by public service employment. One former member of the Public Service Commission articulated the sense of proprietorship by the Afro-Creoles
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and the territorial threat posed by Indians and this was underscored by one observer thus: The Afro-Trinidadian is demonstrably unwilling to share public resources and symbolic space with other ethnic groups not only because they regarded these as scarce, but because they deemed these to be their legitimate and prescriptive right by reason of their earlier historical presence in the territory and the greater proximity of their culture and patterns of behaviour to the super-ordinate colonial culture by which public norms are referenced. (Ryan 1990: 2) Prior to the Afro-Creole/Indian competition for public service jobs in the twentieth century, there were other ethnic struggles for similar positions. Early in the establishment of the Public Service, pressure for access against the entrenched European section that dominated the public bureaucracy came from the small African middle class and, particularly, from the Mixed Races, which had a greater sense of entitlement. They were literate and well enough educated to qualify for positions, but confronted discrimination and had to struggle for these coveted posts. Some lower-level posts were conceded. However, it would take larger structural changes in the colonial order to open up the middle and upper reaches of the Public Service to the non-white population and these developments occurred mainly in the twentieth century. By 1925, when the Crown Colony system of governance was for the first time eliminated in favour of an elective principle of representation, there were clear signals of an impending change in the order of things, affecting recruitment to the public bureaucracy. It was, however, the riots and strikes in the 1930s and the appointment of the Moyne Commission which led, after the end of World War II, to truly radical changes. Universal adult suffrage came in 1946 and in a cascading and convergent sequence of dramatic events in decolonization, culminating in independence in 1962, a new Public Service under local indigenous control was inaugurated. When the British expatriate officers who dominated the upper levels of the public service left Trinidad, the public bureaucracy fell into the hands of the Afro-Creole and Mixed communities – along with an insignificant smattering of Indians, Chinese, Portuguese and local Whites. The new order was distinctively Afro-Creole and it marked the triumph of the non-white population in acquiring control of the executive arm of the government. If this victory marked the end of Afro-European contest for power and positions in the Public Service, it was also the beginning of a new starkly defined bipolar competition
The Distribution of Posts 53
between Indians and Afro-Creoles over the employment opportunities in the Public Sector. Like the first contest, when Afro-Creoles and the Mixed Race community complained bitterly of discrimination in the allocation of public service jobs, in the second engagement between Afro-Creoles and Indians, it would be the turn of the Indians to take up the clarion call of discrimination, clamouring for equity. The contest continues into the present with not only jobs at stake but also political power and symbols of social superiority implicated, as witnessed in the rhetorical exchanges between the two groups, which employs the language of ethic dominance and internal colonialism reminiscent of the good old colonial days. The Public Service attained special salience for the Afro-Creole section, which saw it as their main repository of jobs and status while many Indians and most Portuguese, Chinese and Syrians sought employment in the private sector. Even though the stakes for the Afro-Creole section were indeed very high, their very livelihood and dignity on the line, it was overtly a peaceful struggle between Indians and Afro-Creoles with a Public Service Commission serving in theory as a disinterested adjudicator of appointments made on merit. Even though it was a meritocracy, several problems clouded the operations of the Public Service Commission, some of them historically derived, others politically contrived, rendering its task of ensuring equity controversial and especially sensitive in a plural society. The fact of the early entry of Afro-Creoles into the Public Service clearly accounted in large measure for their predominance and entrenchment in the Public Service. This historical fact, however, became entwined in democratic governance in a political system where the main political parties were ethnically-based. In voting collectively and overwhelmingly in support of the Afro-Creole People’s National Movement (PNM), it was the expectation of supporters that the pattern of employment in the Public Service would be protected and expanded by public policy. Further, the backbone of the PNM leadership, derived from the middle class of the Afro-Creole community, was substantially located within the Public and Teaching Service. The dominance of the PNM for three decades after independence had been accompanied by firm control and consolidation of the Public Service, including the Public Service Commission under Afro-Creole influence. Despite disclaimers in answers to charges of discrimination, standing firmly on arguments that it always conforms to meritocratic principles in making appointments and promotions, the Public Service Commission was perceived by Indians as biased and discriminatory, especially in some of the
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procedures it applied in making appointments. Commented the Centre for Ethnic Studies: The selection method of using competitive interviews has been criticized as being biased against Indo-Trinidadians and women in particular. The bias appears to exist in the composition of the interviewing panels, which in the past sometimes included only male Afro-Trinidadians. Even if the greatest objectivity is maintained, the impression may be given, and unsuccessful Indo-Trinidadian candidates can (and indeed have) claim that they were the victims of racial discrimination. (Centre for Ethnic Studies 1992: 8) At this point, it will be useful to review some of the available statistical evidence on the patterns of recruitment. Most of this evidence comes from an analysis of the names of employees in the Public Service, specifically identifying Indians by their surnames. This is likely to be only minimally in error since only a very small number of Indians have changed their names to Christian names. This was the method that was utilized by the Centre for Ethnic Studies in conducting its research into ethnic representation in the Public Service. The main methodological problem was that the Christian names belonged to both Mixed races and Afro-Creoles and there was no means of disaggregating them. While overall, Indians by the turn of the twentieth century were not represented proportionately in the Public Service, with only 119 (or 5 per cent) of them employed as late as 1931, the picture dramatically altered later so that in 1971, 3,217 out of 12,038 (or 21 per cent) were Indians, in 1980 5,453 (30.8 per cent) and in 1989, 10,184 (29 per cent of the total) (Centre for Ethnic Studies 1992; Ryan 1994: 1–22)(see Tables 3.1 and 3.2). The employment structure was more differentiated and nuanced within different sections and departments of the Public Service. For instance, in the category of permanent clerks, Indians were overrepresented, with 50.2 per cent at Clerk I, 55.2 per cent at Clerk II, 55.3 per cent at Clerk III and 32 per cent at Clerk IV (Table 3.3). However, in the upper reaches of the Public Service hierarchy, where power, pay and status resided, the numbers of Indians were dramatically reduced, practically to a token presence: 29.4 per cent, 9.5 per cent and 12.5 per cent of the Administrative II, IV and V posts (Tables 3.4 and 3.5). As Heads of Departments, they were similarly underrepresented: 17.3 per cent in 1970; 15.2 per cent in 1980; and 13.9 per cent in 1992. One analyst argued that this evidence ‘underscores the claim that AfroCreoles were unwilling to permit the presence of significant numbers of
Table 3.1 Appointments to posts in the public service, 1981–1991 Years
Indians as a percentage of total Appointments
1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 Total
1,500 1,552 1,582 1,718 904 713 311 70 360 1,529 1,028 11,267
498 601 499 711 241 279 111 17 133 463 371 3,924
33.2 38.7 31.5 41.4 26.7 39.1 35.7 24.3 36.9 30.3 36.1 34.8
Source: Trinidad and Tobago Gazette, 1991.
Table 3.2 Ethnic allocations in the public service 1990 (percentages) Ethnic group African Indian Syrian/Lebanese White/Caucasian Mixed Other Ethnic Groups Note Stated
50.01 34.18 0.01 0.19 14.86 0.13 0.40
38.91 39.60 0.37 0.08 18.13 0.63 2.10
Source: Population and Housing Census (Central Statistical Office, Trinidad and Tobago, 1990).
Table 3.3 Ethnic composition of clerical class (all grades), February 1993
Total of Indian names Total of non-Indian names Total
1,038 m = 276; f. = 762 1,029
551 m. = 166; f. = 385 446
279 m. = 122; f. = 157 225
77 m. = 22 f. = 55 160
Source: Establishment and Seniority Lists, Service Commissions Department.
Trinidad and Tobago Table 3.4 Ethnic representation in the public service. Senior administrative posts (Administrative Officers IV and V), 1992 (percentages) Post AOV AOIV
Source: Pay list for October 1992, prepared by the National Information Systems
Table 3.5 Ethnic distribution of posts, 1970–1992 (percentages) Years
1970 1980 1992
20.7 27.1 35.6
79.3 72.9 64.4
25.6 28.9 41.3
74.4 71.1 58.7
33.5 25.8 37.0
66.5 74.2 63.0
25.1 35.6 41.0
74.9 64.4 59.0
Source: Centre for Ethnic Studies (1992: 93).
Indians in the upper reaches of the Public Service’ (Ryan 1994: 14). In the category of promotions, a category that had drawn bitter complaints from Indians, they were also underrepresented (Table 3.6), as can be seen from the sample for the years 1981–1991, showing that that they had received only about 31 per cent of all promotions. Acting and Temporary appointments were the areas where anti-Indian discrimination had occurred greatly because of the lack of oversight from the Public Service Commission (Tables 3.7 and 3.8). However, in the areas of specialized training, such as accounting (40 per cent), and engineering (43.7 per cent), Indians were well represented. The same is true in the Division of Customs and Excise (44 per cent), Inland Revenue (48 per cent) and less so in Medicine (34.8 per cent); in the budget division of the Treasury (33 per cent); and in research and planning (25 per cent) (Centre for Ethnic Studies 1992). In the Judiciary, Indians were over-represented (45.8 per cent). In addition to the regular civil service in the area of public employment, there was a proliferation of more than sixty public enterprises in Trinidad and Tobago, created particularly during the oil boom years of the 1970s. Some of these state enterprises are very large, providing
The Distribution of Posts 57 Table 3.6 Promotions in the public service, 1981–1991 Years
1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 Total
2,072 1,504 1,419 1,261 1,235 358 330 24 232 1,371 1,011 10,817
623 444 471 435 363 91 87 7 120 445 300 3,386
Indians as a percentage of total promotions 30.1 29.5 33.2 34.5 29.4 25.4 26.4 29.2 51.7 32.5 29.7 31.3
Source: Trinidad and Tobago Gazette.
Table 3.7 Temporary appointments to the public service, 1981–1991 Years
Total of temporary appointments
Indians appointed temporarily
Indians appointees as a percentage of Total
1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 Total
784 794 594 343 521 123 248 210 126 80 341 4,128
229 209 138 130 161 37 90 64 61 30 87 1,236
30.6 26.3 23.2 37.9 30.9 30.1 36.3 30.5 48.4 37.5 25.5 29.9
Source: Trinidad and Tobago Gazette.
employment for quite a few public servants. In these bodies, Indian representation was generally low, proportional to their population (Table 3.9). There have been exceptions to this, such as the Water and Sewerage Authority, Indian employment has been above their population proportion, but in the vast majority of cases they were
Trinidad and Tobago
Table 3.8 Acting appointments in the Public Service, 1981–1991 Years
1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 Total
Total acting appointments 2,185 2,156 1,611 1,383 1,319 763 704 349 223 132 440 11,265
Indians appointed to acting positions
Indian appointees as a percentage of total
595 532 467 370 371 219 178 125 67 60 193 3,177
27.2 24.7 29.0 26.8 28.1 28.7 25.3 35.8 30.0 45.5 43.9 28.2
Source: Trinidad and Tobago Gazette.
underrepresented. This was particularly emphatic on the management boards of these enterprises where their presence was almost invisible. One area that is particularly coveted by the population relates to the award of scholarships and training opportunities controlled by the Public Service. This is an envied gateway to the professions as well as to positions of elevated status. Parents are eager to see their offspring offered any of these awards. These awards are processed within the Public Service, ostensibly employing neutral criteria. In this category over the years, Indians were consistently and dramatically under-represented in the award of scholarships, as revealed by the Centre for Ethnic Studies. In one representative sample taken for the year 1992 (Table 3.10), 14 per cent of Indians received scholarships in contrast to 73.3 per cent of non-Indians (Centre for Ethnic Studies 1992: 214). In many multi-ethnic countries where there has been communal conflict, the composition of the security forces, primarily the Armed Forces and the Police, is an extraordinarily sensitive subject. In particular, ethnic communities have sought to ensure that their members are equitably represented. In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, Indians are very substantially under-represented in the coercive arms of the state, holding only 9.84 per cent of the Army and 16 per cent of the Coast Guard posts, thereby engendering bitter complaints often about ethnic oppression (Tables 3.11 and 3.12). Because of its closeness to the daily lives of civilians in a country notorious for crime, the Police Service has
Table 3.9 Comparative diversity in selected public enterprises, 1993 HQ
Valuchon Gov ($m)
Dir % Indian
Tot Labour Force
% Non Indian
Mgt % Non
Mgt % Indian
Gnl % Non
WASA ADB BWIA PTSC TTEC TCL
St. Joseph Port of Spain Piarco Port of Spain Port of Spain Claxton Bay
Dispersed Dispersed Dispersed Dispersed Dispersed Mayo
16.7 50.0 0 42.9 22.2 50.0
3280 220 2045 1491 3184 359
75.8 68.2 76.0 59.8 66.1 47.9
242 318 240 402 339 521
1000 857 817 1000 636 …
0 14.3 18.3 0 36.4
75.8 68.9 75.6
242 311 244
Pt. Lisas Couva
NP NFM LASCO NCB AATT TTT TANTEAK NGC PETROTRIN
None Central/ South T’dad None None None Dispersed Crown Pt. None
NA 2403 5399 NA NA 146 690 314 1773
833 500 1000 571 778 500
1000 970 1000 1000 1000 291 1000 1000 1000
Port of Spain Port of Spain La Brea Port of Spain Piarco Port of Spain Carlsen Field Pt. Lisas None Pointe a Pierre Dispersed
1000 1000 1000 364 1000 1000 1000 1000 1000
471 290 NA 124 NA 16 166 N.A N.A
800 100 100 100 100 556 834 875 727
20.0 0 0 0 0 44.4 16.6 12.5 27.3
528 423 223 811 630 148 146 331 5455
78.5 82.3 91.5 73.7 80.5 80.1 57.5 68.6 66.3
215 177 85 263 195 199 425 314 337
1000 850 750 759 899 600 625 286 556
0 15.0 25.0 24.1 11.1 40.0 37.5 71.4 44.4
76.3 82.1 92.0 73.5 80.0 82.6 57.3 32.6 66.3
237 179 80 265 200 174 427 674 337
Notes: (bd-board of directors; dr-director; lab-laboratory worker) ∗ (WASA: Water and Sewerage Authority; ADB: Agricultural Development Bank; BWIA: British Airways International; PTSC: Public Transport Service Corporation; TTEC: Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Corporation; TCL: Trinidad Cement Limited; TTMC: Trinidad and Tobago Methanol Company; LASCO: Lake Asphalt Company of Trinidad and Tobago; NCB: National Commercial Bank; Caroni LTD 1975: Caroni Sugar Company; NP: Trinidad and Tobago National Petroleum Marketing Co; AATT-Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago; TTT-Trinidad and Tobago Television Company; TANTEAK: Trinidad and Tobago Forest Products Company ; NFM: National Flour Mill Ltd.; NGC: The national gas Company; PETROTRIN: Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago; TSTT: Telephone Service of Trinidad and Tobago; NBS: National Broadcasting Company)
Trinidad and Tobago Table 3.10 Number of Trinidad and Tobago nationals receiving scholarship and advanced training awards, by ethnicity and field of study Field of study
2 0 3 0 2 0 2 2 2 1
10 1 12 4 6 11 9 7 9 3
12 1 15 4 8 11 11 9 11 3
Humanities Natural Sciences Medical Sciences Law Business Administration Education Social Sciences Engineering Agriculture Not Given Total
Source: Centre for Ethnic Studies (1995: 175).
Table 3.11 Trinidad and Tobago 1990 Defence Force (percentages) Ethnic group African Indian Chinese Syrian/Lebanese White/Caucasian Mixed Other ethnic groups None stated Total
Defence force 71.53 9.84 0.13 0.0 0.13 17.70 0.20 0.46 100.0
Source: Central Statistical Office, Trinidad and Tobago, 1992.
elicited much complaint on account of its ethnic lopsidedness. In 1962, at independence, there were only 50 Indians in the Police Service. The Indian Opposition Leader, Capildeo, in negotiating the political terms of independence with Eric Williams, the Afro-Creole Prime Minister, demanded and got the concession that more Indians would be recruited into the Police Force. By 1989, there were 24.67 per cent of Indians in the Police Service but only 12.5 per cent above the senior Range 60.
The Distribution of Posts 61 Table 3.12 Trinidad and Tobago 1992 Police Service (percentages) Ethnic group African Indian Other ethnic groups Total
74.70 24.68 0.62 100.0
87.3 10.34 2.30 100.0
74.46 24.95 0.59 100.0
Source: Administrative Department of Police Service, Trinidad and Tobago, 1992.
The private sector and ethnic representation Trinidad’s economy is a mixed capitalist type which contains an assortment of firms, from large multinationals to small family concerns. From its inception as a colony, a capitalist mode of production was inscribed on the economic order, at first with small farming as the main unit of production and eventually with factory plantations owned mainly by Europeans, and employing predominantly non-white Amerindian, African, and Indian labour. Initially, capital was white and labour was non-white, which in turn corresponded with unequal distribution of resources, social status, and power. Over the years, the colonial pattern of ownership has been modified in significant ways but, as in all of its economic changes, Trinidad has remained dominated by the production of a few primary products – initially sugar, cocoa, and coffee but today petroleum and gas – which are still preponderantly foreign-owned and oriented to external markets. Towards the end of the millennium, the energy sector comprising of petroleum, gas and petrochemicals became so dominant that it accounted for 25 per cent of GDP, 34 per cent of all government revenues, and 80 per cent of merchandise export earnings. Since its inception, the energy sector has evolved into the preserve of the Afro-Creole, Mixed and European communities. To be sure, while the ownership in the energy sector has always been preponderantly European and foreign, most of the jobs up to the middle levels today are dominated by Afro-Creoles. Part of the energy sector is controlled by TRINTOPEC, a state enterprise that refines crude petroleum, selling to both local and foreign markets, and which is staffed predominantly by Afro-Trinidadians. While petroleum was at one point the most significant component in the energy sector, its level of production has steadily declined – from 56 million barrels a day in 1989 to 48 million barrels a day in 1998. It has
Trinidad and Tobago
been eclipsed by liquidified natural gas (LNG), which is used for electricity and for the creation of petrochemical products, such as ammonia and methanol. Trinidad has emerged as the world’s largest producer of ammonia and methanol and the fifth largest producer of LNG. The capital equity of the sector is mainly foreign multinational corporations, British Petroleum and Atlantic LNG, even though the Trinidad government owns a small percentage. As a result of these developments, Trinidad has become the largest LNG producer for the American market. These changes to the Trinidadian economy have meant that agriculture (sugar, cocoa, coffee and citrus) now accounts for only 2 per cent of GDP and employs only 9.7 per cent of the workforce. Following the 2004 closure of the state-owned sugar company Caroni (1975) Ltd, which directly employed some 9,000 workers, the size of the agricultural sector would have diminished still further. The manufacturing and service sectors have become strong, accounting for over 60 per cent of GDP. The relative prosperity of the country has produced a large middle class and a vibrant consumer society, marked by heavy importation of food products. In all of this, however, controversial issues have raised their head around ethnic shares and distribution and the problem of entitlement and justice. In the context of the ethnic diversity in Trinidad and the modern history of inter-ethnic rivalry, especially between Indians and Afro-Creoles, the distributive problem has evoked strong passions, which have come to define the ethnic malaise as one of resource allocation not only in the public sector but also in the private. Ethnic arithmetic in all spheres has entered into political discourse and has come to influence public policy and partisan politics. Issues of economic shares by the ethnic communities are conducted in public discourse through an ethnic prism. It is controversial to place the private sector in the same category of scrutiny for equality. The Public Service is collectively owned by the public and, even where the principle of merit dictates the recruitment of personnel, the outcome in terms of ethnic and gender distribution in employment can be interrogated legitimately. It can be argued, however, that the private sector is not in same category of public policy manipulation as the private sector on the basis of the sanctity of property rights. Hence, some have argued that interrogating the criteria and procedures of recruitment in the public service cannot be extended to how private firms behave in their employment practices. Today, however, Much of this thinking has been discredited by the view that a society, and especially an ethnically diverse society, committed to justice and equality, can legitimately insist that such motifs and principles inform
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the behaviour of all entities both in the private and public sector so as to eliminate all forms of arbitrary discrimination against women, religious and ethnic groups. Having conceded this, it still remains open to argument whether or not in an essentially capitalist state, such as Trinidad, private property in the form of private businesses, should be submitted to state intervention with the intention of to restructuring the ethnic composition of the employees. Should the state intervene in the private sector’s employment practices, even after compliance with anti-discrimination laws? What if after anti-discrimination laws are implemented, private firms tend to be staffed overwhelmingly by particular ethnic groups? Should affirmative action programmes with quota requirements be imposed in order to achieve some sort of ethnic balance? These are some of the issues that permeate discussions of employment practices in the private sector in plural societies – especially where there exists a pattern of ethnic dominance by one ethnic group. Is it legitimate to argue that the ethnic dominance by one group in the public sector justifies similar dominance by another ethnic group in the private sector? Or is it the case that these interventions are only appropriate in the public sector but not in the private? As we enter into a descriptive portrayal of the ethnic ownership and employment patterns in the private sector in Trinidad, these are some of the issues that surround the debate. A related area of controversy concerns policies that have been employed by different governments to modify and restructure the ethnic imbalance in different sectors of the economy. Different governments with different ideologies and social bases have resorted to different approaches. Conceivably, a laissez-faire capitalist government committed to private property rights and the market and supported by the well-off portion of the population would engage in very little state intervention to rectify social or ethnic imbalances in the employment practices of businesses, or, for that matter, in the Public Service. On the other hand, a socialist government may seek actively to reengineer distribution of outcomes, including the representation of ethnic communities in the employment practices of both the public and private sectors. Many governments, however, are neither purely capitalist nor socialist but support mixed economies, often with a dominant capitalist structure, modified extensively by state intervention policies. It is with this type of government that we are concerned. Trinidad is fundamentally a capitalist society, but these is a strong state sector. The governments that have come to power, however, while being committed to a mixed private property-based economy, have been
Trinidad and Tobago
supported by ethnic and communal social groups, causing them to craft their policy choices in favour of their respective communities. Hence, when the PNM was in power for an extended period of some thirty years, it sought to implement policies that enabled the Afro-Creole community to participate more extensively in the business sector. It did so by what was in essence a programme of affirmative action, which we shall discuss below. It also instituted a steep progressive taxation system that extracted much revenue from the business sector (dominated by French Creoles, Chinese, Syrian-Lebanese, and Indians) and redistributed it as social programmes, which benefited its own community disproportionately. Socialist-Labour governments tend to do the same, except that in these instances the redistributive programmes are class-based, rather than ethnicity-based. Nevertheless, redistribution to favour the support base of a party in power is standard practice in democracies. However, when this is done in ethnically divided societies so that a consistent pattern of discrimination leads to exclusion, it is likely to breed alienation, if not active resistance. Whatever the case, the question that needs to be addressed is whether redistribution from one class or ethnic community to another can be justified from the perspective of some larger good that benefits the entire society. Is equality such a larger good that it justifies affirmative action programmes? Unfortunately, it is not the task of this work to resolve these philosophical issues of justice. What is important here is to underscore that these questions of justice and equality tend to inform the policies of elected governments. We shall now consider the empirical aspects of ethnic employment representation in the private sector in Trinidad. Table 3.13 provides a picture of ethnic participation overall in the private, public and self-employed sectors (Ryan 1992a: xii).
Table 3.13 Distribution of ethnic groups in private, public and self-employed sectors Groups
Afro-Trinidadian Indian Chinese Syrian European Mixed
Private sector %
Public sector %
42 348 127 37 140 327
42 348 127 37 140 327
Self-employed % 419 260 145 89 91 112
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Table 3.13 shows in part that Afro-Trinidadians predominated in the public sector, as was demonstrated earlier. Table 3.13 shows, however, that a majority of all the ethnic communities in Trinidad, except for the Mixed category, find employment in the private sector in varying degrees of concentration. Indians and Afro-Trinidadians were relatively close to each other. Noteworthy, however, in terms of self-employment (Table 3.13), only a small part of the Indians and Afro-Trinidadians actually are self-employed, 14.5 per cent and 8.9 per cent respectively. It is in the area of ownership of private businesses that major differences are observable. Indians have emerged as the ethnic community owning most businesses (Ryan 1993: 252). Two different surveys underscored this fact, the first conducted by the Centre for Ethnic Studies and the second by the Institute for Economic and Social Research at the University of the West Indies. The first organization discovered that among those private firms with more than five employees, 42.5 per cent were owned by Indians, while the latter found that 54.2 per cent were owned by Indians, 23 per cent by Afro-Creoles, and 11.4 per cent by other ethnic groups (Ibid.: 254). Regardless of the difference, the fact of Indian preponderance is undisputed. The percentage of Afro-Creole firms that had more than ten employees amounted to only 16 per cent. While Indian ownership tended to be distributed over all sizes of firms, the Chinese, SyrianLebanese, and Europeans tended to own the larger businesses. Discriminatory practices were discovered to be very widespread among all owners of all ethnic brands. In a survey of 512 firms (40 per cent Indian owned, 25 per cent Afro-Creole, 20 per cent Mixed Race, 5 per cent French Creoles and European, 3 per cent Chinese, 1 per cent Syrian-Lebanese), conducted by the Centre for Ethnic Studies, it was discovered that co-ethnic recruitment for jobs was embedded and persistent. It was discovered that no Afro-Creoles were found in 22 per cent of all firms, no Indians in 18 per cent, no French Creoles in 85 per cent and no Syrian-Lebanese in 98 per cent. More specifically, 93 per cent of the Indian firms, and 69 per cent of the French Creole firms did not have Afro-Creoles. Similarly, 89 per cent of the Afro-Creole firms did not have any Indians (ibid.: 257). The presence of senior managers of different ethnic groups in the firms sampled underscores the pattern of ethnic predominance in the practices of all firms. Hence, 88 per cent of Indian firms had no Afro-Creole senior managers, nor did, 93 per cent of for Chinese firms, 82 per cent of for Syrian-Lebanese firms, and 77 per cent of for French Creole firms. Similarly, among Afro-Creole firms in the sample, 79 per cent had no Indian senior managers.
Trinidad and Tobago
The professions in Trinidad present a different distributive pattern in relation to the ethnic communities. Among all professional classes sampled, Afro-Creoles outnumbered other communities with 44 per cent, compared to Indians 29 per cent, Mixed Races 18 per cent, French Creoles 6 per cent, and Syrian-Lebanese 3 per cent (ibid.: 257). From this survey of the employment structure in Trinidad in terms of ethnicity in the public, private and self-employed sectors, it will now be useful to look at how the ethnic communities are distributed over all occupational categories throughout the entire economy (Table 3.14). It is clear from these figures that in certain areas of employment, different ethnic groups have tended to predominate. In the professions, for example, Afro-Trinidadians have an enviable record of achievement. This stemmed historically from their early choice of education that was made available during the colonial period at a time when Indians refused such a service in order to protect their religious faith. Professor Ryan describes this early choice as accounting for the large presence of Afro-Creoles in the professions: While there can be no question about the importance of education, the educational system in the colonial and post-colonial context however produced generations of individuals whose primary concern was to obtain secure status, giving pensionable appointments with the public service and in the professions. The system created individuals who were risk-averse, easy-going, status conscious, consumption oriented and not given to the accumulation of capital with the avowed aim of branching out into business activities that would make them more independent economically. The school became a machine for producing government bureaucrats. Savings were used to build homes, to improve living standards and to educate children for careers in the salariat and to consume leisure in the future. A good education and a public service job were not seen as a platform from which to move into business, but an end in itself, to which young bright blacks could aspire. Commerce and agriculture were seen as demeaning occupations, not activities in which well brought up persons would want to engage. The businessman was not a role model. Business was something that was not socially legitimate. One went into it, as a last resort if at all. The general view was that one did not get an education to go and ‘sell salt fish in the bazaar’. Even though that occupation might have earned one more by way of monetary income. For the African, the psychic income earned from being employed by the colonial state was deemed to be adequate
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compensation, given the prevailing pattern of occupational stratification. As one ex-civil servant who retired in 1991 to start a business of his own explained, ‘not many people will understand why someone like me with a B.Sc. Accounting degree would want to give up the security of a government job to start my own business’. (Ryan 1992b: 188) The preference for education and training in schools and centres of learning and the aversion to agriculture and business left the latter area to other ethnic communities. Indians, however, entered agriculture and business not as their first preference but largely because of the discrimination that they faced elsewhere in the society. As Ryan remarked: Indians who went into business (and many did not) did not do so because of any intrinsic or culturally inherited preference for business as opposed to service in the bureaucracy, but because, for a variety of reasons which no longer obtain, they found it more difficult to access jobs in the teaching and public service without compromising the religious and other values to which they were committed. (ibid.: 18) In capturing the government at independence, the African-based PNM had the opportunity to provide incentives to enable Afro-Creoles to enter the business world. This indeed happened when, in 1970, a major uprising daubed the the ‘Black Power’ revolt challenged the government of Eric Williams to open up the system for entry of non-whites, especially Afro-Creoles in the spheres of business ownership. Led by the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) whose manifesto was titled From Slavery to Slavery, the revolt argued that ‘the government is engaging in tokenism. So all this foolishness about setting up boards with local chairmen is game playing, expensive game playing because we know that none of the important decisions are made here anyway. What we want is ownership and control, not ownership in name’ (cited in Ryan 1992c: 55). The government responded by creating a ‘People’s Sector’ modelled on Tanzania’s programme through the Arusha Declaration of 1967. The year 1970 was declared ‘Small Business Year’ and a Small Business Unit was established to provide funds for Afro-Creoles to get into business. Loans were also made available through the governmentowned Workers Bank and the National Commercial bank. In addition, to facilitate entry into agriculture, a Crowns Land Development
Table 3.14 Distribution of ethnic groups in economic sectors Industry
Sugar (cultivation) Other agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting Petroleum and gas production Other mining and quarrying Manufacturing and refining of sugar Petroleum refineries Food, beverages and tobacco Textiles, wearing apparel and leather goods All other manufacturing Electricity, gas & water Construction Wholesale and retail trade Restaurants and hotels Transport, storage and communication Financing, insurance real estate and business service sector Pubic administration Sanitary and similar services Social and related community services Personal and household services Other services, international and other extra territorial bodies Not applicable Not stated/not adequately described
6 25 47 55 13 42 38 43 38 49 50 34 42 43
92 56 32 30 82 42 41 39 41 33 36 46 38 27
— — — — — — 1 — 1 — — 1 — 1
0 — — 0 0 0 — 1 — — — — — —
— — 2 — — 1 1 1 1 — — 1 1 2
3 18 18 14 4 15 19 16 19 17 13 17 17 26
— — — — — — — — — — — — — —
— — — — — — — — — — — — — —
53 39 48 44 43
29 48 33 39 28
— — 1 — 1
— — — — —
— — 1 — 3
17 11 17 16 25
— — — — —
— — — — —
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Programme was established through which lands were allocated for agriculture business. The upshot of this experiment was disappointing. To be sure, there was an increase in Afro-Creole businesses but in the economic downturn of the 1980s especially after oil prices had collapsed, most of these businesses perished. According to Ryan: Only a few of the companies belonging to the new black entrepreneurial group survived the drastic downturn in economic activity that characterised the mid-1980s, a downturn which was triggered by the drop in production levels and the price of crude petroleum from $26 (US) to $9 ((US) in 1986. Most of those who survived are now a shadow of their former selves. Many are in receivership or have disappeared completely. (Ryan 1992c: 58) The achievements of Indians and Afro-Creoles have reverberated in the distribution of income that each community has received relative to each other. In a study on ethnicity and income equality conducted by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and published in the mid-1980s, Harewood and Henry reported that for the year 1970–71 the average wage for Indians and Afro-Creoles were $240 weekly and $279 respectively and for 1975–76 they were $459 and $412 respectively (Harewood and Henry 1985). The authors concluded: The difference between the incomes of Africans and Indians was not large enough to be treated as significant, and our conclusion must be that the incomes of Indians and Africans are appreciably lower than those of the remainder of the population though the differences have declined. (Harewood and Henry 1985: 65)
The ethnic distribution of positions in the Parliament, Cabinet and presidency We have already provided data on ethnic representation in the public bureaucracy and private sectors. Below, we provide similar data in relation to the Parliament, Cabinet and the presidency. The House of Representatives In a multi-ethnic state, such as Trinidad, the ethnic factor tends to be manifested in the composition of the membership of the legislature, where representation is constructed by the political parties with a view
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to projecting certain images and interests. In this section, we examine the ethnic dimension among the representatives of the Trinidad House of Representatives. From 1961 to 2002, ten general elections occurred in Trinidad. In only one of those was these a major aberration – in 1971 when the opposition parties boycotted the polls. In these elections, competition was for 36 seats – except in 1961, when it was for 30. The main partisan actors were the PNM and the UNC (previously called the DLP and ULF), representing mainly Afro-Creoles and Indians respectively. To be sure, smaller parties did partake periodically, and with the exception of the NAR in 1986, none of them ever in obtained any seats. In Tobago, which has two parliamentary seats, in 1976 and 1981, the DAC won both seats, and in 1995 and 2000, when the DAC effectively became the NAR-Tobago party, it won two seats and one seat respectively. In the ten general elections, out of a total of 354 MPs elected, the PNM have gained 225 and the UNC 125. Table 3.15 gives a breakdown of the ethnic identity of these MPs. Of the PNM’s 225, 175 (or 77.7 per cent) were Afro-Creoles, 33 (or 14.6 per cent) Indians, 13 (or 5.7 per cent) Whites (French-Creoles), and four others – mainly Chinese or part-Chinese. The Afro-Creole category included some persons who were Mixed, but who classified themselves as Afro-Creoles. In the case of the UNC’s 125, 96 (or 76.8 per cent) were Indians, 10 (or 8 per cent) were Afro-Creoles, 7 (or 5.8 per cent) were Whites and three others, mainly Chinese or part-Chinese. In effect, the two main parties in Parliament were represented by similar proportions of their ethnic affines – 77.7 per cent for the PNM and 76.8 per cent for the UNC. While they each had fairly equal percentages of Whites – PNM 5.7 per cent and UNC 5.8 per cent – their ethnic cross representatives were different, with 14.6 per cent Indians among the PNM contingent and 8 per cent Afro-Creoles in the UNC. It is clear, however, that the PNM and the UNC, representing the main ethnic blocs in the country, mirrored each other in the preponderance of ethnic affiliations in the House of Representatives – 77.7 per cent Afro-Creole MPs to 76.8 per cent Indian MPs over the past four decades of elections. They did try to stitch together something of a multi-ethnic composition among their MPs, with about 20 per cent of each batch of their MPs drawn from other groups. Despite this, the fact remained that overwhelmingly ethnic affines were the main MPs among the PNM and UNC parliamentary representatives ever since the country gained self-government, with a minor incorporation of members from other ethnic communities. This pattern was also found in the membership of the Cabinet.
The Distribution of Posts 71 Table 3.15 Partisan ethnic composition of parliament over ten general elections Party
Total elected (%)
PNM UNC NAR (National) DA NAR (Tobago)
225 125 33
75 (77.7) 10 (8) 21 (63)
33 (14.6) 96 (76.8) 10 (33)
13(5.7) 7(5.8) 1
4 (100) 3(100)
4 3 1
The Cabinet The Cabinet embodies the executive leadership of the country, usually producing the prime minister and individual ministerial portfolios in the government. From 1961 to 2002, there have been five different prime ministers – four Afro-Creole and only one Indian. Three of these prime ministers belonged to the PNM (Eric Williams, George Chambers and Patrick Manning), one to the NAR (Arthur Robinson) and one to the UNC (Basdeo Panday). Of a period of 33 years’ independent existence, 27 years were occupied by Afro-Creole prime ministers and six by an Indian. However, the executive leadership was constituted not only of the prime minister, but also cabinet ministers who hold positions that implement policies. These cabinet positions have great symbolic significance for the ethnic communities who may in some way regard them as nominal communal representatives of the different sections of the population. Hence, the ethnic composition of cabinets in Trinidad is a significant datum in terms of ethnic equity in general. The composition of the Cabinet from 1961 to 1981 discloses a condition of ethnic preponderance reflecting the ethnic identity of the party in power. During this period of five general elections and five governments under the unbroken leadership of Eric Williams, in cabinets composed of 17 to 19 members, only two Indians (except in 1971–2 when there were three) were appointed members. This at a time when the Indian population had just become the largest community in the country. Of the two Indians, neither was a Hindu – despite the fact that Hindus constituted the second largest confessional community. This pattern continued when George Chambers succeeded Eric Williams as prime minister from 1981 to 1986, when again there were only two Indians out of a cabinet of 24. The pattern of Indian exclusion was broken in 1986 when the NAR, composed of a coalition of Afro-Creoles
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and Indians, came to power under the leadership of Arthur Robinson. From 1986 to 1991, under the NAR, the Cabinet of 22 included five Indians, even though this was slightly larger earlier, before Basdeo Panday was ejected from the Cabinet. When the PNM regained power in 1991 under the Prime Ministership of Patrick Manning, out of a cabinet of 20, only 4 were Indians. In 1995, the Indian-based UNC, under the leadership of Basdeo Panday, acceded to power and with this event the pattern of ethnic preponderance in the cabinet was reversed. Under Panday, of a cabinet of 22, only six were Afro-Creoles. In 1997, when Panday shuffled his cabinet, increasing it to 24, the Afro-Creole contingent increased to eight. In his second term of office after winning the election of 2000, Panday lasting barely one year, appointed only four Afro-Creoles in his cabinet of 19, after the president of the Republic refused to confirm his nomination of seven defeated members of the UNC to the cabinet, including several Afro-Creole candidates. When the PNM returned to power initially after the 18–18 parliamentary deadlock in the year 2001, out of a cabinet of 19, only two were Indians. However, when in 2002 it won the elections with a majority, Prime Minister Manning appointed five Indians, three Whites and one Chinese to his cabinet of 24. Generally, looking over the entire stretch of several governments, involving several governments from 1961 to 2002, the evidence underscores the practice of appointing a preponderance of one ethnic community in cabinet positions. Largely, this can be explained by the fact of the ethnic bases on which the main parties have been erected. The PNM practice of practically excluding Indians, and especially Hindus, from the cabinet from 1961 to 1986 has now been abandoned for a greater inclusion of other ethnic communities in its Cabinet. Proportional to their presence in the population, French Creoles and Chinese have periodically received more than their due, but they have added ethnic variation to what would otherwise be a two-way division of the cabinet, reflecting the bipolar ethnicity of the population.
The presidency Although a position endowed mainly with ceremonial functions, the presidency has become a site evocative of widespread ethnic sentiments and political interests. On two particular occasions since it was established, it was drawn deeply into the maelstrom of political controversy with ethnic implications, specifically when a prime minister had died and then again when a prime minister’s request for appointments to the
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Senate were denied. However, from the outset, when the position was termed ‘governor-general’, the first incumbent, Sir Solomon Hochoy, a Trinidadian of Chinese descent, conducted himself without ethnic controversy and the office seemed uncontroversial. After Sir Hochoy had retired, he was succeeded by Sir Ellis Clark, an Afro-Creole and former PNM cabinet member, and under the new Republican constitution adopted in 1976, he was designated president, but with the same ceremonial functions and duties. It was during Ellis’ tenure that Prime Minister Eric Williams died in office and it fell upon the president to appoint a successor. At the time the ruling PNM had three deputy leaders, two of whom were Indians and one Afro-Creole. The most senior deputy leader, Mr Kamalludin Mohammed, an Indian, was the most senior deputy leader of the PNM and member of the inner cabinet of Eric Williams. Sir Ellis Clark decided to name Afro-Creole George Chambers, one of the three deputy PNM leaders, as the new prime minister, bypassing Kamalludin Mohammed. This triggered quite a commotion, especially in the Indo-Trinidadian community who saw the president as ethnically biased – even though it would have been quite an oddity to have an Indian serving as prime minister of a predominantly Afro-Creole party. The second event that involved the presidency in ethnic sentiments occurred during the tenure of Arthur Robinson. However, Robinson did not become president until 1997. Mr Noor Hassanali, an Indian and a former High Court judge, succeeded Clark. Hassanali’s tenure was free from any events or decisions that involved it in charges of ethnic partiality. Arthur Robinson succeeded Hassanali, but he had come from a political career in which he was a former prime minister. He was appointed under the regime of Indian Prime Minister Basdeo Panday in what was seen as a quid pro quo for Robinson giving Panday the critical seats that enabled Panday to become prime minister in 1995 when both the PNM and UNC won 17 seats in the general elections. The controversy, however, occurred after the election of 2000, which was won by Panday’s UNC. As prime minister, Panday had the right to nominate members to the Senate and the president was required to follow the recommendations of the prime minister. In a dramatic deviation from this practice, Robinson rejected the names of several of Panday’s nominees on the basis that they were defeated candidates in the antecedent general elections. Robinson’s action occurred at a time when Panday as prime minister and Robinson as president had drifted apart from being former allies. The rejection of Panday’s nominees was quickly seized upon up by the very ethnically sensitive population as
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a struggle between an Afro-Creole (Robinson) and an Indian (Panday) even though ethnicity might have had little to do with their actions. While Robinson eventually relented and made the appointments recommended by the prime minister, the struggle between the two men continued into another, even more controversial issue. In the general election of 2001, both the PNM and UNC obtained 18 seats each and it was left to the president to choose the prime minister. The constitution prescribed that the president should choose the person who was most likely to command a majority in the House of Representatives. But with the parties being equally split, this was not possible. Eventually the president chose Mr Manning. The UNC was thrown into opposition, but they argued that it was the duty of the president to appoint the incumbent as prime minister, even though there were no clear guidelines to support this view. The Indian population was every bit as dejected as the Afro-Creole was ecstatic. The upshot was that the presidency became totally embroiled in the ethnic strife in Trinidad. Robinson, who was deemed by many co-ethnics as ‘a traitor to his race’ in 1995 when he gave Panday rather than Manning his support so that Panday became prime minister, as in the 18–18 impasse after the election of 2001 deemed guilty of ethnic bias by the Indian community when he chose Manning.
4 Identity Politics: Struggles over Symbols, Culture and History
The cultural and symbolic architecture of colonial hegemony Following the conquest of Trinidad, the British Administration had the opportunity to impose its own cultural forms and symbols on the small community of resident Amerindians, Spanish settlers and their African slaves. Over the following decades, as a more heterogeneous population mosaic was implanted through successive waves of African, Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish and Syrian immigration, slowly English values, language, aesthetics and institutions became dominant and emerged as the measure of social status and preferences in practically all spheres of colonial life. To be sure, a totally integrated society was not forged from the disparate diversity of cultures that were imported in the creation of an essentially plural immigrant society. Rather, British norms and practices were superimposed as a veneer to be imitated or absorbed by the non-western immigrant groups. The different communities adapted differently to the new order of British imperial control. Even the proud and more numerous French planters who resisted absorption by the English, keeping their cultural boundaries in language and religion initially preserved, in the long run succumbed and all the Europeans of British, French and Spanish extraction became assimilated into what became known as the ‘French Creoles’, constituting the new cultural elite and the carriers of the hegemonic European colonial way of life. English and Christian symbols superseded all others and were elevated to a vaunted acceptable civilizational status. British cultural colonial dominance offered no concession to the competing multicultural forms. The religious and cultural symbols and 75
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practices of the non-European groups were neither recognized nor respected. The Amerindian way of life, with its animistic beliefs, was suppressed through Christian missionary proselytization. The choice that they were given as a condition for their survival was between conversion and enslavement. Neither the languages nor religious beliefs of the Arawaks, Siboneys and Caribs were allowed much room to flourish. The Amerindians dwindled to virtual extinction, leaving a few place names and artifacts in their wake, a far cry from the vibrancy of their old pre-colonial past. African religious symbols and languages suffered a similar fate. Africans, uprooted from their primeval homes in Africa, and characterized by a wide range of languages and cultures, succumbed to the dominant colonial values and practices of the rulers. Such remnants and memories of their past as were preserved were not enough for the re-establishment of autonomous African societies. Indians from India also brought a diversity of languages and customs, but partly because of their indentured status and geographical rural isolation, they retained and reinvented a few key Indian cultural practices to create new societies in some ways different from their own ancestral heritage but clearly distinct from the dominant English mode (Misra 1995: 222). But, like the Amerindians and Africans, they saw their symbols of faith and identity subordinated, depreciated, and even banned by deliberate acts of colonial policy. The Chinese, Portuguese and Syrians were comparatively small groups, and they were assimilated into the emergent hybrid colonial way of life. Thus, a pluralized cultural order was created with a dominant hegemonic Anglophone European stratum superimposed on the non-white subordinate communities. While cultural remnants of the Asian and African continent survived to various degrees, there was no gainsaying the fact of the dominance of English ways in the official definition of the identity of the state. At this level of control, colonialism was manifested as cultural imperialism and could be conceived as both a civilizational and religious imposition in which one symbolic order became ascendant at the expense of all others. Iris Marion Young describes well the fundamental features of this aspect of rule: Cultural imperialism involves the universalisation of a dominant group’s experience and culture, and its establishment as the norm. Some groups have exclusive and primary access to the means of interpretation and communication in a society. As a consequence, the dominant cultural products of the society, that is, those most widely disseminated, express the experience, values, goals, and achievements
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of these groups. Cultural products also express the dominant group’s perspective on and interpretation of events and elements in the society, including other groups in the society, insofar as they attain cultural status at all. (Young 1990: 59) There was no policy of multicultural tolerance; rather, there was a systematic depreciation of the practices of the other cultures. In a real existential sense, the conquest was most deeply felt at this symbolic level, while political control was external in commanding obedience. To effectively exercise control over the rival cultures in the colonial setting entailed first and foremost a dehumanization process aimed at the degradation of the Amerindians, Africans and Indians as humans worthy of equal treatment and dignity. While at one level this was biological, genetic and racist, reflected in a Darwinian social hierarchy, it simultaneously required the depreciation and destruction of those religious and symbolic systems that defined the African, Amerindian and Indian as cultural and civilizational equals to the Europeans. It was therefore no accident that after the initial imposition of physical colonial control was initially imposed, the second – but not secondary – task of the colonial administrators was to subordinate, suppress and destroy the cultural and religious symbols of the colonized peoples. The educational school system, religious conversion and the incentives for state employment were key strategies in achieving this end. The elevation of European cultural and religious symbols and artifacts was accompanied by the stigmatization of those of the Amerindians, Africans and Indians so that in daily life these subordinate peoples developed a strong sense of inferiority and self-loathing as they progressively jettisoned their traditional attire, diet, music, languages and, religions, and became ‘civilized’ through their mimicry of European cultural forms. The struggle to do so was slow and long term in nature and achieved in varying degrees of completeness in the subordinated communities. A schizophrenic double-tiered symbolic and cultural order thus emerged, one with a public Anglicized and Christianized face and the other private with African and Indian creolized forms manifested in ‘broken English’ and awkward social mimicry of European manners, morals and aesthetics, and elaborate pretences by the colonized of being ‘cultured’. In his work The Souls of Black Folk, addressing African-American subordination, W.E. B. Du Bois referred to this condition as double consciousness: ‘ this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on with amused contempt and pity’ (Du Bois 1969, 1903: 45).
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There was some resistance to the cultural colonial script, but this was often met with force and prohibition. The most notable was conducted by the ‘maroons’, the slaves who in parts of the Caribbean escaped from the plantations to form their own societies in a process of what became known as marronage (Lewis 1983: pp. 230–2; Price 1973). Little of this occurred in Trinidad. However, from within the slave community as a whole emanated many forms of resistance, ranging from overt patterns of non-violent sabotage – such as excessive deference, malingering, feigned ignorance, self-mutilation, abortion, dirteating, and suicide – to the nurturing of a subterranean culture around reconstituted families, religious practices, economies, languages, songs and dances fashioned from African memories and, ultimately, to revolt, some brutally destroying the oppressor, to other forms, which included escape en masse to form autonomous maroon villages. Slave subcultures and rebellions were prevalent throughout the Caribbean, expressed in vibrant African cults, shango, vodun, obeah, bamboo-bamboo, cambouley, macumba, and other forms. The slave weaved an alternative economic order around small garden plots, internal marketing systems, cooperativism and mutual aid (Patterson 1967; Goveia 1965). Secret communication networks were established; dissenting Christian churches were constituted among slave communities and incorporated in the resistance. African churches became de facto secret societies. In summary, the acts of resistance ranged from the subtle to the brutal, from sycophancy to murder, in counterculture, ritual and religion; in everything, everywhere, these was a relentless quest for a life of freedom. (Lewis 1983: 177; Beckles 1982: 591–619). During the years of control and coercion in Trinidad, there were significant moments of resistance. The cultural challenge to the colonial hegemony came from certain religious practices that were brutally suppressed and banned. Two notable cases were the banning of the Spiritual Shouter Baptists and the massacre that took place when Muslims celebrated Hosay. The Spiritual Shouter Baptists was a community of Afro-Creoles, who celebrated a religion that syncretistically combined aspects of Christianity and African religious forms. Adherents tended to be expressive in performing their worship, ringing bells, singing loudly and shaking their bodies enthusiastically. Their rituals of worship were different and unorthodox, deemed a public threat. They drew away members from the established Christian denominations who labelled them heathens and anti-Christian and ‘an unmitigated nuisance’. This provoked the colonial authorities to pass an ordinance in 1917 that banned the Spiritual Shouter Baptists, a position that was maintained until
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the ordinance was rescinded 34 years later in 1951. Today, a separate public holiday recognizes their persistence in secret, facing persecution against an oppressive colonial system. Hosay is celebrated worldwide by Muslim Shiites in commemoration of the martyrdom of the Hussain, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson. Just about 14 years after the arrival of the first Indian indentured labourers in Trinidad, Shia Muslims commenced celebrating ‘Hosay’. This took the form of colourful and enthusiastic parades through the streets. In 1884, however, the British colonial authorities decided to ban all parades because of the sugar riots. In response, some 30,000 persons defiantly decided to celebrate Hosay in San Fernando. The police opened fire in reply, killing 30 persons and wounding 120, in an incident that became known as the ‘Hosay Massacre’. Today, Hosay continues to be observed and peaceful parades are enacted, observing both the original event and also the ‘Hosay Massacre’. In Trinidad, however, the mode of colonial control was generally less physical and violent and more cultural. Cultural control operated in more subtle, quiet, surefooted and systematic fashion through the legal system of crime and punishment and through the implanting of symbols and institutions, such as the Christian churches and the public schools. English cultural hegemony inscribed certain existential meaning to the life ways of the subject peoples in the heterogeneous colonial society. The cultural symbolism of English practices implanted a pervasive architectonic aesthetic that legitimated the preferences around which rewards and status were recognized and simultaneously relegated all others to depreciation and inferiority. It elevated not only a particular way of life, but also a racial type marked off by phenotype so that culture and physiognomy were fused into a narrative of rule and rightness. The manners, speech, etiquette and comportment of the Europeans were embedded in the administration of governance, in the schools that were established, and in the evangelizing Christian churches that anointed colonial control. Like a scaffold superimposed on the practices of the majority non-white and non-western population, the dominant culture compelled conformity for rewards and spelled permanent peripheralization and deprivation for deviance. The schools, jointly controlled by the government and the Christian churches, practised a particular faith in a specific language that laid the grid of assimilation for those who sought access to a modicum of reward and recognition. The symbols of this cultural imprimatur were etched in the language, the epistemology of learning, the economic relations of production and
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distribution, and the approved spirituality of the superimposed colonial infrastructure. The diverse communities responded differently to the invitation to win a seat of acceptance at the colonial top table. The Amerindians were forcibly proselytized, and, in yielding their native cultures, they dwindled into the sunset of oblivion. It was the African population, stripped of its ancestral moorings, that was most vulnerable. It had grown into the largest community that was cruelly marginalized and forced into cultural submission by a militarily superior European civilization. To survive, it adapted to English ways, absorbed mainly through the schools and churches, and evolved a hybrid cultural form that would yield benefits. Indians were the last to come to the colonial trough for rewards, eventually accepting the schools and the language, and many also came to accept the religious faith of the colonial master. A cultural patchwork of accommodation and assimilation was thus created. Among Africans and Mixed Persons, some were very Anglicized and were derisively referred to as ‘Afro-Saxons’, but most lived under the newly constructed canopy of a hybrid ‘Creole’ culture. Similarly, a number of Indians converted to Christianity and the more successful became ‘IndoSaxons’, but until after the middle of the twentieth century the bulk of the Indian population remained within their own hybrid reconstituted ‘coolie’ culture. Into the twentieth century, and especially with the movement towards political self-determination, it became clear that whichever community culturally most approximated to the ways of the departing British would define the new hegemonic symbolism in the emerging era of selfgovernment and independence. The bearers of English symbolic practices and institutions in the use of language and the conduct of morals and manners would inherit the power and prestige of the antecedent cultural and political kingdom. The door of acceptance remained opened to all, but the price for access was a surrender to Anglicized and creolized ways. Nevertheless, assimilation was incomplete and a pluralistic society persisted, which in time would lead to interrogation by those who were peripheral to the system. In effect, after independence, while the political kingdom was won, not everything else followed harmoniously. Political conflict that saw the departure of the external ruler would be superseded by internal strife over, among other things, the cultural forms and practices anointed by the colonial order. In political autonomy, opportunities for rival epistemic orders were now able to flourish freely and the new space of symbolic and spiritual expression would witness cultural invention and revivalism among Indians and Africans.
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However, the struggle for cultural space and dignity would take an unfortunate turn as Indians and Africans converted their common colonial subordination and suffering into a fierce post-independence rivalry for the symbolic soul of the new nation. Paget Henry describes how the pattern of both degrading and destroying the old cultural selves of the Indians and Africans through what he calls ‘a ritual passage’ would set the stage for Indian – African conflict (Henry 2004). In the design to achieve control over the behaviour of its victims, the racist colonial order re-engineered the social biology of Indians and Africans, obliterating their autonomy and humanity, filling them with self-loathing, rendering them into socially scripted automatons unable to appreciate each other’s culture, ready only to hate and berate each other (Premdas 2004). They were ‘coolietized’ and ‘niggerized’, in the words of Paget Henry (Henry 2004: 5–6). While the struggle between Afro- and Indo-Trinidadians was overtly for the power and resources of the state, the underlying tensions were related to socialization and acculturation in the antecedent western ways. Hindus and Muslims had lost their language and reinvented their cultural practices in a form that was barely recognizable. But even though, over time, they were essentially western in cultural orientation and practices, most saw themselves as Hindus and Muslims with their own separate and unique identity. Afro-Creoles, however, were closest to the European cultural mould and this facilitated their ascent to cultural dominance through their familiarity with the symbols of English ways. A new cultural syncretic form was fashioned by AfroCreoles, combining European ways with indigenous practices. This became known as ‘Creole culture’, but was heavily infused with English cultural forms and preferences. Many Indians who sought advancement found it necessary to acculturate to these Afro-centric Creole forms and practices, which emerged as the new measure of acceptable behaviour rivalling, if not superseding, colonial English norms. In the same way as Africans developed an inferiority complex and a sense of self-contempt for their own values in relation to European colonial domination, Indians experienced the same sense of inferiority and self-depreciation in the new emergent order of Afro-Creole cultural hegemony. As in the colonial order, the post-colonial period witnessed the persistence of power and control through domination in the symbolic realm. To control completely requires symbolic subjugation. Cultural symbols are a potent potion that can be placed in the service of dominance. In order to establish a closer understanding of the role of ethno-cultural symbolism in domination, it is necessary to locate it metaphysically
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within the social system. Cultures are symbolic systems that mediate the human person’s relationship with nature and the cosmos. Symbols serve as the lexicon of meaning for the human creature; at birth, the child begins life in a closed cultural cocoon inducted as part of a symbolic net into which it is socialized and imprinted with a map of meanings for survival. The cultural cocoon always articulates and manifests the peculiar markers of cultural identity and serves simultaneously as the first line of existential affirmation and defence. Cultural markers establish symbolic boundaries, which locate the individual and define his or her life. Hence, symbols are not decorative or accidental artefacts but very purposive instruments of individual and group identity and survival. The life of the individual is continuous with the symbolic tapestry of the society. Symbols always surround and suffuse consciousness and sustain links with a wider order. Symbols are psychological and spiritual security systems, without which the person is cast adrift in a world of meaninglessness and loneliness. To lose one’s cultural symbols through repression is to be truly subordinated. It breeds self-contempt and existential disorder. The non-material aspect of ethnic conflict, underscoring the role of cultural symbols, historical memory and membership in the state, has been submitted to a number of valuable theoretical insights from scholars, who have stressed the salience of such variables as the role of cultural recognition, boundary maintenance and identity categorization. In what follows, we shall briefly discuss a number of these theories that offer fruitful insights into the nature of ethnic contestation as they relate to cultural symbols in Trinidad.
Ethnicity theories: boundaries, comparison, equity and recognition As set forth in Chapter 1, ethnicity may be defined as collective group consciousness that imparts a sense of belonging derived from membership in a community bound putatively by common descent and culture (Eriksen 1993; Smith 1990; Gellner 1983; Hayes 1962; van den Berghe 1991; Hobsbawm 1990). Ethnic membership can also be converted in a multi-ethnic society as a resource mobilized to serve instrumental needs in competition with other groups in accessing jobs and opportunities (Horowitz 1985; Premdas 1993a: 1–22). This inter-group competition is often acted out as a zero-sum struggle. As pointed out earlier, in this form of inter-ethnic rivalry for resources, recognition and influence, the cultural symbols of the rival communities are not passive and decorative
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icons but are deployed as instruments for maintaining communal identity. Ethnic identity is not necessarily always evident and may, in fact, be dormant and apparently non-existent in normal and peaceful conditions. In Trinidad, as in other places, there have been periods of relative inter-communal peace that seemed to suggest that inter-ethnic discord is absent. Its latency attests to its relational character, emerging as an open source of conflict in a response to the ethnic ‘other’ in situations of strain and stress. Along this line of thought, one postulate that explains inter-ethnic malaise argues that the human creature is a boundarybound animal living in society (Barth 1969). Here, the ethnic group is visualized in a process of differentiation from other similar groups and identity is manifested and asserted through a socially constructed boundary. The cultural content that is enclosed in this boundary is not, in itself, so much salient to the identity of a group as the separate sphere, which is differentiated and demarcated relationally from others. Essentially, according to this perspective, a person lives and finds meaning and belonging within the bounds of ethno-cultural groups in a ‘we – they’ relationship of antipathy with other communities. To belong at once entails being included in a community and being separated and differentiated from other communities. Hence, in Trinidad for example, the cultural differences between Indians and Africans are not the salient factors in group identity but, rather, it is the relationship between the groups marked off by an imaginary boundary of belonging and separation. In the boundary hypothesis, ethnic group members may display their distinctive boundary markers visibly in symbolic and physical emblems in their relations with others (Barth 1969). This happens in Trinidad, where symbolic markers of group belonging are seen by group members, as well as others, as a way of asserting identity and difference. This is not to suggest that these socially constructed boundaries, which are usually manifested by cultural symbolic ‘gatekeepers’, are closed systems, for they do permit exchange and interaction that recast identities. Many Indians and Africans in Trinidad live in close physical contiguity to each other, share space and some cultural practices, and are in part shaped by these events even as they continue to assert their cultural difference in symbolic ways. It is essential despite the commonalities that Indians and Africans in Trinidad share however that they assert their difference relationally as a constitutive dimension of their identity and separate survival by inventing ‘the other’ (Young 1993). The ‘we – they’ dynamic, in this view, is deeply embedded in human psychology. While at times
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it may be benign relative to ‘the other’, it can easily in new circumstances of upheaval become conflictual, even turned into a marauding monster (Isaacs 1975). In Trinidad, we witness many moments of relative peace, which at other times have been broken by open and violent inter-group conflict. Once an inter-ethnic and inter-communal struggle commences, it often finds expression and becomes embroiled in sensitive cultural symbols, thereby rendering the smallest of claims and counterclaims intransigent. This explanation focuses on the critical role of the comparison factor and posits that in inter-group comparison resides much of the basis of ethnic rivalry and conflict. Much of this comparison dynamic prevails in African – Indian rivalry in Trinidad. The comparison hypothesis argues that it is not important that a group sees that rationally its behaviour in a conflict is inimical to its interests, but what is more salient is that its adversary should not be advantaged by it. Much of the claims for recognition and equity in Trinidad, as well as in other instances of communal conflict, seem to be elucidated by this logic in comparison behaviour. Often occurring in a context where the conflicting groups share the same territorial state, and in which a particular distribution of statuses and resources prevail, the struggle pivots around an unwillingness of one party to permit the other to profit by its actions. It is this comparison factor that underlies the claims and counterclaims of rival ethnic communities for recognition in multi-thnic states (Premdas 1997a; 1997b). In situations of ethnic rivalry and conflict, as is the case in Trinidad, equity and recognition politics is a collective comparison struggle that bears the mark of jealousy in unending acrimony and competition. In this context, it is postulated that the individuals seek positive evaluations of themselves and ‘through inter-group comparisons, individuals will come to view their own group as psychologically distinct and, in relation to relevant comparison groups, they will try to make the in-group more favorable’ (Tajfel 1970). This critical ethnocentric idea underscores the need for identity to be established and asserted by favourable comparisons leading to discriminatory inter-group behaviour in quest not merely of parity but superiority. In this regard, we need briefly to consider a theory of identity in relation to equity, recognition and property. ‘Recognition’ and ‘equity’ are perhaps the most widely used slogans employed in ethnic strife, and they permeate all aspects of this new discourse. These verbally tooled weapons cogently interrogate all prior arrangements, bringing old dominant cultural elites under a scorching light of scrutiny. Recognition of the intrinsic self-definition of a group is as important as – and often
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a prerequisite for – equality of access to material resources and political participation. Recognition points to the need for all communities in their rich cultural and religious diversity to be accorded juridical and social equality in a state that defines itself as multicultural. Clearly, this in part means that the state’s symbols must not neglect or marginalize the presence and practices of other communities in the official ceremonies of the state, in the celebration of festivals and holidays, and in the observance of religious events. The larger point, however, is shared membership, which legitimizes the right to exist and exist equally and in dignity and security. This in turn requires sensitivity to group rights in appropriate spheres.
Membership, citizenship and equality: issues of inclusion, exclusion and Creolization There is strife across the Caribbean household, including Trinidad. New contests have emerged over power and privileges in claims that have asserted equality of citizenship and membership. Indeed, ‘membership’ and ‘citizenship’ have emerged as the symbolic site of inter-ethnic African – Indian contestation, in which what is a stake is the rewriting of the rules of the game in the distribution of power and privilege, rights and recognition in the post-colonial state. The words ‘membership’ and ‘citizenship’ serve as the verbal cutting edge in an intercommunal discourse around issues of inclusion and exclusion, participation and inequality, identity and alienation (Cesarani and Fullbrook 1996; Riesenbers 1992; Marshall 1992). In a critical sense, these words refer to the equal inclusion of all persons as full participants within a society. In a democratic state, such inclusion may threaten to reconfigure the distribution of resources, influence and power among rival segments and interests of the population. This renders citizenship and membership pre-eminently political issues of the highest order in the domestic politics of the state (Layton-Henry 1990; Andersen 1990). In a real sense, the battle lines between inclusionary and exclusionary policies and practices are likely to be fully engaged in the inter-ethnic political contestations within the state where group discrimination and inequality are prevalent. This implies that disadvantaged communities in the multi-ethnic state that seek equality must wrest it away by a process of political activism and struggle, challenging the strategically privileged position of the entrenched strata of the society, which are often delineated, as in the case of Trinidad, by race, ethnicity and religion. Hence, citizenship and membership struggles are, in part, about
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empowerment conceived both symbolically and instrumentally as a quest for social and cultural recognition, as well as access to political and economic participation in the state. It is useful to locate the issue of membership and domination within the wider context of Caribbean settlement and the process of creolization. After about four centuries of settlement by people from many different cultural backgrounds, the Caribbean is now home to its new ‘native’ residents. The descendants of the post-indigenous immigrants are now the legitimate heirs to the Caribbean. They assume the mantle of the new ‘natives’ of the region. There are no contests of this claim brought by residual indigenous peoples, such as often occur in North America for the return of ancestral land. In the insular Caribbean, such echoes of protest have been stilled permanently by extermination. All of this would seem to have left the Caribbean as a place where ownership of the homeland is both indisputable and uncontested. Yet, this is not the case. In the fact of racial and ethnic diversity and the various times of arrival by the immigrants, as well as their uneven contributions to the development of the island states, lie the ingredients for divergent claims to equal membership and citizenship. In the light of this issue, it is worth reiterating the culturally pluralistic structure of the Caribbean. Different peoples were imported into the Caribbean, including Europeans, Chinese, Africans, Asian Indians and Javanese. Each brought their own cultural baggage. In the same manner that the Europeans were different so were the Asian Indians and the Africans. As Sidney Mintz has argued: ‘it should be remembered that the ’African cultural impact’ did not consist of the diffusion of some undifferentiated, uniform body of beliefs, attitudes, linguistic forms, and other cultural materials’ (Mintz 1966: 181). In addition to their different origins, there was the further fact that plantation practices and colonial administrations varied from country to country. In addition, the Caribbean itself was a geographically diverse region, with varying resource endowments, size and topography, and is uniform only as a region of the mind. The Caribbean homelands are not ancient homelands for the Caribbean peoples and their ancestors. There are no historic religions or sacred sites connected with an ancient folk memory. As Derek Walcott, the Nobel laureate poet from the island of St Lucia, puts it: ‘The sigh of history rises over ruins, not over landscapes, and in the Antilles there are few ruins to sigh over, apart from the ruins of sugar estates and abandoned forts’ (Walcott 1992: 5). While there are several interesting pre-Hispanic sites that have been preserved as historical attractions,
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such as are found notably in Puerto Rico and Cuba, and numerous places throughout the Caribbean bear Amerindian names, there are no surviving languages and civilizations in the Caribbean. Caribbean peoples are new arrivals who have had to reconstruct their identities, having lost most of what they had in the transmigration from the Old World. To cite Walcott again: That is the basis of the Antillean experience, this shipwreck of fragments, these echoes, these shards of a huge tribal vocabulary, these partially remembered customs. They survived the Middle Passage and the Fatel Razack, the ship that carried the first indentured Indians from the port of Madras to the cane fields, that carried the chained Cromwellian convict and the Sephardic Jew, the Chinese grocer and the Lebanese merchant selling clothes samples on his bicycle. (Walcott 1992: 9) This melody of memory applies to the polyglot descendants of the new Caribbean natives, separated from their Old World roots even though cultural residues persist in one form or the other. Together, then, taking the fact of relatively recent arrivals in the creation of an essentially immigrant society, along with different colonial administrations and their cultural systems, the different groups recruited as human labour cargo and their own cultural retentions, and the varied Caribbean environments, it can be shown that a wide variety of socio-cultural adaptations and social structures were spawned in the Caribbean, defying broad generalizations regarding a shared Caribbean culture, society and personality. Some of this differentiation is, in part, outwardly manifested in language differences, different political systems, economies, customs and creolization. The political cultures of the different islands are manifested in regime types that range from chronic military repression in Haiti and Cuba to representative democracy in Jamaica and Trinidad (Edie 1994). If anything, it would seem that the Caribbean is an unintegrated cultural region, even though Caribbean peoples themselves often speak as if the region is a seamless expression of common customs, beliefs and values. Expressions like Caribbean food, Caribbean music, Caribbean writing, Caribbean folklore and Caribbean personality are flowingly and unhaltingly used. One may sentimentally make a case, based on much imagination and misinformation, for each of these cultural forms as comprehensively and universally shared. For instance, Caribbean music as a generic type is variously associated with salsa (Puerto Rico),
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son (Cuba), reggae (Jamaica), calypso (Trinidad), merengue (Dominican Republic), all marked by a common Afro-Caribbean rhythm in the use of drums and percussions so that it is possible to perceive of a unified musical region can be conceived (Bilby 1985: 181–8; Guibault 1993). The musical variations are seen as existing along a single all-embracing continuum of prototypical Caribbean sounds. By the same reasoning, one can construct the variety of Caribbean foods, food preparations and tastes on a scale characterized by distinctive culinary sharing. All of this evidence seems to confirm the perception that the Caribbean is more a unified area in the imagination than in reality (Premdas 1995a). But for places like Trinidad, the deep cultural differentiation is very self-evident, laying the foundation for rival claims for resources and power among the different communities in the post-colonial context. With the coming of independence, the opportunity to lay claim to the land availed itself. The cultural impact of British colonial rule bequeathed a set of Anglicized practices and institutions that privileged those incumbents who best absorbed these values, thereby creating a socially stratified pyramid of status. In its local adaptation the British cultural mould provided an umbrella of influence that imparted the measure of value to all things – social, religious, economic and political alike. Formal equality in a shared citizenship for all was subordinate to the realities and the imperatives of the cultural domain that stratified and ranked citizens. Non-white colonial subjects, who were formerly all subordinate to a white European caste, now subdivided themselves into categories of superiority/inferiority, inclusion/exclusion, ruler/ruled. The right to rule would become culturally ethnicized and the claim to the homeland by the successor population would become similarly culturally ethnicized; and, consequently, access to the distribution of privileges and resources would accordingly become imbued with culturally ascribed markers. The pervasive cultural ethnicization of preferences in a differentiated plural society would thus set the stage for one group in the population that was better adapted to British norms and customs to stake its claim to privileged membership and superiority and dominance over the rest in the society. The ethnic conflict between Afro- and Indo-Trinidadians turns in part on the issue of membership and inclusion in the colonially created society. Having evicted the British at the time of independence, Trinidadians now had the opportunity to design their own social and cultural system. The new supreme law of the land, embodied in the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago, conferred equal citizenship on all colonial residents as full members of the society. This, however, while
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legally and constitutionally correct, was at variance with the cultural claims and sociological rankings that prevailed in the practices of the Trinidadian people. The Afro-Trinidad community, with its early exposure to British norms and practices evolved its own creolized version of English ways. It sought to define itself as the legitimate successor to the British, not only because its arrival preceded that of Indians, Chinese, Portuguese, and others, but also because its cultural adaptation most closely approximated the British model. Because of the failure to assimilate through the creation of a single integrated society and the corresponding persistence of pluralism, the issue of inheritance and the right to rule has become intensely contested. In those states of the Caribbean where African – Indian ratios are close, the competition for power by the main ethnic communities is not simply a matter to be decided by the electoral marketplace, but by a moral claim based on historical precedence and, ironically, by the degree of assimilation of the cultural values of the departed colonial power. One observer underscored this point in regard to Trinidad and Tobago: The Afro-Trinidadian is demonstrably unwilling to share public resources and symbolic space with other ethnic groups not only because they regarded these as scarce, but because they deemed these to be their legitimate and prescriptive right by reason of their earlier historical presence in the territory and the greater proximity of their culture and patterns of behavior to the superordinate colonial culture by which public norms are referenced. (Ryan 1990: 2) Many calypsos also address the issue of Indian membership in the society. Coming as indentured labourers after the African community was emancipated from slavery, Indians were seen as temporary residents and, because of the retention of much of their Old World cultural forms, were labelled ‘a recalcitrant minority’ by Prime Minister Eric Williams. The Afro-Creole community regarded them as ‘weird’ and ‘backward’. Remarked Trotman: ‘today’s Indians still remain outsiders. They are still seen as an outside clan not fully Trinidadian with natural right to the national Trinidadian inheritance; they are an outside club of usurpers who, overnight, have stolen the patrimony of real Trinidadians – those of African Origins’ (Trotman 1991: 398). Numerous calypsos have derided Indian habits and consigned them to a sphere outside of the Trinidadian mainstream defined by Creole culture. Rhoda Reddock has noted that as a result of this marginalization, Indians continue to experience psychological ‘insecurities surrounding their
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rights of citizenship’ and have a tendency to express a ‘need to prove their Trinidadianess.’ (Reddock 2000: 193) This aspect of the post-colonial discourse in the Caribbean turned on the issue of ‘Creolization’ or cultural adaptation of the descendants to the local milieu. In all cases, but in peculiar ways, new local blends of collective behaviour called ‘Creole culture’ have emerged as the new dominant indigenous societal form. Creolized adaptations have produced cultural systems with their own completeness and integrity, the metropolitan contributions notwithstanding. Creolization processes incorporate the special genius of the different Caribbean peoples in forging a separate and dignified existence out of economic and political domination. It has produced a diversity of dialects and language systems; a kaleidoscope of musical forms; a new set of syncretistic religions; and a proliferation of colourful Caribbean personality types. In a multicultural society with varying degrees of acculturation to the dominant imperial cultural practices, creolization assumed a different form. A cultural mode of indigenization, creolization – even given its creative accretions and inventions – was still incubated within the womb of the dominant European cultural way of life. Consequently, it tended to embody a Eurocentric standard of values. Hence, the acquisition of the pattern of adaptation that most closely resembled the European model came to serve as the litmus test of loyalty and entitlement to the patrimony of the land once the Europeans had departed after independence. Creolization and its product, ‘Creole culture’, emerged as an invidious hegemonic concept that elevated the cultural practices of one community that best approximated its practices as the measure of membership and entitlement. Not every ethnic group assimilated the new practices of ‘creole culture’ equally, producing many types of creole adaptations. This occurred in Trinidad, with Indians being rather laggardly in this process of Creole indigenization. All Caribbean residents became indigenized in the process of creolization, but in the contest over entitlement by the rival communities in different regional locations, one variant of ‘creolization’ has tended to be appropriated by one or another ethnic section as the ‘authentic form’ to legitimate its claims. Clearly, the jockeying for cultural authenticity is connected to issues of social recognition as well as power sharing, but it has developed a more sinister aspect in Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname. This is manifested in to the mutual distrust that separates the major communities, resulting in their relations always being cast in terms of domination and superordination. Africans fear ‘re-enslavement’ and ‘internal colonialism’ in a new form of servitude under an Indian-run government.
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Rhoda Reddock underscored this problem when she noted that ‘these fears of Indian hegemony and the Indian’s desire for legitimate citizenship eventually came to a head in the elevation of the first Indian prime minister in November 1995’ (Reddock 2000: 193). Indians similarly charge domination, discrimination and repression in African-led regimes in Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname (Dew 1994). Contests with this sort of allegation are present in other parts of the Caribbean between other ethno-cultural communities but expressed in more nuanced ways, some of them reminiscent of the old colour and class divisions. In the multiracial southern Caribbean states of Trinidad, Suriname and Guyana, Africans fear that Indian numbers and higher rates of reproduction will displace them from positions of power and pre-eminence. They anchor their claims to power on being in the Caribbean prior to the arrival of Indians. In counter-argument to affirm their equality, Indians frequently underscore their superior economic contribution in the building of the homeland, even suggesting that this is a more substantial and important basis for claiming the rights of full membership and citizenship. In this discourse, the relative degrees of suffering and victimization in slavery and indenture are catalogued and entered in the ledger of claims and counterclaims. Part of the debate has degenerated into assertions of loyalty to the homeland reminiscent of the American preoccupation with the authenticity of a citizen’s Americanness or un-Americanness. The success of the Afro-Trinidadian community in capturing power after independence and retaining it for the next two and a half decades under the PNM enabled it to elevate and consolidate its cultural forms and practices as the measure of status and privilege. In the local colloquialism, it was called ‘Creole culture’ in contrast to ‘Indian or Coolie culture’, even though each was, in fact, a local indigenous adaptation to the new environment of the New World where both Africans and Indians endured slavery and indentureship, toiling on European sugar plantations. Afro-Creole hegemony was exercised in all areas of cultural expression, which at once celebrated African cultural genius and belittled Indian culture in the same measure. Cultural domination tends to be subtle but powerfully overwhelming and pervasive. The content of a culture and customs engages a wide assortment of practices that can be operationalized in relation to their core of shared symbols and artifacts. These include music, dance, festivals, food, aesthetics, architecture, visual art, writing, education, socialization, games and sports, leisure, kinship patterns, attire, languages, dialects, accents, rituals, folklore, myths and material artifacts. These items are configured into a
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cultural mould that gives unique shape to the cultural practices of a community. A prototypical African or Indian Caribbean person may be projected to be one who is a carrier of a common core of cultural consciousness that is constructed around these symbols and practices, constituting a distinctive and separate way of life. When, in a situation of domination, one community’s way of life is celebrated at the cost of other coexisting communities, then a situation of oppression can be said to exist. In Trinidad, this domination required that the cultural traits and the boundaries of distinctiveness that prevailed between Indians and Afro-Creoles, even though they had evolved from relatively similar environmental influences and through a similar set of historical travails and experiences in the Caribbean, be separated and one deemed superior to the other. In this construction of a cultural hegemonic consciousness, shared memories with certain historical commonalities in slavery, indenture, plantations and colonial oppression were differentiated and set aside. In their place, a peculiar historical narrative that commemorates a specific set of actors, episodes and issues belonging to one community is converted into ‘the official and legitimate memory’ of everyone. This occurred when the Europeans dominated Afro-Creoles and also when Afro-Creoles dominated Indians. While the actors changed historically, the fundamental behavioural structure of cultural domination remained the same.
Cultural property: Carnival, calypso, soca-chutney, pichakaree and the steel pan Part of the self-definition of an ethno-cultural community consists of its claims to certain symbols as its exclusive property. In a real sense, nationalism is about exclusivity in claims to an identity and all that attaches to it. Thus, all ethnic strife is constructed around claims to ‘property’. Harry Johnson has defined such property as including not merely the ownership of physical and financial assets, but also rights to certain cultural and artistic activities, such as national literature, music, drama, festivals and other socially relevant and prestigious symbols (Johnson 1965: 176–8 and 182–5). These property claims may even extend to certain jobs and sectors of the economy where a monopolistic claim is articulated militantly. While particular individuals may consume and benefit from these items, at another level they are also symbolically consumed by the relevant cultural population, conferring collective psychic satisfaction.
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In a multicultural state, the exclusive claims on cultural property can become problematic in a paradoxical way. On the one hand, a cultural community may lay claim to a particular artistic activity or symbol that brings it pride and prestige. On the other, it may seek to impose its practices on other communities as a universal set of symbols and practices worthy of recognition and emulation. If such a community happens also to be the politically hegemonic group, then it may legislate its desires into the law of the land. In most colonial settings, as well as in contemporary western states with large immigrant communities, this has happened. The assimilationist aspect of this policy, however, is fraudulent since the excluded community is never deemed able to fully absorb the imposed symbols into its own identity structure. The prescribed practice and symbols, therefore, are swords of subjugation and minoritization. In this part of the chapter, we consider certain festivals and musical forms that have become associated with the two major communities in Trinidad. These include Carnival, calypso, the steel pan, and pichakaree. Each of these communities has claimed these practices as part of its identity, but each in turn has been involved in some measure of rivalry and controversy. In any event, they have become significant symbolic sites of intercultural identity and competition.
Carnival A major site of African–Indian contestation has occurred in the realm of festivals, especially with reference to the national Carnival celebration. The African community has evolved a few unique self-defining symbols and narratives around the steel pan, calypso and Carnival that has imparted pride and drawn much well-deserved international approbation. Trinidadians often describe the annual Carnival celebrations as ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. Along with Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the Rio Carnival in Brazil, the Trinidadian Carnival is internationally renowned as a massive outpouring of festivity and uninhibited fun. The Latin word ‘carnivale’, meaning ‘farewell to the flesh’, symbolizes the wanton expressiveness of the prolonged joyous celebration. In Trinidad, Carnival is the culmination of ongoing celebrations that extend formally from Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, to Lent. The entire island is convulsed by a complex of events, including calypso and steel-pan contests, as well as artistic shows, masquerades and colourful street floats. While not all religious and ethnic sections partake in the
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same measure, the celebrations tend to engulf all either as interested spectators or active participants. In Trinidad, Carnival has a paradoxical history, commencing as a festival celebrated by the French plantocracy. It was subsequently appropriated and indigenized by the emancipated slaves and converted into a festival of protest against colonial domination. Keith Nurse underscored that, as such, Carnival ‘was born out of the struggle of marginalized peoples to shape a cultural identity through resistance, liberation and catharsis’ (Nurse 2000). The Africanization of the Carnival, which witnessed the parodying of rule by the plantocracy through inverting roles as a form of ridicule, led to the withdrawal of the white elite from the festivities and to calls for the abolition of the Carnival itself. After the Second World War, the festival emerged as a major event that could not be suppressed and with the rise of the independence movement, it acquired legitimacy as a national festival. Yet, while some have argued that Carnival was a unifying symbol that transcended ethnic, class and religious divides, and contributed to national development and unity, many others – apart from a significant part of the Indian community, and including traditional Pentecostal Christian groups – saw it as licentious, lewd and divisive. First elected to power in 1956, the PNM under Eric Williams established a Carnival Committee one year later. It was mandated to develop this cultural form and, over the years, was given increasingly generous funding from the public purse. Seen proudly and possessively as ‘an African thing’, it served to reinforce at the cultural level the claim for de facto hegemony of Africans and Mixed Races over other communities. The Afro-Trinidadian Director of Culture in the Trinidadian government, Dr Hollis Liverpool, offered his view of Carnival and its origins: All the evidence supports the view that the Trinidad carnival originated with the Africans who were enslaved on the sugar plantations of the island; that the majority of customs associated with the festival are African in form and function; that the Whites’ ‘Mardi Gras’ also has African roots, Egypt being the ultimate source; and that the Carnival festival as developed and practiced in Trinidad over the years, is to an extent remembrances of African life. (Liverpool 1993: 36) Carnival was seen as an integral part of the social practices called ‘Creole culture’ that privileged its carriers at all levels of state activity. ‘Creole culture’ was deemed by one calypsonian as a ‘civilization’, which
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was fashioned into a legitimating complex of behaviour ‘on the basis approved by the urban mainly Afro-Creoles themselves’ (ibid.). For many Muslims and Hindus in particular, while Carnival was conceded as an African invention, they felt that it was inappropriate for the state to fund its activities, especially since the level of support was very generous, and there was no corresponding state support for Indian and Hindu festivals. However, it is clear that people from all classes and ethnicities participate in the floats and masquerades in the streets at Carnival time. We shall consider specific aspects of Carnival separately for their role in ethnic strife and solidarity, especially the calypso and steel pan as well as soca-chutney and the Indian response to Carnival in pichakaree.
Calypso One aspect of Carnival that has been particularly controversial is calypso. Gordon Rohlehr, the pre-eminent scholar on calypso as a musical form, points out that calypso is a living example of the AfroCaribbean oral tradition, having its roots, since the time of slavery, in the songs and dances that reflected the troubles of everyday life (Rohlehr 1990). The traditional calypso, despite colonial legislation both during and after the period of enslavement to suppress it, was kept alive, serving as a medium of ‘censure; social control through complaint, satire, ridicule, warning; prophecy, doom-saying, omen-mongering, pronouncing visions of impending apocalypse, promoting tales, praise, moralizing: preaching, passing on truths’. Over the years of its evolution, while calypso has incorporated aspects of other musical forms, such as Latin American rhythms, including salsa, merengue and samba, and also parang, tassa, chutney, soul, zouk, reggae and dub, it has remained predominantly African, especially in terms of its performers and audience. Very few East Indian Trinidadians have dared to venture into this realm of calypso. Professor Warner has underscored the point that ‘calypso is seen by the Trinidad and Tobago public as first and foremost a “Black thing” ’ (Warner 1992). Especially in the post-independence period of political Black hegemony, these musical and festive forms served both to symbolize and to assert African dignity and pre-eminence. The mode of expression that was characteristic of the calypso form was to be raucously and irreverently critical and funny, especially with respect to current and controversial issues of the day. To some analysts, apart from their hilarity and poetic licence, the calypso lyrics contained a more serious dimension in their penetrative diagnosis and prognosis
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for society’s ills. The calypsonian was, therefore, only a messenger and not an advocate. The ethno-racial divide was a daily experience, which easily invited commentary from calypsonians (Rohlehr 1990: 498). At times the calypsonian took aim at his/her own cultural community. However, calypso originally emerged as a form of countercultural commentary directed at European dominance and oppression. After self-government was attained and Indian-African rivalry intensified, it quickly became implicated and enrolled in the power struggle between Africans and Indians for control of the state. The Indian had not as yet crafted a musical form and festive events on the scale of Carnival that afforded an opportunity to portray the African overtly and publicly in negative terms. This would, however, come later in the late 1980s and 1990s. Celebratory rivalry, while it may provide immediate cathartic release and ritualized therapy, also serves as a new site for accentuating differences, supplying a legitimate, but destructive outlet for a sort of suppressed rage against the ‘Other’, expressed through symbols, rituals and festivals. These keep alight deep-seated prejudices, invoke invidious comparisons, compound them into a new volatile mix and, in the end, add fuel to the resentments that divide the society (Premdas 1997a). The following section looks first at the role of calypso in accentuating African – Indian malaise. Instead of acknowledging the cultural pluralism of Trinidad and espousing a policy of multiculturalism, the PNM-run state adopted de facto a single cultural form as an assimilationist means of unifying the disparate cultural communities in the plural society. Even though it was seen by some as an instrument for nation building and unity, official recognition of the pan and calypso produced the opposite effect in promoting and privileging the image of one group at the expense of others. Commented Professor Trotman: ‘Calypso is dragged into the effort to create a nation and integrate the warring factions into an harmonious whole. In fact, much lip service is paid to multiracialism, but it was a multiracial picture from which the Indian was strangely absent’ (Trotman 1991: 393). The virtues of the hegemonic community were recognized, extolled and celebrated institutionally in a way that pointedly neglected or ignored other groups, sometimes even evoking negative images and memories of minority communities and diminishing their value. Commenting on the impact of this sort of domination, philosopher Charles Taylor argued: ‘Our identity is partly shaped by recognition and its absence, often by the misrecognition of others, and so a person or group of people can suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around them mirror back to them a
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confining and contemptible picture of themselves’ (Taylor 1992: 3). In effect, non-recognition or misrecognition, to say nothing of deliberate distortion, can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a ‘false, distorted and reduced mode of being’ (Ibid). Looking at calypso and Carnival from this perspective, remarked AfroTrinidadian scholar, David Trotman: ‘Yet in listing the cultural achievements of this “racial paradise”, it is the steel band, calypso, and Carnival which are given prominence with no mention of any Indian cultural contribution’ (Trotman 1991: 495). Exploiting the licence and freedom of Carnival revelry, calypsos caricatured Indian efforts in learning creole English and exaggerated Indian speech and accent, which provided laughter for one group at the expense of the other (Rohlehr 1990: 495). Indians were perceived as a threat to African hegemony in the post-colonial successor state. The calypso lyrics reflected the Indian–African contest, which, in the economic sphere, seemed to be increasingly won by Indians (Reddock 2000). Calypsos at Carnival time threw up telling commentary on the underlying economic competitive struggle that characterized Indian – African rivalry. Indian reaction to this state of affairs, which submitted them to an annual humiliation at Carnival time, was tempered by the fact that they did not control the levers of power, had limited access to the largesse of state patronage and employment opportunities, and lived in fear of the Creole-dominated coercive forces. To be sure, Indian organizations such as the Maha Sabha issued statements of protest, but this made no difference. However, in the privacy of their homes and community, Indians deepened their alienation from Africans and Mixed Races, building their solidarity around their own economic activities and cultural practices. They too defined themselves in a way that degraded the African by disallowing inter-ethnic marriages and confining their friendships and associations as much as possible to their own kith and kin. Indians had evolved a separate defensive cultural cocoon that offered privacy at the same time that it denigrated Creole cultural practices. Professor P.K. Misra described how Indians held onto their cultural practices as a form of self-defence: But there are other forms of cultural defense and strategies for preserving identity. In a hostile environment, in particular, these strategies are likely to come in all kinds of innocent looking forms such as erecting Jhandi (flags) in home compounds, exchanging greetings such as Sita-Ram, exchanging tharia and lota between kin and friends, preparing tasty parathas, engaging in domestic rituals,
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participating in congregational worship, playing Indian music and many such activities. Each one of these activities looks simple but interconnects people, links ideas and mythologies, generates moods and motivations, and transmits messages. A pattern starts emerging when the consequences of these strategies are interconnected. A culture gets constructed, its boundaries get marked. (Misra 1995: 222) Two Indian events are noteworthy in this context, both highlighted by the election for the first time of an Indian prime minister. The first is the Indian invention of ‘chutney soca’, which is an Indianized musical adaptation of the calypso-Carnival culture. Often performed at Indian weddings from where it derived, ‘chutney’ is an indigenous Indian musical dancing and singing form accompanied by a combination of Indian tassa drums, the chowtal and harmonium. ‘soca-chutney’ combines ‘chutney’ with ‘soca’ (a variant of calypso with the African steel pan) all put to a calypso beat with Indian strains and heavy erotic ‘wining’ (pelvic gyrations). In effect, the Indian countered the calypso–pan–Carnival forms with a rival creation, which, although it has drawn many African and Creole contestants, was seen as an Indian phenomenon. However, Indians did not use soca-chutney to denigrate Africans and Creole culture. Instead, a response to calypso critique of Indian cultural forms and practices would emerge from the second Indian cultural invention, called ‘Pichakaree’. First started in 1989, this festival, like calypso, served as a vehicle for social commentary. It invited Indians to tell their own story in song and music. Like Carnival, but on a much-reduced scale and lacking state subsidy, it offered many commentaries, covering different aspects of Indian life. However, after Basdeo Panday became prime minister, many of the songs responded directly to the calypso criticisms levelled at Indian cultural practices. As yet, it is not nearly as charged with the same electric mass power that Carnival evokes, nor does it have and the openly risqué lyrics, which disparaged Indians in calypso. But with an emboldened Indian community, this is likely to be altered (Assang 1997: 30). In 1997 Prime Minister Panday attended the Pichakaree festival for the first time. It was enacted immediately after the Carnival season, to celebrate the Indian festival of Pagwah. During the 1997 Carnival period, Panday opened frontal artillery against the standard plethora of anti-Indian racist calypsos that the season tends to throw up. He did so in the name of promoting national unity. Said Panday: ‘Whatever you do, do not allow carnival and calypso to be used as a cover up
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for racism and the denigration of innocent people as we see taking place in other parts of the country today’ (Gosine 1997: 5). Panday was particularly incensed because the public treasury largely subsidized the Carnival event. He said: ‘The government spends money on carnival and that money is contributed by all races in the country. It would be unfair to allow a few people to use the funds in order to divide the people, and therefore government has to ensure that taxpayers’ money is not used in that way. That is the duty of the government’ (Manmohan 1997: 4). Panday’s statements led to a storm of criticism from the Creole community, which argued that the calypso was an art form that required uninhibited licence, something from which former Prime Minister Eric Williams was not immune, except that Williams retaliated by saying in a famous phrase: ‘Let the jackasses bray.’ Panday instead threatened that the government ‘will ensure it does not happen again’ (ibid.). Considering this entire sequence of events in relation to our theme on the construction of a national identity in an ethnically bifurcated state, it is clear that the musico-cultural site afforded an opportunity to both communities to express their mutual disdain. While the African and Mixed Race communities had a head start in depreciating Indian cultural forms and practices in Carnival and calypso, Indians did not have a monopoly over virtue. In chutney-soca they created their own site of riposte and in Pichakaaree they developed a more pointed form of response. In the end, these actions reinforced African–Indian antipathy and showed how each sought to define itself in opposition to the other.
The steel pan In 1995, the steel pan was acclaimed by the PNM government as the ‘national instrument’. Recognized worldwide as one of the few genuine musical inventions of the twentieth century, the steel pan originated in Trinidad before spreading throughout the entire Caribbean. Yet, in Trinidad’s multicultural setting, its promotion was controversial. Like Carnival, the steel pan had become identified with the Afro-Trinidadian community, even though by the end of the twentieth century there was at least one very prominent Indian steel-pan orchestra. Each community, especially the Afro- and Indo-Trinidadian communities, had defined itself by certain cultural boundary markers, such as musical instruments and songs. For the largest Hindu organization, Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS), it could not concede the elevation of the steel pan as the national instrument without incurring a form of symbolic depreciation of Indian instruments. However, the SDMS
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recognized the widespread popularity of the pan and that it was even sometimes used for the playing of Hindu bhajans (sacred and ceremonial songs) and Indian classical music, and decided on a conciliatory approach. Hence, while initially resisting it by saying that the ‘pan had no place in the life of Hindus’, it declared in the end that Indian musical instruments, such as the harmonium, should also be given official recognition. Said Sat Maharaj, the secretary general of the SDMS: ‘we would like all children to have access to the steel pan as well as other musical instruments which enrich our lives and rituals and we would like all children to be literate in music to encourage understanding of the cultures of our national community’. (Sunday Express 1997: 8). The steel pan is an acoustical percussion instrument played by applying a rubber stick on a concave circular cross-section of steel attached to a narrow cylindrical skirt or drum. Originating around 1935, it derived from discarded 55-gallon oil drums that poor AfroTrinidadians used to beat out a rhythm. Its social history makes it a truly ethno-centric invention created by underprivileged persons working in the petroleum industry. Becoming very popular among the Afro-Trinidadian underclass and deployed as part of drumming for enjoyment, in the 1940s the British colonial authorities banned the instrument as well as drumming. For a while, it then evolved as an instrument played in secret until it was made legal. The steel pan, then, can be viewed as a symbol of Afro-Trinidadian proletarian struggle against colonial oppression. The steel drums, at first crude, were subsequently ‘tuned’ into an indented curvature of thirty segments, each producing a different sound. From the tuning came melodies and accompanying songs, which over the years were transformed into orchestras. This was all constructed from an antecedent practice before the steel drum of hitting bamboo poles on the ground, then called ‘tamboo-bamboo’. The steel pan quickly became a widely used instrument, constantly being improved and refined so that it is deployed today to play symphonies and jazz. Employed principally by the Afro-Trinidadian community, the steel pan produced a veritable mass following and a huge industry with all manner of specialists in designing finely tuned instruments selling at phenomenally high prices. The steel pan is being taught in schools. When the Indian-based UNC government acceded to power in 1995, it followed the previous PNM regime in recognizing and funding the steel pan. In the budget speech of 1997, it declared the pan ‘a national treasure’ and supported the University of the West Indies offering a degree in the steel pan. The UNC government also established a National
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Steel Orchestra and promised a Pan Theatre. The steel pan has emerged as a truly international instrument with an annual World Steel Band Festival. While the steel pan has successfully transcended the barriers of the ethnic divide in Trinidad, it has become associated with a wider celebration called Carnival, which has remained a source of much controversy. When the annual Carnival celebrations take place, one of its main elements is a steel-pan competition for the best band.
Emancipation Day and Indian Arrival Day Every year, Afro-Creoles and Indians celebrate their presence in Trinidad and official holidays have been inaugurated to recognize this. These holidays have become important symbols of the unique identity claims of each of these communities. In this section, we consider the role of these days of commemoration as symbols of communal identity. While one community had an easier time in getting its symbolic presence acknowledged and celebrated, the other had to struggle to achieve the same end. Hence, this sub-section will concentrate on the struggle of one of the communities for recognition of its presence in Trinidad. Freedom from the shackles of African slavery was manifestly a signal event in all parts of plantation America (Wagley 1960) and the Caribbean, even when the date varied from as early as 1789 in Haiti to 1888 in Brazil. It was in Trinidad, however, that a country first marked the event by declaring it a national holiday. This happened on 1 August 1985. In 1833, Thomas Buxton introduced a bill in the British Parliament to abolish slavery by 1 August 1834. While the bill passed into law, it was not until four years later – after an apprenticeship period of four years, given to the slaveholders so that they could adjust to the new reality – that slavery was effectively abolished. Both dates, then, are significant for Trinidad, 1 August 1834 and 1 August 1838. When slavery was abolished in Trinidad, only about 17,439 slaves existed, but there were as many as 254,439 were in Jamaica and 69,579 in Guyana. About 150 years later, in the late twentieth century, when Trinidad decided to commemorate the abolition of slavery as a national holiday, there was no recommendation required and no resistance offered by any person or group. However, Indians were not offered anything either to mark their arrival on the island as indentured labourers in 1845 or to mark the end of the indentureship programme in 1917, by which time some 140,000 of them had been imported into Trinidad. In fact, many persons outside the Indian community still held the view that even though Indians
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had become permanent residents, they seemed to occupy an ambivalent zone of belonging. They had arrived as short-term indentured labourers with the original intention of repatriation being stipulated in their contracts. When most decided to exchange their return passages, to which they were entitled, for a piece of land and a commitment to remain in Trinidad as permanent residents, the aura of temporariness still lingered over their existence. Hence, for the next century, Indians and their descendants lived under a vague cloud of being outsiders. The fact that they were residentially segregated and practised a culture different from the dominant and increasingly mainstream English and Anglo-Creole ways added to their strangeness and unbelongingness. Their separation and ambivalent identity was, not, however, an innocent or innocuous event since their peripheral existence institutionalized their social inferiority and often led to outright social prejudice and discrimination against them. While Indians were not recognized and, therefore, were not offered a national holiday late in the twentieth century, as was the case for the other immigrant groups, it was a significant omission because Indians constituted one of the two most populous groups in the society and they had emerged as a major pillar in the economic development of the country. Their muted presence loudly articulated their peripheralization and lack of voice. In the years since their arrival, Indians, in their rural isolation, had reconstructed from their disparate origins, languages and customs, a new society with its own unique collective communal bonds. By 1945, on the occasion of the celebration of their one hundred years on the island, they were sufficiently confident about their presence and permanence in Trinidad that they marked the occasion with auspicious ceremony and celebration. The centenary celebration held at Skinner Park in San Fernando, called ‘Indian Immigration Day’, attracted a large gathering and among its guests were the acting governor of the island, and many prominent local leaders and some foreign dignitaries. From the event was produced a historic book commemorating the Indian presence and significance in Trinidad. Following this event, nothing much was done until the 1970s to add weight to their public recognition. However, by the mid-twentieth century, Indians were becoming more integrated into the society and correspondingly, as they ventured out beyond the village and competed for space, opportunities and jobs, they were met more frequently and openly by unwelcome racism and derogatory comments. This would trigger the formation of an Indian Revival and Reform Association (IRRA) in 1977 with the aim of defending Indians and winning appreciation of Indian culture. The leadership of the IRRA
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included Hindu, Muslim and Christian Indians in a concerted front. When the efforts of the IRRA were joined in a common struggle by the largest Hindu organization, the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS), new energy was inserted into the movement for Indian recognition. Thereafter, the name ‘Indian Immigration Day’ was altered to ‘Indian Arrival Day’. In the 1980s, several Indian villages celebrated 30 May to mark the arrival of the first Indians on the ship, the Fatel Razack, in 1845. Both the date of arrival and the name of the first ship became symbols of Indian identity, as were Caroni and sugar cane in the central plains where most Indians lived. In their struggle for recognition, critical leadership was offered by a number of prominent Indians, especially after Emancipation was declared a public holiday in recognition of the cornerstone contribution of Afro-Trinidadians to the establishment of society. In an influential local Indian journal called Equality, a special Indian Arrival Committee was established. But a major source of momentum came from among the Indians, both from Trinidad and from other parts of the Caribbean, who had emigrated in significant numbers to North America and Britain. A particular event in Toronto, Canada, served as a focus for the gathering Indian consciousness and with it the demands for recognition. It is important to take a brief look at this diasporic group and how it served as an organizing centre for the assertion of Indian identity. Caribbean Indians in Toronto were absorbed as a part of the Black Caribbean population. While Caribbean migrants tended to subdivide into separate, island-specific organizations, their membership was national and not cultural, religious, racial or ethnic. Indo-Caribbean persons were expected to find refuge in their respective national organizations where they seemed to belong naturally. The idea of a separate organization with a racially differentiated Indo-Caribbean cultural identity cutting across the various island states of the Caribbean was novel. Prior to this, Indo-Caribbean persons found themselves in a twilight zone of being neither a meaningful part of a wider Caribbean community to which they were publicly assigned, nor a part of the South Asian community with which they were phenotypically associated. And as yet, they were not organized into their own separate and autonomous body. They were neither ‘fish’ nor ‘fowl’, an ambivalent position that Kamala-Jean Gopie, as a prominent Jamaican-born IndoCaribbean activist, would interrogate graphically: Are we still an invisible people? What role are we currently playing in our new home? Is the ethnic and cultural legacy which connects
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us to both India and the Caribbean valued? Do we find ourselves caught in a labeling dilemma of being neither fish nor fowl, that is not really ‘South Asians’, Canada’s term for people who come directly from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, etc., yet falling outside the West Indian label which refers usually to Afro-Caribbeans or Blacks? (Gopie 1993: 63) The Ontario Society for Studies in Indo-Caribbean Culture (OSSICC) sought to solve this ‘labelling dilemma’ by pulling together all persons of East Indian heritage from the Caribbean under a separate umbrella, distinguished by race, culture and location within the Caribbean homeland. Even before OSSICC’s formation, Indo-Caribbean persons had come to know each other interactively in such places in Toronto as temples, mosques, mandirs, churches, schools, restaurants, community centres, clubs, political parties, etc. and had sought each other out, forming networks of friendship and information trading. They had a sense of consciousness as a separate community with peculiar problems and interests. Coming from all parts of the Caribbean, they evolved a new synthetic bonding in the diaspora transcending their national origins and forged a new collective identity. Now, they sought organizational form and public recognition. OSSICC was registered on 23 April 1987 with the multiple aims: to promote Indo-Caribbean culture and history; to ‘illuminate and publicize the cultural integrity of Indo-Caribbean peoples’; to organize workshops and conferences focused on ‘the special characteristics of Indo-Caribbean peoples’; and to educate and prepare IndoCaribbean peoples for a significant role among Canada’s multicultural communities. From these self-assigned roles, OSSICC appeared to be yet another immigrant group seeking to organize the cultural life of its community and to attend to some of its problems of adjusting to its new environment. While this was the case, OSSICC nevertheless possessed some important peculiarities. The idea of an ‘Indo-Caribbean community’ in Toronto with a separate organization and identity was new, if not startling. Indeed, some Indians were repelled by the very term ‘Indo-Caribbean’, some suggesting that it was too communalist. What made OSSICC unique was the fact that it became an effective overarching organization that sought to attend to the cultural and other horizons of the Indo-Caribbean peoples as a unified and coherent community. OSSICC emerged as the organizational receptacle for the Indo-Caribbean community. At the outset, it was envisaged that OSSICC was to be a one-shot affair, specifically established to commemorate
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in ‘Indian Arrival Day’, the 150-year presence of East Indians in the Caribbean (Birbalsingh 1997b: 4). In this regard, OSSICC had a pedigree. Since 1975, at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad, conferences bringing together Indo-Caribbean academics have been successfully convened. Many prominent Indians had attended, including the Trinidadian Vidia Naipaul, who gave the keynote address in 1975. Naipaul, who would later receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001, sounded the underlying sentiment that would resonate in Toronto a decade and a half later at the formation of OSSICC: ‘There is ignorance of the Indian community, not only from without, but also from within. Indians know little of many things that have made them. We have to consider the culture from which we have come, but we forget and we have no idea of our past’ (Naipaul 1982: 3–4). OSSICC incorporated this academic aspect into its programme at its first inaugural meeting in 1988, but would extend it into a wider array of cultural activities and expression. One of the main reasons for OSSICC’s emergence was that many IndoCaribbean persons were unhappy that they were subsumed under other Asian and African organizations and identities. In particular, they were rendered invisible under several African-centric Caribbean and South Asian organizations. They conceded that while the African component of Toronto’s Caribbean community was rightly proud and of its own unique history and culture, this did not represent the full extent of the Indo-Caribbean experience. They argued that while there were significant overlaps in historically sharing the arduous life on plantations and colonial repression, Indo-Caribbean persons came from a different place, brought different cultural baggage, and for much of their Caribbean history, lived apart from other communities during the most formative years of their presence in the Caribbean. In the public celebrations of Caribbean life in Toronto, the uniqueness of Indo-Caribbean life and history was lost in their broad categorization under other organizations. Undergirding some of this sentiment was a residual spillover from Indian–African rivalry in the politics of Guyana and Trinidad. A large number of Indo-Caribbean migrants were relatively recent arrivals from Guyana and Trinidad. The construction of an Indo-Caribbean identity in Toronto was centred around a desire for a separate space and a claim to be different in contradistinction to the claims of South Asian and AfroCaribbean persons. For a unique community to be subsumed under the rubric of another different community results in misrecognition and distortions of its social existence, adding to its marginalization and
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disempowerment and all the indignities that follow from this. Such distortion can extend to individuals as well as entire communities, degrading and diminishing their identity, their way of life and selfimage. While not denying its ‘Caribbeannness’, the Indo-Caribbean community through OSSICC sought to highlight its own idiosyncratic history, experiences and culture that demanded recognition in the same way as Rastafarians and other groups in the Caribbean did. One of OSSICC’s main purposes was to rewrite the history of IndoCaribbean peoples, their arrival and suffering, and to propagate this new vision as an aspect of its pride. Many Indo-Caribbean intellectuals, both in the Caribbean (including Trinidad) and in the diaspora, were as upset at having their Indo-Caribbean cultural particularity subsumed and submerged in Toronto under a larger South Asian and Afro-centric Caribbean culture as they were of having Indo-Caribbean history and historiography similarly marginalized and obliterated. Several of OSSICC’s founders were literary and history specialists. OSSICC would therefore gather together an illustrious contingent of social scientists, literati and historians, who would undertake the task of giving a new positive illumination to Indo-Caribbean historical contributions to the development of the Caribbean, and also to portray the sufferings of the indentured labourers in the process. Indian arrival was a critical part of this historiographical enterprise. In its emergence as a high-profile and very successful organization, OSSICC would tap into the talent of a large assortment of prominent East Indians, both inside and outside Toronto, and launch at its inauguration a programme of activity that subsequently turned into a massive and memorable ‘founding event’ of Indo-Caribbean assertion of a separate and unique self in the Caribbean diaspora. OSSICC’s launching after nearly two years of planning was auspicious. It was a festival of drama, dance, music, storytelling, singing, spicy dishes, fiery speeches, academic presentations, artefact displays and photographs, attended by many Indo-Caribbean people, as well as others from all communities, including representatives from the Afro-Caribbean and South Asian communities, all combined and packed into one month – July 1988. Cheddi Jagan and Basdeo Panday, out of power at the time but still popular figures in the Indo-Caribbean community, were two of the keynote speakers. Ernest Moutasammy, the East Indian member of the French parliament from Guadeloupe, was in attendance, as well as Bhikhu Parekh, the Indian-born British academic. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sent his greetings, as did the premier of Ontario. The Ontario Ministry of Culture provided a subsidy of $15,000 for the festival and
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the minister of Multiculturalism was in attendance, as well as several members of Parliament. Several Indo-Caribbean sports personalities were also present, including Joe Solomon and Sonny Ramdhin. Prominent Indo-Caribbean literary figures like Sam Selvon and Neil Bissoondath also attended, as well as an array of Indo-Caribbean musical performers. A special play on the Indo-Caribbean experience, ‘From Ganges to Demararey’, was composed and repeatedly performed even after the festival period. An academic segment of the celebration was convened at York University where papers on Indo-Caribbean memory and history were presented. Together, these events, sustained over several days, conferred an aura in which the disparate and scattered pieces of the Toronto IndoCaribbean diaspora (as well as groups that came from New York and elsewhere) seemed to have found themselves as a united community with a special bond and pride. The festival emerged as a unique celebratory moment that, in turn, would produce annual attempts at its re-enactment, which gave continuity to the collective life of the Indo-Caribbean community in Toronto. Over the next decade, OSSICC spawned a published literature marked by two prominent volumes, From Indenture to Exile and Indo-Caribbean Resistance edited by Frank Birbalsingh. They reconstructed the historical self-image of Indo-Caribbean peoples, challenging their marginalization in Caribbean historiography. Many of the key actors in this major OSSICC event were from Trinidad, including parliamentarians, academics and cultural leaders. From the OSSICC celebration new energy was stirred among Indo-Caribbean leaders and this inspiration and solidarity was transported back to the Caribbean, including Trinidad, as a catalytic force with an agenda of claims and activities to germinate. The agenda of items included recognition of Indian culture and arrival, demands for the establishment of Hindu and Muslim schools, for equality in access to jobs in the public service and the establishment of human rights and equity commissions. In the 1989–90 session of Parliament, the Indian MP Trevor Sudama, as part of the Private Member’s Agenda, introduced for debate a proposal for the celebration of an Indian Arrival Day. The legislature never got around to debating the issue. Then, in the 1990–91 session, it was reintroduced and again deferred. Sudama had invoked the cause of nationalism and national unity in arguing for his proposal: The critical task as far as forging a soundly-based nationalism is concerned is how to appreciate, respect and give recognition to the
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diverse backgrounds, heritages and traditions of the various ethnic groups which comprise the society and, at the same time, inculcate a sense of unity and common purpose and belonging which is necessary to promote national solidarity. The issue then is how to come to terms with the fact of our plurality and achieve unity in diversity. It cannot be achieved by forcing people to deny their own being and selfhood or by simply repeating facile and fatuous assertions that ‘we are together under one flag in our country’. (Sudama 1993: 215) The idea of a special holiday for Indians, who were widely perceived as an outsider and culturally ‘backward’ rural community, had evoked much anger and criticism from some quarters. Some opposed it on the grounds that it would be divisive while others said it would trigger moves by the other ethnic communities for their own holidays. Some pointed out that there were already too many public holidays. Adopting a hostile position, the Express, one of the most widely circulated daily newspapers, in an editorial titled ‘The Enigma of Arrival’, said: ‘These are individuals who constantly rail about alienation and prejudices which supposedly oppress all East Indians in Trinidad and Tobago. These are individuals who insist that the true homeland is India and who apparently consider themselves some type of permanent transient in this land’ (Express 1991: 8). In rebuttal to the argument that conceding Indian Arrival day would be divisive, Sudama stated ‘that such a holiday will instill and reinforce a sense of belonging, a feeling of acceptance in the minds of Indians in this country’ (Sudama 1993: 221). Responding to the assertion that Indians harbour loyalty to ‘Mother India’, Sudama argued that the holiday ‘is bound to nourish the spirit of patriotism and nationhood among them [Indians]’ (ibid.). He even suggested that ‘it fosters a greater awareness and appreciation among non-Indians of the diverse inputs into our evolution as a society’ (ibid.). Finally, Sudama dealt with the view that Indian Arrival Day must be viewed ‘as a quid pro quo for Emancipation Day’, stating that both events were worthy causes in their own right (ibid.). Part of the background to the proposal for a public holiday in celebration of Indian arrival stemmed from two antecedent events that had underscored Indian exclusion. First, a group of Indians, reacting to what seemed the impossibility of the Indian political party ever acceding to power and breaking PNM hegemony and alleged discrimination against Indians, announced a proposal to divide Trinidad into two countries, with the Indian part to be called ‘Indesh’. Whether this was to be achieved through a voluntary or involuntary process of
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secession, and setting aside the impracticality of the proposal on a small island, the idea of Indian territorial separation threw into stark relief Indian feelings of alienation and disempowerment. Secondly, in 1988, when Basdeo Panday, a co-founder of the ruling NAR party in Trinidad and its foreign minister, was evicted from office by his Afro-Creole coalition partner and prime minister, Arthur Robinson, this event – along with a steep devaluation of the Trinidad dollar following IMF austerity prescription – triggered a sudden influx of Indo-Trinidadians into Toronto, complaining about human rights violations and claiming political asylum and refugee status. The Trinidad government was embarrassed internationally by the charges, and denied that human rights abuses prevailed in the country, challenging the refugee claimants to provide proof of their charges. This brought alleged discriminatory practices against the Indian community under international scrutiny. Then, in the 1991 election campaign, in the vocabulary of ethnic appeals that were deployed, Panday spoke of ‘alienation’ as one of his foremost issues, euphemistically referring to alleged racial discrimination by the PNM and the NAR governments against East Indians. The outcome of these events would be the acceding to Indian demands for a public holiday. When Patrick Manning was returned to power in a new PNM government after defeating NAR, he came under direct pressure as a result of the massive celebration that was held in Trinidad to observe the 150th anniversary of the Indian presence. A large international conference on Indians in the Caribbean was held at the University of the West Indies campus, in which the themes of Indian alienation and exclusion were discussed vociferously and insistently. Prime Minister Manning introduced legislation in recognition of the Indian presence in Trinidad. However, while the new parliamentary act called the holiday ‘Indian Arrival Day’, it stipulated that this specific designation would only apply for the year 1995 and that thereafter the holiday would be called ‘Arrival Day’ to commemorate the arrival not only of Indians but of everyone in Trinidad’s immigrant society. Later in 1995, when the PNM was defeated and the UNC and first Indian prime minister came to power, Panday reversed the temporary provision and made ‘Indian Arrival Day’ a permanent holiday. Manning responded that when he returned to power, he would again reverse the name. The PNM has since returned to power in 2001, but has decided not to change the public holiday called ‘Indian Arrival Day’.
5 Partisan Politics, Electoral Systems and Ethnic Strife
In this chapter, we move our analysis away from the symbols of recognition and the formal institutions of the state in the public bureaucracy to the electoral process, which is the arena in which the ethnic factor becomes activated as leadership is recruited and issues and policy proposals are debated. It is within the electoral process that the rival partisan claims for material resources and symbols of recognition are articulated and contested. It is, therefore, essential to examine the performance of the electoral system in practice, especially its role in defining the dialogue that constructs the dynamics of the political arena and that establishes the tone and tensions in the life of the polity. Furthermore, it is in describing and analysing the continuity of successive elections that the main political parties and leaders are best identified and understood, indicating how voters are organized and mobilized, and how competition for the values of the society are represented and waged. Periodic competitive elections offer a rare and valuable occasion for insights into the contours and workings of the political system, addressing, however indirectly, the salient issue of equity and distributive justice. In democratic polyethnic states, elections have served as the critical arbiter in adjudicating the rival claims for power and privilege by the main ethno-cultural communities. In many instances, however, these elections have left a legacy of discontent and bitterness in their wake, with controversies ranging from the appropriateness of the electoral system to issues surrounding electoral rigging and malpractice. In Trinidad’s multi-ethnic setting, the function of the election device had been thrown into question on these points as well as on several other counts (Milne 1964; Premdas 1972). First, as a means of providing representation to citizens, elections seemed instead to have supplied a 110
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fractured public will, reflecting and reinforcing the communal cleavages within the society. While democracy is not about government by unanimity and is inherently partisan, in order for it to operate effectively it must, at a minimum, be cast within the context of a larger citizen commitment to generally acceptable procedures of conflict resolution and, ideally, also to general values and beliefs underpinning the system as a whole (Abizadeh 2002; Schnapper 2000; Miller 1995). Thus, elections in states that are not deeply divided but share a social and cultural consensus are rarely about the radical restructuring of the underlying social contract; rather, they tend to serve as a ritual that affirms citizen commitment to the political system as well as supplying decision makers for the polity. The voting act in integrated systems, then, serves symbolically to link citizens to the system and to each other – regardless of the party that wins the elections. Issues are moderately debated and it is rare for them to so inflame passions that they threaten to tear the society apart. All of these latent functions that inhere in the institution of elections are enacted only when the larger context of generally acceptable conflict resolution procedures and shared trust binds the overwhelming majority of citizens together, and where representatives are responsive to public opinion and can be changed periodically. The situation in deeply divided states is dramatically different. The ethnic diversity in these states need not become conflictual, setting one ethno-cultural community against another in a deadly form of rivalry that threatens national unity and the stability of the state. There is nothing inevitable about ethnic pluralism leading to ethnic conflict. As a genre of collective behaviour, group identity in a multi-ethnic state is exposed to a multitude of forces, some conducive to inter-ethnic cooperation and others destructive of inter-communal amity. In particular, in most multi-ethnic states, political parties have tended to be based on ethnicity and representation tends to become communalized so that the party in power symbolizes not the public will at large, but sectional solidarity and ethnically particularized interests. Citizen commitment is passionately expressed but communally cleaved so that only one section at a time identifies with the governing regime. Among the institutions that have become implicated, justifiably or not, on the list of negative and divisive forces in the democratic politics of multi-ethnic states has been a particular variant of the electoral system: the ‘firstpast-the-post’ simple plurality mode in which the aggregate winner of a majority of seats takes all of the power and privileges of the office without any attempt at sharing any of it with its adversaries. Simply, the
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system is referred to as ‘The Winner Takes All’. The exclusivist propensity in the ‘winner takes all’ dynamic creates an out-section that is alienated (Milne 1982). Communal identities are at stake in elections, for in defeat the vanquished may witness the marginalization of its way of life. Hence, elections tend to arouse primordial responses and deeply divisive fears in culturally fractured states. Consequently, the electoral device becomes larger than its original purpose, designed for selecting decision makers. In Trinidad, it was alleged that elections became an arena of contesting identities enmeshed in a threat of ethnic domination. Ethnically based parties organize and mobilize their supporters in a manner that exploits sectional differences, with claims and fears accentuated beyond reason (Premdas 2002a: 184–5). The first-past-the-post electoral device, with its characteristic ‘winner-takes-all’ characteristics, was imported from Britain, an environment radically different in social structure from that found in Trinidad. Because of its tendency to underrepresent, if not entirely eliminate the votes of minority parties (unless their supporters are heavily concentrated in certain constituencies) and simultaneously to over-magnify the seats acquired by victors, even where the latter have acquired only a plurality of the votes, this electoral system has played a critical role in deepening the communal divisions in Trinidad. Technically, one could argue that where the electoral system of proportional representation results in majorities, the same effect can be predicted. However, Trinidad has never had the system of proportional representation. The adaptation of the electoral device to the multi-ethnic society in Trinidad has left unresolved important questions about the roles of representation, identity, integration, citizen commitment and government accountability, traditionally assigned to the electoral system. In Trinidad, free and fair elections had taken place since 1946 when universal adult suffrage was first introduced. After independence in 1962, successive elections occurred regularly and, apart from one nearfateful insurrectionary event in 1970 accompanied by a virtual election boycott in 1971, political succession through the ballot became routine and has been taken for granted. Trinidad became a showcase of democratic practices to much of the outside world. Human rights appeared to be well safeguarded and institutionally entrenched. Since the 1961 general election immediately preceding independence, an ethnically based two-party system, representing mainly Afro-Creoles and Indians, has come to structure citizen partisan preference. In every election since then, ethnic identity featured as the main determinant of
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voter preference (Ryan 1994b; Premdas 1992). The ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system in which the winner takes all served as the main incentive for this pattern of partisan citizen politics. Except for one election in 1986, when a single integrated multi-ethnic ‘rainbow’ party assumed power, and another election in 1995, involving inter-party cooperation across the ethnic divide, abundant evidence demonstrates the entrenched pattern of ethnic voter preference. We shall briefly consider these two different types of elections: one type in which there was practically no inter-party and inter-ethnic cooperation and another in which there was cooperation, to see how these outcomes eventuated and what can be learnt to promote one type rather than the other.
Nuts and bolts of the Trinidad electoral system When universal adult suffrage was introduced in 1946, modern mass politics was inaugurated and thereafter Trinidad has held regular and generally free and fair elections. The 1961 election can be seen as the point at which the ethnically based two-party system emerged practically unchallenged and was thereafter the dominant pattern, even though there have been a few deviations from this pattern with the formation of a third party. The electoral system has been based on the first-pastthe-post simple plurality system and has not changed. While in 1961 there were 30 seats in the House of Assembly, from the 1966 election to 2007 there have always been 36 seats. Two main parties emerged to represent the two primary ethnic communities, Afro-Creoles and Indians. The Afro-Creole party has always been the People’s National Movement (PNM), formed in 1956. The Indian-based party presently called the United National Congress (UNC) has altered its name several times over the years, being called the Democratic Labour Party during the 1950s and 1960s, the United Labour Front during the 1970s and 1980s, and the United National Congress from 1988 to the present. Periodically, a credible third party with a multi-ethnic following has been formed – such as the Organization for National Reconstruction in 1981 and the NAR in 1986. They have had fleeting and limited success in modifying the entrenched pattern of ethnic voter preference. Because of the pattern of residence by the two major ethnic communities, the map of their electoral support clearly shows a geographically divided country (Clarke 1993.) From 1961 to 1986, with the exception of 1971, when the opposition refused to participate in the elections, the PNM won a majority of the seats and governed Trinidad. Because about three-quarters of the
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constituencies are predominantly Indian and Afro-Creole, the Indian and Afro-Creole parties tended to obtain a guaranteed minimum number of seats, which reflects their overwhelming numerical dominance in these constituencies. However, there have been a number of constituencies (about eight), which have been so ethnically mixed between Afro-Creoles, Indians, Mixed races, Chinese, Syrians and French Creoles, and which have also experienced undergoing demographic shifts, so that they were deemed marginal constituencies. In very close elections, these marginal constituencies have determined the national victor. In December 1986, the dominant ruling party, the PNM, lost to an unprecedented multi-ethnic formation called the National Association for Reconstruction (NAR). We shall briefly consider the events surrounding the NAR victory, which deviated from the entrenched tendency of ethnic voting. With this result, Trinidad seemed to have broken the grip of its invidious racial antagonism. In the NAR, a rainbow regime of ‘One Love’ was installed in the cockpit of power. The Indians perceived the PNM as an instrument of ethnic repression and in 1986 they joined forces with other dissident groupings to dislodge the PNM from power. Constituted of an unprecedented alignment of disgruntled Indians and Creoles, representing that elusive multi-ethnic formation which had previously failed to manifest itself in Trinidad’s modern mass politics, the NAR was led by A.N.R. Robinson. In effect, in Robinson, an African leader was found; in Panday an Indian leader was recruited; and in the ranks of the ONR leadership, both the Mixed Races and the French Creoles were represented. In negotiating the final form of the party, however, no formula was agreed upon to share the spoils of power should the NAR win. This would become the source of an invidious post-victory internal struggle that ripped the superficially unified tapestry of the party to shreds. About one year later, the NAR was fatally split between an Indian group, led by Basdeo Panday, and the Creole group, led by Prime Minister Robinson. For a variety of personality, ethnic and ideological reasons, the ULF segment led by Panday was expelled from the NAR just one year later, not only throwing the ruling party in to crisis but also rocking the nation which had been euphoric about giving the NAR a decisive victory. With its reduced majority, NAR remained in power but it had lost its multiethnic halo and was reduced to a shadow of its former self. In 1991, the NAR returned to the electorate to seek a new mandate. But by then, strong ethno-communalist sentiments had re-emerged in society and the ‘rainbow’ consociation of inter-class and inter-ethnic amity was being challenged.
Partisan Politics and Ethnic Strife
Return to ethnic electoral politics: the 1991, 2000, 2001 and 2002 elections The significance of the 1991 election Was the NAR’s momentous triumph in 1986 only a temporary aberration or did it have long-lasting consequences? In the 1991 election, then, a wider issue with immense theoretical significance had been embedded. Was sectional identity being replaced by rational, issueoriented politics? Will Trinidad point the way to other Third World countries in overcoming the claims of communalism? For many, the results of the 1991 election were awaited to indicate whether the old form of ethnic rivalry was surmounted and a radically new style of cross-communal politics reaffirmed. In the 1986 general election, when the ruling NAR dramatically breached all old patterns of ethnic electoral preference in evicting the PNM from power, NAR’s victory seemed to signal a new brand of politics, suggesting the prospect of primordial ethnic preference yielding to a rational electoral base motivated by pragmatic calculations of concrete self-interest. In the 1991 election, then, the fear persisted that the experiment in a popular cross-communal party that was attained in 1986 was threatened and a new era of re-tribalized ethnic parties was at hand. Yet many hoped that this would not happen and that the electorate would not return to primordial patterns of party preference and politics. More than simply re-electing office holders, then, was at stake in the 1991 election. It was a critical election in the Caribbean. If a communally-bound party were to win, then the promise of illegitimacy, instability and disunity awaited Trinidad. If the NAR, even in its reconstituted weaker form as a multi-ethnic party without a natural ethnic electorate, were to win instead, there was still some hope of cross-communal cooperation. In the 1991 election, the main parties competing for office were two dominant ethnically based parties, the PNM under the leadership of Patrick Manning and the United National Congress (UNC) under the leadership of Basdeo Panday. Because the NAR had been crippled when its Indian wing under Panday was expelled, the contest once more seemed polarized between the PNM and the UNC in the 1991 election. The two main parties, the UNC and PNM, respectively centred around cores of Indian and African constituents, had dominated Trinidad’s politics since 1961 and it seemed in the feverish campaign of the 1991 election that the 1986 cross-communal victory by the NAR was had been but a passing aberration to this predominant pattern. The 1991 election was the test of this hypothesis. The three-way contest in
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1991 was a mixture of old and new motifs in Trinidad’s politics. The PNM and UNC represented the old ethnic politics; these parties could count on a solid core of ethnic constituents. In contrast, the NAR represented, at least in its initial formation in 1986–88 prior to the expulsion of Panday, a genuine multi-ethnic grouping that had significantly disengaged many voters from their traditional cultural partisan moorings. The original NAR phenomenon, with its multi-ethnic following, had caused a new model of party representation to be founded in Trinidad. While the old parties nominally claimed a multi-ethnic following, the fact remained that Africans and Indians under the old order remained loyal to their respective communal parties. The victory of the original NAR in December 1986, a new example of cross-communal partisan coalition had suggested a new method to transcend ethnic loyalty and secure electoral victory. Many observers felt that the NAR in 1991 had lost its old majesty, bestriding the ethnic fragments of Trinidadian society, and had become a hollow shell with only a Tobago following in support of its favorite son, A.N.R. Robinson. In 1986, the NAR had enjoyed the support of Panday who brought with him the Indian community. In 1991, Panday having been expelled from the NAR, had his own party, the UNC. In 1991, both the PNM and the UNC made strenuous efforts to refurbish their manifestos, rhetoric and frontline personnel, in order to reflect their ambitious claim to multi-ethnicity. The PNM called itself a ‘new PNM’, attempting to distance itself from the ethnic bias, corruption and incompetence of the PNM under the old guard that was defeated in 1986. The UNC also attempted to present a multi-ethnic front. However, this new multi-ethnic image in PNM and UNC was a hard act to maintain, especially as the election heated up and the election date approached. The Robinson-led NAR had also sought to refurbish its tarnished image even after the Panday expulsion. In its restructured incarnation, however, it was now reduced to a narrow base and was seen as a party which lacked the mass support of Indians and Afro-Creoles, and even lacking a cross-section of ethnic support potentially able to win as it did in 1986. In fact, the NAR did possess its own tinge of ethnicity, seen by many observers as a party of mainly upper-middle-class Mixed Race persons as well as French Creoles to which was added a smattering of the African and Indian middle classes. The outcome of the election competition in Trinidad is largely determined by the campaign that is conducted, especially in the appeals that are made for the mobilization of voter support. In a multi-ethnic state such as Trinidad, the campaign is very revealing for, apart from the
Partisan Politics and Ethnic Strife
façade of its official pronouncements and promises, each party has tended surreptitiously to invoke ethnic symbols at the grassroots level to ensure victory. In this process, the society becomes more ethnically divided through the operation of open democratic politics. The following section offers a description of the way in which the parties organize and mobilize their supporters, appealing first to ethnic solidarity in the more intimate surroundings of small groups and personto-person meetings in contrast to the image that they project in bigger public spaces.
Ethnic appeals and the campaign In a state constituted of several communal sections that bore strong mutual antipathies, the ethnic identity factor always hovered as one of the most fearful and powerful forces that could have convulsed the society into total turmoil. In the 1961 general election, communal strife had reached unprecedented proportions, with the PNM charged with violently organized hooliganism and the Indian-based DLP with the threat of resorting to the use of arms. The African–East Indian chasm ordinarily regulated in rituals of avoidance and formal courtesy in normal daily interaction tended to deepen during elections, in part because the political parties were polarized along ethnic lines. After 1961, racial tensions abated, although they did persist in reduced form. The restraint in the open use of racial appeals after the 1961 election stemmed mainly from the foregone conclusion that the PNM was the winner in all future elections. Even so, the ethnic monster was not fully restrained as a mobilizer of voters in those elections that followed 1961. It tended to be subterranean and subtle, but was always a present and salient factor. Since 1961, then, a modus operandi had evolved in interparty affairs between the two major ethnic parties so as to limit the public expression of ethnic claims and racial accusations. In its place a new vocabulary and symbolism had evolved that disguised the ethnic discourse in a contrived theatre of overt tolerance. In the 1991 election, this ethnic disguise was evident, but at times it was expressed openly, threatening to destroy the seeming tolerance of Trinidadian society. Towards the final days of the elections, the parties hypocritically exchanged charges and countercharges of covert ethnic appeals. The seeming hypocrisy in this habit of saying one thing and doing another in the area of ethnicity and race could easily be explained by the conventions of outward ethnic probity and inward racial rivalry that had evolved in the country.
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In the 1991 election campaign, the vocabulary of ethnic appeals that attempted to parade in disguise took many forms but fooled no one. The UNC leader, Panday, spoke of ‘alienation’ as one of his foremost issues, euphemistically referring to alleged racial discrimination by the PNM and the NAR governments against East Indians. Manning spoke of the need for a ‘caring’ regime, referring to the alleged disproportionate share of adversity that Afro-Creole voters experienced during the NAR term in office. Robinson spoke of the ‘dependency syndrome’ in his condemnation of alleged PNM practices that reduced many Africans to conditions of dependence on political patronage for survival instead of dignified development. NAR also spoke of ‘participation’ in his appeal to East Indians to vote against the UNC that had kept them in futile opposition in Parliament. The verbal disguises and other symbolisms assumed many forms and variations. Sometimes they were open, such as the effort of each party to parade an ethnically mixed collection of candidates and to discuss issues that addressed the needs of all communal sections. Panday, for instance, mainly representing Indians, vigorously advocated programmes of economic amelioration to assist urban blacks. Manning pointed to a ‘new’, ethnically all-inclusive PNM. The verbal foliage that offered a front for inter-ethnic equity served as an important ingredient in instilling ethnic camaraderie among party workers on the campaign trail. No effort was spared to show East Indians and Africans sharing campaign platforms and making platitudinous statements about ethnic and national unity. All of this overt symbolism and ceremony, however, was not reflected by behaviour at the grassroots level. The very fact that PNM and UNC canvassers both tended to carry a map of supporters and non-supporters defined in ethnic terms and which, in turn, drove their canvassing strategies attested to the salience of ethnic identity in the mobilization of electoral support. This resulted in a campaign structure that was essentially communalist. Indian canvassers for the UNC were chosen to canvass in Indian homes and neighbourhoods and African canvassers were sent to African areas and homes. Apart from a pragmatism that informed such selectivity, there was also fear of breaching territorial codes of personal safety. That apart, Indians and Africans could not seriously convince each other that they could be sincere about crossing the ethnic divide even when they were in the same party. At the basic level of canvassing, involving entry into homes, little needed to be said by canvassers to electors about the need for communal solidarity and loyalty. The voter who breached these principles of solidarity openly risked ostracism, and even violence. This sort of collective communal
Partisan Politics and Ethnic Strife
pressure served not only to reinforce communal identity and solidarity but, in the long run, perpetuated the ethnic division as the normal state of affairs in which to live, love and die in Trinidad. At a macro level, in support of the grassroots political organizations, there were party advertisements and events that served to link all of the constituency and sub-constituency groups into an integrated, dynamic national unit. Among the activities of the nationwide party campaign were mass meetings, often attended by party activists from other constituencies and featuring speakers and candidates from other constituencies. The mass meetings tended to occur at various levels, ranging from individual constituency meetings to regional and national gatherings. These mass gatherings were all characterized by a level of theatre that reinforced the party’s image as popular, multi-ethnic, vibrant and optimistic organizations. The staging was marked by party music arranged for the occasion; the speakers were selected so as to include local leaders and national figures, small parochial issues and national debates, and, in all cases, a major effort was made to have a flamboyant display of party flags, buttons and placards in concentrated mass formation. The aim of this show was often to present a work of art and high-tech entertainment that was intended to lure everyone to come for a social as well as a political treat. The idea was, in part, an image of party popularity and strength. In the highly charged atmosphere of an election campaign, with each party engaging charges and countercharges, it was difficult to contain the event to peaceful procedures. Furthermore, the stakes were high in terms of the loss or gain of the apparatus of government that included offices, jobs, contracts, preferment, symbolic gratification and - above all – power over the policy direction of the state. Fortunately, even though an undercurrent of claims was advanced that the NAR was a party of the privileged and the PNM and the UNC were parties of the non-white proletariat, the partisan competition contest was not influenced by starkly defined polarized ideologies and beliefs. Neither was race an overt issue, even though the latter was to emerge as such in the final days of the campaign. From all of this, the ground was set for a moderately pitched campaign. Despite this, it was almost inevitable that at some point the bounds of control would have been breached, moving beyond verbal bickering to expressions of violence. In the 1991 election, some of this did occur, but on the whole the campaigns remained well controlled. In a campaign that shifted progressively away from overt rational discourse over issues towards an intensification of emotions around
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notions of communal solidarity, the NAR almost collapsed in the final lap. The election campaign had culminated in an unequivocal assertion of ethnic solidarity. It seemed clear that with the parties rapidly approaching the winner’s line, in that moment of truth all flirtations with inter-ethnic unity that had existed in a twilight zone of theatre were momentarily set aside for a re-engagement with the ancestral party. This emotion was always there under the surface of the campaign, although its symbols and official party double-speak solicited its sympathies. When, one week before the election, the polls unanimously showed that the PNM was likely to be the winner, gaining its votes from the African electorate, this triggered an overt stampede for ethnic cover by the electorate.
Analysis of the election results The 1991 election results show that in an essentially tripartite contest for 36 seats, the PNM obtained 21 seats, the UNC 13 seats and the NAR 2. The number of votes cast for the three parties were: PNM – 234,234; UNC – 151,051; and NAR – 126,910. No party obtained an absolute majority of the votes cast. Under a system of proportional representation, the PNM would have received 16 seats, the UNC 11, and the NAR 9. In effect, the PNM received a majority of seats with less than the majority of popular votes. Put differently, the defeated parties received 56 per cent of the votes cast, so that the PNM was popularly a minority party with a majority of parliamentary seats. The results also suggest the existence of deep divisions in the society, marked by persisting ethnic cleavages as well as class dichotomies. Very small margins of victory occurred in a number of constituencies pointing to ambiguity in the PNM victory at a time when a more overwhelming support is needed to cope with the austere economic conditions facing Trinidad. The 1991 results could be explained largely by a pattern of ethnic preference in voter choice. However, this was only an approximate pattern; many interesting variations were caused by the fact that the electoral competition was conducted by three main parties, of which only the traditional two – the PNM and UNC – were clearly anchored in their respective ethnic communities. In Tobago East and Tobago West, the NAR won its only seats by resounding majorities. However, Tobago is a very different society. Under NAR’s leader, A.N.R. Robinson, the island had effectively severed its old PNM attachment and replaced it with an assertive Tobago-centric sub-national collective identity. Hence,
Partisan Politics and Ethnic Strife
the NAR vote in Tobago was specific to the island and independent of the party’s performance in Trinidad, where the NAR operated in open competition with the other parties in a multi-ethnic structure. In Trinidad, the NAR failed to win a single seat in the 1991 election. In the election of 1986 the defeated PNM had only obtained 3 out of 36 seats in parliament, albeit with 32 per cent of the votes, which, in a system of proportional representation, would have earned them about a dozen seats. The PNM votes in 1986 were constituted almost entirely of Afro-Trinidadians in the lower-income bracket. It is this cluster, which can legitimately be called the ‘core’ traditional PNM group. To discover the analogous Indian-based UNC core, it is necessary to go back to earlier elections prior to 1981 such as that in 1961, when Indians as a cohesive group confronted the other communities in an intense electoral contest. In the 1962 election, the Indian-based party, the Democratic Labor Party, obtained 42.2 per cent of the vote, a figure that broadly reflected the Indian population of Trinidad. In both the traditional Indian and African parties, the ‘core’ is often conceived as constituted predominantly of about 80 per cent of lower-income persons. It is the middle stratum that is most likely to ‘float’ between parties and it is this middling inter-ethnic cluster that has given rise to parties such as the ONR in 1981 and the NAR in 1991. In 1981 the ONR popular vote was 22.2 per cent. The NAR of 1986 did inherit the ONR group of 1981, but it also succeeded in attracting a wide class base of support in securing its victory over the PNM in 1986. In 1991, the NAR was reduced again to its 1981 ONR self in many salient respects, and the results of 1991 bore a remarkable resemblance to the results of 1981. It was only in the very last week of the election, after the NAR campaign succumbed to the combined assault of the PNM and UNC, that tribal political instincts gained momentum and the contest became one between the PNM and UNC, with many of the results a foregone conclusion. Up to three weeks prior to the election, the results predicted by all local pollsters and political commentators suggested a highly fluid contest. No one predicted the results accurately. Considered more widely, a more basic set of issues was engaged by the general election. Specifically, stemming from the potential for ethnic conflict to frustrate efforts at development, should openly competitive elections to secure a legitimate government be retained? Elections in the plural societies of the Third World tend to involve destructive collective communal struggles among sectionally based parties. Sir Arthur Lewis, the Caribbean Nobel Laureate, identified communal conflict and identity politics as the single most significant factor inhibiting Third
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World development: ‘each country contains several tribes, living at different economic levels. Tribal consciousness and economic differences combine to produce mutual antagonisms which menace the unity of the state’ (Lewis 1965: 49). ‘The fundamental problem is neither economic nor foreign policy, but the creation of nations out of heterogeneous peoples’ (Ibid.: 49). Communal conflict tends to be built on several coinciding cleavages such as culture, language, religion and race. In Trinidad, the ethnic matrices were erected around race, religion and culture. These discrete features provided the boundaries of identity construction, creating communal compartments that are exploited during elections for office. Democratic elections in an open system of discourse invite appeals for votes based on ethnic identity. In the give and take of the electoral campaign, negative ethnic stereotypes are often invoked and manipulated for votes. Consequently, inter-sectional animosity and distrust rise to new levels at election times. After the elections are over, the ethnic distrust that was cultivated does not disappear, but is retained as a residue on which new fears are built. Hence, over several competitive open elections, the level of ethnic fear grows in a game during which the spoils of victory assume greater importance. In the zero-sum contest for votes, more than just office and jobs are at stake, important as these are. The arousal of inter-ethnic fears over several successive elections tends to destroy the basis of trust in a government captured by one or the other ethnic group. Together, then, the zero-sum structure of the electoral contest as well as the increasing momentum of inter-ethnic fears over several elections create the incendiary basis for an ethnic conflagration. The pattern of ethnic voting was repeated in the elections of 2000, 2001 and 2002, but not 1995. Having learnt that the PNM victory in 1991 was essentially derived from the split of votes between UNC and NAR supporters in a number of critical constituencies (Premdas 1993c), these two parties would strike a deal of cooperation so that they were able to win the 1995 election. Nevertheless, the pattern of ethnic voter preference still persisted. We shall consider very briefly the general elections of 2000, 2001 and 2002 to underscore this point. But first, it will be useful to discuss the 1995 election to show how the UNC and NAR were able to wrest power away from the PNM.
The 1995 election On 6 November 1995, when voters went to the polls for the seventh time since independence, most observers anticipated a straightforward
Partisan Politics and Ethnic Strife
victory for the predominantly African-based ruling People’s National Movement (PNM). In what turned out to be a watershed election, the ruling PNM was driven from power and replaced by the predominantly Indian-based United National Congress (UNC) in coalition with the smaller party, the National Association for Reconstruction (NAR), making it the first time that an Indian had acceded to the prime ministership. In 1995, the essentially two-way contest was a mixture of old and new motifs in Trinidad’s politics. The PNM and UNC represented the old ethnic politics; these parties could count on the votes of a solid core of ethnic constituents. In 1991, the NAR was reduced to a shadow of itself as most of its 1986 Indian and African supporters returned to their ethnic camps in the PNM and UNC. In 1995, in an electorate of 837,453 eligible voters, seven parties mounted 114 candidates (with no independent candidate since 1956) for the 36 seats in the National Assembly. Of the 36 candidates put up by the PNM, 15 were Indians, one White, the others Africans and Mixed Races. Only one of the PNM’s Indian candidates in the Arouca South constituency could be regarded as a sure win, while three – in St Joseph, San Juan Barataria and San Fernando West – were given a reasonable chance of winning. Of the 34 candidates that the UNC put up, 18 were Indians, one white and the others were Africans and Mixed Races. None of the African and Mixed Race UNC candidates was placed in a safe UNC stronghold. The most significant datum in the 1995 election shows a tie in the seats obtained by the two major parties, 17 for the PNM and 17 for the UNC. The NAR captured the remaining two seats and therefore held the balance of power. In the past, from 1961 to 1986 and in 1991–95, the PNM had won with convincing majorities; in 1986, when the NAR won, it obtained 33 out of the 36 seats. The tie in 1995 was therefore unprecedented and ushered in for the first time the politics of post-election coalition formation. The popular votes received by the main parties showed that no one received a majority of the votes cast. The small parties that contested the elections all lost so badly that they lost their deposits. Voter turnout was 63.17 per cent; in 1991 it was 63.39 per cent. Of the voters who cast their ballots, the PNM received 48.35 per cent, an increase of 3.04 per cent from 1991; the UNC got 45.31 per cent, an increase of 16.01 per cent from 1991; and the NAR 4.71 per cent, a decrease of 19.72 per cent from 1991. Under a system of proportional representation, the PNM would have obtained 17 seats, the UNC 16 and the NAR 3. While these results underscored the polarized ethnic partisan preferences of the population, just as significantly it undeniably
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demonstrated that the losses of the NAR party represented gains by the UNC. This was reflected in the increase of the UNC parliamentary seats from 14 to 17. The gains by the UNC were most profound in a handful of critical constituencies where Indian–African ratios were close (Premdas and Ragoonath 1998; Premdas 2000). To an overwhelming degree, ethnic identity determined voter choice in 1995, in contrast to the 1991 election when about 15–20 per cent of the population evinced ambivalence, as reflected in the NAR vote (24.43 per cent), which, with the exception Tobago, was of multi-ethnic derivation. For all but ten of the constituencies, the presence of overwhelming concentrations of either Indians or Africans determined the outcome. 15 seats were strongly PNM and 9 UNC, with clear ethnic majorities. Together these account for 24 seats and, given that the results in the two Tobago seats are determined by the strong personal influence of the NAR leader, Robinson, this left 10 seats up for grabs. It would be these ten constituencies that would decide whether the UNC or PNM won an election. In turn, in these ten seats, in the 1995 election, it was the structure of the split of the NAR vote to the UNC and PNM that would determine the results in these seats. Given that the NAR had been rendered virtually impotent in 1995 in the Trinidad constituencies, resulting in a two-way race between the UNC and the PNM, how the 1991 NAR support was split between these two parties was absolutely crucial to the outcome of the election. Because of the large Indian presence in four of the 10 reputedly marginal constituencies, Pointe-à-Pierre, Nariva, St Augustine and Princes Town, and given an emasculated NAR in 1995, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the UNC would take these seats with only a small fraction of the 1991 NAR support. Hence, to the nine safe UNC seats must be added the additional four, giving a total of 13 seats, meaning that going into the 1995 election the PNM had 15 sure seats, the UNC 13, and the NAR 2. That left 6 seats in the role of arbiter – namely, Tunapuna, St Joseph, Fyzabad, San Juan Barataria, OrtoireMayaro and San Fernando West. In the end, the PNM would take two of these – Tunapuna by a margin of 244 votes and San Fernando West by 1,288 votes. The UNC would take the remaining four – two by small margins (St Joseph by 614 votes and Ortoire-Mayaro by 900) and two by more substantial numbers (Fyzabad by 2,197 and San Juan Barataria by 1,183). The 17–17–2 result (‘a state of betweenity’ as it was labelled) imposed the demand for a coalition government, the first in Trinidad and Tobago’s history. Under a system of proportional representation, with
Partisan Politics and Ethnic Strife
the PNM holding 17 seats, the UNC 16 and the NAR 3, a coalition of the UNC and NAR would still bring them to power, ousting the PNM. Robinson and the NAR, who were comprehensively defeated in 1991, held the balance with their two Tobago seats. While it was true that the UNC and NAR leaders met prior to the elections and agreed to cooperate in the defeat of the PNM, the arrangement was very informal and incomplete, in part because of the improbability of vanquishing the formidable and well-financed PNM, even in attaining a minimal 17– 17–2 result. To be sure, Panday had publicly predicted a 17–17–2 result just about a week before the election polls, even though all the public opinion projections declared the PNM a foregone winner. After the vote, with Robinson now holding the balance of power, and in the face of no firm undertaking to join the UNC in forming the next government, the country was thrown into two days of speculation about the shape of the next government, or whether the electorate would have to return to the polls. However, personal relations between Robinson and Manning were not good. The UNC–NAR coalition acceded to power on 8 December with Panday as prime minister and Robinson as ‘minister extraordinaire’, an ambiguous title. The coalition agreement that was made public proposed that the PNM’s secret arrangement with the Tobago House of Assembly regarding devolution be set aside and the adoption of a new formula enacted around the recommendations of House Paper No. 6 of 1978, under which Tobago would be accorded substantial a degree of selfgovernment. In effect, this would consolidate Robinson’s base in the greater autonomy of Tobago. Calling itself a coalition ‘party of partners’ and not a fusion of parties, the agreement also contained provisions for resolving inter-UNC–NAR conflicts and consolidating their cooperation. The Panday-led coalition government that for the first time brought an Indian and a trade unionist to power potentially represented striking, if not radical departures from the past. In particular, the ascension of an Indian to the prime ministership carried the greatest anxiety especially for the African community who had been long accustomed to the idea of a Afro-creole chief executive as a sort of rightful inheritance. Above all, the future of the UNC-led coalition would be at the mercy of African– Indian relations. The fact of an Indian prime minister was fraught with the symbolism of power and domination, an intangible factor of potentially explosive implications in the prospect of an all-out civil war. Much nervousness and malaise prevailed in Port of Spain and the PNM strongholds after the cliffhanger election results were announced in favour of
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the UNC. The very indecisiveness of the results generated instability. At the same time as Panday was announcing that ‘it was time to love again’ as he embraced Robinson – reminiscent of the ‘One Love’ campaign that the two leaders had conducted in 1986 to bring the NAR to power – the situation was tense and unstable throughout the country in the wake of the election results.
The elections of 2000, 2001 and 2002: the return of polarized ethnic politics Between 2000 and 2002, Trinidad experienced a series of consecutive general elections – one every year in 2000, 2001 and 2002. These elections also brought about a series of extraordinary events that have come to redefine the electoral process and the operations of the entire political system, perhaps permanently. While the elections witnessed more changes of regimes, with the incumbent party removed from power following a pattern in 1986, 1991 and 1995, the partisan ethnic voting preference did not change, but was affirmed with greater passion and commitment. It was still Afro-Creoles versus Indians, with the two main political parties surreptitiously appealing to their ethnic bases for a solid block of tribal support while openly courting others by appealing to their superior policy and programmes in their manifestos. Still overshadowing the election campaigns was the fear of ethnic domination and exclusion from policy favours and benefits which might result from losing the elections. In these consecutive elections, new actors had emerged along with some changed electoral strategies. Together, these placed under scrutiny the integrity of the official election machinery and the legitimacy of the newly elected government. Specifically, at the level of the electoral institutions, the neutrality and competence of the constitutionally independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) was severely interrogated regarding voter registration, in particular, which called into question their impartiality. At another level, the election outcome was submitted to judicial review in a manner that left the valid outcome in abeyance and the right to rule of the office holders in doubt, paralyzing the operations of the government and, for a prolonged period, generating systemic political uncertainty. With the added burden to its duties, summoned to decide the rightful political decision makers of the land, the judiciary and its ethnic composition came in for a type of unflattering attention that challenged its own reputation for making unbiased decisions.
Partisan Politics and Ethnic Strife
At the level of actors, an extra-constitutional group that at one time had attempted to overthrow the government of Trinidad by force, and which continued to live in the twilight zone of unlawfulness and illegality, had emerged with a capability to significantly influence, if not actually determine, the outcome of elections. Other institutions also became embroiled in the intense competition for power between two main political parties that had so comprehensively aroused the ethnic passions of the population in their pursuit of power to the point of suggesting that the world would come to an apocalyptic end for the losers in the electoral fray. The presidency, constitutionally designed to be above partisan claims for power, became locked in the inter-ethnic struggle that threw the entire political system into turmoil. The Integrity Commission, established to contain corruption by high-level officeholders, became tainted with accusations of partisan interference when on 18 September, just three weeks before the election, it selectively chose to charge Panday, but not others, with failure to declare all of his bank accounts under the Integrity in Public Life Act. These system-altering events and factors did not occur simultaneously in each of the three elections, but were cumulatively spread throughout so that the stability of the political system was continuously rocked by one critical institutional problem after the other in the tight space of two-and-a-half years. It was not just three elections in under three years that made this period so significant, but the fact that these election campaigns drew into the combustive ethnic fray several institutions that had previously been relied upon for their neutrality and non-partisan role in society. The first of these institutions was the Elections and Boundaries Commission. Allegations of widespread registration fraud occurred in the 2000 election and spilled over into the election of 2001. At the time, the opposition PNM argued vehemently that the incumbent UNC, the governing party, had engaged in what became known as ‘voter padding’, alluding to the surreptitious and illegal transfer of voters from one constituency to another in order to influence the outcomes of the polls. The two major parties were separated from power by only a few seats, and in these constituencies the margin of victory in the elections was only around 500 to 700 votes. Given the pattern of ethnic voting preference, it was charged that the Indian-based UNC party had set about systematically relocating Indians from other places into the marginal constituencies. Allegedly, it did so through interfering with the work of certain personnel in the Elections and Boundaries Commission responsible for registering voters. After their defeat in the 2000 election,
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the PNM argued that it was cheated, and they were supported in their cause by the intervention of the president of the Republic, who was responsible for making appointments to the Elections and Boundaries Commission. In pursuit of the alleged culprits who were engaged in the ‘voter padding’, the fraud squad in the police force began arresting citizens, nearly all Indians. Because the fraud squad and the police force generally were dominated by the Afro-Creole population and the victims of the arrests were Indians, these actions served only to add fuel to the fire of inter-ethnic tension. On the issue of involving the judiciary, the problem in part arose after the elections regarding the citizenship eligibility of two of the victorious UNC candidates who had dual citizenship. Should the court rule against the eligibility of these two elected members of parliament and award their seats to the defeated party, then a change of government would occur almost immediately. Soon, in an ethnically charged atmosphere, eyes were focused on the ethnic identity of the judges who were called upon to adjudicate the claims. If the judiciary were to be perceived as ethnically biased, this would remove one of the remaining pillars of sanity in an increasingly polarized society. Finally, the presidency became drawn into the ethnic disputes when, after the collapse of the UNC government elected in 2000, in the next election of 2001, the results were an unprecedented 18–18 tie in the 36-member of House of Representatives. The president, an Afro-Creole, A.N.R. Robinson, was summoned to break the deadlock between the incumbent Indian prime minister and the Afro-Creole opposition leader. An entire country became riveted on this drama, seeing the decision through an ethnic lens. When the president chose not the Indian rather than the African, it confirmed the perception that the presidency was now tainted by of ethnicity. This was a paradoxical conclusion since it was Robinson who in 1995 gave the critical votes to the Indian, Panday, making him prime minister instead of Manning, the Afro-Creole. Into the mix of these startling series of events was thrown the Jamaat al Muslimeen, the small Islamic group that had been courted by each of the two parties at various times to assist them in winning elections. To 1990, the theatre of politics was dominated by a few major actors, including the PNM, UNC and NAR, as well as – and to a lesser degree – by a number of trade unions and NGOs. Politics as usual consisted essentially of interparty rivalry for control and retention of the reins of the government. Daily political news was concentrated on reporting inter-party debates on prevailing issues. The arrival of a new insurrectionary group changed this, introducing a dynamic that was destined to restructure Trinidad politics.
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The new group would not only survive its failed attempt at forcibly seizing the government but would grow in membership and become a major player in shaping the outcomes of general elections. All of this commenced in 1990, marking a major shift in the political arena when this radical Muslim group attempted to seize the government by force. Some background information about this group is essential to this discussion. On 27 July 1990 a small band of Muslims, called the Jamaat al Muslimeen, mounted an organized assault and nearly toppled the government of Trinidad and Tobago. They hijacked the Parliament when it was in session, kidnapped the prime minister and his cabinet, and succeeded for a few days in toppling the government of Prime Minister A.N.R. Robinson. The aborted coup, which consisted of several days of murder, kidnapping, looting and general mayhem, not only severely traumatized the population, which had witnessed the violent seizure of the Parliament with the prime minister and his cabinet taken captive, but also left in its wake over twenty persons dead and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage from the looting and fires that gutted the business district of the capital city, Port of Spain. Imam Abu Bakr, the leader of the Muslimeen, along with his insurrectionary band of some 100 armed persons, were put down four days later by the armed forces and surrendered, but not before they had extracted a written general amnesty (Premdas 1991b: 1; Ryan 1990; Ragoonath 1993). What the actions of the Muslimeen in 1990 demonstrated was that although at that time it was a relatively small organization, because it was disciplined, well led and had access to a formidable arsenal of modern weapons, it was able to exploit the vulnerability of the small island states. The Muslimeen were Muslims, but not an integral part of the established Indian Muslim population that accounts for about 5 per cent of the country’s total population. The insurrectionary Muslimeen group was actually transplanted from North America to Trinidad as part of a Black Muslim movement and consisted of barely more than 300–400 members. The leader, Yasin Abu Bakr, was a former Anglican, who had been a policeman by the name of Lennox Phillips. He was born in 1942 and converted to Islam in 1970 while studying in Canada. He had undertaken his obligatory pilgrimage to the holiest Muslim shrine in Saudi Arabia at Hajj, conferring on him the religious title of ‘Imam’, and was married with several wives and numerous children. The evidence showed that the Muslimeen group had intimate links with external financial sponsors in the Middle East and that they had actually sent small groups of their members for training in Libya. Over a decade of covert operations, they had assembled an array of sophisticated weapons waiting for the opportune time to strike (ibid.).
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After their release from jail, following the amnesty, the Muslimeen continued to grow and became a powerful force that was noted for providing debt enforcement services and protection, and was often accused of engaging in illicit running of drugs and robbing banks as a way of financing their existence. While the Muslimeen denied charges of breaking the law, they remained feared in the popular imagination and a post-election survey in 2002 revealed that 90 per cent of the population expressed a desire to see the Muslimeen punished for their role in the 1990 coup (Guardian, 19 November 1995). Timothy Cassel, the British Queen’s Counsel who cross-examined Bakr, when he was charged with ordering the murder of two Muslimeen members who had been expelled from the Jamaat in June 2003, concluded that the Jamaat ‘was a little army which attracted notorious criminals involved in murder, kidnapping and other serious crimes commanded by its leader, Abu Bakr. Is this a religious organization or something else? It is somewhat surprising that they were drilled as if they are in a kind of army. That they are expected to take an oath of allegiance to Bakr. That they are subjected to physical punishment unauthorized by Trinidad and Tobago law’ (Bahaw 2005: 1). On whether the Jamaat was running a protection racket, ‘Said Bakr: If you are in the Jamaat, you have a certain amount of protection. If you are not in the Jamaat, you are open to people to do anything to you. A lot of people come into the Jamaat for protection and they hide under the protection of the Jamaat’ (ibid.). Bakr argued that he was not responsible for the loss of life and property in the 1990 insurrection. He claimed that they acted in self-defence. He said he saw marching by the Jamaat as a way of instilling discipline among new recruits and pointed out that flogging was permitted by the Quran. Finally, he asserted that he was not under obligation to obey the laws of Trinidad where they conflicted with the Quran (Johnson 2005: 6). Bakr’s sworn testimony before a court of law was partly revealing, suggesting that the Jamaat was not merely a service organization: Q: There were several stories that the Jamaat was associated with Al Qaeda. Is that a fact? A: Absolutely not. I am a defender of the poor and oppressed in Trinidad and Tobago Q: Are you associated with criminal elements? A: I do work in the ghettoes and poor areas and those elements are there. Q; Why did the Jamaat get involved in the elections? A: Due to the rampant corruption on the part of the UNC regime we have a civic duty to ensure that the best leadership available leads the country. (Nunez 2002: 1 and 3)
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For our purposes, the most significant feature of the Muslimeen relates to their cooptation, often surreptitiously, by the two main political parties at various times for assistance in electoral campaigns for office. The Muslimeen’s leader has repeatedly claimed, with some measure of credibility, that it is they who make and break governments electorally in Trinidad. It will be useful to look at this aspect of the Muslimeen role. Notable involvement of the Muslimeen in partisan politics occurred in the 1995 election campaign. During the campaign the failed coup of July 1990 was mentioned to tarnish the image of Manning. At the time just prior to the Muslimeen entering the parliament, the then Opposition Leader, Patrick Manning, who had been present for the entire day’s sitting, suddenly got up from his seat and left the premises of the Red House (the local name for the Parliamentary building). After the insurrection was quelled, questions were raised about the coincidental departure of Manning at the time of the Muslimeen’s seizure of the Parliament. However, this matter was left uninvestigated and laid to rest until its resurrection during the 1995 election campaign. It was Abu Bakr, released from custody on the basis of the amnesty, who alleged that Manning had foreknowledge of the Muslimeen intent to overthrow the government and had even abetted it. At a public meeting at Wood Ford Square, Abu Bakr swore: ‘I call the curse on me and my family that Patrick “Judas Barabas” Manning is the culprit who left the Red House and came and made two calls to us’ (Share 1995: 13; Pantin 1995: 8). Bakr, who claimed to have acted in league with the PNM in 1990 in the coup attempt, was initially happy with Patrick Manning’s victory at the polls in December 1991. However, over time, he had become very frustrated with the refusal of the Manning government to pay the Muslimeen about $10 million in claims for properties, including a mosque and schools that were damaged by the armed forces as they searched and dismantled the headquarters of the insurrectionary movement, following the failed uprising. When Bakr made his charge against Manning, Robinson, the NAR leader who was prime minister when the Muslimeen carried out their attack, publicly argued that Manning had foreknowledge of the Muslimeen attack on parliament (ibid.). The immediate response of Manning was to sue Bakr and Robinson, as well as the news agency that reported these stories, with the aim of ending speculation about this potentially embarrassing issue for the PNM campaign. Given the extent of popular disenchantment with the Muslimeen, Manning feared that the allegations would adversely affect his party’s chances of returning to power at the election. Countering the charges, just before the 1995 election, he in turn, only a few days before polling, alleged that the Muslimeen was now acting in concert with the opposition in campaigning against the PNM.
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In fact, the Muslimeen, with its close links to the poorest section of the population, located in the vote-rich East–West corridor, were observed to be very actively engaged in campaigning against the PNM. Manning went even further in insinuating, with no supporting evidence, that there was a link between the Muslimeen and the UNC in the insurrection because the UNC leader, Panday, had been evicted from the coalition cabinet by Robinson (Lee 1995: 7). Regardless of the accuracy of these charges and countercharges, it showed that the Muslimeen had become an opportunistic force in politics to be reckoned with. When Basdeo Panday became prime minister after the 1995 election, one of the very first people to whom he gave an exclusive audience was Abu Bakr. To his critics, this confirmed, it seemed, the widely-held view that the Muslimeen had campaigned for the UNC in the critical seats in the East–West corridor and had come to collect their reward for their effort. It may be recalled that the UNC won 17 seats to the PNM’s 17 – a tie for the 34 parliamentary seats on the island of Trinidad – with two additional seats located on the island of Tobago under the control of the Robinson-led NAR party. The UNC and NAR coalesced to form the government that replaced Patrick Manning and the PNM. The UNC had never won as many seats in Trinidad, and the Muslimeen argued that they had been given incentives to go out and discourage traditional PNM supporters from voting in order to enable the UNC to win a couple of marginal seats that made their success possible. The Muslimeen were rewarded by the new UNC–NAR government, and given almost total control of the lucrative Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) which was designed to provide short-term employment for the large number of unemployed people in the country. In Opposition, the PNM exposed the existence of ghost gangs under the URP programme benefiting the Muslimeen. For a while, the Muslimeen were closely embraced by the UNC– NAR government but later in the life of the regime, the Muslimeen became disenchanted with the government over the same old demand for compensation for their destroyed mosques and other buildings during the insurrection of 1990. The courts had ruled that the Muslimeen were entitled to compensation for their loss, but that the Manning government had refused to pay and now the Panday government was also following the same line. The relationship between the UNC and the Muslimeen soured and became embroiled in public accusations that the prime minister himself had entered into a surreptitious agreement with Abu Bakr during the election campaign of 1995. The two leaders, Abu Bakr and Panday, fell out and slowly Abu Bakr and the Muslimeen re-established their a close relationship with the PNM.
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The opportunity for this collaboration occurred in particular during the election of 2002, which saw the defeat of the UNC and Panday. Below, we shall look at three elections, to see the role of these factors and forces. First, we shall examine the election of 2000, when the UNC returned to the electorate for a new mandate. Everything at that time appeared to be straightforward. However, the problems and controversies that were to occur immediately after the election would transform the election process in significant ways. To be sure, the data that described the event appeared straightforward, without revealing the undercurrent of turmoil that would explode after the election.
The 2000 election In the 1995 general election, a traumatic event had occurred for the dominant African community when the leader of the rival Indian section that had never captured power before unexpectedly won the prime ministership. It seemed that a revolution had occurred and, for a while, the polity hovered nervously on the brink of civil strife. While cool heads finally prevailed and permitted the victorious party to complete its term in office, the defeated party and its ethnic supporters vowed to reclaim power in the election of 2000. In part, it was this expectation, along with the fear of the Afro-Creole of losing power permanently, and consequently being ghettoized and dominated by its ethnic Indo-Creole adversary, that imparted a special tension to the tenor of the election. While the Afro-Creoledominated party, the People’s National Movement (PNM), mounted a massive campaign, labelling the preponderantly Indo-Creole party, the United National Congress, as hopelessly corrupt and immoral more was at issue in the election campaign that was shaping up to be a form of cultural warfare. The Afro-Creole community, which had traditionally controlled the government and enjoyed the benefits of jobs and patronage from the public bureaucracy, feared that another electoral loss to the UNC would result in the loss of its priveleged status in the public sector. Hence, the general elections were about both symbolic and instrumental values, which together suggested big issues were at stake instead of limited issues and negotiable differences. Paradoxically, in this cultural contest, neither political party openly displayed any programme that appealed only to one community. Cross-cultural presentations were the norm, artfully cultivated as a façade that really fooled no one. Knowing it could count on their allegiance and calculating that it needed about 15–20 per cent of the AfroCreole vote to win, the incumbent Indian-based UNC vehemently abjured any special identity with the Indian community in its public campaign,
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making its message to the electorate: ‘Performance beats Ole Talk Anytime’ and ‘You Cannot Take Race to the Grocery Store’.
Analysis of the results In a House of Representatives of 36 seats, the UNC won 19, the PNM 16, and the NAR only 1, thus returning Panday as prime minister for a second term, a feat that had not been achieved since 1986. Out of an electorate of 947,689, voter turnout was about 63 per cent, a similar figure to other recent elections. The portion that was received by the UNC was 307,537 and the PNM 276,202; this compared favourably with the 1995 results, in which the UNC received 240,372 votes and the PNM 256,159; that is, the defeated PNM in 1995 obtained more votes than the UNC when both parties garnered 17 seats. In 2000, the UNC moved ahead of the PNM on popular votes, in part because of the new voters in 2000; the UNC obtained 67,000 while the PNM only about 20,000. The UNC had grown not only in popular votes from 1995 to 2000 but also in seats – from 17 to 19, while the PNM’s representation had fallen from 17 to 16 seats. However, the PNM did make a breakthrough in Tobago, taking one of the two seats from the old bastion of the NAR. The party dynamics in 2000 shifted significantly from 1995, when the NAR had played a pivotal role, taking both seats in Tobago and assisting the UNC in taking a couple of seats in Trinidad, and above all in bringing Panday to power when it formed a coalition government with the UNC. In 2000, the NAR did not contest any seats in Trinidad, confining its campaign to Tobago. During the tenure of the Panday-led coalition with the NAR, the two parties disagreed and the relationship fell apart, but not before the Panday government had successfully wooed two PNM members of Parliament to its fold. In the coalition deal, Robinson, the NAR leader, was rewarded by Panday with the presidency of Trinidad and Tobago in exchange for supporting Panday for the prime ministership. However, without its leader, the NAR practically fell apart, some of its functionaries siding with the PNM but most with the UNC, thereby becoming a splintered and shattered force in shaping the outcome of the election of 2000. Ethnic identity was the main determinant of party preference in the contest for the 34 seats in Trinidad. In an electoral system of ‘first-pastthe-post’ simple plurality, if the ethnic distribution of a constituency is known beforehand, then it is a foregone conclusion that either the PNM or UNC will win. To be sure, there are some critical variations in this pattern, related to the presence of substantial numbers of Indian Muslims and
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Mixed races. Since the NAR was formed in 1986, it tended to garner to its fold a substantial number of voters who were of mixed ancestry, but in 2000, with the NAR absent from Trinidad, these voters were left to decide their new party affiliation. With regard to Indo-Muslims, they constitute about 15 per cent of the total Indian population, most of whom are Hindus. In the past, a substantial number of Indo-Muslims, in part stemming from a spillover from the India–Pakistan conflict, voted for the PNM, but in the two elections since 1995 this had started to change in favour of the UNC. In a couple of marginal constituencies where the numbers of Africans and Indians were close, the presence of Muslims – as in the case of Barataria/San Juan and San Fernando West – proved decisive in favour of the UNC in 2000. In any event, the impact of Indo-Muslims and Mixed Races was important in only a few constituencies. By and large, for 29 out of the 34 contested seats on the island of Trinidad, because of the preponderance of either Indians or Africans, party victory for either the UNC or the PNM was a foregone conclusion. Five constituencies in Trinidad held the balance of power in the outcome of the election: Tunapuna; Barataria/SanJuan; St. Joseph; Ortoire-Mayaro; and San Fernando West. These five constituencies became the targeted battleground between the UNC and PNM and were subjected to intense campaigning pressure, reaching saturation point in the distribution of flyers, and door-to-door canvassing. In the 1995 election, the UNC won three of these constituencies and the PNM 2. In 2000, the UNC won all of these seats. It was never clear, however, which seat would have gone decisively for either party before the elections, with polls providing conflicting projections. Tunapuna and Barataria/San-Juan were fiercely contested. The PNM won the Tunapuna seat in 1995 by only 250 votes and, until very recently, the PNM had controlled the Barataria/SanJuan seat, which has a high concentration of Indo-Muslims. The marginal seat of San Fernando West, won handsomely by the PNM in 1995, was seen by most observers as a clear PNM victory, only to be lost to a huge swing in favour of the UNC. In all five of these marginal constituencies, the UNC placed very powerful and popular personalities as its candidates, which probably accounted for the decisive swings. With its victory in the five marginal seats, the UNC obtained the 19 seats necessary to give it an absolute majority in the House of Representatives. Significantly, the UNC obtained all of its seats from the island of Trinidad and in contrast to 1995, when it depended upon two seats from Tobago, dispensing with the coalition assistance from its sister isle. The Trinidadbased victory by the UNC also meant that these was no repeat of the 17–17 tie that had occurred in 1995, and this meant that there was now no need
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for a coalition government. Some analysts had predicted another 17–17 tie in 2000, which would have favoured the PNM, since the cordial relationship between the NAR and UNC had been destroyed. In the elections on Tobago, the PNM did take one of the two seats and lost the other seat by a small margin. Still, that would have given the PNM only 17 seats – less than the majority needed to form a government. Both the UNC and the PNM secured convincing victories in the 29 Trinidad constituencies that had substantial majorities of either Indians or Africans. There are some important observations that emerge from the results in these constituencies. As compared with 1995, the UNC obtained more votes in 2000. In particular, in four previously safe PNM constituencies – San Fernando East, Toco-Manzanella, La Brea, and Point Fortin – the UNC made such significant inroads that these seats were converted into new marginal seats in the next election. The safe UNC constituencies remained free from similar threats from the PNM. It is clear from all these figures that the UNC was in the ascendancy, while a clear decline in the fortunes of the PNM was discernible. Finally, what made the election more intriguing than many that had preceded it was that after the polling was completed and the UNC had been declared the winner, the PNM challenged the citizenship eligibility qualifications of the two victorious UNC candidates to sit in Parliament. This action placed the outcome in abeyance pending the court challenge, which would take time. A court decision in the PNM’s favour could well reverse the fortunes of the opposition party, turning it into the victor. What would also assume a particularly grating post-election feature was the charge that the UNC had engaged in extensive voter fraud in a process labelled ‘voter padding’. As a consequence, an aura of illegitimacy descended on the UNC government because of the alleged voter irregularities. The elections were not over, then, with the casting of the last ballot and the counting of the last vote. Communal tension rose to high levels when these issues were compounded by the refusal of the president of the Republic, Arthur Robinson, to accede to the nomination of seven candidates supplied by the prime minister for appointment to the Senate. The fact that the president was Afro-Creole and the prime minister was Indo-Creole became the main prism through which the deeply ethnically divided population perceived the Senate appointment issue. Engulfed by these uncertainties and threats by the opposition PNM to mount demonstrations, the UNC leader and prime minister announced on television that there was a plot to overthrow his new government. The nation was palpably tottering on the edge of civil and communal strife.
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The 2001 election On 11 December 2001, exactly one year after the UNC victory, the government of Basdeo Panday collapsed and new elections were called. The downfall was triggered by a succession issue in anticipation of Panday’s retirement. The prime minister, who was 68 years old and a survivor of triple-bypass heart surgery, felt that the UNC ought to undertake a democratic process to select his successor. He opted, therefore, for an open popular party primary on 1 June 2001, little suspecting that the event would tear the UNC into factions that would engage in bitter infighting. Panday did not stay neutral in the intra-party contest, expressing his preference for a faction that represented a broadening of the ethnic base of the UNC. More specifically, Panday knew that Indians alone were not in sufficient numbers to elect an all-Indian slate of candidates for victory in general elections, and he therefore wanted to create a more ethnically inclusive party image for the UNC. However, the broad base of the UNC membership that was called upon to select a successor to Panday did not share this sentiment. Instead, the Panday faction was defeated and this brought the wrath of Panday down on his attorney general, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, who had won the leadership successor contest. In one acrimonious event after another, Maharaj and his supporters were not accorded the recognition as the future inheritors of the UNC leadership mantle by Panday and were instead peripheralized in favour of the defeated faction. The upshot was that three parliamentary members, calling themselves Team Unity (TU) and, led by Maharaj, were expelled from the party and, in turn, they aligned themselves with the opposition PNM. Hence, without a majority in parliament, the UNC called new elections. In addition, the court case that challenged the credentials of two UNC parliamentarians on the citizenship issue was not going well before the judiciary and there was a fair chance that the UNC, should it lose the case, would either be displaced by the new PNM majority or be in an untenable position to govern. The issues in the campaign were very much the same as they had been in the 2000 election, with the UNC proclaining its expertise, while corruption and ‘voter padding’ were the key claims by the PNM. Team Unity, constituted as a separate political party, entered the fray as a spoiler. It emphasized the need for more honesty and openness in the UNC administration, hoping to attract a small, but significant number of voters from the UNC in a number of marginal constituencies – something that would guarantee the defeat of the UNC in the election. The Elections and Boundaries
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Commission (EBC) also took centre stage as an election issue. It was accused by the PNM for its alleged laxity, if not outsight collaboration with the UNC in the registration process. Hence, the PNM announced that it was going to intervene actively at the polling stations to challenge the credentials of voters who they suspected were part of the alleged conspiracy called ‘voter padding’. In turn, the UNC placed batteries of lawyers at polling stations to defend their supporters threatened by intimidatory PNC harassment. In another very intense election, both the UNC and the PNM gained 18 seats, leading to an unprecedented tie in the 36-member House of Representatives. The PNM had succeeded in winning two additional seats (Tunapuna and Tobago East) and obtained 19,341 more votes than the UNC. Team Unity failed to win a seat, but it had taken votes from the UNC in at least one crucial marginal constituency (Tunapuna), enabling the PNM to win that seat and in the process denying the UNC victory in the election. What was repeated in the election was the ethnic voting pattern, with marginal constituencies determining the final numbers of seats. It was up to President Robinson to select one of the two party leaders as the prime minister on the basis, as prescribed by the Trinidad Constitution, of whichever party was likely to command a majority in the evenly divided Parliament. This was a curious, if not controversial role for President A.N.R. Robinson to play as adjudicator and power broker. He was at one time an ally of Panday in the making of the rainbow coalition under the NAR that came to power in 1986 by defeating the PNM. Then, in little more than a year, Panday was expelled from his Cabinet post as foreign minister and as part of the NAR government under Prime Minister Robinson. Panday became a political adversary of Robinson and was largely responsible for the defeat of Robinson and the NAR in the 1991 general election. That brought the PNM back to power under Manning. Then, in an interesting and ironic twist of events, in the 1995 election, Panday and Robinson cooperated electorally to defeat the PNM, with Robinson giving Panday’s UNC the critical margin of seats so that he became prime minister. A couple of years later, Panday oversaw the appointment of Robinson as president of the Republic in what appeared to be a bargain in exchange for Robinson’s earlier support for Panday’s bid to become prime minister. However, the cosy informal alliance between president and prime minister underwent a dramatic change again a few years later, when Panday started to mistreat the NAR members of Parliament. When the UNC and NAR collaborated in the 1995 election to oust the PNM from power, they did not expect to win and therefore failed to work out an agreement about power sharing.
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When in power, NAR members began demanding more patronage and appointments, which the UNC conceded only very grudgingly. The relationship between the UNC and NAR deteriorated, but Panday had made the two NAR members of Parliament redundant in deciding the fate of the prime minister. This was achieved when the UNC persuaded two PNM members of Parliament to cross over to the UNC. This development meant that Panday did not need the NAR votes for survival and he was therefore unwilling to accommodate the NAR’s special needs and interests in the sister island of Tobago. The former NAR leader, Robinson, was not amused by these events that reduced the role of the NAR in the Panday government. It soon came to public notice that Panday and Robinson were once again at loggerheads. This became openly evident when Robinson, following the UNC victory in 2000, refused for a period of forty days to accede to the appointment of eight UNC members of Parliament as cabinet ministers. The constitution required the president to act on the advice of the recommendations of the prime minister and offered him no scope for discretion. However, Robinson defied this practice, arguing that defeated candidates should not be made senators and then turned into cabinet members. What was important was that a new enmity had developed between these politicians. It was this aura that surrounded the role of Robinson as adjudicator in the 18–18 parliamentary split. It clearly did not bode well for Panday. President Robinson called upon Panday and Manning to agree to some sort of compromise in order to break the deadlock. The meetings between the party leaders yielded a ten-point compromise on policies, which they agreed would be implemented, regardless of who was appointed prime minister by Robinson. However, the stalemate persisted as they failed to establish a coalition government for power sharing. It was thus left for the president to decide who would be prime minister. The president appointed Patrick Manning as prime minister, arguing that although it was uncertain that the PNM was more likely to command a majority in the House of Representatives, he felt that the they represented higher values and morality than the UNC. This event caused a storm of protest from the UNC, which felt greatly insulted and argued that as the incumbent government that was not defeated in the elections, it ought to have been re-appointed. They claimed that this was the established practice in British constitutional history. In protest, Panday refused to accept the position of Leader of the Opposition. With an 18–18 split, it was clear that it would be just a matter of time before new elections would be called. In fact, the evenly split parliament was unable to even elect a speaker. In little less than a
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year, the PNM was forced to call a new election, which were scheduled for October 2002. Before we consider at the election of 2002, it is important that we reflect on the lost opportunity for power sharing that presented itself when the 18–18 tie occurred. It was very clear that in an evenly split population, the running of the country demanded some sort of interparty collaboration. The president of the Republic also lost an opportunity since he could have insisted that he was not going to appoint either of the two leaders unless they agreed to a power-sharing coalition government. The PNM was very adamant that it was not interested in any sort of power sharing with the UNC, which it described as beyond the pale in committing corruption in office. The UNC also did not seem to be willing to yield the prime ministership in any coalition deal, believing that, as the incumbent, they would inevitably be reappointed to run the government. There was a lot of bad faith and deception used by both sides, even while they were engaged ostensibly in trying to find a cooperative arrangement to run the country. One editorial from a major newspaper normally supportive of the PNM decided to abandon partisanship and offered some valuable insights into the potentially positive meaning of the 18–18 split and the lost opportunity for inter-ethnic partisan accommodation. Said the Daily Express: Following the result of the December 10, 2001 election, it was obvious that no party, even if given the prime ministership like the PNM has, would be able to govern without the support of the Opposition. The agreement signed by Mr Manning and Mr Panday recognized this and the genuine need for some kind of political accommodation, for the process of governance to move forward. The agreement also recognized that having recently undergone two general elections in the space of a year that there was some election fatigue in the country especially given the widespread concerns over the electoral list. But the driving force behind the agreement must have been the fact that the country has been more or less on hold for over a year. The political instability has distracted those responsible for governance and the country has been on edge. The 10-point agreement entered into between the PNM and the UNC, as limited as it was, gave both parties grounds on which they could operate, both effectively providing a check on the other. It will be to their mutual discredit if the process does not get back on track. (Express, 30 December 2001: 12)
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Once the president had decided to appoint one of the two leaders as prime minister, the agreement for inter-party cooperation fell apart. The two leaders then violated practically every point that they had committed themselves to under the pact. Said the Express: Mr Manning, while mouthing comforting words and reassuring UNC supporters that they have nothing to fear, has proceeded to appoint a cabinet with appeal only to the party’s diehards and with no pretence at reaching out to the UNC or its Indo-Trinidadian base. The result has been increasing unease in the UNC constituency in which there is a deep-seated fear of PNM domination. Mr Manning’s cabinet not only reinforced those fears, which resurfaced immediately upon his appointment but has only increased the pressure on Mr Panday to opt out. Mr Panday on the other hand, clearly did not need much pressure to break the agreement and go back on his word, once it became apparent that Mr Robinson’s decision did not go in his favor. He and his party have engaged in a series of obfuscations in seeking to cast blame for reneging on their word. (ibid.) The PNM took full advantage of its hold over the control of the government with one single purpose in mind: to win the next election, which was likely to be called at short notice. Having been out of power for five years, the PNM feared a return to the backbenches and exclusion from participation in governance. There was also the expressed fear that the UNC, deemed to be incurably corrupt, would soon deplete the Treasury, leaving the country in dire financial straits. At a social and cultural level, the PNM also feared that a return of the UNC to power could give reality to the peripheralization of the Afro-Creole segment of society. A group called The National Association for the Empowerment of African Peoples had emerged and had openly argued that permanent Indian domination was at hand. They even argued that Indian society tended to be more corrupt than other groups. This new group was given an audience with the president. The Panday government, on the other hand, had attempted at every turn to give the impression that it was ethnically even-handed in its administration. What was important was that the population had become so attuned to ethnically oriented politics that it was likely to accept the claims of ethnic extremists. In a burst of intense activity, the Manning government appointed special tribunals to pursue and prosecute its claims that the UNC was corrupt. The first tribunal was aimed at investigating the construction costs of the new Piarco Airport. Specifically, it sought to show that
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top UNC cabinet ministers and financial supporters benefited from the construction of the US$250 million airport, which the Panday government had hastily built as a showcase to the electorate in support of its claims to be a performing government and not one to give ‘ole talk’. The tribunal was given the power to compel the appearance of witnesses, who were all from the former UNC government. The tribunal, which met in open public sessions with all sections of the media represented, succeeded in casting a cloud of suspicion on the morality of the UNC as the drums of the next election were beating closer. Another tribunal was aimed at the Elections and Boundaries Commission and at prosecuting the allegation of ‘voter padding’. Called the Dyal Commission of Inquiry, it was headed by a former Indian judge, Lennox Dyalsingh, who was an open opponent of the UNC. It produced a large number of witnesses, while the police went about making several arrests of UNC supporters and arbitrarily raided a number of homes and offices. In the end, the tribunal found no credible witnesses to substantiate the charges of ‘voter padding’ and after a short while the newspapers began to treat the public hearings of the tribunal as a sort of distracting sideshow. The tribunal’s own conclusion was clear that there was no evidence of voter padding. That notwithstanding, the charge of ‘voter padding’ by the UNC stuck. Similarly, while no wrongdoing was proved against the Elections and Boundaries Commission, the integrity of the commission was badly sullied merely by the act of accusation. The tribunals succeeded in tarnishing the image of the UNC as corrupt – justifiably or not. It would have been an excellent electioneering tactic, had it not imparted an impression of ethnic persecution.
The election of 2002 Living in the shadow of an impaired legitimacy resulting from in the 18–18 split in parliamentary seats, the government of Patrick Manning’s PNM, like the opposition UNC, and indeed all citizens of Trinidad, wanted to see a clear victor in the 2002 election. It was the third general election in about two years and patience was running nervously thin for a decisive outcome so that the country could get on with the normal running of its affairs. In another tense, ethnically inflamed campaign, the election-weary electorate gave the PNM victory with 20 seats to the UNC’s 16. In an electorate of 875,260 voters, some 609,571 (69.64 per cent) participated. The victorious PNM garnered 308,762 (50.89 per cent), an absolute majority of the number of votes cast. The main achievement was a break in the parliamentary deadlock, bringing to power a clear winner, and the establishment of a government capable of commanding majorities in Parliament
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for continued stable rule. However, the comfortable victory margin of a few seats did not reflect the razor’s-edge nature of some of the results. Three of the marginal seats won by the PNM which catapulted them to power, were won by very narrow margins: in Tunapuna by 624 votes, in San Fernando West by 249 votes, and in Ortoire-Mayaro by 305 votes. Two of these seats had been controlled previously by the UNC so that the victory in them was as narrow as it was dramatic. Two marginal seats that the UNC won – Barataria San Juan and St Joseph – were also won narrowly, by 905 and 1,228 votes respectively. At an earlier time, the PNM had controlled both the Barataria and St Joseph seats. Hence, five out of the 36 seats could now be viewed as marginal. Again, ethnic voting patterns were the main explanation of the outcome, underscored by the fact that in all but five of the constituencies, the incidence of predominance by one or other of the two major ethnic groups overwhelmingly determined the outcome. To be sure, ethnic sensitivities had become raw and acute, maintained at a high level of consciousness by unceasing party campaigns over the previous two years, but in 2002 the ethnic factor was qualified by the appearance of another factor in the form of politically inspired open thuggery and violence by the Jamaat al Muslimeen. A few other factors also featured in the electoral calculus of power in 2002, although it is difficult to measure their exact impact. Among these were the drawn-out partisan commissions of inquiry carried out by the PNM to embarrass and denigrate the image of its political opponent, the UNC. Not that the UNC was entirely innocent of corruption, but that in its political opponent becoming the chief prosecutor through the façade of these commissions of inquiry, this raised controversies of neutrality and ulterior motives. In the end, the political image of the UNC was severely tarnished, adversely affecting the willingness of UNC supporters to come out and vote for the party. The UNC, in turn, reciprocated by unleashing its own slur in the campaign. In addition to all of this, the PNM, in preparation for the next electoral encounter, spared no effort in spending public funds lavishly to endear itself to the electorate, particularly voters in the marginal constituencies. The UNC had done something similar when it was in control of the levers of the government, but on this occasion it seemed to have been outdone by the PNM. It was a good strategy for the party to pursue, since the stakes were high. Finally, with election fatigue very prevalent, the party that was more effective in mobilizing its supporters would be likely to win. It was widely argued that the PNM saw the 2002 election in apocalyptic terms and was determined to mobilize every possible vote for victory.
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Together, these factors featured in varying degrees in forging the results of the electoral contest, but one of these in particular stood out. The event that is most salient for us in this election is the role of the Jamaat al Muslimeen, which we had considered earlier in relation to its role in the election to power in 1995 of the UNC. During the election of 2002, as noted earlier, the outcome seemed to revolve around a small number of marginal constituencies. At this time, Patrick Manning was the controversial prime minister, having been appointed to this post when, in the unprecedented parliamentary tie of 18–18 seats, the president of the Republic appointed him instead of the incumbent prime minister to the prime ministership. The stalemate in seats appeared to be a real possibility again, so that it was necessary to break it in order for either the government or opposition to win. The stakes were extremely high and, in particular, the PNM was fearful once again of returning to the opposition benches. In this context, Prime Minister Manning decided to openly court the support of the Muslimeen when, as one local newspaper put it, ‘out of the blue, Manning made the announcement that he was settling the land matter with the Muslimeen.’ (Joseph 2002: 23). The land issue was the original problem that had triggered the conflict between the Muslimeen and the government as far back as 1985, eventually leading to the attempted coup of 1990. In 1969, the then prime minister, Eric Williams, gave some 8.8 acres of land to the Islamic Missionaries Guild. The Jamaat al Muslimeen, which was formed sometime in the early 1980s, had wanted some land to build a mosque and a school and saw this land given by Williams as falling within its right to acquire and use. In 1985, the Muslimeen decided to build a mosque on the land and was challenged by the Port of Spain City Corporation for its legality in doing so. This led to a series of confrontations over the next five years, with the Jamaat leader being put in jail for 21 days for contempt of court when he refused to vacate the land. Despite his incarceration, this did not prevent the completion of the mosque as well as a school on the same disputed land. The government had placed the armed forces on part of the land to prevent the Muslimeen from further expanding its facilities to other parts of the contested land. Up to the coup attempt in 1990, the simmering land issue played an explanatory reason for the Muslimeen’s behaviour in confronting the government. Both political parties had played a role when in power in deferring the resolution of the land issue (ibid.). Hence, leading up to the general election of 2002, a remarkable headline in the most widely distributed newspaper in Trinidad declared, ‘Manning Resurrects Bakr’. The article went on to state: ‘Before Prime Minister Manning’s untimely announcement by the government to give land to the Muslimeen, the Jamaat and Abu Bakr were not an issue in this year’s election campaign’ (ibid.). However, because of a popular outcry,
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‘within two days the PM backtracked’ and rescinded his decision (ibid.). Subsequently, Bakr and the Muslimeen ‘came out of his crease and openly supported the PNM in the elections’ and commenced campaigning particularly in the critical marginal constituencies (ibid.). Both of the main political parties then resorted to the media to explain and exploit the event, producing ‘newspaper advertisements on the Muslimeen and in the campaign trail, the words of Bakr and the Muslimeen punctuated the night air’ (ibid.). The UNC, in particular, took the PNM to task, accusing the PNM of being involved in criminal activity and consorting with terrorists. ‘A series of UNC newspaper advertisements accused Bakr and the Muslimeen of being linked to Al Qaeda. They even suggested that Bakr would be appointed Minister of National Security in a re-elected PNM government’ (Pantin 2002: 5). Bakr responded that Panday had been aware of the 1990 coup. But, as one commentator remarked, ‘his credibility in this regard was razor thin: in 1995, when his group threw its support behind the UNC, he had made a similar charge against Manning. Bakr later withdrew the charge against the PNM leader.’ (ibid.). In an editorial of one of the three main daily newspapers, the open entry of the Muslimeen into the election campaign was regarded with alarm, partly because of the Muslimeen’s reputation for thuggery and violence: ‘It is in that context that the intrusion of the Jamaat into the political debate is worrying to many citizens. Abu and his acolytes have demonstrated that they were willing and able to resort to violence to achieve their ends. This he has never foresworn. Contrariwise, members of the Jamaat through their general intimidatory attitude have shown a penchant for badjohnism which has no place in these charged times’ (Guardian 2002: 14). The campaign trail became characterized by hooliganism and open threats of violence. Reporters from the media pointed to the Muslimeen disrupting UNC meetings with impunity. Said one distinguished reporter: ‘Bakr added to the controversy by openly campaigning for the PNM, even disrupting some UNC meetings. Things reached a point where, on the final day in September, Panday met with the Commissioner of Police to claim that his party was under pressure from PNM thugs’ (ibid.). Several years later Bakr, under a charge for murder, was interrogated by a state prosecutor about his role in the 2002 election: Q: What areas did your organization concentrate on in the three constituencies? A: In Ortoire/Mayaro, we concentrated on Moruga, Fifth Company, Bassaterre, Maarc, Laloon. In Moruga, we established a scholarship foundation fund with $2,000. Also, a program on small businesses. This area lacks lots of amenities. There are no midwife services
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nor doctor’s visit the area. In Rio Claro, we covered areas like New Grant, Libertyville, San Pedro, Poole. In those areas we did foot soldiering every day. In San Fernando West, we did work in Marabella Train Line, Jumbie Bay. We started a basketball competition at Embacadere. We established three classes, one remedial class and two dealing with S.E.A. exams. (Nunez 2002: 1 and 3) Asked how critical his role was in the PNM victory in these marginal constituencies, he said modestly: ‘We played a major role in the victory by bringing out the youth population.’ He told reporters repeatedly how his organization helped the ruling PNM in winning the marginal seats in the previous general election (Joseph 2005: 17) For the UNC, the Jamaat was the difference in the election outcome causing three seats. – Tunapuna, Ortoire-Mayaro and San Fernando West – to be won by the PNM. One observer, Professor Selwyn Ryan, argued that while it was true that the Muslimeen ‘harassed and intimidated voters’ and the claim that the ‘Jamaat openly threatened UNC voters is incontrovertible’, he concluded that because the PNM ‘badly wanted regime change’, they mobilized comprehensively to win (Ryan 2003: 236–8). Nevertheless, the Muslimeen did make a difference, although it is difficult to assess its extent. What is clear is that the UNC lost not only because of the role of the Jamaat, but also because of internal divisions within the party, the mismanagement of its relations with the NAR, and because it lacked control of the levers of the government and its resources, and therefore was unable to match the PNM in the campaign. Much of the fault for its loss was committed by its own activities unaided by its political adversaries. However, it is also clear that the persistence of ethnic voter preferences defeats the goals of achieving a more just and stable society.
6 Modes and Mechanisms of Inter-Ethnic Conflict Management
In this chapter, we address the mechanisms and modes of ethnic conflict management and regulation in sustaining democratic practices in a multi-ethnic environment. From our stock of knowledge on ethnic conflict regulation and management, many practices and institutions are now available that can be applied to ethnic strife. We shall examine specifically a variety of institutional devices and practices in evaluating this prospect for Trinidad.
Recognition, cultural symbols and identity ‘Recognition’ is perhaps one of the most widely used words in the new discourse regarding ‘identity’. ‘Identity’, as philosopher Charles Taylor pointed out, ‘is partly shaped by recognition or its absence, often by the misrecognition of others, and so a person or group of people can suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around them mirror back to them a confining or contemptible picture of themselves’ (Taylor 1992: 3). Recognition of the intrinsic self-definition of a group is as important as – and often a prerequisite for – equality of access to material resources and political participation. Recognition points to the need for all communities in their rich cultural and religious diversity to be accorded juridical and social equality in a state that defines itself as multicultural. Clearly, this in part means that the state’s symbols must not neglect or marginalize the presence and practices of other communities in the official ceremonies of the state, in the celebration of festivals and holidays, and in the observance of religious events. The larger point, however, is shared membership, which legitimizes the right to exist and exist equally and in dignity and 147
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security. This, in turn, requires sensitivity to group rights in appropriate spheres. Trinidad has had a peculiar inherited hierarchical system of status and power from colonial practices privileging a particular community with political, economic, social and cultural advantages that were embodied in institutions and daily practices. The Christian faith and western values and artifacts became the measure of what were preferred and rewarded in public spaces. Frequently, the source of invidious internal strife, these ethnocentric practices were challenged after self-government was won, with demands that they be dismantled in the reform of the state. Not only Hindus and Muslims protested, but so did many Afro-Creole indigenous faiths, such as Shango and the Shouter Baptists, demanding an order of equal membership in the state. The equality factor is intimately tied to participation and access to collective decision making in all aspects of state behaviour. By the turn of the millennium, after much sustained protest and agitation, all of the faiths in Trinidad were accorded specific days as public holidays. Thus, added to Christmas and Easter and Good Friday for Christians were Diwali for Hindus, Eid ul-Fitr for Muslims, and a holiday for Shouter Baptists. These have all become embedded in the state’s official calendar of publicly recognized religious festivals and rituals. In addition, the Ministry of Culture allocates grants to the respective communities for the celebration of their cultural identity. The national anthem of Trinidad proclaims ‘Every creed and race finds an equal place’ in recognition of the multicultural nature of the state. While this reflects the growing tolerance of much of Trinidadian society, Christian symbols and western ways still predominate with periodic protests by other communities. In a number of small, but significant cases, certain practices have been introduced to accommodate diversity in the use of religious texts of choice for swearing ceremonies and the making of marriage vows. Yet the arena of cultural competition continues to seethe over issues related to the representation of heroes and the historical narratives of the respective communities in official school texts and in the building of statues. Indian- and Afro-Creoles also engage in a ‘soft’ type of competition over musical forms, dance and artistic expressions, and the recognition of their musical instruments in courses and classrooms. But, by and large, recognition of all communities has been conceded by the state, although a few areas remain to be resolved. We shall look in the following section at one area that has not been resolved.
Inter-Ethnic Conflict Management
National awards One area of major Afro-Indian inter-ethnic conflict is the annual naming of recipients of national awards. The matter exploded into the public arena when on two occasions during the past generation the country’s highest award, the ‘Trinity Cross’, was declined by two Indo-Trinidadians on the grounds that it conflicted with their religious faith. The Trinity Cross, the most coveted award conferred for distinguished service on Trinidadians, was perceived as a Christian symbol and when Dr Wahid Ali, a Muslim, and Pundit Krishna Maharaj, a Hindu, were named the recipients of this award, they refused it on religious grounds. However, this has been only the tip of the iceberg regarding the controversy over the awards, the main bone of inter-ethnic contention deriving from the disproportionately low number of awards that have been given to members of the Indian community (see Table 6.1). Mr Sat Maharaj, secretary-general of the main Hindu organization, the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS), complained, in a constitutional suit against the state to get the name of the award changed, that of the 65 people who had been awarded the Trinity Cross only eight were Indians, of which only two were Hindus – although Hindus comprised 23 per cent of the population (Swamber 2004: 1). He went on to point out that three Catholic clerics had received the award. Under British colonial rule, Trinidadians were recipients of the annual Commonwealth Awards, including various medals and titles of recognition from the Queen of England. Among these were the muchcoveted knighthoods. However, beginning in 1969, seven years after attaining independence, Trinidad instituted its own distinctive indigenously derived local preferences and decorations. Hence, every year on 1 September Trinidad’s Independence Day, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago announces the recipients of four types of awards: (i) the ‘Trinity Cross’, the highest award conferred for distinguished service to Trinidad – a maximum of five Trinity Crosses can be awarded in any one year; (ii) ‘the Public Service of Merit’ (PSM) for public servants; (iii) the Hummingbird Medal for devoted service in a person’s Table 6.1 Ethnicity and national awards Award Trinity Public Service Hummingbird Chaconia
8 22 44 37
57 204 179 176
65 226 223 213
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field of endeavour bringing benefit to Trinidad – up to 15 in this category can be awarded annually; and (iv) the ‘Chaconia’ award for meritorious social and community work – a maximum of ten can be awarded annually. A committee appointed by the Prime Minister’s Office and headed by the Chief Justice is charged with the responsibility of recommending prospective recipients of the awards. As part of its task, this preliminary awards committee also receives the recommendations of citizens who, in a government advertisement in the local newspapers, are invited to send in their nominations. The recommendations of the non-partisan committee for the various categories of awards are then submitted to the prime minister, who makes the final decision about the recipient of the awards. The public has no way of knowing what is the relationship or correlation between the recommended list and the final list chosen by the prime minister, except that the prime minister, coming from a preponderantly ethnically-based political party, can choose anyone in his final decision. Given the nature of Trinidad’s ethnic party system and the political patronage system, it was not surprising that the result tended to be tilted in favour of a particular ethnic group. From its inception to the year 2004, the awards were distributed ethnically as shown in Table 6.1. Indians have generally expressed their displeasure with the awards, viewing them as symbolic of the social, cultural, economic and political exclusion that they had suffered for decades under PNM regimes. In 1995, when the first Indian party, the UNC, under Indian Prime Minister Basdeo Panday acceded to power, everyone predicted that the Trinity Cross in particular would have been renamed in order to reflect the diversity of religions and cultures in Trinidad. Instead, the UNC appointed a special commission to look into the matter. Headed by the chief justice, the commission, remarking that the Trinity Cross represented ‘Christian symbolism’, recommended that it be renamed ‘The Order of Trinidad’. During the remaining period of the UNC regime, which ended in 2001, while it did ensure greater Indian representation in the categories of awards, it failed to rename the Trinity Cross. This has remained an unexplained puzzle that has come back to haunt the UNC, which is now back on the opposition benches. When the PNM returned to power in 2001, the old pattern of ethnic distribution of the awards returned unapologetically. However, in the year 2004, a new dramatic twist in this issue emerged, turning it into a major national issue. On 31 August, just one day before the scheduled time for the announcement of the recipients of the national awards, a new organization called Global Organization of People of Indian Origin
Inter-Ethnic Conflict Management
(GOPIO), which was a local branch of a New York-based group, made its own pre-emptive announcement of an alternative list of its own award recipients. As an Indian organization, it argued that it was only seeking to correct a long-embedded imbalance in the distribution of awards. In the words of the local chairman of GOPIO: ‘The Indian population, now a majority, view with deep alienation, the National Awards each Independence Day’ (Richards 2004). In 2002, the Central Statistical Bureau had released figures from the census of 2000 showing that no group had a majority: Indians were 40 per cent and Afro-Trinidadians were 37.5 per cent; the Mixed Race group were 20 per cent. Hitting the headlines in the local media, the response to the GOPIO awards ranged from alarmist to what Prime Minister Patrick Manning called a ‘pappy show’, arguing that: ‘There are those in the society who, whatsoever you do, continue to talk of discrimination and who seek to divide the country on the basis of ethnicity’ (ibid.). He then proceeded to indicate that the issue was not a PNM priority and that he had no intention of renaming the Trinity Cross. He then reminded the population that the UNC government under Basdeo Panday did not choose to change the name of the Trinity Cross. However, Mr Manning was, in turn, reminded that while campaigning for office in 2002 he had promised to change the name of the Trinity Cross to a more non-religious symbol. The issue was also taken up by the prominent AfroTrinidadian organization, the Emancipation Support Committee, which described the GOPIO awards ‘as an effort to divide the society’ (ibid.). The largest Hindu organization, the Maha Sabha, announced as expected its support for the GOPIO awards. A couple of months later, astoundingly, the mainstream Christian churches issued a collective statement supporting a change in the name of the Trinity Cross. Some local commentators, taking a less partisan or ethnic viewpoint and seeing nothing particularly wrong in a private organization establishing its own award system, correctly pointed out that during the period when Britain monopolized the distribution of its Commonwealth Awards, a number of Trinidadians had defiantly initiated their own private awards system without incurring official colonial opposition. Said Roy Mitchell of the Pegasus organization which did this: ‘Yes, there we were taking the lead in honouring our own citizens long before any government national awards were introduced’. (Ryan 2004). An influential Afro-Trinidadian academic and commentator put the matter as a contest between the two major ethnic communities over symbolic values: ‘Creoles (Afro-Trinidadians) believe that they “own” the country and Indo-Trinidadians are demanding their share of the symbolic patrimony’ (ibid.).
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In a poll on popular opinion on the awards carried out by the neutral University of the West Indies-ANSA McAl Psychological Center, the results were instructive (Guardian, 3 October 2004: 32). The most startling revelation from the poll came from the response to the question ‘Do you think the name Trinity Cross should change?’ A majority of citizens across the ethnic divide, 79 per cent Afro-Trinidadians and 58 per cent Indians, preferred to retain the name. Unfortunately, the poll did not include a religion variable so that it was impossible to gauge the level of support among Hindus. However, the rest of the data pointed unequivocally to the ethnicization of preferences in the distribution of national awards. On the question ‘Do you think that the selection process is transparent?’, only 31 per cent of Indians said ‘yes’ while 69 per cent of Afro-Trinidadians answered in the affirmative. On the question of public support for the GOPIO alternative awards system, fully 84 per cent of the Indians approved, as compared to 12 per cent of Afro-Trinidadians (ibid.). In 2006, the PNM appointed a new committee to replace the name of the Trinity Cross with the intent of making a change. The awards issue clearly underscores the generally poor state of relations between Indians and Afro-Trinidadians with regard to their recognition by the state. While the British ruled Trinidad, the entire symbolic system – ranging from preferences for language to religion – articulated British hegemony. After independence, Trinidad had sought to redefine the sphere of ‘public religion’ in relation to public symbols, as Robert Bellah called it (Bellah 1967). The changes that have so far occurred relate to the flag, the constitution, language, national flora and fauna, the names of streets and parks, as well as the rewriting of history in school books. However, it is clear that in a multi-ethnic society the process of social and cultural recognition of symbols is more complex. The awards case demonstrates that the symbols of the state need to be attuned to the cultural sensibilities of all groups and made generally acceptable to all communities so as to inculcate national pride and loyalty. But clearly this is most difficult in an arena that is inflamed by pervasive ethnic rivalry and preferences in which every day becomes the scene of a new struggle over ethnic ascendancy and fear of communal domination. Symbols in this context become part of the repertoire of weapons employed in the struggle. They can become as much divisive as unifying.
Resource allocation Trinidad, like many other multi-ethnic states in the Third World, is beset perennially with the problem of equity in resource allocation adversely
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bedeviling inter-group relations. Generally, resource allocation points to issues of equality, especially focused around the equitable distribution of material resources such as public jobs, state projects and subsidies, as well as over symbolic recognition (Despres 1975; Cohen 1974; Premdas 1989). In regard to material resources, as it has happened in Trinidad and in other colonially structured plural societies, such resources tend to be dominated in particular economic sectors by the different ethnic segments in the plural society. At the level of the public sector, especially regarding public employment and contracts, the problem of interethnic rivalry derives indirectly from zero-sum competitive majoritarian politics, which confer most benefits and privileges on electoral winners in an invidious game of ‘winner-takes-all’. In Trinidad, as in most of the Third World where the government is the largest employer, competition for government jobs has emerged as a characteristically persistent problem in inter-ethnic relations. This has occurred in Trinidad since, for historical reasons, the government bureaucracy has tended to be skewed in favour of the Afro-Creole community, which in time came to regard it as its own preserve (Premdas 1995d). The skewed ethnic distribution of employment in the Public Service, in turn, has over the years sustained inter-ethnic struggles over claims for ‘equity’ by the relatively disadvantaged community. The arguments have tended to feed into other unrelated issues, compounding the original issues, rendering them more difficult to resolve. In an earlier chapter, we presented data on ethnic representation in the public service as well as the private sector. These were two critical sites of inter-ethnic struggle. There is no formula for resolution, such as a prearranged rule on proportionality in the distribution of posts in the public service or ownership in the business sector. Indian preeminence in the business sector seems to have been offset by AfroCreole dominance in the public service and the professions. Indians have attempted to increase their presence in the public service and they have claimed that they have been discriminated against in gaining access. Afro-Creoles have argued that their limited participation in business ownership has been stymied by discriminatory practices against them by commercial banks in providing loans for capital investment. Short of a violent revolution in Trinidad, there is unlikely to be a radical rearrangement in the way resources and opportunities have been distributed into virtually separate ethnically dominated sectors due to historical circumstances. What had evolved in practice corresponds in a general way to the idea of sectoral ‘balance’, as has occurred in Fiji for almost two decades after independence. In this concept of
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‘balance’, there was no explicit written law or compromises in sharing the resources of the state or in sharing power. Instead, balance became in practice a practical compromise whereby sectoral pre-eminence was distributed in a manner that conceded different spheres of dominance to the different groups. (Premdas 1993b) This permitted the Fijians control of the government, in particular the Prime Minister’s Office as well as ownership of 83 per cent of the land. In exchange, Indians dominated the sugar industry, as well as small and medium-sized businesses, while Europeans controlled the very large businesses, such as banks, hotels and factories. Clearly, a ‘balance’ assumes asymmetrical areas of dominance and attains stability by a disciplined adherence to the invisible sectoral boundaries of separation. It is an exchange and reciprocal relationship that obligates each communal group for the most part to remain within its area of pre-eminence as well as to perform duties of restraint towards the other groups implicit in the balancing bargain. Such exchanges, however, are not imposed by sentiments of love for the other community but are, rather, informed by self-interest. In an interdependent order, each group needs the resources of the other group to survive and maintain its standard of living. Each group becomes its brother’s keeper in a mundane, practical, self-interested sense. In the case of Fiji, it was no more in the interest of the indigenous Fijians to deny Indians access to land than for Indians not to pay taxes to the Fijian-dominated government. ‘Balance’ is a practical act constantly needing nurture by inter-communal consultation, and cooperation by the communal leadership and elites. It is akin to a daily plebiscite reaffirming faith and trust in the pact of sharing. It can be either a written or unwritten agreement but as a dynamic concept it requires revisions and adaptations to be made in contemplation of changes in society. Despite its attractions, ‘balance’ seems best adapted to serve only as a shortterm solution for inter-communal conflict, and its sustenance revolves around amicable relations among inter-sectional elites. In the end, its value and survival depends on communal self-discipline for sharing power and privileges and for carrying out corresponding obligations. The ‘balance’ worked well in Fiji for a while containing Fijian–Indian malaise and establishing communal peace, but it was soon destroyed by the rise of ethnic ‘outbidders’ who within each of the ethnic groups argued that the ‘balance’ was unjust. Soon, Indians and Fijians each enunciated their own ideas of ‘balance’ in a manner intended to assert control of every sector so as to establish ethnic hegemony, rather than to foster a sense of sharing.
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For some time until the latter part of the twentieth century, there was a de facto ‘balance’ in Trinidad between the sectoral dominance of the political and executive parts of the government by Afro-Creoles and of the sugar industry and small commercial businesses by Indians. But, as more and more Indians entered the school system and became qualified for jobs in the public bureaucracy, the balance was challenged. Similarly, this occurred in the Indian challenge for control of the government, which was achieved in 1995 when Panday became prime minister. There is recurrent indirect talk of ‘balance’ in Trinidad, often revealed in the subtext of many discourses on distributive justice. Charges and countercharges suffuse the media, especially radio talk shows, regarding the fact of ethnic predominance in various sectors. The political parties are deeply engaged in this discourse for their survival. Hence, the UNC had always made the promise of an equity commission part of its political manifesto, while the PNM had always opposed it. The current impasse in which the PNM has refused to implement the legislation for the setting up of an equity commission attests to the persisting problem of ‘balance’ in the distribution of jobs and resources. Afro-Creoles may feel justified in their predominance in the public service as a legitimate way of offsetting Indian predominance in the business sector. This is a claim that affirms the balancing concept. Yet, there is unending talk about the need for each community to participate more fully in the other’s sector. The persisting existence of ethnic predominance in different sectors may well be one of the few practices that are imparting a measure of stability to inter-ethnic relations in Trinidad, despite protests against it. The issue of distributive justice brings into focus the old topic of ‘representative bureaucracy’ with flourishes for ‘affirmative action’. The concept of ‘representative bureaucracy’, when first given prominence by its chief proponent, Donald Kingsley (1944), argued in favour of maintaining some congruence between the class structure in Britain and the Public Service. In its history, the concept has gone through various convolutions in clarity, but essentially seems to be fixed around the idea of mirroring the values of a society in the personnel of the Public Service as set forth by Paul P. van Riper: [representative bureaucracy] is one in which there is a minimal distinction between the bureaucrats as a group and their administrative behaviour and parties on the other hand and the community or societal membership and its administrative behaviour, practices and expectations of government on the other. To be representative,
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a bureaucracy must (1) consist of a reasonable cross-section of the body politic in terms of occupation, class, geography and the like, and (2) must be in general tune with the ethos and attitudes of the society of which it is a part. (Van Riper 1958: 552) It is clear that the concept had shifted its focus from values in a relatively homogeneous society like Britain to the more culturally plural states of the Third World in which the problem of accommodating ethnic minorities has arisen (Meier and Nigro 1975; Thompson 1976; Subramanian 1967). When transposed to the multi-ethnic context of Trinidad, the idea was implicit in the grievances of the Indian population, who claimed that they were proportionately under-represented through discrimination in the public service. However, the idea of a representative bureaucracy was a novelty flying in the face of the bureaucratic values of efficiency, neutrality and accountability. The Public Service Commission in Trinidad had never conceded that it ever deviated from strictly applying the principles of neutrality and merit in making its appointments and promotions. There was, however, an intriguing confession by one of the Public Service Commissioners when he said: With the introduction of compulsory education, the East Indians have increasingly acquired education and have been increasingly invading the fields of the Public Service, the professions and government. As their numbers must now approach parity with people of African descent, there is a real possibility that in the not too distant future they will get control of the government. Should this time come when the East Indian section owns most of the property, businesses, and wealth of the country as well as control of the government, an imbalance could develop in our society that would cause undesirable stress and strains that would not be good for the nation. It is an urgent necessity therefore that all of us give serious thought to these matters and like sensible people make a conscious effort to counter any undesirable consequences that could develop from such a situation. (Guardian 1976) Clearly, both the idea of ‘balance’ and representation in the public service was pregnant in this statement. Behind the idea of representation was a concept of equity that argued that ethnic proportions in the population ought to be mirrored in the recruitment and staffing of the public service. While the idea of ‘balance’ permitted unbalanced representation
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in various sectors of the society, including the public service, the idea of representative bureaucracy called for parity of employment within the public bureaucracy. The fact that the ethnically skewed character of the staffing of the public service in Trinidad substantially derived not from contrivance but by the accident of colonial settlement and history points to the need to avoid assigning blame to any ethnic community. This is not to argue that there were not some systematic discriminatory policies and practices that tended to exclude Indians from employment or promotion in the public service or Afro-Creoles from the private sector. If discrimination were complete and unbridled then this practice would not be consistent with the fact that a substantial minority of Indians were found in all parts of the Public Service except in the highest senior ranks. What it argues for is more explicit policies that will depoliticize communal charges, which occur frequently and routinely in Trinidad’s politics, related to discrimination and under-representation. As it stands, without an explicit formula for apportioning this critical resource in the form of jobs in the Public Service, the issue of representation will continue to serve as an inflammatory element in the combustive politics of Trinidad. Now that both the Indian and Afro-Creole parties have been in power, they each have accused the other of discriminatory practices in employment. Mr Manning, in a memorable accusation when he was out of power and campaigning for office, referred to the state-owned oil company as ‘Petro-Singh’ instead of its proper name ‘Petro-trin’. The word ‘Singh’ is an Indian name and was meant to point out that during the tenure of the Panday government the state oil company Petrotrin became overstaffed with Indians.
Power sharing Perhaps the most crucial institutional design for managing ethnic strife points to the need for power sharing in a consensus-oriented order. Power sharing underscores the idea that governance is about resolving collective problems peacefully through compromises and exchanges in which divergent interests are articulated and accommodated in the political institutions and practices of the state. It is clear that, at all costs, systems that create permanent political minorities, often the victims of discrimination and abuse and with no investment in maintaining order, must be avoided. New modes of collective decision-making departing from standard zero-sum, winner-takes-all, exclusionary parliamentary practices are required. This process is all the more critical in those
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societies that are deeply divided by race, religion and ethnicity. To nurture such a coalition demands unending vigil so as to avert offending collective ethnic sensitivities and to smother challenges to peculiar group practices offensive to individual human rights. Nearly all the cases of failed efforts in democratic governance point to institutions and practices derived from competitive and adversarial majoritarian parliamentary politics. It has been estimated that of some 50 former British colonies that have achieved independence, 34 adopted the Westminster majoritarian system. While two of these (Botswana and Mauritius), as well as several in the English-speaking Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, the Bahamas, St Vincent, etc.), remain democratic today, finding an appropriate formula for intercommunal inclusiveness and accommodation in democratic governance remains a central challenge. It is, however, clear that reform of the institutions of governance in deeply divided states needs to be crafted to produce consensus systems involving all communities in negotiated power sharing and in a stake in upholding the system. There are several institutional strategies through which power may be shared, of which the most notable are coalitions at the party leadership and executive levels involving cabinet positions. This approach underscores the general philosophy and strategy that argues that governance, in order to be legitimate and to win widespread citizenship allegiance, must be inclusive in a system of sharing power through coalitions at all levels of government especially in the cabinet, but it may also extend to the allocation of seats in the parliament, to quotas in the public bureaucracy, to representation in local and regional authorities etc. Power sharing tends to create consensus systems in its varied institutional practices. Power can be shared in coalitions of one kind or another by formal agreement so that explicit public offices are staffed in specific ways. However, informal power sharing through bargaining can work just as well – if not better, in some circumstances – than an explicit formula. This is well exemplified by the case of Malaysia. Trinidad’s experience of power sharing through coalitions has been limited. Indeed, Trinidad, throughout its four decades of history since independence, has had the distinction of possessing a parliamentary system with all the dire characteristics of doom found in the zerosum competitive struggle for power between two main groups but without succumbing to illegal seizure of power or a major modification of the institutional system of winner takes all. On the surface, this fact would tend to negate the claims of consociational theorists who have predicted chaos and instability in states typified by
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Trinidad’s zero-sum parliamentary institutional order. However, since independence in 1962, the country has come on several occasions on a variety of issues to the brink of ethnic conflagration in the zerosum struggle for power between the two major ethnic communities and has continued to live on the threshold of such a possibility. The state remains divided into two hostile camps polarized along ethnic lines, and public policy is marked by sharp ethnic choices, causing alienation to one or the other community. Ethnic malaise pervades the polity and society as blood the body. The presence of consociational powersharing institutions, while not necessarily able to eliminate such a state of affairs, may significantly mollify partisan and popular passions and contain communal tensions. However, Trinidad has not been entirely bereft of coalition arrangements in the forty years since its independence. As described earlier, on two occasions, but one in particular, governments have been composed consociationally and by coalition. This happened in 1986 and 1995. It was the 1986 NAR government that had broken the entrenched pattern of ethnic partisan preference, bringing into power a ‘rainbow’ party in the NAR. It was a moment of countrywide jubilation by all. The multiethnic formation was led by A.N.R. Robinson, an African, and Panday, an Indian. Further, from within the ranks of the ONR leadership, the Mixed Races and French Creoles found representation. Because the NAR did not expect to win, no formula for sharing the spoils of victory was drafted, which in the end would emerge as the source of internal struggle that destroyed the party while in power. About one year later, the NAR was split when Panday and most of the Indian contingent in the coalition supporting him were expelled from the NAR, throwing the euphoric nation into a tailspin of ethnic division once again. The NAR, with a reduced majority, remained in power for the rest of the party’s term but in 1991, in the new general election, it was comprehensively defeated. Strong ethno-communalist sentiments had re-emerged and the ‘rainbow’ consociation of inter-class and inter-ethnic amity became a memory. In 1995, a new type of coalition had emerged. While the 1986 coalition represented a pre-election fusion of political parties that created the NAR, the 1995 government represented a post-election inter-party coalition (not a fusion of parties as in 1986). The two parties in the coalition were the UNC led by Panday and the NAR led by Robinson. The other major party in the 1995 election contest was the PNM. In the results for the 36-seat parliament, the PNM and UNC obtained 17 seats each, while the NAR won the remaining two seats. The 17–17–2
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result pointed to the need for a coalition government. While during the election campaign, the NAR and the UNC had agreed to cooperate in contesting a number of constituencies, there was no explicit agreement that they would form a coalition government should the occasion arise. In effect, while the UNC and NAR leaders agreed to cooperate in the defeat of the PNM, the post-election scenario was ambivalent in part because the incumbent PNM regime was formidable and well financed. Most election polls had predicted the PNM a foregone winner. After the elections, with the seat distribution at 17–17–2, Robinson held the balance of power and joined Panday in forming the next government. The UNC–NAR coalition acceded to power on 8 December with Panday as prime minister and Robinson as ‘Minister Extraordinaire’, an ambiguous title. The coalition called itself a ‘party of partners’ and not a fusion of parties. About two years later, Prime Minister Panday named Robinson as president of Trinidad and Tobago in what seemed to be the final payoff for the NAR’s support in bringing the UNC to power. We have argued that governance, in order to be legitimate and win widespread citizenship allegiance, must be inclusive in a system of sharing power at all levels of government including cabinet, parliament, the public bureaucracy, local and regional authorities etc. In an earlier chapter, data on ethnic representation in the Parliament, the Cabinet and the presidency were provided. Together, these materials on ethnic representation in the Parliament, Cabinet and presidency, as well as in the public service, all attest to a pattern of ethnic predominance of the Afro-Creole population, but not to the exclusion of Indians. In fact, Indians bear a very significant presence in all of these institutions of government and a clear predominance in the private sector. What is missing is some sort of more rational process of proportionate sharing, which apportions the positions and resources between the major ethnic communities so as to avert or minimize conflict. In effect, this will depoliticize the acrimonious politics of preference that attends electoral competition to control the levers of government. This will in turn contribute towards maintaining both stability and distributive justice in Trinidad. Apart from a coalition of communal elites, another way of power sharing can be conceived in terms of balance in the distribution of spheres of influence and control, as in Fiji and Malaysia. For a system of ‘balance’ to be a reality, it requires a particular configuration of interests, ideally one in which there are asymmetrical areas of dominance so that trade-offs can occur in reciprocity (Premdas 1993b). Such exchanges are, however, motivated by self-interest and not arrived at by sentiments of
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affection or caring. To sustain and improve its standard of living, each community requires the resources of the other group. Despite all these practical considerations of mutual self-interest, ‘balance’, however, can be only a short-term solution for inter-sectional conflict, for continuance depends on good circumstances. The balancing act is bound to face assault sooner or later by chauvinistic outbidders who, at a moment of opportunity, may want to encourage nationalist adherents not to accept part of the pie but to seize all of it. This occurred in both Fiji and Malaysia. ‘Balance’, then, in such a situation would be displaced by ‘hegemony’ and all the consequences this entails, or it can trigger civil strife that can destroy the society. Another form of power sharing may be referred to as ‘alternating partisan regimes’, under which rival parties alternate control of executive power in an agreed-upon time schedule. Alternating partisan regimes may be classified into pure and mixed types. Pure types are cases where a party that accedes to power governs during its tenure without sharing executive cabinet positions, but conducts itself within the constitutional norms, which protect human and minority rights. This occurred in Colombia in the 1950s. The mixed type, such as were found in Lebanon and Cyprus, describes a situation in which the executive power structure was shared so that the presidency, vice-presidency, speaker of the Parliament, etc. were posts held by representatives of different ethnic communities. To this may be added the sharing of civil service jobs and local council positions. All of this does not argue for power sharing in one form or the other. All of them share a contrived method of devolving power to different groups, unlike what occurs in open competitive democratic systems. However, this may be the only way available to maintain a modicum of democracy and order simultaneously. There has been much discussion about reforming the constitution in Trinidad so as to include a compulsory power-sharing arrangement, as has been prescribed by the 1997 Fiji constitution (Premdas 2002: 16–36; Premdas 2003: 133–57) It may be recalled, among other things, that a new electoral system was prescribed. For some analysts, the choice of electoral system was critical in the promotion of power sharing in coalition governments. The Alternative Vote (AV) preferential system was seen by some as ideal, for it blunts the sharp edges of racial and ethnic outbidding and innuendo during political campaigns by encouraging pre-election swapping of voter preferences. It might be worth entering, however briefly, into an evaluation of the AV voting system since for some of its advocates it bears much promise of deliverance from the
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excesses to which ethnic and communal conflicts tend in democratic competitive politics. First, we must begin with a significant caveat: whatever policy proposals are recommended, such as electoral systems or other institutions, to regulate and resolve an inter-ethnic crisis should not be treated as the transfer of mere technical devices that can be conveniently and neutrally inserted in an ethnic conflict to provide a quick fix. Each strategy of ethnic conflict resolution is not only culture-specific to the experience of particular states but to a substantial extent, tends to embody contests over political and cultural claims. The transfer of seemingly technical and mathematically elegant formulae is pregnant with its own epistemological and culturally contested assumptions. At bottom, the issues and the mode of resolution are political, cultural and ethical. This should point towards a critical process of formulating policy options that are at once cognizant of and sensitive to cultural contexts. Recommendations in favour of one or another electoral system must be evaluated critically in the light of this caveat. The AV electoral system must be apprehended in the larger context of finding stability and just representation in deeply divided multi-ethnic states. For some time, the proposal of Arend Lijphart called consociational democracy with its battery of institutions and practices, enjoyed much intellectual support (Lijphart 1977). It was based on a powersharing formula through a grand coalition among communal elites and operated under a system of proportional representation that articulated and recognized ethnic identities. In a way, this system was very persuasive but it was rigid, requiring several simultaneous and mutually supportive and interlocking conditions, which reduced the probability of its successful implementation. A counter-proposal emerged, substantially, spearheaded by Donald Horowitz, who railed against what appeared to be the a compulsory and inflexible nature of the consociational institutions and called instead for a new system based on incentives and rewards. Horowitz staked his argument mainly on the institution of the AV electoral system. Argued Horowitz: When electorates are alert to ethnic issues, as they typically are, exhortations to leaders to compromise are likely to be futile in the absence of rewards for compromise. Attention needs to be devoted therefore to maximizing incentives for accommodative behavior. For elected politicians, these are likely to be found in the electoral system. Electoral systems that reward inter-ethnic accommodation can be identified and can be made to work more or less as intended. Where
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these rewards are present, they typically operate by means of vote pooling arrangements: the exchange of votes by ethnically based parties that, because of the electoral system, are marginally dependent for victory on the votes of groups other than their own and that to secure those votes, must behave moderately on the issues in conflict. (Horowitz 2002: 23) For Horowitz, vote pooling under the AV electoral system, which gives weight to second preferences instead of sole reliance on first preferences for determining victory for a candidate, provides the basis for moderation and compromise. There are a few facilitating conditions that are ideally required to allow the incentives approach to succeed, of which perhaps the most important is the presence of many ethnic communities, none with a majority, making for multipolar fluidity and calculated rational choice by voters. Horowitz used several selective empirical cases from around the world, especially Lebanon, to support his argument. This included the claim that Fiji under AV in the 1997 constitution was a success story (ibid.: 24). In a way, this was not an incorrect conclusion since it did succeed in moderating the stridency and tensions in the election campaign (Premdas 2002: 16–37). The claim that Fiji represented a case of success under the AV electoral system triggered a strong dissent from a number of critics (Fraenkel 2005). However, it is clear from the Fiji case that many of the anticipated behaviour from parties and voters alike in the implementation of the provisions of AV did not eventuate. In particular, AV resulted in the overrepresentation of the victorious Fiji Labour Party, while seriously underrepresenting the SVT, the main opposition party. Further, the political parties so manipulated the casting of preferences by their supporters that the autonomy of the moderate voter was negated. However, AV seemed to have had better results in other cases where different and more favorable conditions prevailed, including Papua New Guinea. It is necessary to step aside from the thick dust of friction in the controversy over the specific instance of Fiji, which in any case does not represent a good example of AV’s performance and potential, and look more broadly at the AV electoral system in terms of its strategic claims for ethnic conflict management. First, AV, as a mathematical strategy cast within the context of multipolarity and other supportive conditions, may have made little advance over Lijphart’s proportional representation system in his complex consociational prescription. Both systems seek out cross-ethnic cooperation at the leadership level either in pre-election or post-election scenarios to
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achieve their ends. Both argue for some sort of coalition. Both are wrong to assume that relatively predictable laboratory conditions will exist for the full operation of their prescriptions without the peculiarities of the cultural context and the disorder and irrationality of human behaviour making their own claims. In the end, both systems have their own merits and demerits, but neither Horowitz nor Lijphart will argue that their prescriptions and outcomes can be guaranteed or foreordained. On the claims that AV will produce moderate coalition governments through incentives, the jury is still out. Two unusual cases, Malaysia and Mauritius, demonstrate that electoral systems may be irrelevant to power sharing and coalition governance. In Malaysia and Mauritius, where the first-past-the-post plurality system is in use, coalitions have eventuated nevertheless and have been effective in maintaining inter-communal peace and a reasonable degree of democratic governance. The use of the AV electoral system in Fiji, while it had succeeded in fostering pre-election coalition arrangements, failed in promoting inclusiveness and representativeness of significant segments of the electorate. In the case of South Africa, the list proportional representation system managed to give representation to several minorities but the power-sharing coalition government that ensued was a preelection deal that was written into the constitution. The South African case subsequently showed that regardless of the electoral system chosen, it is inter-communal comity and pre-election bargains that really matter in coalition formation. In Fiji, these latter factors conferred a period of peace and democracy for about a decade. In South Africa, comity was destroyed and with it the coalition arrangement. In all of this, it needs to be stressed, that it is inter-elite comity, informed by a realistic appraisal that there is no alternative to powersharing, that provides the critical constitutive ingredients of consensus systems and not just the bare skeletal framework of institutional engineering as important as they are. From powersharing emerge agreements for resource allocation, which is often a main source of inter-ethnic strife. There are cases, such as Trinidad and Guyana, which are very problematic. They utilize both the first-past-the-post-electoral system (Trinidad) and proportional representation (Guyana) that tend to reinforce the ethnic and racial partisan polarization in the state. Neither is a power-sharing arrangement in place, but both tend to recruit a small cross-communal contingent of supporters. After a bruising and racially polarizing election campaign, they each attempt to heal the inflicted wounds by appointing to prominent cabinet and other posts persons from the opposing party. This is truly a prescription for disaster since
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it fails to guarantee a proportional form of representation for all stakeholders in the society. Guyana has erupted and Trinidad awaits a similar date with destiny. They need comity to begin with, and an institutional structure for coalition building and power sharing. They have done well in providing symbolic recognition in public holidays for each ethnic and racial community but this is void of substantive guarantees against exclusion.
Decentralization and autonomy One of the common devices recommended as a means of managing claims and conflict between ethno-political groups in a multi-ethnic state is autonomy (Premdas 1982; Maddick 1965; White 1931: 33–4) Often this refers to internal territorial self-government either articulated in a federal arrangement or constitutionally entrenched into the organization of a unitary state. There are other possible forms, such as some sort of functional autonomy, in which representation of corporate communal interests in national decision-making bodies may be envisaged; or self-government may be extended beyond the territory of an ethnic community so that wherever members dwell in the state they may enjoy language, educational and cultural rights. Regardless, the fundamental assumption is that the devolution of autonomous decisionmaking powers to an ethno-cultural or ethno-racial community creates, in the diffusion of authority, a separate space and confers recognition in selfgoverning pride. It may successfully serve to foster a culture and protect the identity of a people as well as their resources and environment. Generally, for decentralized autonomy to be credible or meaningful it must be extensive in the devolution of both administrative and political powers. Decentralization, therefore, does not refer to the mere shuffling of the pack, but, in a more appropriate metaphor, results in the flattening of the pyramid of power. It is a zero-sum game in which the loss of power at the centre is accompanied by gain at the regional level. Decentralization of this kind is rarely conceded peacefully and, for this reason, it is not frequently found among states. In nearly all cases, decentralization is undertaken with a view to localizing and legitimating national rule. However, balancing the demand by minorities for maximum internal autonomy with the insistence of the central government for unequivocal loyalty is frequently an issue that treads on a razor’s edge. Issues of financial autonomy, like the quantum of devolved powers, are likely sources of ongoing centre – regional tugs of war. The uneven endowment of natural resources and disparities in levels
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of economic development among regions as well as different industriousness and achievements of the different peoples in the multi-ethnic state, tend to engender frequent intergovernmental disputes and resentments, which can erupt into demands for exit. There are numerous other potentially tempestuous torrents that can break the bounds of reason and fatally buffet the devolution design, including the right of residence by ethnic others within the territory of the devolved community; exclusive ethnic preferences in allocating jobs, contracts, loans and subsidies – in other words, internal discrimination against minorities in the autonomous region; denial of individual rights in favour of group rights suitable for some persons and communities but not others, etc. In effect, there is endemic jurisdictional tension in the two trajectories in decentralization – one tending towards centrifugal ends and the other towards centripetal interests. The autonomy strategy for managing ethnic difference and communal identity may not therefore be a simple proposition. Besides, it tends to be costly and wasteful in setting up parallel political and administrative structures as well as harbouring and nurturing rival bases of power to the national government. It may conceal and protect inefficiency and corruption and local authoritarian practices under the rubric of a sacred decentralist ideology of self-determination. Ultimately, it survives or dies not on the architectural elegance or structural features of the centre– regional organizational form but on trust that the region will not take the next inviting step to independence and the central authorities will not see every assertive act of internal autonomy as disloyalty requiring rapid and invasive intervention. The Trinidad case has made little use of the decentralization device in managing ethnic strife. On one signal occasion, a Ministry of Decentralization was established in 1986 under the NAR. However, it was never seen as a means of sharing power territorially. To be sure, there is a measure of territorial self-segregation and ethno-demographic concentration, but the very small size of the island and the fact of close cohabitation practices have militated against ethno-territorial decentralization. Communal claims and rights are fought for not through decentralization, but through other means. To be sure, there is a system of local government in the form of ‘regional corporations’. And there are keenly contested elections for these council seats. However, the identical two parties that struggle for control of the national parliament fight out these elections again. Local councils, then, are yet another site for the continuation of ethnic partisan competition conducted at the national level. Further, the local regional corporations have not only little autonomy but
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also very limited resources, which overwhelmingly come from the central government. The opportunities for decentralization to serve as a means of moderating ethnic strife in Trinidad have been passed over.
Public policy This section briefly considers the role of public policy in ethnic conflict regulation in Trinidad. Public policy can contribute significantly either to aggravating or to ameliorating conditions for inter-ethnic and interracial peace and harmony. Ted Gurr concludes from his study of the Minorities At Risk project that it is government policy that contributes most to disparities and discrimination against alienated communal sections in most multi-ethnic and multiracial states (Gurr 1994). Policies in all democratic governments are often deeply enmeshed in politics and partisan choices. The government in power is not a neutral arbiter of public interests but itself has its own positions to advance on behalf of its supporters and ideology in the formulation of public policies. Conflict among rival political parties in deeply divided states in the making of public policy is often marked by uncompromising acrimony. In an integrated political culture the shared values that underpin the system often ensure that conflicting interests are accommodated through pragmatic compromises, a practice that is vital for general public support of the government and for maintaining political legitimacy. This may not occur in a environment marked by deep and divisive cultural cleavages, and in which the distribution of benefits and burdens from public policy may follow ethnic and sectional lines, thereby generating communal disenchantment and political instability. In effect, public policy in multi-ethnic states may deepen the ethnocultural alienation of opposition and out-of-government communities, or depending upon how they are fashioned, distribute spoils and duties equitably across all communities. In the crafting of public policy, then, in plural societies, even at the best of times, the process is fraught with potential danger. At a minimum, this imposes the requirement that fair and generally acceptable procedures and negotiation protocols for the articulation and processing of demands and interests be transparently available and acceptable modes of accommodation of conflicting positions be established (Young 1999: 5). Generally, policies that are just and engage the participation of all communities need to be embodied in the institutions and practices of the state. Democratic governance links the policy choices of authoritative political leaders in the different
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sections of the state to the will of the people. The Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict underscored the salience of this factor thus: ‘There is perhaps nothing more fundamentally political than the ability to have a say in how one is governed. Healthy political systems reflect a shared contract between people and their government that, at its most basic, ensures the ability to survive free from fear or want’ (Carnegie Commission 1997: 12). If inclusiveness and sensitivity are required at the participatory input decision-making level in governance and policy making in multi-ethnic states, they are no less required in the manner in which policies and regulations are implemented. Standing at the heart of this undertaking is the public bureaucracy in these states. The public service interfaces daily with the population in providing services and security. The problem of neutrality and representation takes a very serious turn here. Where the police and security services tend to be recruited mainly from one sectional group in a multi-ethnic society, this can create law enforcement and compliance difficulties. The Carnegie Commission on the Preventing Deadly Conflict had recommended four conditions to enhance internal security: (i) a legitimate legal system; (ii) an equitable, independent and accessible grievance redress system; (iii) a penal system that is fair and prudent in meting out punishment; and (iv) a consistent, visible and fair police authority to enforce laws. Internal security is part and parcel of instituting a just system that ensures that ‘citizens are treated fairly and offered equal access to opportunities under the law’, which ‘in turn creates the political space necessary for people to fulfill their aspirations without the need to deprive others of the same opportunity’ (ibid. 1997: 12). To ensure as far as possible that public policy in multi-ethnic states is implemented fairly by elected governments, many of these states have adopted certain institutions to oversee the operations of the public bureaucracy. In Trinidad, where the public service accounts for the majority of employment, several bodies have been established under the country’s constitution to ensure fair play in job distribution. In turn, these oversight and appeals bodies have tended to be staffed predominantly by members of one community to undertake this task. Ethnic as well political interests render this task paradoxical, if not entirely impossible. Among these bodies are the Public Service Commission, The Police Service Commission, Judicial and Legal Service Commission, and the Teachers Service Commission. These commissions have been charged with the task of personnel management in their respective areas of responsibility (Ragoonath 1996: 3–10). At one level, while
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it has generally been true that these commissions have served well in protecting civil servants from political interference in performing their duties under all regimes, they have become the source of much controversy regarding their pattern of ethnic recruitment, transfers and promotion. One analyst remarked that ‘taking complaints to the Public Service Commission is as good as asking it to investigate itself the common perception among the Indian population was that complaints and appeals were frustrated by the Commission’s chief executive’ (Brown 1999: 376). Trinidad lacks a Human Rights Commission but there is an Ombudsman Commission established to hear grievances by citizens and employees regarding the actions of the government bureaucracy. However, Trinidad’s constitution ‘expressly forbids it from investigating any actions taken by the PSC in respect of personnel matters’ (ibid.). Aggrieved public servants can conceivably take their complaints to the judiciary under the civil rights provisions of the constitution for equal application of the laws against discrimination on the basis of race, but, until 2005, this was too expensive a route to follow. In 2005, a case involving an Indian in the Prison Services who alleged that he was being denied promotion found its way all the way to the Privy Council, which ruled in favour of the plaintiff. In effect, a new recourse is now being made available to review the practices of the Public Service Commission, in the absence of the implementation of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the absence of a Human Rights Commission. If all of the institutions, especially the Public Service Commission, were to be substantially impartial in implementing their functions, they could serve as a veritable vent to contain communalized discontent and simultaneously confer legitimacy on the government. Substantially, the problem is structural. The ethnic structure of the population, the sectional practices of partisan politics, and the course of history ensured that one ethnic community had come predominantly to staff and control the public service, as well as controlling the membership of the various service commissions, for most of the four decades since independence. The point needs to be stressed so as not to suggest that the employment outcomes were derived from any particular ethnic community’s inherent nature or character. But, as was pointed out earlier, because the party in government needs to satisfy the demands of its supporters in order to stay in power and because of the fact that the parties in Trinidad and their supporters are ethnically drawn from one or other of the two major communities, this has led to what appears to be systematic preference for one community or the other. While there is
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a shortage of objective evidence of ethnic discriminatory preference in the recruitment and promotion of personnel in the public service, the perception by the Indian community has been that it has been systematically victimized. It is clear, however, that historical reasons account substantially for the ethnically skewed distribution of public posts in favour of the Afro-Creole community. The upshot has been that while one community overwhelmingly approved the performance of these various regulatory commissions, the other did not. In effect, the very institutions that were supposed to diffuse ethnic and communal tension in their formal commitment to fair play became the source of continuing ethnic acrimony and alienation. To be sure, some attempts have been made to make these commissions more neutral but in Trinidad, these reforms notwithstanding, the popular perception remains unchanged that they are ethnically biased. When the Indian-based UNC government came to power in 1995, it decided to establish a commission to offer redress to the claims of discrimination by Indians. In 1997 the UNC, under Panday, introduced legislation for an Equal Opportunities Commission. After holding extensive consultations, the bill for this commission became law by 1999, but it was vigorously opposed by the PNM, which was then out of power. The next step, following established procedures in the policy-making system in Trinidad with regards to laws passed by parliament, was to have the act officially promulgated by the president of the Republic to bring it into effect for implementation. The scope of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) was limited to the investigation of claims of discrimination and the award of damages and restitution for successful claimants. The EOC could carry out investigations to verify claims of discrimination and could declare certain practices illegal. The general aim was to eliminate acts of overt discrimination against individuals and to facilitate a regime of equality untrammelled by race, religion and ethnicity. Some have argued that it did not specifically prohibit discrimination by gender. The politics of this legislation was clear. The UNC wanted to facilitate the entry of Indians into the public service. However, after the president had promulgated the act, but before the commission was appointed, the UNC government had lost power in a general election and was replaced by the PNM, which has since refused to implement the act. The PNM, while officially supportive of an open and merit-based public service, is in fact fearful of an influx of Indians who could displace its supporters in the public service. The matter is still being argued in court at the time of writing.
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While equitable policies are essential to establish an environment of legitimacy in governing multi-ethnic states, it is often not easy to implement such policies. We shall look at one instance of a public policy that was, in theory, capable of unifying the state but which, in fact, served to inflame ethnic and inter-communal malaise. The case refers to the attempt to establish a National Service. It illustrates the array of ethnocultural interests that are often mobilized in the policy process in multi-ethnic states.
National service In December 1986, when the PNM government was defeated by a broadly based multi-ethnic National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR), it seemed to signify that an ethnically integrated administration would run Trinidad after victory. The rainbow was adopted as the party’s symbol. For the first time in Trinidad’s history, a party that incorporated prominent Black and Indian leaders forged a credible alliance of ethnic harmony and won the election overwhelmingly, by 33 seats to 3 (Premdas 1993c: 136–95). It was the policy of the NAR to enact policies that would deliver on its promise of unifying the ethnic elements in Trinidad. To promote this end, it launched a National Service, aimed at forging a certain amount of cross-communal bridge-building. Said Lincoln Myers, the then cabinet minister who was responsible for implementing the National Service: ‘This country has an unfinished agenda – that of forging a nation out of its many constituent elements. And to do so in ways that respect the uniqueness and differences of these elements’ (Guardian 1990a: 13). Apart from attending to the challenge of national unity, the National Service was also aimed at alleviating the multiple problems of unemployment, crime, drug abuse and lack of discipline among the youths of the country. Youths between the ages of 15 and 24 years constituted about one-fifth of the population, but of this agegroup more than 40 per cent were unemployed. It was also among the youth population that the highest incidence of crime and drug abuse was concentrated in Trinidad. The nation-building aspect of the National Service was very ambitious, since it aimed to encourage the evolution of a common set of outlooks and loyalties to the symbols of a unified nation. The NAR government wanted to transcend ethnic predispositions in the population and orient them towards overarching national interests. But aware that its interest could be easily misunderstood, it stressed that the National Service
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proposal did not entail the ‘submerging of racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural identities’ (ibid.). Most of the youths who were unemployed and involved in crime and drugs were from urban areas and were from low-income African families, but the National Service programme was targeted at the entire youth population, regardless of ethnic origin or class membership. It was not entirely clear whether the proposal would be compulsory or voluntary, residential or non-residential, for one or several years. Aspects of the programme caused distress since it seemed to suggest an element of coercion and support; linked, as it were, to issues of patriotism and loyalty. To get the programme off the ground, the NAR government decided to initiate consultations to obtain popular views on the formulation and implementation of the proposal. In part, the consultations not only sought to elicit popular opinions, but it was hoped that major criticisms and opposition would be anticipated and accommodated. Myers wanted a broad consensus of support to accompany the passage of the proposal into law so that implementation would be easy. Several key actors emerged to oppose the National Service proposal. They were from the Indian community, namely the Maha Sabha and the Muslim Coordinating Council, and also from the African community. Many of the cultural and religious leaders in the Maha Sabha and Muslim Coordinating Council argued that the National Service threatened the interests of their members and community. National Service, if successfully implemented as a comprehensive and universal institution in Trinidad, seemed to promise nothing less than a recasting of the values of the society away from their communal and sectional roots to a wider national community. It was, therefore, likely to evoke the strongest passions. The critique of the National Service by the cultural entrepreneurs and their organizations, the Maha Sabha and Muslim Coordinating Council, was pressed in terms of protecting cherished cultural and religious values and symbols. When Myers introduced his proposals for public debate, this brought forth such fierce emotions that the very fabric of the multi-ethnic social structure was shaken. To the Maha Sabha, the largest Hindu organization in Trinidad, National Service was a threat to the religion and culture of all Hindus. The Maha Sabha argued that from a religious stand point they were opposed to National Service ‘because it is against our karma to engage in community activities before the age of 65’ (Guardian 15 March: 2). But their fears had more to do with inter-ethnic sexual coupling creating the local mixed category, ‘dougla’. Charged the
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Maha Sabha: ‘the state is attempting to “douglarize” the nation through the so-called National Service. The state must desist from coercing the “douglarization” process’ (ibid.). In terms of the racial and cultural divisions that have evolved in Trinidad, this was regarded as a grave accusation. ‘Douglarization’, the term used for inter-racial cohorting with the consequence of bringing into existence a racially mixed population, threatened the Maha Sabha’s boundaries of ethnic membership in the Hindu population. However, this type of hybrid mixing had always happened in the Caribbean, starting with the European colonizers who came, for the most part, without their own mates. Today as much as one-fifth of the Trinidad population is the result of miscegenation, constituted mainly of white– black mixes. The inter-racial mixing, however, had not involved a great many Indians with non-Indians so that this section of the population had projected an image of ethnic and racial exclusivity. With the evolution of Indian – African rivalry and antipathy from early colonial times, there was a greater barrier against Indian – African sexual and marital liaisons. Many Indians did see the National Service as a tool for the promotion of ‘douglarization’. It was the type of issue that triggered the basest of fears and emotions and could pitch discourse at an irrational level of exchange. Frequently, Indians would refer to the National Service programme that was launched in Guyana, where it was alleged that many Indian women were submitted to abuses while in residence (Premdas 1993c). The Muslims among the Indian population also reacted vehemently against the policy for a National Service. At a conference convened specifically to discuss the proposal, the Muslim Coordinating Council condemned the National Service as ‘devilish’. Several Muslim leaders articulated their underlying fears in terms of the douglarization issue. Said one of them: ‘Look what happened in Guyana. The Muslim girls are raped and abused. So we must defend ourselves from this evil plan in the name of Allah’ (Guardian, 26 March 1990d: 1). The Muslim Coordinating Council then resolved to declare ‘jihad’, or holy war on the National Service programme should it be pursued. Declared one of the leaders: ‘The Muslim community will not agree to a National Service, which in the name of nationalism, will serve to undermine our daughters and women folk and which serves through integration to undermine the Muslims loyalty to Islam. Even if it means standing up to fight a jihad, Muslims are prepared’ (ibid.). The Muslim condemnation of the National Service proposal went on to threaten ‘political deaths’ to the advocates of National Service. It
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further attacked other forms of Afro-Creole cultural practices such as calypso, limbo, and Carnival as ‘hypocritical vis-à-vis Islamic beliefs’ and deemed ‘abominable to the Muslim shariah [traditional law]’ (ibid). Consequently, summing up their collective views, the Muslim community saw in compulsory National Service the infringement of their religious rights. The ‘douglarization’ charge by the Indian cultural organizations evoked an equally strident response from the Confederation of African Associations of Trinidad and Tobago. They condemned it as ‘wicked’ for it conjured up images of ‘male members of the African community roaming the land in search of Hindu and other Indian women’ (Guardian, 13 March 1990: 8) The chairman of the African Association of Trinidad and Tobago angrily responded that the Indian organizations were ‘adding insult to injury. At the heart of those claims lie the absurd conceited assumption that the African community is so prone to selfcontempt that it is willing to disappear completely seeking refuge in douglarhood’ (Express, 14 March 1990: 8). The charges and countercharges by the Indian and African organizations were reported on the front pages of the main newspapers in Trinidad. They brought to the boil the underlying inter-ethnic malaise that has characterized African–Indian relations in Trinidad. The texture of the debate had proceeded beyond the boundaries of any sort of shared national understanding and clearly menaced the unity of the state. It underscored the argument that when cultural symbols are involved in a dispute, it tends to become extreme and irrational. But, in terms of our focus here on public policy, this case illustrates some of the peculiar problems that surround and suffuse the collective societal decisionmaking process in multicultural and multi-ethnic states like Trinidad.
In this book, we have considered the issue of distributive justice and governance in both the public and private sectors in Trinidad through the prism of inter-ethnic claims and contests over the distribution of the material and symbolic values of the society. The focus on the distributive dimension, however, is not by itself adequate in coming to grips with the issue of justice more broadly conceived. It requires at least some discussion of the role of institutions, as Iris Marion Young argued: ‘A focus on the distribution of material goods and resources inappropriately restricts the scope of justice, because it fails to bring social structures and institutional contexts under evaluation’ (Young 1990: 20). End state distributive patterns in material goods do not emerge out of thin air; rather, they are shaped by certain institutions and underlying processes that need to be comprehended in their historical, colonial and imperial context. As Young noted: ‘Evaluating patterns of distribution is often an important starting point for questions about justice. For many issues of social justice, however, what is important is not the particular pattern of distribution at a particular moment, but rather the reproduction of a regular distributive pattern over time’ (ibid.: 29). In Chapter 6, we entered an extended discussion on a number of specific institutions that are available for the management of ethnic conflict in special regard to Trinidad. In all of this, it became clear that both a quantitative concept and a qualitative institutional approach to justice served well to complement each other. The institutional dimension, however, was incomplete. It is clear that a background description and analysis of the historical and institutional structures can serve to flesh out the context within which the distribution of the societal, material and symbolic values has persisted in contemporary Trinidad. Hence in this conclusion, among other things, it is necessary that we recapitulate and critically 175
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assess the institutional inheritance from the colonial past, which today throws up special problems of reform that these societies require to implement in order to facilitate democratic and just governance. It raises anew the familiar and fundamental question: What makes a society cohere and makes a society truly a society? These fundamental questions are particularly pertinent and pressing in relation to the condition of cultural pluralism, which overwhelmingly predominates in the states of the contemporary international system. We have utilized the so-called plural society model as a valuable prism through which to look at the problem of unity and division in these societies. Through colonial rule and arbitrary boundary drawing and population transfers, most of the multi-ethnic Third World states have been created. They face the problem of designing an appropriate participatory political system to accommodate the rival claims of their diverse ethnonational communities. The record in this regard is full of the wreckage of post-independence Third World governments, which have tended to jettison their imported and imperially inspired democratic institutional structures and instead succumbed to authoritarian military or one-party regimes, communal violence and instability, ethnic domination and repression, and instances of genocide and secession. This, however, was not inevitable and could have been mitigated, if not avoided. First, the ethno-nationalist forces in these multi-ethnic states must be understood in terms of their workings and dynamics; and secondly, with the availability of a fair amount of institutional knowledge and practices pertaining to the management of ethnic and communal conflict, this knowledge can now be applied to contain ethnic strife and attain a reasonable level of reconciliation and inter-communal coexistence (Montville 1990; Premdas 1996a). As part of this task, it is necessary to look afresh at the Trinidad state as a whole, focusing on the sorts of structures that have been embedded in it. It is these colonially derived features that, to a substantial extent, established the parameters that influenced what transpired in the politics of the post-independence period. It is also these fundamental features that set the limits of what became possible in relation to resolving the persistent problem of inter-ethnic inequality and problems of communal conflict. In all of this, the state stands central. From the inception of the colonial state in Trinidad, its operations were converted into an instrument in the service of alien planter and imperial interests. The state that was created was neither neutral nor representative. It became imbued with the priority accorded European and imperial interests, and the stratification system that was implanted was
plainly ethno-centric as well as racist. The colonial state embodied an order that was unequal and unjust, but, more significantly, it institutionalized practices that laid the cornerstone of ethnic and communal conflict. Several policies of the state produced a society that was unintegrated and conflictual. First, the colonial state deliberately implanted a multicommunal population and settled the immigrant communities in a manner that pitched them against one another. The logic of the communal society that was constructed in Trinidad pointed to a future with a high probability of sectional strife. Not only were there many layers of fairly distinct and divisive communal cleavages in the pattern of colonial settlement, but also, in the absence of equally strong rival overarching integrative institutions, the immigrant groups viewed each other from the perspective of their respective compartments with misinformed fear and much anxiety. The colonial pie was small, most of it allocated to the governing European colonizer element that occupied the top echelon of the colour-class stratification system. Of the remaining jobs and other opportunities, the non-white segments fought among themselves for a share. Hence, from the outset of the creation of the multitiered communal society, African – Indian rivalry for the few scarce values of the colonial order would feature as a fundamental source of inter-communal conflict. It would be sustained by a deliberate policy of ‘divide and rule’, even though it would be mitigated by the urban versus rural pattern of residence among Africans and Indians respectively. What evolved was a social order based on sustained and manipulated communal tensions with no prospect of overcoming the basic divisions in the foreseeable future. Institutionalized divisions with embedded potentials for conflict were the defining features of the system. It is within this larger structural context that the issue of inequality and inequity in the distribution of the material values and the symbols of recognition of the society must be understood. In effect, the problem of justice and inequality is not only to be comprehended in terms of the end result in the distribution of jobs and material shares to Indians and Afro-Creoles, but as being structurally determined by the colonial past as well as by the cultural patterns and institutions that were embedded in the system of governance and control. This is the first and fundamental proposition laying the foundation for the second factor, which we examine next. When Trinidad obtained independence, the state institutions that were bequeathed to the local rulers tended not only to accentuate the ethnic segmentation in the society but also to foster a fear of ethnic
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domination. A communalized variant of the imported parliamentary system fashioned on the zero-sum electoral and party system played a major role in planting this anxiety in the process of structuring and institutionalizing ethnic conflict and competition in the state. While in Britain a body of consensual values had evolved nationally, serving as a means to moderate rivalry over the values of the state, in Trinidad such a system of settlement over basic issues never existed. The rival political parties that would emerge as self-determination beckoned were linked to discrete ethnic clusters and confronted each other in a manner similar to military warfare (Milne 1982; Premdas 1972). After the 1961 election, with the promise of independence soon thereafter, victory by either of the two main parties posed a fundamental threat to the survival of the defeated community. The system of electoral politics enabled the victor in a zero-sum game of competition to assume complete control of the resources of the government. The chance – even a slim one – that this power could be perversely applied to systematically and permanently exclude political and communal opponents posed a threat to the survival of either community. Fear of ethnic domination featured as a critical aspect of the politics of independence. The defeated party in the 1961 election brought with it a more magnified fear that the party in power would be able to redefine the rules of the game permanently without colonial external intervention. For the loser, independence evoked visions of ethnic discrimination, repression and servitude in the functional equivalence of a new kind of colonialism. Added to these events was another critical factor which gave shape to the institutional context of inter-ethnic relations in Trinidad’s plural society. The state was an appendage of the European metropolitan centre for its survival and prosperity. The state utilized its monopoly of violence to enforce an economic, social, cultural and political order to promote the needs of the minority European interests. It would enthrone a capitalist state with the pre-eminence of Europe-centric cultural values and symbols as the measure of achievement and rewards. This would become a powerful motif in post-colonial cultural politics. Finally, apart from the fact that the state was created and marked by a system of ethnic stratification and lacked a consensus over its basic institutions, it was also in its totality the foremost repository of jobs, contracts and other policy opportunities. Any communal party that captured it could bring the state to the service of its own particular interests and simultaneously deprive, punish and peripheralize the others. The main political parties, each representing one or other of the major ethnic groups, recognized the value of capturing the government in its entirety. State power was so
overwhelmingly powerful, concentrated and centralized, that it could be used as an instrument for promoting personal ambition as well as collective ethnic domination. In the period when self-government was sought from Britain, ethnic tensions intensified and all of the institutional features of power and domination assumed reality. The state, then, in its inegalitarian, centralizing and segmented features, was fraught with contradictions and in perpetual crisis, expressed in perennial ongoing tensions, which exploded periodically into ethnic confrontation and violence. This was often manifested during periods of election campaigns waged intensely by the ethnically based political parties that comprehensively mobilized the entire population in a deadly struggle. While the heightened tension was quelled and contained after the elections and a normal façade of peaceful routine resumed, it exploded again during election time. The communal scars that were mutually inflicted during the election campaigns were never healed; rather, they deposited layered sediments of suspicion and hate that thereafter silently pervaded and poisoned all aspects of ‘normal’ inter-ethnic life. The spiral of intensifying ethnic conflict was slowly, but inexorably exacerbated by the way in which the political parties organized the lives of their constituents, the manner in which election campaigns were waged, and the methods by which voluntary civil society associations were enlisted in the struggle for communal ascendancy. This, along with an opportunistic leadership, led almost inevitably to periodic inter-ethnic confrontation. After independence in 1962, and after the repeated general elections that followed with the set pattern of ethnic partisan mobilization, the screws of communal conflict were slowly tightened so that few persons could escape being a coopted participant and being complicit in a system of mutual communal antipathy, distrust and hate. Inter-ethnic relations, especially between Africans and Indians, were marked by covert contempt and distrust. The elements of an impending crisis were then implanted in the daily habits and routines of the population, but were manifested and articulated in the fear of ethnic domination of Indians by Africans and of Africans by Indians. A new drama was unfolding in which the main motif was a struggle for ethnic ascendancy compounded by a politically instigated terror of internal communal colonization. While inter-ethnic interaction was still carried on in the familiar routine of daily life, the same persons in the privacy of their homes and communities enacted a script of racist and communal antipathy, drawing every day perilously closer and closer to open conflagration. In public policy issues, the
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political drums continued surreptitiously to beat on the theme of ethnic claims and exclusivity. In public interaction, each side had contrived a set of secret intra-communal symbols, idioms and nuanced expressions to silently communicate group solidarity erected on an understanding of collective contempt for the other side. Dual roles and schizophrenic personalities dwelt simultaneously in an ethnically split society. Forced to live together by the designs of a colonial conqueror, the sectional elements possessed no experience for inter-communal accommodation. The introduction of mass politics that followed the liberalization of the franchise after the Second World War was betrayed by sectional leaders invoking ethnic loyalty as they organized their supporters and jockeyed for power. There were opportunities for cross-communal collaboration that were not taken by the leaders of the different ethnic groups. These early moments of opportunity for visionary reconciliation and reconstruction were squandered and on the soil of colonially constructed inter-ethnic suspicion was nurtured a political monster obsessed with the fear of communal dominance. One cleavage after another that separated the ethnic segments – race, traditional values, religion, residence and occupation – was reinforced by a mode of modern mass ethno-nationalist politics, from election campaign to election campaign, driving the society regularly to the brink of ethnic confrontation and recklessly courting a fate of ethnic self-destruction. The factors that triggered ethnic conflict were clearly identifiable, but occurred at different times during the evolution of the problem. These factors were: (i) colonial creation of a communally divided state and subsequent ethnic manipulation; (ii) introduction of mass democratic politics under a zero-sum competitive parliamentary and electoral system; and (iii) inter-ethnic rivalry over resource allocation and symbolic recognition. In order to understand the role of these factors that came into play at different points in the evolution of the communal conflict, it is necessary to conceive of the problem cumulatively. At various times, a particular triggering factor deposited a layer of division, which in turn provided the next step for the deposit of a new layer, adding more force to the quietly accumulating crisis. At various points, these accumulations could have been neutralized, if not reversed entirely. It is for this reason that the idea of a trigger is suggested for each stage of the evolving crisis situation. The idea is that there was nothing automatic about the transition to the next stage. To be sure, it would appear that after a number of successive reinforcing deposits of
divisive forces, a critical mass in momentum had been attained so that every issue became inflammable. The first stage can be conceived as the period of colonial settlement when a multi-ethnic society was implanted in Trinidad. In this stage of migration and multi-ethnic settlement was laid what can be called the ‘predisposing factors’ that would later lead to systemic ethnic tensions and conflict. The next stage points to the introduction of the suffrage by stages to enfranchise the non-white sector of the population in the colonial decision-making process. This provided the new active layer of triggering devices that nurtured divisive communal consciousness and promoted ethnic conflict. The ‘democratization process’ occurred when universal adult suffrage and a parliamentary system (under a first-pastthe-post, or winner- takes-all electoral system) were introduced in 1947, bringing the main ethnic communities into head-on confrontation over control of the state. Partisan political mobilization occurred along ethnic lines. Finally, a layer of leadership that was more centred on personal ambition than service on behalf of a unified nation, and discriminatory public policy skewed ethnically against one community or the other, completed the set of conditions that constructed an ethnically divided state that was almost perpetually in a state of crisis over its legitimacy, even-handedness and stability. There are moments in what would appear to be an inexorable move towards establishing a tightly organized and compartmentalized communal order when opportunities for change availed themselves. There was nothing inevitable about the colonially derived ethnic and communal system becoming entrenched as a permanent reality. Ethnic boundaries are notoriously fluid in rapidly changing environments; the organization of ethnically oriented life can at least be modified so as to submit ethnic and communal claims to cross-pressures from functional class and other interests. Once the political levers were wrestled away from the colonial power, it was possible to recast institutions and practices so as to encourage cross-communal cooperation and coexistence. The direction of public policy under a cross-communal party could move away from ethnically inspired employment and resource allocation practices that prevailed under the colonial power. Much of this, however, could only be achieved by a unified interethnic leadership in a new popular mass party committed to alternative paths of development. The task would be gargantuan, flying, at every point, in the face of old communal habits and structural dispositions. But it could have been done. It required leadership with a singleminded vision of cross-communal unity to establish cross-communal
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organizations and policies that would modify and restrain the role of sectionalism in political life. This rare moment of opportunity was allowed to lapse in the period when political parties were first formed and the struggle for self-determination against the colonial order was pursued. In this fateful time of destiny and thereafter, ethnic partisan political parties blossomed and flourished and exacerbated the communal divisions driving the two major communities of Indians and Afro-Creoles apart. The modus vivendi succumbed to a deepening pattern of ethnic priorities that drew the state towards political disaster. The institutional electoral practice of ‘first-past-the post’ simple majority procedure in winning parliamentary seats played a key role in fashioning ethnic partisan politics. Another system, such as the AV electoral system, discussed earlier, would have successfully encouraged inter-ethnic collaboration and promoted inter-ethnic harmony. It was both the colonial institutional bequest as well as local popular practices, especially the role of leadership, which was responsible for the state of affairs that ensued. Yet, it was not only avoidable at the time but still can be redesigned for an equitable and unified society. Clearly, all of this points to the need to fashion institutions of governance that fit with the multi-ethnic structure of the society. Yusuf Bangura poses the enigma thus: What kinds of institutions are appropriate for stability in multiethnic societies? The types of constraints that institutions like property rights, constitutions, parliaments, courts, and party systems may impose on relatively homogeneous societies may be different from those they will generate in ethnically heterogeneous states. Governance reforms in multi-ethnic societies must be sensitive to ethnic structures if they are to create predictability and stability in social relations as well as loyalty to the public domain. Different types of ethnic structures may demand different combinations of reform instruments in ethnically plural states. (Bangura 2001: 5) Fundamentally, then, the focus of the problem relates to the institutional aspects of just governance. Governance addresses the relationship between citizens and the decision-making body of the state. Democratic governance links the choices of authoritative political leaders to the will of the people (Carnegie Commission 1997: 3) However, as Bangura argues, there are special problems of adapting democratic institutions in states that are deeply divided by race, religion and ethnicity, lacking in shared societal values. In the previous chapter, we entered into an
elaborate discourse on the institutional options that are available for the establishment of a democracy in a multi-ethnic setting. These materials constitute a fund of available knowledge. However, the problem of establishing a just and democratic order may not reside on the question of available knowledge. To this issue, we turn next. One of the grievous harms caused by persistent and protracted strife in a multi-ethnic society is the loss of will and capability to reconcile. After many years of ongoing communal struggle, it would appear that a sentiment of fatalism enters into the collective consciousness, compelling the battered psyche to accept the ethnic battlelines, and many adaptations to them, as inevitable and permanent. A new sociocultural architecture of human settlement and communal interaction had emerged with ethnic roles and social institutions defined neatly in terms of unholy compromises and concordances. Usually, while the struggle continues, an odd sort of social stability in personal and group relations emerges and persists. It is, in effect, a dual-level social structure – one marked by clever cordiality, the other more subterranean, and marked by communal anger, hate, plots and silent violence. In effect, even where a set of workable institutional reforms is available to manage ethnic conflict and establish a power-sharing arrangement, there remains the problem of will. A broken will, enfeebled and unprepared for reconciliation, emerges, reinforced by countless symbols of old battles, won and lost, as well by organizations and interests that institutionalize and structure the conflict. To be sure, at various times, the leaders and elites of the various ethnic communities were able to communicate and beat out compromises for inter-communal coexistence. But, as the conflict continues and deepens, even this upper layer becomes a victim of inter-communal intransigence. In the end, the ethnic monster devours everyone. Compromise and cooperation are at the very heart of the developmental process. This is true of all social structures, either integrated or divided. The democratic fabric itself is not only constituted of substantive give and take in beating out public policy, but is also underpinned by a culture and psychology of mutual trust in exchanges. The mortar of cooperation and compromise maintains the integrity of the edifice of society. In the multi-ethnic states of the Third World, the tension in working out mutually satisfactory exchanges is often overstrained by the fact that the cleavages and differences are on ethnic lines. Protracted institutional ethnic conflict is the stuff by which a culture and psychology of cooperation is undermined, rendering collective development difficult, if not impossible. Yet reform towards establishing
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an institutionally just order of governance in multi-ethnic states like Trinidad must be undertaken. The knowledge for reform of the institutions of just governance among the ethnic groups is available and has been analysed at length in this book. While this is clear, it is equally clear that any programme of reform will entail a fundamental re-ordering of the public and private institutions of the society. This may well require third-party intervention as well as a citizenry under capable and inspiring leadership willing to participate in the restructuring exercise.
What can be done? Nearly all of the familiar institutional devices advanced by different analysts attempt to remedy the defective operations of the western parliamentary and presidential forms of government so as better to adapt them to the peculiar circumstances of deeply divided multi-ethnic states. What is important here is that recommendations aimed at managing ethnic strife and establishing governments of national unity are not about fashioning new structures that reflect traditional institutions in these societies, but are aimed at fine-tuning western institutions to fit non-western societies. For example, the state, which is now universally accepted as the main unit of international organization, is a western artifact and is deeply implicated in many of the problems that are linked to the need for governments of inter-ethnic accommodation and harmony. Few recommendations for reform seek the elimination of the state. What is the choice? What can be done? The die seems to be cast already. It is not practical to dismantle the entire state system, even though partitioning and redesigning the borders of some would be most appropriate. The state remains unchallenged, nevertheless, in these reforms. What is equally important in this regard is that most elites in these states accept and defend the state and their colonially defined boundaries. In any case, for the most part, in non-western states, old indigenous traditions are remembered hardly at all or are inappropriate for contemporary governance. Many national elites also unabashedly point out that the western state carries more promise of erecting an order based on equality, justice, security and overall well-being than the antecedent indigenous systems. Despite all of this, the indisputable fact remains that, overwhelmingly, the state and its constitutional structures bequeathed to the Third World offer in poor fit for the local political cultures, undergo frequent breakdowns, and are rarely reformed appropriately or adequately. At times, attempts to reform are aimed not only at adjusting the institutional design, but also at changing
the environment and the people themselves through socialization and education. Practically every institutional adjustment advocated for intercommunal accommodation directly or indirectly seeks to modify indigenous personality structures and cultural patterns. Examples of implied behavioural engineering in the case of fashioning formulae for interethnic accommodation refer to the need for ‘moderate’ or ‘pragmatic’ leaders who can be ‘flexible’ enough to make deals and respond to inducements. Some proposals seek to alter the structure of communal pluralism by stimulating cross-cutting forces through certain strategies for organizing work, industry and/or associational life. To be sure, some proposals accept the fact of pluralism and work with it, but in other respects they still seek to alter behaviour patterns. For some of the proposals, in order for inter-ethnic harmony to be successfully implemented, new societies and personalities need to be invented and crafted. Over the past two decades, a variety of institutional forms have been advanced to fit the need for democracy, stability, unity, legitimacy and justice in deeply divided states. Nearly all of the proposals are constituted of interrelated clusters of institutions and practices. We have looked at the most important of these devices, critically suggesting what opportunities they offer and their limits. By themselves, these institutions, separately or singularly, cannot predict exact consequences. Often, they generate unexpected effects that may be detrimental to the society as a whole. For this reason, institutional engineering should not be a mechanical act of inserting forms into cultures to achieve certain exact results, as in a laboratory. At all times, it should be done by those who are intimately familiar with these societies and their social structures. Equally as critically, it requires the consent of the subjects who are the recipients of these experiments. Because of the ghastly suffering attendant on ethnic and communal conflict, such attempts at reforming a system must be undertaken. It does make eminent sense to borrow appropriate lessons and insights from other systems. It is imperative that a reputable international institution undertakes the task of making this fund of usable knowledge in ethnic conflict management available to deeply troubled societies riven by ethnic dissonance. Third-party intervention, especially in open haemorrhaging ethnic conflicts, is vital. Often, the issue of resource distribution was placed at the centre of the communal conflict in Trinidad, as in other multi-ethnic societies, although it was clear that the fear of ethnic domination and other structural and institutional factors were also pivotal. It is not too difficult to locate the precise time when the question of ethnic shares became an issue in the struggle between the Afro-Creole and Indian
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communal sections. This occurred the moment Indians arrived, serving as a force that curbed the bargaining power of the emancipated slaves for better terms of survival under the colonial system. But the arrival of Africans, Indians, Portuguese and Chinese through voluntary and involuntary migration was part of a larger problem of domination and inequality written into the structural and institutional features of the entire colonial enterprise, in which ethnic communities were only actors and pawns. There was nothing personal or genetic in the manner in which Afro-Creoles and Indians viewed each other with suspicion and distrust on their first encounter. Systemic colonial factors practically preordained their relationship as one marked by fear and later hostility. They did not create the ranking or hierarchical system of status and privilege under which they were forced to coexist and through which they would compete for the benefits and jobs that were available to them. In a sense, the entire colonially constructed ethnic pyramid not only embodied resource allocation but also symbolized and explained its existence. This is clear in relation to the early European settlement and dominance of the state. Hence, the relations between Afro-Creoles and Indians in their later conflictual expression cannot be easily dismissed as derived from competition over scarce resources. It was part of a larger scheme of colonization. This would refer to the broader architecture of institutional factors that came into existence and defined the system of colonial and imperial rule. It was within the larger structure that Afro-Creole and Indian rivalry for resources emerged as a subtext. It was concretely displayed within the institutions, such as the public bureaucracy, which have been implanted. From this historical background, the argument is often advanced in relation to the issue of distributive justice that economic material factors explain Indian – Afro-Creole antipathy, the evidence to buttress this position coming abundantly from claims to jobs and privileges that Afro-Creoles and Indians have made against each other, especially in the post-independence period. Afro-Creoles had claimed the public bureaucracy as their own preserve. Indians were cast in the role of sugar workers and business owners. As increasing numbers of Indians learned the English language, attended public schools, and began to pass qualifying examinations. This gave them competitive access to the public service and to many urban-based jobs and professions. The Indian entry in significant numbers into the public service was seen as an unwarranted intrusion into the Afro-Creole domain. It is clear that scarce resources and competition over jobs did play a role as a triggering factor in sustaining inter-communal conflict. It would seem justified in the light
of the evidence to place this material factor in an important, but not sole or dominant explanatory category in relation to the ethnic division and conflict in the state. Much of the conflict over material resources would be nurtured by the institutions of colonial practice but wrapped in cultural symbols, rendering the problem more deeply embedded and complex and doubly difficult to resolve. Symbols were no less significant than material resources in defining the system of dominance in both colonial and post-colonial contexts. The ethnic state was forged on the anvil of a combination of predisposing and triggering factors. From the very outset, a politically distorted and unjust state was fashioned. The cornerstone of the society was not laid with developmental aims in mind to establish a viable unified human settlement that was just, self-governing and relatively selfreliant. Rather, a multi-ethnic state was fashioned in the service of profits from plantations for export markets. The multi-ethnic factor founded at the outset in the settlement of the Trinidad state fed into all issues, practices and institutions of the state, spilling into the post-independence period.
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affirmative action 5 African–Indian rivalry 42–3, 49, 90 Afro-creoles 25, 35–8, 45, 51, 65–9, 72, 81, 89 Amerindians 27–8 AV electoral system 162–5, 182 Bangura 13–14, 182 Botswana 14 Braithwaite 21 Cabinet 71–2 Carnegie Commission 168, 182 Chinese 34, 65 citizenship 10, 14, 17, 20, 85 colonial hegemony 75–9, 87 colonial state 176–9, 184 conflict resolution mechanism 15 constitutional reform 44–8 cultural property 92–3 decentralization 165–7 decolonization 44–8 Despres 3, 10, 15 distributive justice 1, 3, 10–11, 15–16, 175, 186 divide and rule 177 Douglarisation 173 Elections and Boundaries Commission 138–9 election campaign 18, 23, 117–20, 179–80 Emancipation Day 101 ethnicity 2, 82 boundaries 181 conflict 5, 21 domination 178–9 elections 110–3 parties 178, 182 political parties 110–3
representation 49, 51–8 theories 82–5 state 181 stereotypes 38–9, 40–3 ethnic domination 175–9 ethno-cultural communities 1 equal opportunity 6, 7 equality 2–11 equity 6, 12, 34, 45, 50, 53, 62, 71, 82, 84, 107, 110, 118, 152, 153, 155, 156 Equity Commission 49, 107, 155 Fiji 9, 160–1 French creoles 35, 65–6, 72 Furnivall 19–24 governance 14, 17, 23, 175–7, 182, 184 GOPIO 151 Gurr, Ted 167 Henry, Paget 39 Hindus 27, 31, 42, 43, 47, 71, 81, 95, 100, 135, 148, 149, 152, 172 Hosay 79 Horowitz 2, 162–5 Human Rights Commission 169 humanitarian crisis 2 Indians 30–4, 51, 56, 89 inter–ethnic rivalry 15 Jamaat-al-Muslimeen 128–7, 144–4 justice 1, 3–11, 13, 15–16, 177 leadership 180–2 Lijphart 15, 23, 162–4 197
198 Index Maha Sabha 97, 99, 103, 149, 151, 172, 173 Malaysia 158, 160, 161, 164 Marxists 21 Mauritius 14 Marronage 78 membership 85 Misra 76, 97, 98 Montville 176 Muslim Council 172–4
sectoral balance 9–10, 154–5 Smith, M.G. 19, 21–4 Social Identity Theory 6 symbols 1, 3, 9, 11–12, 16, 178, 180, 187 Syrians 14, 34–5, 65
Naipaul 17, 43–4, 105 NAR 47–8, 114–6, 120–1, 123–6, 159 National awards 149–52 National Service 171–4 Nozick 5 OSSICC 103–7 Ombudsman Commission
Ragoonath 168 recognition 147–8 refugees 2 representative bureaucracy 155–7 resource allocation 2, 15, 152–7, 180, 185–6 reverse discrimination 5 Robinson, A.N.R. 47–8, 72–3, 139–40, 159
plural society 19–24 PNM 26, 45–7, 113 Pichakaree 98–9 power sharing 157–65 political campaign 119–20 Portuguese 30, 65 plural society 176 presidency 72–4 private sector 61–9 public bureaucracy 49 public policy 167–74, 181 Public Service Commission 169
Tajfel 7 Taylor, Charles 147–8 Taylor and Moghaddam UNC
26, 45, 113, 137–9, 159–60
Walzer 2 winner-takes-all 11, 23, 112, 153, 157, 181 World Bank 14 Young, Iris Marion
23, 178, 180