(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 15 August 2010)
While studying journalism in college, would-be reporters are taught to look at an issue from every possible side. This is drilled into our heads. If I turned in an article that did not approach every side of an issue, I was given a failing grade. Semester after semester of this training forces journalism students to search long and hard to question all aspects of a matter.
I have to admit that although I have always been one to question authority, before my journalism training I did not personally have the capacity to objectively approach any given matter. I saw issues as black and white, with very little or no grey area left for the ideas of others. When I approach an issue now, I have the capacity to step outside of the matter and objectively view it from every side possible.
In my opinion, politicians should be forced to undergo this same type of training to teach them to objectively approach matters in need of conflict resolution. Governing is all about people. Democracy is government of the people, by the people, for the people. And whenever people are involved – conflict is bound to arise.
Life is full of conflicts, these conflicts can be found in our personal relationships, business relationships, in politics or even on an international level between countries. As such we have no other choice than to learn how to resolve conflict, so it does not turn into an all-out fight – or in national issues, a revolt or war – which can at the very least ruin relationships or worse, destroy lives.
For example, the health and well-being of thousands upon thousands of people is at risk when trash piles up in the streets. However, the relationship between the Georgetown City Council and the central government is such that the two groups are beyond establishing any talks that could have resolved the issue earlier.
In mulling over this topic of conflict resolution for the last couple of weeks, I have found it interesting to see the opinions of government agents on this issue. In his column on August 6, Freddie Kissoon touched on President Jagdeo’s response to a Stabroek News reporter’s question on political compromise. Jagdeo said in part, “The people in opposition want to get in government and the people in government want to stay in government. So you will always have conflicts and one side needs to make the other side look bad and the other side needs to talk about what they are doing.” This response is as far from the concept of conflict resolution as the sun is from the moon.
In an article on power-sharing published in this newspaper last Friday, General Secretary of the PPP, Donald Ramotar, “explained that the PPP can only partner with political parties that it could trust, and the opposition have consistently said as well as done different things, consequently, the PPP did not partner with them. He said that it would be to the detriment of the nation should his party place power in the hands of people who would abuse it.”
In other words, Jagdeo maintains that trust is not to be had between what he views as rival political parties and Ramotar says no power-sharing can happen where there is no trust. This philosophy effectively puts all opposition parties at a dead end. In short, only those who have voted for the PPP have viable representation in Guyana and the representatives of the rest are indefinitely impotent.
This causes a very big problem. According to “The Third Side” by William Ury (a book on how to resolve conflict), the single biggest reason people fight is the lack of an alternative to coercion when conflict turns serious. When the PPP shuts out all opposition groups in the governing process, it gives them no recourse by which to operate in their roles as representatives of the people who voted for those in the opposition parties.
This philosophy of exclusion by the government not only shuts out all opposition groups, but their electorate as well, leaving a very large portion of the people of the nation feeling frustrated and desperate. No good can ever come of such a state of affairs. Good governance of the people, by the people, for the people cannot happen when such a sizable segment of the people are silenced.
The government puts civil discourse at risk by employing this philosophy of exclusion.
The governing party, while blindly believing itself and its electorate to be above the day-to-day political ruckus as long as it holds the balance of power, has instead frustrated the rest of its fellow countrymen to the point that the harmony of the entire nation is quickly becoming an issue.
Moreover, those who do not see the value of cooperative mediation concerning conflict are short-sighted because power is fluid, never staying in the hands of one person or group indefinitely. There will always come a day when power shifts hands and when it does, if those who previously possessed the power were obstinate and unmoving in addressing conflict – they can expect the same type of treatment in return.
The writing is on the wall and it says the PPP should find a way to govern all the people of the nation justly.