Diaspora and Ethnic Contestation in Guyana

  • Ralph PremdasEmail author
  • Bishnu Ragoonat
Living reference work entry


Guyana, an ethnically bipolar state has suffered immense developmental damage as a consequence of competitive partisan elections based on communal mobilization. After colonial control was relinquished, the country fell into two and half decades of corrupt authoritarian ethnocratic rule. In 1992, free and fair elections were restored, but in succeeding general elections, the pattern of ethnic preference persisted. The discovery of immense petroleum resources in 2016 is about to confer unprecedented wealth on this small country of about 800,000 people. The problem now consists in the challenge to overcome the bipolar ethnic antagonism between Indians and Africans even as the new wealth itself threatens to unleash its own form of curse.


Ethnic bipolarity Communal elections Authoritarian rule Walter Rodney Cheddi Jagan Forbes Burnham Cooperative republic ExxonMobil Resource curse 


Situated on the northeast shoulder of South America, Guyana with only about 746,955 people is the only English-speaking state in South America. A former British colony independent since May 1966, Guyana’s peoples are a multiethnic polyglot (Table 1) derived mainly from Africa and Asia; they are embroiled in persistent ethnic inter-communal strife that has left the country deeply divided and chronically unstable resulting in as many Guyanese living within the country as outside (Despres 1967; Premdas 1995; Spinner 1984; Williams 1991; Morrison 1998). From its colonial history, a society of ethno-cultural compartments has emerged with various forms of inter-communal antagonisms of which the African-Indian dichotomy dominates all dimensions of daily life. Its multiethnicity has been created mainly by the importation of immigrants from other countries to meet the colonial demands for labor on plantations (Smith 1962).
Table 1

Ethnic distribution of the Guyanese population

Ethnic group

Percent and total


39.8 (297,493)


29.2 (218,483)

Mixed Races

19.9 (148,532)

Portuguese and Europeans

0.26 (1910)


0.8 (1377)


10.5 (78,492)

Source: Ministry of Information: 2012 Census

The majority of the population are diaspora, as shown in the 2012 census figures below.

The Making of a Multiethnic State

In the seventeenth century, the Dutch were the first European settlers; they established plantation production of coffee, cotton, and sugar which required massive amounts of cheap labor. After the Amerindians and “Poor Whites” were experimented with, massive numbers of African slaves were imported. The Dutch were evicted by the British in 1803, and in 1807, the British slave trade with Africa was halted, and in 1833 slavery was abolished. The anticipated dearth of labor after the freeing of the slaves prompted the planters to recruit, between 1835 and 1840, small batches of German, Portuguese, Irish, English, Indian, and Maltese laborers. In the end, Asian Indians proved most adaptable, economical, and available. They came, under 5-year contract indentures (Nath 1950). The first batch of Indians (396) arrived in the colony during May, 1838. With the exception of a brief interruption in the early 1840s, Indian immigration continued until the indentureship system was abolished in 1917 (Nath 1950). Between 1838 and 1917, approximately 238,960 Indian laborers arrived in Guyana. An additional 707 Indians were imported as free settlers between 1917 and 1926. At the expiration of their indentures, nearly two-thirds opted to remain as permanent residents.

After the abolition of slavery, few Africans returned to the sugar plantations, for their place was taken gradually by the arrival of indentured laborers. Employment in urban centers attracted many Africans; migration to the cities proceeded apace so that by 1891, Africans constituted about 47.19% of the colony’s urban population. Between 1900 and 1965, this figure stabilized at roughly 50%. Africans who have remained in villages constitute about 20% of the total village population; most live predominantly in African villages. Paralleling their concentration in urban centers, Africans increasingly provided the staff for government service so that by 1950, Africans dominated every department of the civil service. In 1960, some 73.5% of the security forces, 53.05% of the civil service, 62.29% of the government agencies, and 58.87% of teachers in primary education were Africans.

Many Indians acquired farmland contiguous to the estates in exchange for giving up their contractual right to return to India. Gradually, however, many Indians moved away from the sugar estates, turning completely to peasant farming. A series of Indian villages sprang up, mainly within a radius of 10 to 15 miles of plantation lands. In the 1960s, 25.5% of the Indian population was on the sugar plantations, 13.4% in urban centers, with the remaining 61.1% found in villages. Guyana’s Indians are therefore predominantly rural dwellers, living mainly in Indian villages and on land adjacent to the sugar plantations. Indians, known for their thrift, invested their savings in small businesses and in the education of their children. Increasingly after the World War I, they began to compete for places in the civil service and the teaching profession, but prior to World War II, Indian participation in the governmental bureaucracies was negligible. According to the 1931 census, Indians constituted 8.08% of all persons in the public service, and nearly half of them were in the lower grades such as messengers. Out of 1,397 teachers, only 100 were Indians. By 1964, when Indians constituted slightly over half the country’s population, their social, political, and economic condition had improved so dramatically that they constituted 33.16% of the civil service, 27.17% of government agencies and undertakings, and 41.49% of teachers in primary education. Indians not only regard themselves as a separate community in Guyana but are perceived by other Guyanese as a distinct entity.

Portuguese also were imported as indentured laborers to serve on plantations. Between 1834 and 1890, the period of Portuguese immigration, over 32,000 Portuguese from Madeira arrived in Guyana. Many Portuguese returned home with savings after serving their indentures, but most stayed in the colony. Those who remained immediately abandoned the estates and entered the retail trades. Chinese were the last of the indentured laborers brought to Guyana (Fried 1956). The first Chinese immigrants landed in 1853; by 1880, a total of only 13,533 had arrived. The Amerindians, who also preceded the arrival of Africans, are the descendants of the original people of Guyana (Saunders 1987). When the first colonist arrived, there were 19 tribes with about 700,000 Amerindians. This number had diminished significantly so that by 1969, the Amerindian Lands Commission estimated the number of Amerindians as 32,203 living in 138 communities.

Thus then would a multiethnic plural society be formed constituted of East Indians, Africans, Amerindians, “Coloreds” (Mixed Races), Portuguese, Europeans, and Chinese. Slavery and indenture were the twin bases on which successful colonization occurred. A work force of culturally divergent immigrants was recruited to labor on plantations in the New World. The different patterns of residence, occupation, and political orientations by the imported groups reinforced the original differences of the settlers laying from the inception of colonization the foundations of Guyana’s multiethnic politics. By the beginning of the twentieth century, certain features were clearly embedded in the social system. A communally oriented, multiethnic society was being fashioned and institutionalized. Several layers of cleavage appeared and reinforced each other. Hence, separating East Indians and Africans were religion, race, culture, residence, and occupation. Multiple coinciding divergences deepened the divisions without the benefit of a sufficiently strong set of countervailing integrative forces. To be sure, most immigrants participated in varying degrees in a commonly shared school system, national laws, color-class stratification system, and experiences in suffering. At an elementary level, there was even a measure of shared cross-communal class unity at places where Indians and Africans worked such as certain factories or labor gangs. But these were few and far between.

Decolonization and Ethnic Mass Politics

The twentieth century would witness the unleashing of new forces which would eliminate the seemingly permanently set colonial structures of dominance in Guyana. Against the trajectory of a divided society consigned to perpetual internal strife dominated by a manipulative colonizer, a new tidal force of unity was unleashed in an independence movement. A common enemy in colonialism impelled the emergence of cross-communal leadership which mobilized non-white workers and others to challenge the plantocracy, the color-class value system, the unjust distribution of jobs and privileges, and all the other iniquitous aspects of the multiethnic immigrant society. A multiethnic independence movement called the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was formed under the leadership of two charismatic sectional leaders, one an African (Forbes Burnham) and the other, an Indian (Cheddi Jagan). They successfully won the first elections but almost immediately after victory engaged in a rivalry over sole leadership of the PPP. In the end, this led to a fatal split in the independence movement along ethnic lines. The two leaders parted company and formed their own party, and thereafter Guyana was transposed into a territory riven by deep and destructive ethnic and racial politics (Premdas 1996). A new type of party emerged constructed on the discrete ethnic fragments into which the old unified party had broken. Following the historic split of the national independence party, the PPP, two new factional parties emerged around the leadership of Dr. Jagan and Mr. Burnham. After the 1955 split, a general scramble commenced between the Jaganite and Burnhamite factions to ensure that Indians and Africans respectively stayed with their ethnic leaders. Sectional identification with the two major parties emerged as a fundamental fact of Guyanese politics. Apanjaat, the local colloquial term for “vote for your own kind,” was the dominant factor which governed the political choices of nearly all Guyanese. Everyone expected an Indian to support and vote for the PPP and an African for the PNC.

The spiral of intensifying ethnic conflict slowly but inexorably exacerbated by the way the political parties organized the lives of their constituents, the manner in which election campaigns were waged, and the method by which voluntary associations were enlisted in the struggle for communal ascendancy, led almost inevitably to cataclysmic inter-ethnic confrontation and civil war. Between 1961 and 1965, the screws of communal conflict were slowly tightened so that few persons could escape being a coopted participant in a system of mutual communal hate. Inter-ethnic relations especially between Africans and Indians were increasingly marked by covert contempt and deceptive distrust. The elements of an impending explosion were registered first 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. Introduced mass politics was betrayed by sectional leaders jockeying for power. A moment of opportunity for reconciliation and reconstruction was squandered, and the innocence of legitimate inter-ethnic suspicion was nurtured into a 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 that drove the society to the brink of self-destruction.

After the 1961 elections, in the aftermath of an intensively organized ethicized election campaign and with the promise of independence soon thereafter, the victory by Cheddi Jagan’s Indian-based PPP posed a fundamental threat to the survival of Africans, Mixed Races, Europeans, Amerindians, Chinese, and Portuguese. 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. In the multilayered communal order established by the colonial power, an interdependent economy of specialized parts, each part dominated by one ethnic group, was institutionalized. No ethnic group could live without the other.

The impending ethnic catastrophe in Guyana following the 1961 elections was compounded by a second factor apart from the inter-communal conflict and the attendant fear of ethnic domination. Ideology assumed a salient role, for Dr. Jagan’s PPP unabashedly espoused a Moscow-oriented socialist policy for the transformation of colonial Guyana (Jagan 1966). More specifically, Guyana under the avowed Marxist-Leninist Cheddi Jagan sought a new radical direction at the inopportune time that Cuba under Castro had become an acutely uncomfortable thorn in the side of the United States. After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, President Kennedy had firmly decided that there would not be another Cuba in the Western Hemisphere (Schlesinger 1965). Defiantly, Dr. Jagan had declared unreserved support for Fidel Castro calling him the greatest liberator of the twentieth century. Guyana was still a colony at the time. Hence, the PPP government posed a triple threat to various opponents, both internal and external. First, the Burnham-led PNC representing mainly the African section saw Jagan’s PPP as a communal threat in the possibility of permanent ethnic domination. Second, the laissez-faire capitalist-oriented United Force (headed by Portuguese businessman Peter D’Aguiar), representing for the most part the well-off non-African non-Indian sections of the Guyana population, feared the PPP because of the communist threat to private property. Third, the Kennedy regime feared the PPP because of its threat to the geopolitical security interests of the United States in the Western Hemisphere in the context of Cold War politics (Sheehan 1967).

Seizure of Power and Ethnic Domination by the PNC

After the historic 1964 elections which witnessed the defeat of Jagan’s PPP, the new coalition of Forbes Burnham and Peter D’Aguiar acceded to power. Subsequently, disenchantment between the UF and PNC grew to intense proportions destroying the coalition. About 6 months before the elections, party crossings in parliament, giving the PNC a majority, allowed the party to evict the UF from the coalition government. The PNC reconstituted the Electoral Commission, staffing it with its own sympathizers and changing the procedures of administering the elections. In the 1968 elections, in what would be established incontrovertibly as rigged elections, involving tens of thousands of fictitious votes, an astounded UF and PPP witnessed a PNC “victory” at the polls (Guyana 1984). We refer to the 1968 elections as “a seizure of power.” By declaring Guyana a republic, Burnham thwarted legal challenges to the election results that would have led to adjudication by the Privy Council of England (Burnham 1970).

From mid-1968 onward, Burnham would preside over a minority government kept in office by repeated electoral fraudulence and a politicized and ethnically sanitized army and police. The “seizure of power” in 1968 was a watershed in ethnic relations in Guyana. In a multiethnic society, the PNC representing a minority African group (32%) grabbed the government. To avert internal disruption, the PNC government embarked on purging the critical pillars of its power – the coercive forces and the civil service – of most of its non-African elements. Where communal malcontents did not strike and demonstrate, many migrated to Europe and North America. Especially this became the case of the Europeans, Chinese, and Portuguese. The massive migration of this group from Guyana left a society predominantly polarized between Africans and Indians. Toward the end of 1969, then, the PNC regime proclaimed a socialist framework for Guyana’s reconstruction. In 1970, Guyana was declared a “cooperative republic.” From private enterprise, the economy was to be founded on cooperatives as the main instrument of production, distribution, and consumption. But crises continued to bedevil the regime. The government ran a gauntlet besieged by high unemployment (30%), underemployment (36–40%), double-digit inflation, demonstrations, boycotts, strikes, and, later on as a result of the Arab-Israeli war, prohibitive fuel costs. A vicious cycle of poverty was created by a pattern of polarized and unstable ethnic politics intermixed with the salve of socialist rhetoric and programmatic justifications.

Between 1971 and 1976, the government nationalized nearly all foreign firms bringing 80% of the economy under state control (Thomas 1983). These public agencies were staffed overwhelmingly by the regime’s communal supporters. The police, security, and armed forces, in particular, were expanded to protect the besieged PNC government (Hintzen and Premdas 1982). The judiciary also came under the PNC’s regime’s direct influence. The appointment of judges and magistrates was routinely based on party loyalty (Premdas 2017). The polarization of the two main ethnic races was probably attributable as much to ethnic chauvinism among PNC activists as to PPP boycotts and strikes against the government. The economic situation had deteriorated so badly that toward the end of the 1970s, the impact reverberated adversely on everyone alike, regardless of ethnic membership. Strikes and demonstrations and other challenges to Burnham’s power increasingly came from all ethnic segments including Africans. The arsenal of coercive powers previously used against Indians was now used against African dissidents also. Among the victims of the purge was famed scholar Walter Rodney (Rodney 1980).

Since 1968 when the PNC first rigged the elections, and repeated fraudulence in 1975, 1980, and 1985, systematically cutting down all its opponents in the process, the ruling regime retained power from external Western support because of its anticommunist stand. In 1992, however, in, the wake of the disappearance of the Cold War, the United States and the West abandoned their support of anticommunist authoritarian regimes and actively embarked on sponsoring democratic governments based on free and fair elections and respect for individual human rights. It was this external factor above all else that led to the first free and fair elections, which were actively promoted by the Atlanta-based Carter Center, which had overseen similar elections in Nicaragua, Panama, Haiti, and Zambia. The repressive PNC government was thereby shorn of its Cold War shield of protection and compelled in a new international order of human rights and democracy to submit itself to the voice of the electorate.

In the watershed elections of 1992, Guyana witnessed the ousting of the People’s National Congress (PNC) regime from power (Premdas 1993). Led by Dr. Cheddi Jagan, the old sell-styled Marxist-Leninist who in the Cold War setting of the 1960s was maneuvered out of power by covert US-British interference, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was voted back to power in free and fair elections. Central to the October 5, 1992 elections was the electoral machine itself, the procedure by which political power is legitimized in democratic settings. The words “free,” “fair,” and “transparent” became the defining terms and the substantive feature of the elections. The elections were about the elections – its authenticity and its honesty.

After nearly three decades of exclusion, the PPP regained power in 1992 as well as in the successive elections of 1997 and 2001. In 1996, Cheddi Jagan died in office, and his wife, Janet Jagan, succeeded to the Presidency. During its new tenure, the PPP restored much health to the economy but failed in forming a government of national unity across the ethnic divide that separated Indians from Africans. The PPP had promised to form a government of national unity during its successful campaign to oust the PNC from power. It failed to follow through in sharing office not only with the African-based PNC but with a number of smaller multiethnic parties which were its electoral allies. In addition, the PPP dragged its feet in reforming the old “imperial constitution” against which it inveighed while it was out of power.

The neglect of the political aspects of power in the reconciliation of PPP and PNC followers came back to haunt it in the subsequent elections of 1997 and 2001. While the PPP had benefited from a demographic shift in favor of an Indian majority, the PNC faced a permanent minority condition in a society that was deeply polarized and in which ethnic identity determined voter preference. In the 1997 elections, the PPP won but the PNC was unwilling to accept defeat. Its supporters practically seized Georgetown, the capital city which was its stronghold, claiming that the elections were rigged. Independent recounts showed that the PNC supporters were wrong; the PNC did lose. But, what was at stake was not merely an arithmetic count of ballots but the fate of a communal section who felt that they were doomed to permanent domination under the governance of another community. The facts of the PPP term in office suggested that on balance, the PPP did not overly discriminate against Afro-Guyanese. The facts were irrelevant however with the PNC portraying the PPP regime as racist and communalist. Controlling Georgetown and the loyalty of the public service and the coercive forces which were predominantly staffed by Afro-Guyanese, the PNC was in a position to nullify in practice the election victory of the PPP through persistent demonstrations and riots. Accompanying the PNC intransigence was widespread communal violence reminiscent of the 1963–1964 period when similar strife wreaked havoc on the country’s social fabric leaving deep scars and memories of hurt. The PNC riots and demonstrations came to an end in a political compromise which abbreviated the PPP’s 5-year tenure by 2 years. Mrs. Jagan, the European widow of the deceased PPP leader Cheddi Jagan, hounded by the PNC, stepped down as President of Guyana ostensibly for reasons of health and was succeeded by an Indian, Bharrat Jagdeo. Meanwhile, as part of the PPP-PNC agreement, a new constitution was supposed to be negotiated incorporating elements of power sharing. New elections came again in 2001, and again in a familiar cycle of a PPP victory, the PNC argued that the elections were rigged and mounted protracted demonstrations and strikes that brought the government to a standstill leading eventually to a political compromise. The PPP under President Jagdeo remained in power but agreed to the establishment of a number of bipartisan committees which made policy recommendations on a wide variety of subjects expected to be implemented by the government. Even this very limited cooperation floundered with the PNC withdrawing from the committees as well as the national parliament threatening more street demonstrations. The stalemate was broken taking a turn for the better after the death of the Opposition PNC Leader, Desmond Hoyte and the accession of Robert Corbin as the new party leader in late 2002. Not only have the bipartisan committees been resurrected but also the Opposition PNM has returned to the parliament. Even an Ethnic Relations Commission has been established. While these arrangements manifested a tenor of power sharing, it has failed to make much of an impact on the ethnically divided population, deeply suspicious of each other, in reconciliation or healing.

The PPP would win the next elections again in 2011, but it would lose power in 2015 to a multiethnic coalition of parties called APNU led by the African-based PNC. An analysis of these election results showed that ethnic partisan pattern persisted. Dramatic events would intervene in 2016 with the discovery of huge oil deposits off the coast of Guyana in an event that would challenge the leaders of the ethnically based parties to overcome their primordial loyalties for a wider unity that transcends ethnic preference in voting and policy behavior. Fears abound that the old pattern of ethnically bipolar politics would prevail against all reasons.


Essential to the analysis of Guyana’s communal strife is the creation of an “ethnic state,” a concept that alludes to the descensus in the social demographic structure created by colonialism. The multiethnic state in Guyana, as in many parts of the Third World, was a colonial artifact. State and nation were not co-terminus entities; rather, the colonial state deliberately spawned an ethnically segmented social and cultural fabric. The role of the state in the creation of the underlying conditions of communal conflict is therefore critical to an understanding of Guyana’s difficulties. In looking at the state, attention is focused not only the policies related to the formation of a multiethnic society but also on the political institutional apparatus through which state power is contested. Specifically, this refers to the competitive parliamentary system that was engrafted onto Guyana as part of the state apparatus and that engaged parties in zero-sum struggles for power. When Guyana obtained independence, the state apparatus that was bequeathed to the local rulers was the most highly articulated and developed set of institutions in the entire society. However, it was trammeled by an institutional political apparatus that tended to accentuate the ethnic segmentation in the society. A particular variant of the imported parliamentary system fashioned on the zero-sum electoral and party system in Britain played a major role in structuring and institutionalizing ethnic conflict and competition in the state. The rival parties, linked to discrete ethnic clusters, confronted each other in a manner similar to military warfare over fundamental issues on the form of the society, economy, and polity. The salient issue was that the mode of conflict resolution in collective decision-making that was adopted tended to encourage the formation of ethnic groupings which in turn competed for outright control of all the values of the state. Zero-sum parliamentary contests do not encourage sharing or fixed proportions. This meant that the stakes were high in the contest for political power and victory viewed as conquest. A system of pre-arranged results with guaranteed minimum rewards would have tended to depoliticize the intensity and stakes in the contests enabling the defeated a share in the polity and society (Lijphart 1977). This is particularly important in a setting where the constituent elements in the population are cultural communities which share few overarching traditions and institutions.

The logic of the communal society implanted in Guyana pointed to a future of inevitable sectional strife (Despres and Premdas 1996). Not only were many layers of fairly distinct communal divisions erected, but 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 hostility. The colonial pie was small, most of it allocated to the governing European colonizer element occupying the top echelon of the color-class stratified system. Of the remaining jobs and other opportunities, the non-white segments fought among themselves for a share. African-Indian rivalry for the few scarce values of the colonial order would feature as a fundamental source of inter-communal conflict from the outset of the creation of the multi-tiered communal society. It would be sustained by a deliberate policy of divide and rule but would be mitigated by the urban-rural pattern of residence especially of Africans and Indians, respectively. What had evolved assuming the pretensions of a society was an order based on sustained and manipulated communal conflict without any prospect of overcoming these basic divisions in the foreseeable future. Institutionalized division and embedded conflict were the defining features of the system in perpetuity. Or so it seemed even at the end of the nineteenth century.

The Future Trajectory? Some Concluding Remarks

The trajectory of Guyana’s pattern of ethnic politics will soon be challenged by the arrival of new wealth anticipated in 2020 when ExxonMobil will commence oil production. This is expected to provide unsurpassed revenues for Guyana and raises fundamental issues regarding the future of the country. It is important to explore what this could conceivably mean in this concluding section of the essay. With the sugar industry becoming unprofitable, petroleum will constitute the main pillar of Guyana’s economy. Without a government of national unity that brings Indians and Africans together, chances are that the spoils of petroleum will become a curse stemming from the anticipated ethnic rivalry that will be enacted in the familiar pattern. Apart from the threat of a new oil-based ethnic conflict, Guyana faces a serious border problem with its militarily superior neighbor, Venezuela. Guyana’s territorial boundaries are contested by Venezuela on the West claiming about 130,000 km2 or 60% of the entire country and Suriname on the east claiming another significant segment, about 6,000 km2. Guyana’s oil-rich region which is about 50 miles off shore from its northern coast has now been claimed by Venezuela. In making the deal with ExxonMobil for the exploitation of the oil in contested territory, the United States has declared that it does not accept Venezuela’s claims. In the absence of a credible Venezuelan threat, clearly, this implies that Guyana will have to manage its massive new revenues within the context of its pattern of ethnic competition.

The literature on oil and gas (and other resources) exploitation following major discoveries that has witnessed a pattern of boom and bust describes the experience as “a resource curse” (Acar 2017; Sachs et al. 2007). According to its chief proponents (Sachs and Warner 2001; Auty 2001), this adverse consequence is empirically based on patterns found between 1970 and 1990 in nearly all of 95 cases examined (except Malaysia and Mauritius). Apart from the argument that the sudden booms in wealth and revenues tend to lead to distortion in the development of the economy labelled the “Dutch disease,” there are also negative social and political consequences that have a direct bearing on Guyana. Specifically, a distributive crisis may occur as partisan and factional conflicts arise when different interests compete for “a fair share” or control over the wealth. This distributive crisis is likely, in the case of Guyana to take on an ethnic form. Inequalities are also likely to become wider and insidious, both between sectors and individual workers’ wages, where the rewards of workers in the boom sector are privileged, provoking unrest and organized discontent that may spillover into disorder and systemic instability. The wealth may also attract external bidders triggering another conflict as exemplified by the claims of Venezuela. Thus, conflicts both internal and external may eventuate destabilizing the country suddenly blessed with oil or mineral wealth. The resource curse argument points also to the creation of weak governments stemming from these conflicts, and further the additional wealth tends to create the conditions for corruption. In this vein, it is also argued that when domestic decision-makers discover that they are not accountable to the general population for the wealth, they in turn become unresponsive to popular will, and thus this undermines democracy and promotes authoritarianism.

The “resource curse” thesis is however hotly contested by other researchers who empirically examined a different set of countries like Chile, Botswana, Canada, Finland, the United States, and Sweden and came to the opposite conclusion (Maddison 1994; Maxwell 2001). They have argued that there was nothing inevitable about the decline of economic growth and the instigation of political conflict and instability when the economies of these oil/mineral-rich states are properly managed. In effect, part of the resource curse is traced to financial mismanagement and inappropriate economic planning and short-sighted strategy. Thus, in challenging the resource curse hypothesis, they point to other causes of decline in governance and rise of social and political tensions in those developing countries which have been blessed by sudden oil/mineral wealth. They suggest institutional and structural factors that account for the collapse and crisis following the boom. All of this points to the role of the ethnic bipolarity in Guyanese social structure as a likely institutional factor in determining the impact of the upcoming oil boom.


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© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of the West Indies TrinidadSt. AugustineTrinidad and Tobago
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of the West Indies TrinidadSt. AugustineTrinidad and Tobago

Section editors and affiliations

  • Melani Anae
    • 1
  1. 1.Pacific Studies|School of Māori Studies and Pacific Studies, Te Wānanga o WaipapaUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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