Roger Khan and the Security Dilemmas
August 9, 2009 | By KNews | Filed Under Features / Columnists, Ravi Dev
The calls came fast and furious in the wake of the newspaper reports: “What in the world did Simels want to see you for?” That, as a matter of fact, had been my question when publisher of the Kaieteur News, Glenn Lall, had contacted me back in 2007. “He’s read your articles on the web and wants to discuss some of them as background to Roger Khan’s activities in Guyana,” Glenn assured me. We met in the offices of Kaieteur News.
Simels restated the position that Khan had expressed publicly in full-page ads in the Guyanese papers a year earlier. To wit that he, “at his own expense”, had aided the state – specifically “the crime fighting sections of the Guyana Police Force” - when it and primarily supporters of the government had come under sustained, vicious and murderous attacks during the “crime spree of 2002”.
Simels was going to use this assertion as the basis of his defence of Khan against US charges of drug smuggling. His client was a patriotic “businessman” who had stemmed the anarchy unleashed by opportunistic opposition elements.
From his research on the web, he felt that the theory of “Ethnic Security Dilemmas”, which I had proposed as the drivers of the dysfunctional politics of Guyana, offered an explanation as to why a private citizen would be forced to get involved into a situation that ordinarily should have been handled by the country’s security forces.
The theory, of course, suggests that because Guyana has two ethnic groups that approach each other in size, political mobilization along ethnic lines becomes a rational choice for ambitious politicians. However, for the minority Africans, such mobilisation in a majoritorian-defined democracy led to a political cul de sac - exclusion from the Executive in perpetuity in an era when the Indians were an absolute majority.
In 2003, during the midst of the “crime spree”, the World Bank in its report, “Development Policy Review” described the effects of the coeval Indian Ethnic Security Dilemma in Guyana in measured language: “Despite the fact that the ruling party (PPP) enjoys majority control of the legislative and executive branches, the political system has been characterized by deadlock. This is in part due to the fact that the Afro Guyanese, who are the main supporters of the opposition PNC, are dominant in the public sector generally, and in the police and defence forces in particular. By virtue of its control of the capital city Georgetown, the Opposition also frequently paralyses the city to further its political agenda.”
In fact, because of that “dominance”, the situation at the time actually bordered on the complete lawlessness, with the joint services seemingly unwilling or incapable of dealing with a band of rampaging gunmen based in Buxton. Gruesome murders, rapes, robberies, kidnappings – primarily against Indians seen, as supporters of the PPP - and direct attacks on the police had become the order of the day.
The gang, according to Elder Kwayana who had to flee his native Buxton after seven decades, were being guided by “political sophisticates” from outside the village. Into this vacuum, Roger Khan claimed, he stepped up to bat. In his ad, he had asserted flatly: “My participation was instrumental in curbing crime during this period.” The jury is still out on the full extent of his “participation” but to those of us on the outside; it was clear from the daily body count that the “Phantom Gang” – as dubbed by Dr Luncheon – had checkmated the gang.
I promised (and later sent via e-mail) Simels copies of some of the papers in which I had elaborated on the Guyanese Ethnic Security Dilemmas. He also wanted to know if Khan was seen as a “hero” by Guyanese. I offered my opinion that while most Indians definitely saw him in that light, from the letters to the press, it was clear that Africans disagreed quite vehemently with that assessment. We would do well to reflect on the reasons for that schism in an outlook.
Since Simels’s visit in 2007, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge – some very recently from a court in New York. And more information is coming to the surface. While we hope that justice will be done for those who were wronged in the past, we also hope that we have learnt something from that past – especially the politicians who have seized the revelations for mobilisation purposes.
We have to begin at root causes – as best as we can discern then. Our latest decade-old round of violence is fundamentally a manifestation of our underlying political dilemmas. The execution of Mervin Barran, his father and another villager in 2001 aback of Friendship was its first shot, so to speak – and it preceded the 2002 jailbreak, let us remember. The “political sophisticates” would have already been at work and getting the “troops” ready. The outbreak of mayhem and murder that was to follow was simply the inevitable dénouement of the politics of hate that was being preached.
In 2004, I addressed a “Rule of Law rally” at the Square of the Revolution with the rest of the opposition. This rally had followed intense discussions in which the joint opposition agreed – in writing to the UN Secretary General – that it was not only the possible state nexus in the killings by the Phantom Gang that ought to be investigated but also the violence that emanated from “the epicentre in Buxton”. However, in the speeches and the litany of “victims” only the names of the “African young men” killed were called. I protested this selectivity because I knew that to do so would be to ignore the wider context of societal pain and anguish. Today, in the new calls for Inquiry I notice the same selective naming of victims and perpetrators. Déjà vu. Such an approach will only guarantee further decades of conflict because we are ignoring cause and effect.
We spoke earlier of the “latest round” of violence to emphasise the deeper causative role of the ethnic security dilemmas. What was it that caused the “political sophisticates” to find a fertile field in Buxton?
Ronald Waddell’s name has been called in the New York courts. As I said at his funeral, should we not enquire as to what drove a man like Waddell into the politics of extremism? Similarly, now that Roger Khan has admitted that he was a drug dealer, should we not enquire as to why it took such an individual to return a semblance of order when we have a police and army that has more than six thousand men and women to do that job?
In addition to condemning possible state nexuses with the Phantom Gang and Khan, should we not also wonder as to what might have brought them about? Political opportunism and myopia will only doom us to repeat our tragic history.