Burnham, Jagan, apartheid rulers and historical facts
It is the season of celebrating the life and accomplishments of one of the “fathers” of the nation, Forbes Burnham.
A few months ago, it was Cheddi Jagan’s turn. Both of these silly seasons came around the time of the World Cup in South Africa – Jagan in March, Burnham in August, the World Cup in July. The World Cup highlighted the achievements of modern South Africa.
It remains the most developed and industrialized nation on the African continent. Who is responsible for the successful economy of South Africa?
Enter revisionist history. There will be universal cries of condemnation if revisionist historians should declare that the white, racist apartheid leaders should be eulogized for their great accomplishments that have benefited South Africans. It is easy to imagine the unimaginable rage among African people around the world. Why should we be bothered with the development that came under the apartheid rulers when they imprisoned and humiliated 22 million Africans simply because they were Africans? Their racist fascism is enough evidence for which they should be perpetually condemned. That is a fair and plausible argument.
Given my philosophical conceptualization, I would refuse to accept a revisionist treatment of apartheid rulers in South Africa that puts them in a positive light. Their pathological racism and fascist oppression of 22 million Africans is the criterion by which they should be judged. These were destructive human beings. Can the same interpretation be put to Burnham and Jagan? For me the answer is a resounding yes.
Compare the politics of Caricom islands with Guyana, and you will see how ruinous and internecine has been the politics of Burnham and Jagan. The politics textbook says that in very small societies, power becomes personalized. The seminal work in the Caribbean that looks at this theory is Archie Singham’s “The Hero in the Crowd,” about the exercise of power under Prime Minister Eric Gairy in Grenada. Singham makes the point that in Grenada with its tiny populations, PM Gairy knew everybody and related to them in personalized ways. The implications for democracy in such an environment are too horrible to contemplate.
Singham’s paradigm was not applicable to other CARICOM states because the retention of the system of British political values embedded themselves deeply in other small islands. In Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, Belize, political relationships are not personalized.
The civil service, the judiciary and the officer hierarchy in the security forces, have always been insulated from the tentacles of the political elites.
It is unthinkable, unimaginable, beyond belief that in Barbados, a judge or a Permanent Secretary can belong to a political party or that the UWI Vice-Chancellor could mount a platform as an election candidate.
Burnham and Jagan extirpated such values and replaced them with party paramountcy, maximum leader enhancement and the ubiquity of power. Do you want an example? Read the 1980 Constitution.
In Guyana, Burnham and Jagan, completely, not partially but completely eradicated the sacred fulcrum of democracy known as the separation of powers. Jagan replaced it with communist structures. Burnham did not have use for it. Both Burnham and Jagan conceived of power in ways that were fascist and Machiavellian – the possession of power is not driven by virtue but pragmatism and should be utilized for the maximum purpose of the maximum leader.
So the silly season is here, whereby by a barefaced and nasty strategy, Jagan and Burnham’s records as developers are highlighted but their catastrophic and calamitous roles are neatly overlooked. Burnham, we will be told for the rest of August, by his admirers, was far ahead of his time. He built bridges, schools, agricultural schemes and was a pure nationalist.
There will be no mention of his descent into political assassination and his phantasmagoria of absolute power. He rode horses in Georgetown decked out in purple clothes sharing out cigarettes to poor folks who trampled each other to get the tobacco. At Hope estate, he laughed as his horses drove public servants in the trenches in avoidance of being trampled. Shouldn’t history record these characteristics?
Then there were the insane communist emulations of Cheddi Jagan who committed treason by selling out his country to the demons of the politburo in the USSR. For Jagan, Guyana’s destiny was bound up with the communist world whose human rights balance sheet was only outdone by Nazi Germany.
Something is wrong with the psyche of a human being that can wash away the immoral use to which Burnham and Jagan put power and elevate them as heroes. Do heroes destroy their countries?
I end with a question. Are the white apartheid rulers, great South Africans?