Jul 06, 2013 Letters
Forbes Burnham is entitled to the O.R. Tambo Award. However, the outcry over that award has raised a bigger issue; the Walter Rodney versus Forbes Burnham philosophical and moral debate. This debate vaults to the very heart of Guyanese and overwhelming African consciousness in this country.
There are those, and they are many and mostly African, who will vehemently defend Forbes Burnham over Walter Rodney and it is nothing more, nothing less than the absurd moral caricaturization of our consciousness as a people and nation.
Guyana produced two post-Independence African national giants, Walter Rodney and Forbes Burnham, both incredibly brilliant, intellectually gifted and charismatic. But this is where the similarities end. One was a politically immoral power-crazed tinpot dictator practicing racial division, despotism and economic necrosis, a tropical Stalin without Stalin’s industrialism, while the other was a freedom fighter hellbent on creating a nation of democracy, freedom, racial tolerance and economic advancement.
The moral and philosophical difference between Rodney and Burnham could not be starker. One practised despotism and ethnic revulsion and division while the other pursued freedom, justice and racial tolerance. One saw immorality as reality while the other saw morality as truth.
Walter Rodney’s ethnic inclusivity and ethnic fairness model rooted in ethnic reconciliation for Guyana would have created a better post-PNC future for Africans. Africans who were made economically destitute by the PNC’s catastrophic economic mismanagement would have secured a better and fairer share of the pie under a Rodney government rooted in ethnic fairness. Instead, Africans emerged from PNC rule heavily marginalized and impoverished and were further economically castrated under the PPP. Burnham’s racialized politics inevitably led to PPP’s racialized politics.
No rational political analyst in this country could argue the future post-1992 under the PPP was going to be any different. It was always going to be payback time and we have had 20 years of payback time.You govern by the political sword and you will end up being governed by that same sword. You pillage with a terrible constitution and this constitution will be used to pillage you.
Forbes Burnham failed to change the racial antagonisms of this country, although he had absolute power to do so. He failed to use his authoritarian force to make this country more inclusive when he had the obvious power to do so. This era of ethnic retribution and racial retaliation politics is Burnham’s legacy and it is a legacy that continues to economically cripple Africans in a country they helped to build with their hands. Burnham economically blunted Africans with his socialist idiocy and his broken economy. The PPP has, under a growing capitalist economy, enriched some Indians with wealth not even Burnham thought was attainable. If the PPP falls from power tomorrow, its controllers and their friends will not suffer, as they own this country. What they do not own they will sell to the highest foreign bidder.
Even if the African cabal running the PNC/APNU gains power tomorrow, there will be nothing left and nothing to be seized without foreign invasion or political undermining. Africans will have to grin and bear this atrocious economic reality created by the PPP out of ethnic reprisal politics. Even if the PNC/APNU retaliates it will face capital depletion, flight and departure that hammered the PNC regime when it held power. Yes, Burnham strived to develop African pride and pushed to create a Guyanese identity but in the shroud of his dictatorship, it came across as nothing more than self-serving posturing to strengthen his hold on power.
Ethnic pride in a sea of poverty is defeating and worthless. Politically decent and morally courageous Africans paid a price under Forbes Burnham and now all Africans are paying a price under the PPP, because of Burnham and the PPP.
So why do so many continue to back a man who destroyed Africans financially and left them constitutionally, irrevocably out in the cold? Why continue to back this leader over another leader who would have given Africans a better deal? How could anyone morally and ontologically elevate Burnham above Rodney?
Everywhere we turn in this country, Forbes Burnham continues to haunt Africans in the most dehumanizing ways. He has constitutionally protected the PPP to practice tit for tat race politics. He engineered massively failed economic policies that have rendered many Africans into a persistent underclass.
Why does Forbes Burnham enjoy the support he does over Rodney?
For most of the Burnham backers, it comes down to race. This is the most degrading aspect of this nation’s psyche. It destroys rationality. It lacerates decency. For many Burnham backers over Rodney, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham must be defended at all costs because he is African, even if his government murdered another African giant whose policies meant more for African liberation and salvation.
This is not a moral decision, it is a racial decision. For others, it is ethnic treachery to defend Rodney who opposed an African government, notwithstanding that government killed Africans pursuing truth, justice, fairness and freedom. The reprehensible immorality and depravity of that position is evident.
Burnham is a symbol of African power to some of those people and that is all that matters. It does not matter that Burnham’s policies actually devastated Africans into their most powerless position since slavery. For some, Burnham must be defended out of reflexive racial protectionism. It is the same reflexive racial protectionism that nastily pushes the PPP to fatten its friends in frightening ways.
Those who support Burnham over Rodney morally support Van Hogenheim over Cuffy, Charles Bean and Governor Smyth over Damon, Governor John Murray over Quamina and Jack Gladstone and Governor Wooley over the Enmore Martyrs. They also support the PPP today, despite their protestations against this regime, for they cannot defend Burnham over Rodney and still decry the PPP’s chicanery and heinousness.
This hypocrisy of decrying despots in the name of freedom and fairness today, while defending dictators of yesteryear, is morally crooked and fraudulent. If freedom is good enough now, then it had to be good enough then. These hypocrisies are rooted in ethnic distortions and tragedies in this land. They continue to destroy morality and inflate the crippling hypocrisy that is really and truly the Guyanese condition. They continue to impede us from advancing in this land.
We are a nation of many Benedict Arnolds. No one could morally crown Burnham above Rodney, not in the historiography of this nation from 1964 to present.
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