At the University of Toronto, when I started out there, the white students were crazy about “Electric Avenue” by Eddy Grant. At that time, Guyanese Eddy Grant was an international superstar. His hit, “Gimme Hope Jo’anna” was featured at the inauguration of President David Granger. Grant was an invited guest at the ceremony.
Is this the beginning of the long awaited national recognition of Eddy Grant?
It is pathetic and absurd that there isn’t a symbol anywhere in Guyana to remind Guyanese that in the seventies it produced a pop star with superstar standing in the world. I have no objection to a street being named after Shivnarine Chanderpaul, but why not Eddy Grant?
If you ask any teenager in the UK who are the Beatles; any youth in the US who is Elvis Presley; any boy or girl in Jamaica who is Bob Marley, they know. They know not because their parents tell them, but because every year there is some ceremony about these people that is carried in the press and on social media.
In Jamaica, there is a Bob Marley museum that President Obama visited last April. Every Jamaican knows about Bob Marley because symbols of Bob Marley are in their face every day, everywhere in the island. Barbados has named a street after Rihanna.
The good, wonderful, optimistic thing for me about the Granger presidency is that we have a trained historian who is in charge of Guyana. First it was Jagan, a dentist; then Burnham a lawyer; then Hoyte, another lawyer; there was Janet Jagan, a nurse; Sam Hinds, an engineer; Jagdeo, an economist, sort of; and Ramotar, an economist, sort of.
All these names were presidents of Guyana. We now have a historian. He will know how important it is to install symbols of individual greatness in a country where greatness is needed, and how valuable it is to instill a sense of awareness of who contributed to Guyana’s modern existence.
President Granger has signaled his intention to emphasise the importance of history when he named the International Convention Centre after a man who was Guyana’s first president, Arthur Chung. It is obvious that he will continue in this direction. I propose for his immediate attention, three names. But it should not be an initiative that must come exclusively from President Granger. It must come from the Government of Guyana that has the resources needed to preserve the legacies of these three eminent Guyanese.
Eddy Grant has already been mentioned. There is Desmond Hoyte. Hoyte is a paradox in post-colonial politics. Even in democratic India, Indira Gandhi fell to the temptation of authoritarian power. Hoyte did not. He was the embodiment of post-colonial democracy. Hoyte witnessed the desecration of democratic values under Jagan’s premiership and Burnham’s republicanism and it jagged his middle class sense of right and wrong.
When he became President, his intention was to effect the democratic separation of power and to give each citizen the justice that belonged to them. Some of his pathways were iconoclastically refreshing. He confronted his army chief and one of his Vice-Presidents over nasty violations.
He was not afraid to install perestroika and glasnost in his country, long strangulated by strong man politics, even if those twin policies weakened the fulcrum on which his power rested. A perfect example was his permission to his rabid middle-class critics to start a newspaper, the Stabroek News. It would not be inaccurate to say that the Stabroek News became a sort of nemesis of President Hoyte.
Guyana missed a glorious moment to make a fantastic leap into the modern, civilized, free world when Desmond Hoyte lost the 1992 elections. The sun went out of the skies and the night was covered with permanent darkness for the next twenty-three years. This country needs to honour this fantastic man in a very big way.
Finally, there is the indomitable Walter Rodney. He remains the iconic figure for so many Guyanese. I don’t think it needs any debate that he was the most brilliant and philosophically astute political activist in the entire English-speaking Caribbean. I would put Frantz Fanon in the same category. CLR James was not a political activist.
Rodney and Hoyte died too soon. They went away from life too soon. And Guyana has paid tragically for their untimely demise. Could we see them again in the foreseeable future? These were two great personalities par excellence. They were phenomenally brave and brilliantly transformative. This country needs its young population to understand that they paved the way for the little liberties we now enjoy. They were modern liberators of this nation.
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