As we approach the 53rd anniversary of our country’s independence, it is necessary that we take stock to determine where we are, how we got here, and where we are headed as a nation.
After 53 years of independence questions such, are we truly independent? Have we ever been truly independent? Will we ever be truly independent as a nation? All these seem quite relevant at this juncture of our country’s historical development.
Guyana wasted 26 of its precious 53 years, as a result of the Burnham dictatorship’s gambling and experimenting with our country’s political and economic fortunes.
This wastage in time and space was exemplified in Burnham’s mad rush to establish cooperatives as the vehicle to ‘usher in socialism’ to Guyana, the establishment of Knowledge Sharing Institutes to distribute banned basic food items to party supporters, the enforcement of compulsory National Service for UG students, the establishment of the costly People’s Militia, sloganeering such as ‘Eat-less Sleep-less and work harder,’ that government will hand out ‘free milk and cassava’ and that ‘not a man will go to bed hungry,’ to fool people, rigging of elections coupled with the jailing and physical liquidation of political opponents, all of which constituted part and parcel of the PNC’s strategy to hold on to political power.
The few developmental projects such as the Soesdyke/Linden Highway, the Demerara Harbour Bridge, the National Cultural Centre, the Sanata textile mill, and the Belu Claybrick factory, paled in significance when juxtaposed against the statement, “We had growth without development’ made by a top economist who worked for the government at that time.
Despite his disagreements with the policies pursued by the ruling PNC, Dr. Cheddi Jagan was bold enough to remark on one occasion that, ‘The PNC is not the PPP and therefore we cannot expect it to proceed in the same way as the PPP would.”
His realistic assessment notwithstanding, Jagan remained convinced that even though the PPP and the PNC pursued policies diametrically opposed to each other, in effect, the social composition of the two parties and the mutuality of their respective supporters general aspirations, could lay the basis for national and working class unity to take Guyana forward.
Jagan therefore considered it his historical mission to encourage the leadership and general membership of the PNC to recognize that the future of a truly independent Guyana was assured with a political solution to Guyana’s problems based on racial and working class unity.
It was with this objective in mind that Jagan advanced initiatives such as ‘Critical Support’, the call for a ‘National Patriotic Front and National Front’ Government and later, the ‘Winner does not take all’ policy, only to be rejected by the PNC the then ruling party.
With 23 of the 53 years under its belt, and against tremendous economic and financial odds, successive PPP/C administrations sought to repair the damage done to the country’s economic and social infrastructure, rid the country of its burdensome foreign debt and to return and enhance credibility to Guyana’s national and international and political fortunes.
Henry Jeffery in his ‘Future Notes’ in SN May 15, 2019 ‘A Goebbelsian boast’ illustrated quite convincingly the successes achieved in the social sector by the PPP/C during its 23 years in office.
The Granger-led Coalition Administration resembles an ill-assorted collection of poorly matching parts forming a distressing whole. It has carved out for itself 4 of the 53 years.
And rather building on the progressive PSIP and going after foreign investments bullishly, the coalition in pursuance of its ‘Fresh Approach’ chose to place emphasis on the symbolism of independence and nationhood as if this would put food on poor people’s tables and money in their pockets.
Continuation of its predecessor’s ‘Economic Diplomacy’ initiatives eventually lost its way and evaporated without leaving any trace of notable success worthy of mention. And as if playing fiddle while Rome was burning, the regime found itself trapped in the unpleasant situation where, according to one letter writer ‘a culture of corruption has flourished and touched virtually everyone either incidentally or by design.’
Thus far, Guyana has not been able to shake off the perception as the most corrupt country in CARICOM, and what is ironic about this situation is that while the Granger-led administration continues to heap praises on SARA and SOCU, the latter is now engulfed in a corruption scandal of its own making, while SARA has proven itself impotent when challenged to investigate matters bearing incontrovertibly evidence of corruption in government circles.
Incidentally, the talk of the town is that corruption will get worse when revenues from oil begin to flow.
But the corruption scandals aside, the Granger administration continues to slavishly worship all things symbolic of independence and nationhood. The regime’s adoration to this twin proclivity is reflected in the construction of arches and monuments as well the mounting of huge photo prints of Prime Minister Burnham receiving the Constitutional Instruments of independence from the Duke and Duchess of Kent, the Queen’s Representatives, which now adorns the interior halls of certain state owned buildings.
Stressing the economic challenges Guyana will face as an independent nation, Cheddi Jagan in his ‘Address of Thanks for Constitutional Instruments’ during the historic sitting of the House of Assembly on May 26, 1966 said;
“Besides, political independence has been attained under the continuation and consolidation of foreign economic control and the maintenance of the colonial type economy based on primary production and extraction.”
That was 53 years ago, Jagan’s prognosis at that time, remains relevant to this day.
Here’s why. In the midst of glorifying the symbols of independence and nationhood, yet a symbolism of another type has reared its ugly head.
It is a symbolism emblematic of the dependency syndrome experienced mainly by small economies such as Guyana that have no other option but to eke out its existence in a hostile international environment where globalization has become the dominant and influential factor in trade, financial markets, technological innovation and values as well and international cooperation.
Any attempt to assess how far we have come as a nation since May 1966 must therefore be situated in a global context despite our apprehensions about the benefits Guyana has or yet to accrue from its interactions and interrelations with a globalized world.
It is necessary to stress however, that responsibility for our country’s underachievement cannot be placed solely on international factors as some apologists try to make out.
Weak institutions of governance, pervasive and persistent poverty, growing inequality, rising unemployment especially among youths and social dislocation exacerbated by the recent closing of sugar estates are symptomatic of bad domestic policies pursued by the PNC government at that time and, even of today’s APNU+AFC who have failed miserably to ‘get the policies right.’
In the era of globalization, the world is not waiting on Guyana, it is moving ahead at a rapid pace and, if governments like the APNU+AFC chose to remain inflexible and squander opportunities on controversial contracts with behemoths like ExxonMobil then future generations will certainly not look upon them kindly.
The list of what needs to be done is extensive. Time, financial and human resources are necessary to do them. In this 53rd year of our country’s independence, can the APNU+AFC alone take the necessary actions in the midst of a contentious domestic political climate for Guyana to move ahead?
Compounding the already confrontational political climate, is the on-going attempts to distort the history of Guyana’s struggle for independence and who led that fight.
The distortions and falsifications continues unabated with leading politicians from the PNC falsely portraying the struggle for, and the celebration of independence anniversaries as a ‘Black people’s thing’ when the historical records prove to the contrary.
But the PPP has to bear some responsibility for the perpetuation of this myth because the party does not, in a sustained and high profile manner, make known, Cheddi Jagan’s and the PPP’s contribution to Guyana’s struggle for independence.
Issuing the routine press release for the occasion will not suffice. And the party’s role as the harbinger in the independence struggle should not be downplayed, since that would be a grave disservice to Jagan’s and PPP’s legacy.
A corollary to the falsifications by the ‘would be’ historians is the opportunities taken to debunk an internationally recognized fact that Cheddi Jagan is indeed the ‘Father of the Nation’.
This is how Mr. David Granger, Leader of the Opposition at the time, speaking at the inaugural National Assembly’s ‘Governance and Democracy’ lecture series put it:
“There is no father of the nation, there is no mother of the nation and I think we need to unlearn this myth.”
In this regard, Granger was roundly criticised by Aubrey Norton and Maxwell Edwards. The former claimed that Burnham ought to be recognised as ‘one of the founding fathers of this country’ while the latter described Granger’s presentation as an ‘every man’s theory’ that smacks of a ‘revisionist attitude to history and truth.’
But putting these asseverations aside for the time, we return to the perennial question about the true nature of county’s independence.
From time immemorial, Guyana has been a price taker on the international market for our major exports including bauxite, sugar, rice and gold. Whatever the prices the international markets dictate Guyana has no choice but to accept.
Guyana has never been a major player on the international market like Brazil, China, India, Russia, Thailand, or Vietnam that play big roles in influencing world prices for these commodities.
These countries are members of common commodity international organizations. They meet regularly and help to influence world market prices for these commodities. In this way, they struggle to assert their economic independence.
Save for its membership in the WTO, CARICOM and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries, Guyana’s role is peripheral in determining regional or international trade policies. And apart from its presence in these bodies, Guyana is nowhere to be seen at any other international forum where prices for internationally traded commodities are determined.
In other words, our economic independence has been shackled by entrenched international economic factors way beyond our control.
The situation will be no better when we become an oil producing country, in fact, it will be more of the same.
No matter how many millions of barrels of oil we pump on a daily basis, what will matter is what will be the price of oil at that time and thereafter; and how much Guyana will be receiving in payments from the ExxonMobils of this world.
Already there are great financial expectations in certain quarters, and eyes are beginning to Google at the huge sums that will be available either to be pocketed or to be used for the benefit of all Guyanese.
In light of recent developments, Guyana had better take warning and note that should it not dance to the tune of the powerful oil companies and the industrialized states, in respect to their extra-territorial policies, it could very well face sanctions of the type that Cuba, Venezuela, Iran or even Russia are currently experiencing.
As an oil-producing country, the external environment for Guyana will be even more complex. But what is certain is that we will continue to be shackled to an International financial system over which we have no control.
We will continue to be a price taker for just another commodity that is slowly but surely being replaced by other forms of energy and technological advances as in the case of electrically generated cars and vehicles.
These are the mighty issues that the APNU+AFC government should be paying attention to rather horsing around with symbols of independence at home and abroad.
While symbols of independence and nationhood are important, economics, trade and financial matters will loom much larger in the constellation of the nation’s priorities.
Ill conceived as it may have been, the late President Burnham held out ‘Cooperative Socialism’ as his vision for a future Guyana and he went so far as to have that vision enshrined in our Constitution.
Cheddi Jagan for his part, called the establishment of a National Democratic State with a socialist orientation and a New Global Human Order as his vision for our country and the world.
A careful reading of our constitution would recognize how it captures the vision of both men
Today, as we approach another anniversary of our country’s independence we have absolutely no idea what is President Granger’s vision for Guyana save and except for his Green whatever.
Will that in anyway whatsoever enhance and advance our national interest and make Guyana a truly independent nation?
Clement J. Rohee
Former Minister of Government
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