If someone was to say to me to look them in the eyes wearing only my academic hat, and with deep honesty say yes or no to Burnham being a great leader, I would not hesitate even for a fraction of a second in saying, it cannot be answered monosyllabically.
Burnham was exceptionally visionary, but was an egregiously self-centred. He was way beyond his time in knowing and understanding how the former colonies could avoid continuation of western domination. This had to come from reliance on national resources which had to be developed as a bulwark against foreign domination of trade.
His record in this context was extraordinary, but his limited knowledge of the peculiarities of Guyanese sociology was extensive and dangerous. While the Burnham approach was pragmatically applicable to Singapore, it could not fit in Guyana. Lee Kuan Yew had enormous scope for concretizing one-man rule with economic vision in Singapore. Burnham did not enjoy that kind of breathing space.
Yew dealt with a people steep in Oriental culture. Guyanese, despite a huge East Indian population, are western people. One of the invisibly ironic facts about leading Hindu practitioners in Guyanese history, is that quite a large number of their children married to Western Caucasian people, with none adopting India as their second home.
Burnham’s personality undid his visionary leadership. He was not prepared to share the post-colonial state after 1966 with a party whose supporters were owners of the country’s resources, far outstripped the size of Burnham’s constituencies, and whose leadership was in receipt of fanatical embrace by its people.
Simply put, the politics of Guyana under Burnham had to distort the economic gains under Burnham. Driven by the success of his economic transformations, Burnham became impatient with the lack of support from his political competitors and their Indian supporters, and he settled down into an authoritarian cocoon that destroyed Guyana.
From Burnham right down to 2019, leadership has failed this country. Hoyte was an enigma just like Burnham. His Economic Recovery Programme was a sycophantic surrender to the IMF, which had disastrous consequences for the poor and lower income classes. There is an amazing irony that separates Hoyte from Burnham. Burnham had absolutely no use for democratic configurations of power. Hoyte did, but Hoyte’s economics were insane.
Cheddi Jagan became a huge disappointment. He atavistically reverted to the politics of the era he understood – the epoch of the fifties and sixties headlined by PPP with Indians versus PNC with Africans, thus his presidency did not hold out any promise.
Jagdeo’s rule was far more tragic than any of his predecessors. Lacking any kind of baggage, his youth should have been used in the final journey into a shiny future for Guyanese. It was not to be. Lacking Burnham’s economic brilliance, he coupled his economic mediocrity with Burnham’s totalitarianism. Like Burnham, tragedy and disaster came.
The attitude displayed by a senior minister, Khemraj Ramjattan, a few days ago, on the concluded investigation into frightening allegations against the Crime Chief, is just one more manifestation that as with Burnham, since then, leadership has failed this poor nation terribly, and there seems to be no optimistic wind blowing Guyana’s way.
Ramjattan vociferously defended the police investigating one of its own, contemptuously dismissing one of life’s sacred values – conflict of interest. So priceless is this value, that perhaps it is one of the fulcrums that justice rests on. Ramjattan was zealous about the integrity of the Office of Professional Responsibility of the force.
This was the body mandated to probe the dangerous stories that circulated around the Crime Chief. When a minister relies on the integrity of persons to run a system rather than constitutional principles and legal guidelines, then he should be compelled to read the texts of both Plato and Aristotle. Ramjattan passed through the first year class in political philosophy at UG, therefore he should know about the difference between Aristotle and Plato.
Aristotle broke with his teacher, Plato, over the question of integrity of leaders versus legal framework under which their rule should be ensconced. Aristotle rejected the rulership of Plato’s philosophy-king class and the Nocturnal Council in favour of a system of laws under which the rulers will have their power made more accountable.
It is unthinkable that in the 21st century, thousands of years after Aristotle, one of the leaders in a country can say that there is nothing wrong with junior officers of the police force investigating alleged criminal offences of one of the most senior hierarchical members of the police force.
When you look at Burnham right through to Ramjattan and you reflect on the failure of justice in Guyana, the future is frightening.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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