Kaieteur News – I cannot damage my education by being propagandistic about Forbes Burnham. Over 34 years of publishing newspaper columns, I would think there are dozens and dozens of columns of mine on all aspects of Forbes Burnham except his personal life. I have also spoken about Burnham in countless television programmes
Many of those pieces put Burnham down as a visionary. I think you reduce your scholarly ability by denying Burnham’s positive dimensions many of which stand out. Among them – NIS; the multi-lateral schools; eradicating the hegemony of the European class after Independence; emphasis on local foods; free education; logical support for African liberation movements; the Harbour Bridge; the National Park, the Canje Bridge; hydro-power; Linden highway; establishing local banking; banking loans for small farmers; MMA; cultural and religious holidays.
Burnham had a dual personality. In Guyana’s historiography you either hate him or admire him. You don’t have to be a prisoner of that binary as an academic. One must admit that he was both visionary and evil.
His evil ways stemmed from his narcissism. He thought he was unique, had all the answers and was possessed of talent that should compel the Guyanese people to listen to him because what he was doing was good for them. Out of this conceptualisation was the belief that he was ordained to rule. He became the subject in the emperor’s new clothes story when Walter Rodney came on the scene. Rodney opened up Burnham’s eyes to the reality that he, Burnham was not as great as he thought.
One of the controversies that had dogged scholars is the race question in Burnham. For a majority of educated Indians, he was racist. I don’t agree. I do not think Forbes Burnham had racist instincts in him. I think the opposite for Eusi Kwayana.
Burnham knew his power base lied in the African population. In power he had to deliver to that section. Afro-Guyanese were the fulcrum on which his power rested. He could not have counted on Indians because Indians chose Cheddi Jagan over him and they would not have abandoned Jagan. On the opposite spectrum, it is scholarly dishonesty to say the PPP did not cater for Indian needs after 1992.
Burnham had immense domestic and international exposure to multi-racial movements and those experiences and socialisation shaped his attitude to racial politics. Kwayana missed those directions. Burnham was involved in socialist politics and the communist party in London. He met Guyanese Indians, multi-racial Black activists, and European whites. Those things shape how you see politics. When the PPP split, most of the top notch Indians went with the Burnham faction
Kwayana never had the multi-racial exposure Burnham enjoyed. From early times Sydney King (as he was known then) was into African culture, African authors and the continent of Africa. Kwayana literally immersed himself in things African while Burnham and Jagan did not have time for such nuances.
Kwayana was always suspected by Burnham and Jagan as being racist. We have had no sustained accounts from Burnham and Jagan as to what they thought about Kwayana. But both men were happy to rid Kwayana from their midst because their politics had to be strategically multi-racial while Kwayana was openly ethnic.
From the 1970s, Kwayana detested Jagan and Burnham because he knew they had no use for his kind of politics. The long reign of Kwayana in Guyanese politics was a phenomenal success in hiding a person’s identity. His politics was driven by hatred for both Jagan and Burnham. Kwayana used the anti-dictatorship battles in the 1970s to mask his revenge against Burnham. He used the post 1992 movements to oppose the PPP but in fact it was Jagan he wanted to weaken.
Kwayana was not happy with Burnham’s rule because he felt Burnham was not going far enough to Africanise Guyana. This was the deep intention of Kwayana when he rejoined Burnham and became head of the Guyana Marketing Corporation. The death of Walter Rodney was a philosophical death blow for Kwayana. It meant that the African people would not be empowered and they will have to live with Burnham’s watered down version of Africanisation.
From 1992, and after the PPP began to win successive general elections, Kwayana’s politics had now become what it always was – African-based. There was no longer an anti-dictatorship movement to be used to disguise his emotional, personalised and racial politics. Then in March 2020, Kwayana went onto the world stage and showed what he always was – a man driven by racial instincts. That was ironically a good thing for Guyanese to see because if there wasn’t March 2020, Kwayana would have continued to enjoy a legacy that was false.
(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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