This past week, one of the architects of our relatively young nation, Eusi Kwayana, celebrated his 94th birthday. Kwayana, by any measure, is a rare human being – a priceless gift to humanity. I use this occasion to remind Guyana that we have given this remarkable gift to ourselves and the world. As a Caribbean civilisation, we are not known for powerful armies, rich economies and high skyscrapers, but our contribution to world civilisation has been mostly in the form of what another Caribbean treasure, Rex Nettleford, calls the creative intellect and creative imagination.
It says something beyond the ordinary that these former colonial outposts could, in the fields of art, sports, political economy and academia, produce men and women of the highest calibre who sit and stand among the best of what humanity has produced.
Because of our smallness and newness as independent nations and our penchant for political implosions, we have not developed the habit of recognising our inherent genius. We see it in others, and we celebrate it. We celebrate the leaders of our respective political tribes and denigrate those of the competing ones. And it is in that narrow exercise of belonging that we stifle and kill the genius of our collective being. But at some point, we must liberate ourselves from that curse.
Kwayana is not God – he is a human being who has made errors of judgement in the area of life that he chose to serve his country, region and world. But I can say without hesitation that if there is a public person in Guyana who comes closest to the embodiment of political morality, it is the “Sage of Buxton.” In my long four decades and more association with him, and in my study of his much longer political activism, I can think of no political decision of his that was driven by personal consideration or partisan expediency. That, for me, is the definition of political morality. It is no accident that Kwayana is the only major political leader in modern Guyana to have publicly admitted political errors.
Kwayana is an icon in his village, his country, his region and the world at large. He is a giant in an era and a region and country which have produced giants. He has dedicated his entire life to the public service of his fellow human beings. He has, in the process, taken care of Guyana and Guyana must now take care of him.
And one of the ways in which we do that is to locate him at the centre of that which is most profoundly beautiful about our culture. Those of us who are familiar with his humility know that he would not be too excited about him being elevated to hero-status. But even heroes must be over-ruled at times. So, in saluting him on his birthday, I will beat his drum as loudly as I can. I will not, in the process, repeat his political biography. As I said above, this missive is meant as a reminder to the nation of its own contribution to the world.
So, when Guyanese political activists think of themselves as political independents, we should know that Kwayana is the modern pioneer of that strand in our modern politics. From his membership of the early PPP and PNC through his Black Power days and his leadership in the WPA, he has been both partisan and independent – the independent partisan or “insider-outsider” who has never been muzzled by the logic of partisanship.
When African Guyanese now give their children African names and Guyanese no longer make fun of those names, we must trace that back to Eusi Kwayana, who, through the African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA), launched the cultural revolution that introduce the level of self-love that African Guyanese now take for granted. When we celebrate Emancipation Day as part of the national norm in Guyana, we must know that that celebration as an institution is the result of Kwayana’s cultural revolution. And we must remember that ASCRIA was the first Black Power-Pan Africanist organisation of the modern Caribbean Black Power Movement.
When PNC and PPP members gather for their Congresses and sing their parties’ songs, they must know that the author of those songs is Eusi Kwayana who also wrote the WPA’s party song. And when party members see the Thunder, New Nation and Dayclean and Open Word, they must think of what Kwayana did to make those organs important mediums of political journalism. The independent media in Guyana owes a debt to Kwayana for helping to pave the way for that genre of journalism.
When we dare to discuss race and ethnicity in the open, and debate shared governance, we must remember that it was Eusi Kwayana who first put that discourse on the post-independence agenda. We must also remember that it was Kwayana who introduced the notion of shared governance as a possible solution to the country’s ethno-racial problems – he is also a pioneer of the shared-governance school of thought in Guyana.
When we celebrate the Cooperative Movement as a national institution, we must know that Kwayana was one of its earliest proponents in that regard. We must know that it was Kwayana who suggested the word “Cooperative” in our Cooperative Republic. And when we remember Guyana’s role in assisting the African Liberation Movement, we must know that Kwayana was one of the architects of that policy.
Finally, we Buxtonians know of Kwayana’s seminal role in molding our village as a free space. His leadership and activism in politics, art, education and culture are written boldly on the consciousness of generations of Buxtonians. I said the above about Bro Eusi not to take him out of the realm of the ordinary, but to show that ordinary people can throw up products that can accomplish extraordinary things.
I know I speak for tens of thousands when I say: We love You Brother Eusi; because of you many of us now have a chance to shine and be free people.
Devoted Kwayana People