<strong><img class="alignleft size-medium wp-image-875" src="https:\/\/guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news\/wp-content\/uploads\/2021\/01\/burnham-145x300.jpg" alt="" width="145" height="300" \/>Forbes Burnham and Guyana\u2019s Poisoned Politics<\/strong>\r\n\r\n<strong>By Dr. David Hinds<\/strong>\r\n\r\nIT is now almost 36 years since former president of Guyana, Forbes Burnham, died. Although over the years h his party, the PNC, and the Burnham Foundation, have memorialized him, Guyana as a whole have not celebrated his life and contributions to Guyana in a manner that befits someone who is undoubtedly a larger than life figure. The truth is, \u00a0despite his large place in our country\u2019s recent political history, Burnham is hardly known by most of the younger citizens who were born after 1985. And many of those who know of him, their knowledge is confined to a name.\r\n\r\nThis is a sad commentary on where we are as a country. Burnham, like all of our political stalwarts, has become a victim of our continuing divisive politics. We have not yet been able to dispassionately relate to our political leaders outside of the political narratives we have constructed for the purposes of political advantage and the attainment and maintenance of political office. The consequences is that the full worth and contributions to our national tapestry of four of our great political leaders\u2014Forbes Burnham, Cheddi Jagan, Eusi Kwayana and Walter Rodney\u2014are lost in the rough and tumble of our politics of ethnic insecurity and partisan hegemony.\r\n\r\nThose who love Burnham construct him as a visionary saint with no faults while his detractors present him as the worse evil who destroyed Guyana. Both characterizations are patently wrong. While Burnham was indeed a visionary and a most able leader, he was by no means a saint. Conversely, while he was a leader who made his fair share of mistakes, he was not the devil he has been made out to be by some of his detractors. The problem is that our good vs evil political discourse traps us in place from which we have been unable to extricate ourselves.\r\n\r\nI do not intend to do an analysis of Burnham and is politics here. But I hasten to point out that Mr. Burnham has to be analyzed and evaluated with the context of his times and his challenges. To try to understand him outside of his time is the ultimate in political dishonesty. Burnham was part of the immediate post-colonial generation that took over the reins of power from the colonial masters. The colonials were leaving but they left behind the colonial state.\r\n\r\nOur new post-colonial leaders were, therefore, granted enormous powers by an inherited political system that was created for kings and conceived to dominate.\u00a0 In addition, since they were the ones who had led the children out of bondage, the followers were less vigilant and more accommodating of their political frailties. It is no accident then that the leadership in Guyana, the rest of the Caribbean, Africa and Asia succumbed to the authoritarian trappings of power. In the end political power was personalized and became absolute. This is a crucial aspect of the making of a Forbes Burnham, a Cheddi Jagan, an Eric Williams or an Eric Gairy.\r\n\r\nYet, these were men who were deeply invested in doing something to lift the lot of their people. They were acutely aware of the scourge of poverty and marginalization. In Burnham\u2019s case, the fact that he was dark-skinned in a world that privileged white and brown made him even more sensitive to the reality of the social bottom. These concerns would be reflected in some of the policies he enacted and in the general socio-economic thrust he championed. Redistribution of wealth as a means of lifting up the powerless was a central part of his praxis. In addition to the above, Burnham and his generation were nationalists. Burnham\u2019s fostering of Guyanese, Caribbean, Pan-African and Third world nationalisms was peerless. In the process he brought a sense of national dignity to Guyana.\r\n\r\nBurnham, then, is a paradox\u2014the visionary defender of the poor and the nation who succumbed to the lure of authoritarian rule. But the Burnham paradox is a Guyanese and Caribbean paradox that must be worked through and properly explained. We do Burnham and ourselves a disservice by succumbing to the good-vs evil paradigm. In the end we sink deeper into the dangerous politics of them and us.\r\n\r\n<strong>I don\u2019t have to choose between Burnham people and Kwayana people anymore<\/strong>\r\n\r\nSo, I come back to Burnham. When I wrote the above, I anticipated criticism from the anti-Burnham forces. After all, it\u2019s well known that I grew up in anti-Burnham politics. That meant that you said nothing positive about Burnham. And anti-Rodney politics meant you said nothing positive about Rodney. And the same if you are anti-Jagan. But one of the things that I took seriously in my political upbringing is never to be a dogmatist. I learned that from two of my political influences\u2014Walter Rodney and Eusi Kwayana.\r\n\r\nI did not grow up in a PNC home or for that matter a PNC village. When I was growing up Buxton was a politically plural place; the PNC and ASCRIA and later WPA shared the political support of the villagers. By the time I became aware of party politics, my aunt, who raised me and my siblings, had broken with the PNC. She had taken Kwayana\u2019s side in his famous break with Burnham in 1971.\r\n\r\nBurnham, then, was not my political hero. For me, the political icon was Kwayana, who I saw living humbly among the villagers and serving us as teacher, political representative and cultural example. So that became my political model. Burnham didn\u2019t fit that model. My young teenage mind did not see Burnham as a superhero. Walter Rodney would return to Guyana and further draw my young mind in the direction of radical politics, a politics that was opposed to the statist politics of the region of which Burnham was a chief representative. My anti-Burnham politics was now given a philosophical justification.\r\n\r\nThe story of the WPA\/Rodney-PNC\/Burnham confrontation is known to the old timers. Looking back, it was brutal. Activists were harassed and some, including Walter Rodney, were murdered. Many of us are lucky to be alive today. It is a period in our Guyanese and Caribbean political history that is still to be properly contextualized. It was a fight for the soul and direction of our independence. It became zero-sum. It reached its highest height in Grenada in the years 1979-1983. In October 1983, the revolution died in hail of bullets. Burnham supported the Grenadian revolution; some of the revolutionaries were trained in Guyana. But he crushed the revolutionaries in his own country. That\u2019s the complex Burnham I alluded to in the last column.\r\n\r\nBurnham died two years after the Grenadian Revolution died. Almost instantly, the Burnhamites in government walked away from Burnhamism. Thirty years later Burnham and Burnhamism are mere nostalgia. I am thirty years older. During those three decades I have participated in and studied and taught politics. In the process I have learned that politics, like all profound human endeavors, is a complex phenomenon.\r\n\r\nI have come to understand that my anti-Burnhamism was a motivation to reach for a better world but also a political prison in which the world stood still. I will never forget the words of the villagers in West Berbice to Dr. Rupert Roopnarine and I as we campaigned for the APNU in 2011\u2014Brothers thanks for the APNU; We don\u2019t have to choose between Burnham people and Kwayana people anymore.\r\n\r\nBurnham, like all of our political icons, were products and victims of something complex and contradictory in our Caribbean civilization. I don\u2019t want to spend the rest of my life hating Burnham. I want to try to understand what it is about our society that gives rise to such contradictions. My love for Kwayana and Rodney should not be translated into hatred for Burnham.\r\n\r\nTime moves on. We, Guyanese and Caribbean people move on. This past week I travelled to Grenada to participate in the launch of a book edited by my friend and colleague, Dr. Wendy Grenade. I have a chapter in the book on the role of the WPA in the Caribbean revolution of that time. I found myself on a TV program pleading with Grenadians to view the Grenadian in larger terms. At the launch I asked for a national narrative that included Eric Gairy, Maurice Bishop and Bernard Coard not as demons but as products of the Grenadian quest for freedom. If I could be presumptuous to ask Grenadians to reach for something above and beyond hatred, why not in my own country?\r\n\r\n<strong>Burnham is still difficult for Guyana as a whole to digest<\/strong>\r\n\r\nYesterday, August 6, marked the 31st anniversary of the death of Forbes Burnham, former president of Guyana. In the coming days his party, the PNC, and his admirers would remember him; his vision for Guyana and his stature as one of our foremost political leaders would be repeated. But it would be one of those uncomfortable moments for the country; in fact, most of the country would go about its business as if nothing significant is happening. We witness the same scenario when Walter Rodney\u2019s followers remember him.\r\n\r\nHere are two significant leaders whose legacies have become victims of our deadly politics. In normal circumstances in different times, the entire country would be remembering Burnham. You just have to listen to older African Guyanese talk about him and you get the impression that there was something godly about him. He is their political hero in a country where each ethnic group creates and celebrates its own hero. To those people, Burnham is not fiction\u2014he is flesh and blood; he is the embodiment of their independence dream.\r\n\r\nBut to the other large ethnic group, Burnham is evil\u2014he is their independence nightmare. Everything wrong about Guyana is blamed on him. Just the other day, former president, Jagdeo invoked Burnham to drive home to Indian Guyanese how dangerous the present government is. The Indian Guyanese narrative of the evil Burnham has been kept alive by the PPP which has used it effectively in their persistent quest to hold on to the political loyalty of that group. There is a third narrative about Burnham that recognizes both his positives and shortcomings, even if the latter rises to the surface more often than the former.\r\n\r\nAgainst that background, Burnham becomes difficult for Guyana as a whole to digest. In many respects, he, more than the other leaders, embodies the complexity and contradictions of post-plantation Guyana. To better understand what Burnham represents one has to grapple with him both in his totality and in parts\u2014at least that has worked for me.\r\n\r\nThere is something in the nature of Guyanese society and politics that stands in the way of a dispassionate response to Burnham. The Trinidadians, to my mind, have done a better job at constructing an Eric Williams that is minimally accepted by all ethnic groups there. I doubt that Guyana can get there anytime soon\u2014the wounds are too deep and raw.\r\n\r\nPlease visit my website guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news for more of my writings and perspectives.