By Dr. David Hinds
Today is the 96th birth anniversary of Brother Eusi Kwayana, one of the foremost leaders of Guyana’s modern politics. His public life spans seven and a half decades and at 96 he still comments on political and social developments in his country. Along with Forbes Burnham, Cheddi Jagan and Walter Rodney, Kwayana has cemented his place at the pinnacle of Guyana’s political experience. I am contending that any honest and dispassionate assessment of Guyanese politics during the last eight decades would be incomplete without the diverse and profound contributions of Eusi Kwayana. No amount of meanspirited character assassination by false prophets can erase that truth.
Any political leader who has trod the political terrain for eight decades cannot escape the perception and reality of miss-steps and mistakes. This is especially true in a society like Guyana where political reality is interpreted through hyper-subjective lenses. Kwayana’s career has attracted its fair share of controversy in a country steeped in controversy. But when all is said and done, he emerges as an embodiment of what is virtuous, uplifting and transformative in political practice.
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’s political journey asks the question—what is it to be a human being? Not a voter or a statistic, but a human. Kwayana’s humanism knows no bounds. His politics begins and ends there. That’s why he has been able to understand the pain and anguish of the underprivileged. His witnessing for the poor goes beyond working class ideologies to embrace their right to exist as full and equal human beings. Linked to his humanity, is political morality. Politics and morality are not thought of in the same breath for good reason. But somehow Kwayana brings them together in a manner that challenges our country over and over to check itself.
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 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 wo 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 that 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.
Kwayana is a legend 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 center 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.
Finally, we Buxtonions 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 Buxtonions. 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. So today Buxtonions will plant fruit and vegetable trees in batches of 96 to honour this gentle but remarkable example of community and selfless service.