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Guyana Politics
Follow-up to Gokarran's thesis: Jagdeo was Burnham incarnate

By Kenneth Persaud

Guyana Journal, March 2012

I wish to commend my friend Gokarran Sookdeo who has made a slew of observations regarding the recent history of Guyana. He has deduced from his own facts that Jagdeo developed into Burnham incarnate. I was specially arrested by his statement that these men, both past Presidents, 'endowed with a narcissism and super ego, lapsed into a Machiavellian dictatorship after their first term in office'. This broad, underlying insight presented in the mixed imagery taken from psychology and political science is lovely, flamboyant and powerful.

Gokarran's thesis is a useful springboard on which to promote the positive process for Guyana's socio-political-economic development.

For this paper let me first state two incontrovertible facts: (1) time and tide wait for no man, that is to say, the history of the world is written every day and so ours too in it; (2) we, as human beings, develop our personalities as the world turns; we are very much the product of our environment. Mahatma Gandhi, who moved millions of people to move as a mass to overthrow the mighty British Empire, when asked what are the spiritual forces which motivate him, said: “I do not believe that the spiritual law works on a field of its own. On the contrary, it expresses itself only through the ordinary activities of life. It thus affects the economic, the social and political fields … all related and inter-related.”

Let me also make clear that I knew Burnham pretty well, personally; I did not know Jagdeo beyond my occasional reading of the Guyanese newspapers and anecdotal gaffes. Therefore, I will comment more on Burnham and less on Jagdeo whose credentials readers, much more knowledgeable than I am, may find convenient to fill in.

Now, if it is true that both men were more or less identical dictators, we have to agree that the economic, social and political environment had been arrested at the demise of one and the reappearing of the other, a quarter of a century later. This indeed was the case, nonsensical as it appears. This apparent jumbie story is true. But seriously, we have to ask the question: Had history stopped? Was there no positive development or change in the economic, social and political life of the people? We will return presently for you to answer this conundrum. (Burnham did believe in jumbie!)

When Burnham returned from his studies to Guyana I had just finished high school. He, with Dr. Jagan, and Sydney King, (now Eusi Kwayana), used to visit my father, seen as an important person in our village, to help them in the formulation of a new entity, a political party. I picked up a close friendship with Forbes who was most friendly and approachable, even amiable. I did not spot any proclivities to tyranny. And, as to the concept 'dictatorship', that could not have been in our consciousness at the time!

As time passed, Burnham, and some other professionals, moved 360 degrees, to his newly constructed political home called PPP (Burnham). For him to flourish, Burnham and friends realized that this move was necessary but not sufficient. They had to create a party structure. This they did. Burnham's party (now PNC) was still unable to capture enough votes to give him the majority and, therefore, power, within the prevailing governmental structure. Out of that social environment a certain social rhetoric developed, and, this narrative has been foundational – it's in use to this day.

The other party, Jagan's (PPP), developed its own unique rhetoric which, likewise, has been in vogue through time. And what has happened to the “masses”? Did they develop a narrative for themselves? No. They, by and large, at this formative stage of our nation, realized that they were made merely riff raff: the political, economic and social fields have not developed for them. Economically speaking, their lot has remained soldered into poverty, their social and political life has stagnated. (Older persons, who compare a 1990 stump speech with one heard in 1957 say they have heard nothing new, absolutely nothing new.) It works well for the system which replicates itself. But, for the people, true agents of politics, time has been standing still. If I were in Guyana at the last elections I would not have been true to myself to vote for a party. Political parties, even the newer ones like APNU, are created over damaged, retrogressive goods; their founding elements rest on the same narratives created earlier.

Permit me to make a singular statement which appears tangential but is not as you will see. Hindsight is a wonderful purveyor of “facts”; it licenses itself to fictionalized stories, it is married to convenient flights of fancy. Latter-day historians, armed with a million-dollar “research” grant from former slave masters can, and do, turn the true facts upside down to prove nothing but nebulous hypotheses! Another species of historians, like a stray dog in Albouystown, pick up bits and pieces of stinking flesh and weave masterly theories for degreed institutions foreign to them. We have to be on the lookout for these charlatans!

Now, here is a challenge. How many of us historians can, with true conviction, come out and say that hate speech in Guyana has been the active mantra in the past! However, it has been the bedrock on which politics stands even today. And, is it not a true fact that it has not worked for the political, economic and social upliftment of the nation as a whole? Now, this being so, don't we have to acknowledge that “development” has gone awry. Are we prepared to acknowledge this fact and turn the table, turn the mantra of hatred into one of love. I believe it takes greater energy to hate than to love. Or, are we still prepared, by our pusillanimous treatises, hold on to the beaten paradigm which has proved hostile to the development of those essential, interrelated fields identified by Mahatma Gandhi? Gandhi's teaching has brought success: on his slim shoulders the mighty “revolutionaries”, Nelson Mandala and Martin Luther King, have stood and shaken the complacency of the 20th century to glory. And we can, with the prudent use of Gandhi, be successful too.

Are the pundits and philosophers, prepared to pull up their socks, and spend a few months among the people, armed with the inversion of the Maslow pyramid? The fault, dear friends, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings. (Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.) Gandhi also said: “to forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves.” (The PPP has always kept itself organizationally sound in this sphere of activity although things could have been better.)