Forbes Burnham made a major contribution to our nation

Stabroek News
August 9, 2001

Dear Editor,

Our Independence in 1966 was a time of global upheaval and confrontation. There was a growing concern for the relationship between the rich and the poor, and the perceived injustice perpetuated against millions around the world. Leaders from what was described as the third world raised the temperature and galvanized support, from every corner of the globe, against the system.

In different ways Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jnr and Kwame Nkrumah represented a new breed of people's champion.

In the Caribbean Eric Williams, Michael Manley, Errol Barrow, Fidel Castro, Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham were our principal spokesmen for a fairer world order. They helped to bring about change.

On the 6th August, 1985, the man who led this nation for many years, - Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, passed away. As a people, even among those who opposed his policies and were critical of his mode of operation, we must not ignore the monumental contribution he made to the moulding of our nation.

First, we tend to forget that, just before his demise, he had come around to accepting the need to establish a deep and meaningful relationship with his one time friend, but later nemesis, patriot and the other 20th Century, Guyana icon - Cheddi Jagan.

Secretly and quietly a few of us had steadily advanced the process of at least finding a modus vivendi, unfortunately after Burnham's sudden passing this process was aborted.

Second, we must remember what Guyana was like before Independence. We had less than ten miles of paved roads in the entire country, and our sea defences were on the verge of collapsing.

We must not forget that Burnham pioneered the opening up of the hinterland, many new airstrips were built during that period.

The effort to feed, cloth and house the nation was laudable. The invasion of imported fruits, sardines and vegetables that we ought to be producing here would have been unthinkable under Burnham.

In a land of many waters, we now import water.

He played an important part in helping to knit an efficient cricket team under Guyanese leadership, and helped shape a cultural landscape that while not denouncing western humanities, took account of our Amerindian, African, Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, and European heritage.

To date Carifesta 72 held in Guyana under his guidance, has not been surpassed in style, and content.

Remember the self-help housing schemes? Festival City, with the help of people like Bunny Fernandes, and the then Minister of Works completed, in time for the opening of Carifesta 72, defying all the predictions that it could not be finished in time. Our two bridges over the Canje and the Demerara rivers.

Burnham introduced National Service, which in addition to imparting skills, brought together young people from different backgrounds and areas, as patriots to share a common vision. The theme that resonated throughout every National Service Centre was "We want to build this land that belongs to us".

The introduction of free education with all of its negatives and difficulties, was intended, and is still the best mechanism, to narrow the gap between the disadvantaged, and the better off in society.

Burnham dreamed beyond the financial capacity of the nation, and offered to provide free books and uniforms to every school child.

Mass Games taught our youths coordination, discipline and love.

We provided leadership within the non-aligned movement, and used that position to stand up to the multi-nationals.

It was under his watch, that all religions in Guyana were given equal status, he dispensed with the notion of a state religion, or high churches created by the colonial administration.

Our National holidays for Hindus, and Muslims, which today we take for granted, were his idea and effort.

The 1763 Monument and the Enmore Martyrs Monument were his idea and in the case of the latter he helped supervise its construction.

He had visit us several world leaders such as: Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Indira Gandhi, Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe, in addition to most of our West Indian leaders and intellectuals.

The members of the party he led must resist any attempt within the ranks to demean or reform Forbes Burnham. Once you recited at meetings these words from the Prophet Kali Gibran, "Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave, pity the nation that drinks a wine that flows not from its own wine press, and eats the bread it does not harvest." This was his vision, which we need to recapture as we remember his passing.

On these occasions we must seek the truth, and learn from the mistakes of the past, as we remember Burnham. Viewing him from any side of the divide, we must commit ourselves to making a reality the symbols and spirit which emerged when he led this nation, such as contained in our National Anthem and the words on our Coat of Arms: One People, One Nation, One Destiny.

Yours faithfully,
Hamilton Green, J.P