Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
As we should, an examination of the several factors that characterise the constitutional adjustments that led to Guyana becoming a Republic within the British Commonwealth should remain an interest, particularly our young Guyanese who need to know all of our history.
In 1831, three years before the proclamation of Emancipation, the colonies of Essequibo and Demerara were joined by Berbice and became British Guiana. When the colony was first established, be reminded citizens of Demerara and Essequibo expressed grave concern that because of the existing tax system, Berbice would be a burden.
Constitutional development proceeded with the assumption that the freed slaves were not citizens as we understand it today. The British Government tinkered with the legislation and Constitutional Reform.
We went through the period in 1856, when the British contended that the Manumitted Africans and the children of Immigrants, resident in the colony were unfit to have a significant voice in Government.
In the meantime, agitation continued among the subjects to have greater say in the governance as they toiled on the Coast and Hinterland. In 1891, there were meagre steps towards an improved (SIC) Constitution. In 1928, there was what is described as the granting of a Crown Colony Constitution.
This did not satisfy the aspirations of local leaders led by Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow. The breakthrough came when Sir E,J Waddington arrived in the colony in 1950. The Waddington Commission recommended Elections where every citizen was for the first time allowed to exercise their franchise. Previously, we had to qualify to vote. Elections under the Waddington Constitution was held in April 1953 and the PPP led by the Party’s Chairman, L.F.S Burnham and Dr. Cheddi Jagan secured 18 of the 24 electoral seats and was elected to Office.
The first six Ministers, were ( in alphabetical order) L.F.S. Burnham, Ashton Chase, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, Sydney King, Dr. J.P. Latchmansingh and Jai Narine Singh.
Thanks to the viciousness of the Cold War, the Waddington Constitution was suspended and Guyanese had to wait after three more General Elections, 1957, 1961 and 1964 to gain its Independence from Great Britain and on to republican status on the 23rd of February, 1970. We must not lose site of the more important factors as we celebrate our 51st Anniversary as a Co-operative Republic, the first Independence State in the Caribbean and most of the Commonwealth to be elevated to Republican status.
That is the people led by our 20th century visionary LFS Burnham understood that a new flag, anthem and the right to join the United Nations represented the trappings of independence.
What was needed was a complete break from our colonial masters, so that we could vindicate the sufferings of our slave ancestors, the humiliation of some of our earlier Immigrants and the pressure applied to our indigenous people.
We felt it inappropriate that our Gracious Majesty the Queen should after Independence still remain our titular Head of State and at the final Independence Conference held at Lancaster House, November2, 1965, under the Chairmanship of Sir Anthony Greenwood, the Guyana UF Delegation consisting of L.F.S. Burnham, Stephen Campbell ( first Amerindian in Parliament) Randolph Cheeks, Hugh M.E. Cholmondeley, Peter D’Aguiar, John E. De Freitas, Hamilton Green, D. Joaquin, Llewelyn John, Mohamed Kassim, Deo Roop Maraj and Marcellus Fielden Singh insisted that the instrument of Independence should include a clause allowing us to become Republic after a short while.
For us, this was a major step of decolonization and to certify Independence.
Independence could not assume its true meaning if the Imperial Monarch that control our very lives for centuries should continue to be our Head of State albeit titular. As you examine the rocky road to freedom, fifty-one years on, we still have remnants among some citizens of that old colonial mentality and even more egregious.
The Republic is still burdened of a polarized society, exacerbated by racial and ethnic distrust. To make a reality of our cooperative republican status, we must with strength beyond the slave, work assiduously to ensure that our religious organisations, business associations, youth and women groups and in particular our Trade Union Movement is headed and guided by persons who are authentic patriots and fiercely nationalistic.
It is this culture, it is this condition, which will be the under-pining of our cooperative republicanism.
Our leaders in every area must devote their time to educate our people about our history, our trials, tribulations and triumphs on this 51st anniversary. It must be clear that in addition to the process of educating the masses, as a people, we must be unafraid to agitate for justice and the equitable distribution of our substantial resources. On the first issue of education, it is necessary today to trace the winning road that led to February 23, 1970, and to celebrate the men and women who were the catalyst to move us forward out of slavery and bondage.
As we strive for unity part of the process of education should be to differentiate between slavery, indentureship and being subjects of an imperial power.
Understanding the sometimes halting steps as we march from a Colonial Constitution to 1966 and what we celebrate today in 1970, it is apposite to quote from this Address by the Late Linden Forbes Burnham:-
“National Assembly of the Second Parliament of Guyana 1969 – 1970, February 23, 1970 “ Mr. Speaker, there are some moments in one’s life, which can never be forgotten. There are some moments in one’s existence, which can never be relived. Such a moment is this moment in my life. Today, at the first sitting of the Second Parliament of Guyana, but the first of the Co-operative Republic, I take the opportunity of noting that from henceforth, and even forever, we shall no longer be one of Her Gracious Majesty’s dominions.
We celebrate in a somewhat unusual fashion, Mr. Speaker, an event which took place 207 years ago, at a little settlement called Magdalenburg, where a number of slaves decided to put an end to slavery not merely because there were cruelties on the Dutch Plantations, but also because they were convinced that the institution of slavery itself was contrary to their own aspirations and was a contradiction of the humanity of man and the dignity of themselves.”
In introducing the motion to Independence, the then Minister of Education, quotes “let me make the point that when we talk about a Co-operative Republic, it is more than an economic form and economic system. It embodies an entire philosophy, a philosophy fashioned within the ranks of the Party that is now in Government, a philosophy which has come from among the rank and file of the people of Guyana being nurtured throughout the centuries.”
Today, the Republic, what with our new found and traditional resources to ensure that there is an environment to enable our young people to release the creative energies and for citizens generally to appreciate that success and prosperity is in the hands of our leaders and people. The vital lesson should be unity, justice, understanding and decency.