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|Mr. Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham was born on 20th February 1923 and died on 6th August 1985. In his 62 years on earth, he represented many things.
He was a Queen’s College scholar; Methodist preacher; lawyer who was elevated to Senior Counsel (SC); Mayor of Georgetown; President of the Guyana Labour Union (GLU); President of the Guyana Bar Association; a founding member of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), reaching the highest position as Chairman; a founding member and the Leader of the People’s National Congress (PNC), a position he held from inception to death; Member of the National Assembly; Minister of Education under limited self-rule in the PPP government; Premier; Prime Minister; and Guyana’s first President with Executive responsibilities.
Burnham was a family man and loved sports. He was married to Sheila Bernice Lataste (1951), a union that bore three daughters: Roxanne, Annabelle, and Francesca. In 1967 Burnham married Viola Victorine Harper, a union that bore two daughters, Melanie and Ulele; and son, Kimani. He loved farming, horseback riding, cricket and chess. In 1972 he founded the Guyana Chest Association.
Major Derrick Lawrence, Burnham’s longest serving ADC (Aide-De-Camp), and who was also Deputy Commander of the President’s security, said 37 years after Burnham’s death he remains inspired by his vision for Guyana. According to Lawrence, the manner in which Burnham constructed the infrastructure for the small man’s development proved that ‘making the small man a real man’ was not a slogan but a philosophy deeply rooted in serious thoughts and actions.
For instance, those who didn’t have access to get loans from commercial banks, the Burnham government put in place infrastructures such as local banks and cooperatives to access funding where people were able to own homes and become entrepreneurs, said Lawrence.
“What he did with the military is give it a People-Consciousness focus that men and women in uniform knew they were not only there for defence but also for national development, and by utilising this approach Burnham gave meaning to the term ‘A People’s Army.” Lawrence fondly recalled that during Burnham’s time Guyana stood up very firmly to Venezuela and started the People’s Militia. According to the Major, Burnham provided the military with the educational requirement to pursue development. “He introduced an education unit in the military and soldiers had education and training opportunities brought to them in their barracks.”
Consistent with Burnham’s focus of moulding and building a new society, in keeping with the national motto of “One People One Nation One Destiny,” some of which are represented below:-
Establishing a Guyanese identity- Race Relations, Religion, Marriage and Culture
Guyana’s First Peoples were given their national pride of place in the National Emblem, national honouree titles, the Umana Yana (meeting place) that hosted local and foreign events. The First Peoples were encouraged and supported in participating in mainstream/coastland Guyana through a series of programmes and educational opportunities. The Atkinson Airport was expanded and renamed Timehri in honour of our First Peoples.
Freedom of religion became a right. Religious marriages, which in English practice were seen as common law relationships, became acceptable in the formal society and religious leaders were allowed to become marriage officers. The mainstreaming of these unions removed the bastardisation of children (i.e., born out of wedlock) and allowed for inheritance and other benefits.
The Obeah Ordinance, which criminalised African religion and its customs, was repealed. Non-Christian holidays were added to the national calendar out of respect and with the sense of equalising the Hindu and Muslim communities
The racial barriers where only persons of certain complexion and race were hired in certain institutions or became the face of institutions were removed. Also removed were the rigid stratification that informed living and working on the sugar estates and in bauxite.
Guyana created its own dressed code for work and social events- e.g., the shirt jac shirt and shirt jac suit
Education and schools
Established different pathways for educational opportunities development which allowed for education at different levels, based on ability at interest at given times. Free education from nursery to university was enshrined as a right. Co-education and public education were established with the intent to create a space for Guyanese to learn, from early, to relate to and respect each other across gender and race.
Guyana Industrial Training Centre (GITC), New Amsterdam Technical Institute (NATI), construction of University of Guyana Turkeyen campus, Cyril Potter College of Education, Multilateral schools (some with dormitory), community high schools, Belbag, NARI, expansion of GSA, Kuru Kuru Cooperative College; Hinterland Education Programme that brought and housed persons from in the hinterland communities in Georgetown to pursue education; President College (School of Excellence).
The Guyana National Service (GNS) and the Military
Established the GNS (not just the Kimbia location) as paramilitary institution in face of growing external aggression and to provide the communal space to nurture confidence in young people, reduce the fear of the hinterland, and to make youth of all races and from all areas of the country respect each other and their cultures.
The military was also engaged in development activities – road building, house construction and other technical skill areas – which were prized in Caribbean areas that suffered damage from hurricanes and other natural disasters.
Turn-key Housing Developments (collaborative efforts that included the trade unions, soldiers)
Homes were built through self-help and hired, and some were built from ground up and prefab assembling. During construction homeowners received food packages and got time-off from work. Some are the developments are: North and South Ruimveldt Gardens and Park, Festival City, Roxanne Burnham Gardens, Meadowbrook and Meadowbrook Gardens; Melania Damishana on the East Coast of Demerara; Steve Narine Housing Scheme on the West Coast of Demerara; Suddie, Reliance, Anna Region and Henrietta on the Essequibo Coast.
The Government in collaboration with the trade unions realised the construction of fTucVille in Georgetown; TucBer in Berbice; Stevedore scheme; Clerical and Commercial Workers Union scheme.
COFA institution (Corporation Financial Agencies)
Established the Guyana Mortgage Finance Bank; Guyana Agricultural and Development Bank (GAIBANK); National Insurance and Social Security Scheme (NIS); Guyana National Cooperative Bank (GNCB); and Guyana Co-operative Insurance Service.
Airline, Roads, Bridges, Irrigation, Water and Electricity Networks
Linden/Soesdkye highway; Demerara Harbour Bridge (which at construction was the world’s longest floating); Canjie Bridge;
Road networks bridging the three counties, hinterland and backdams/farmland to main roads (e.g., Canal No.1 and Canal No.2 roads); asphalt surfacing, expanding and building roads along the East and West Coast and Bank of Demerara and Berbice, in Georgetown, and Essequibo Coast.
The Tapakuma Irrigation Project (Essequibo Coast); MMA-ADA (Berbice)
There was electricity expansion across the coastland and the exploration of hydroelectricity to produce alternative and cheap energy supply with the MocoMoco Hydro Project, UMHP and UMRP.
Guyana owned its own flag carrier, the Guyana Airways
Potable water was improved and expanded through wells, pump stations, taps to yards and running water in homes.
Regional and International Integration and Worldwide Comity
Established and joined regional, international and global organisations. Guyana co-founded the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Caribbean Festival of Arts (CARIFESTA), Caribbean Free Trade Agreement (CARIFTA); Guyana joined the United Nations (UN), International Labour Organisation (ILO), South/South Cooperation and Non-Aligned Movement. The government provided support to African countries in their fight against colonisation and apartheid with skilled Guyanese as well as allowing their youth to come to Guyana for training.
Guyana’s foreign policy was designed to assert Guyana’s identity and right to self-determination, likewise, playing a role in the quest for worldwide peace and development in the Cold War era.
A thriving, though fledging manufacturing sector was established evident by: GuyCan juices; rice flour; baby food (Cerex cereal); Sanata Textile; cloth (cotton); stoneware factory; glass factory; clay brick factory to promote housing development; LIDCO milk plant producing bottled milk from grass fed cows; Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation; local foods in commercial quantity such as salting our own species of fish, making ham, salted beef and pigtails; preserving local variety of fruits; encouraged the production of chips made of ground and other vegetables such as plantain, cassava and eddoes.
Guyana assembled and made refrigerator and freezer (Guyana Refrigerator Ltd); stereos and radio (GRECO); tapir vehicle (AILIM); local ferries and military vessels.
Sought to remove the remnants of colonialism
Guyana gained republican status in 1970. The imposed colonial physical requirement of height to serve in the police force was removed. Cuffy, the slave of the 1763 Rebellion, was elevated to National Hero. The Enmore Martyrs became the national symbol for workers’ struggle for better working conditions. There were efforts to rename places associated with oppression e.g., Murray Street in Georgetown which was named in honour of a Governor responsible for ill-treating slaves was renamed Quamina Street in honour of the slave who led the Demerara rebellion.
Over the years the human frailties of Burnham, real and conjured, were allowed to dominate as persons ignored and sought to deny his achievements, choosing instead to propagate many misleading narratives in an attempt to squash his true legacy on Guyana’s national development, said Lawrence. “Others should be encouraged to share their stories of positivity because it is important to have a full and honest documentation of Burnham and what he represented.”