Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
Today is the 100th birth anniversary of President Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham O.E, S.C. who passed on 6th August 1985.
No tribute to Mr. LFS Burnham can commence without foremost acknowledging his brilliance was recognised very early in his youth when he gained entry to the prestigious Queen’s College from where he graduated with accolades and was awarded the coveted title of being a Guyana Scholar. He then pursued a legal career where he graduated in law from the London School of Economics.
Mr. Burnham returned to Guyana in 1949 in the height of the struggles by colonised peoples of the British Empire seeking to advance political, social and economic freedoms and rights.
As an outstanding African Guyanese scholar, with impressive oratory skills, Mr. LFS Burnham joined the struggles with other citizens. Most importantly the charismatic Dr. Cheddie Jagan and Mr. Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, the Father of Trade Unionism in the British Commonwealth. These gentlemen were among the founders of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP)
Together, Mr. Burnham, the lawyer, and Dr. Jagan, the dentist, became a political force to be reckoned with. They both had a mixed ethnic following, though each was predominantly represented with a base either of Indian or Africans. These two champions of the Guyana working class became unfortunately separated, bringing to the forefront fundamental differences in ideological persuasion which the West would have taken note of as a key factor in the heightened Cold War era.
Whilst Dr. Jagan was leaning more to the left (communist), Burnham evolved moving more to the centre, eventually embracing a socialist philosophy as a buttress between capitalism. Mr. Burnham’s more moderate political posturing allowed him to gain more acceptance in a world divided between communist and capitalist struggles.
Mr. Burnham’s better understanding of the Cold War struggles and political astuteness, no doubt, would have placed him in his more moderate political posturing which the Western World, in particular Britain and the American Superpower, would have found less threatening and therefore better for collaboration post-independence. In 1966 this was granted, and he became the first prime minister of independent Guyana.
Unfortunately, Mr. Burnham and Dr. Jagan became separated, and in an election held in 1957 Burnham lost to Jagan, and in so doing the Burnham-faction PPP then became known as the People’s National Congress (PNC). The PNC joined with the capitalist-oriented United Force (UF) and formed Guyana’s first political coalition government in 1964. His political astuteness in the eyes of a turbulent world made him a safer choice in America’s backyard coming after the Cuba Bay of Pigs and Latin American leftist struggles.
Mr. LFSB Burnham’s vision for Guyana
Mr. Burnham’s vision can be summed up in six words: “One People, One Nation, One Destiny.” Regardless of what some would like us to believe, this our country’s motto is documented evidence of what he believed in, what was his desire for the nation. “One People, One Nation, One Destiny.” These are powerful words that every Guyanese, regardless of era, regardless of which political party is in government, should embrace as an awareness of nation building of their individual and collective position in our beloved country. This motto transcends all political parties, all eras and excludes none. And any attempt to undermine it or replace it is an insult to all Guyanese.
In 1964 as Mr. Burnham formed the government of the PNC/UF coalition he said:
“…all the people of this country are equally important, whether they belong to a large group or a small group…the Amerindians are important….the Chinese are important…the Portuguese are important…the Europeans are important. …the mixed races are important….the Africans are important….the Indians are important. In short, all Guyanese are important and valued members of our community, and we cherish them and consider … it is [the] duty and privilege [of Government] to guard, protect and further the real interests of all.”
Those words, which articulate the desire of every Guyanese, were no more evident than on the 26th May 1966 when Leader of the Opposition Dr. Jagan and Prime Minister Burnham embraced as Guyana, a new nation, laid the indigenous foundation of inclusivity, equality and equity.
The aspirational flame of pro-independence advocates for “One People, One Nation, One Destiny,” is as bright today as it was at the dawn of Independence among PNC supporters and other nationalists.
The history of Mr. Forbes Burnham is the history of Guyana, and we must value the contributions and legacy of this gentleman even as we seek to further understand his ways and contribution. We must also value those who struggled with him, those who identified with him, and those who upkeep his legacy.
And when I say upkeep his legacy, I don’t mean this only for members and supporters of the PNC or those who pay lip service to his name in times of convenience. I mean this far all those who seek to walk in his shoes, believing, they are fit and proper to so do and have what it takes to advance the vision for “One People, One Nation, One Destiny,” those in and out of the party. I mean this for those who advance the development of women to have leading roles whether in the Party or in the nation, in or out of government; those who seek to mould a destiny of betterment for all Guyanese regardless of race, class, colour, religion or political persuasion, field, office or factory.
The legacy of Mr. Burnham transcends time, governments and political parties, for such is the legacy of giants and Mr. Burnham was a giant among his political and legal peers- recognised as the Caribbean Man of the 20th Century and respected by friends and the not so friendly alike. It is to his greatness I speak and honour and why I remain optimistic that even as we face our darkest day now that we will one day return to embrace the vision as Children of this Republic and sing the song with true reverence, commitment to
“Day by day in strength and beauty grow,
Till at length we each of us may show,
What Guyana’s sons and daughters can be.”
We must work to ensure that the resources of Guyana- agricultural, mineral, oil and gas, and our own previous human resources- benefit the people of this beloved and prosperous country, the working-class people, our aged and differently able, who together will
“climb the glorious perch
To fame, prosperity;
Join in the universal search
For world-wide comity.
Your people what soe’er their breed
Their hue or quality,
With one firm never changing creed
The nation’s unity”
These are not my words.
These are words written by Mr. Cleveland Hamilton, inspired by the vision of Mr. Forbes Burnham for the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, for the sons and daughters of Guyana, for every single Guyanese. Join me today, let us advance those visions that are still relevant and make Guyana a land of love and unity.