…vs Independence
The ongoing and deepening floods that have engulfed our country – on the 55th Anniversary of our independence – brings to your Eyewitness’s mind the difference between “decolonisation” and “independence”.
Everyone carries on about us being colonised for over three centuries – first by the Dutch and then the British; yet, somehow, we seem to expect that, on “independence”, we were just going to undo whatever the colonials had done.
Walter Rodney pointed out that what Burnham received for his betrayal of the nationalist cause to oust the PPP Government was just a “briefcase” independence. Some signed documents by the British that declared he could pretty much do whatever the heck he wanted – once he didn’t threaten their strategic interests.
Burnham knew he was just a poseur – after all, Jagan was always there to remind him! – but he insisted he was decolonising”!
But his vulgar Marxism in assuming that whatever the colonials did was bad and “decolonisation” meant jettisoning them. And we arrive at our floods. The colonials had literally carved out the coastland, where 85% of us live, from mangrove swamps by creating an intricate network of canals and sluices (kokers) to drain the land. The famous 100 million tons of mud dug with shovels and all that! But this hydrological wonder had to be maintained!! From siltation, from overgrown grass etc.
But what did the PNC do? They played fast and loose with the system, and encouraged a slackness in the workforce – who were now INDEPENDENT! They couldn’t be ordered to maintain the routines the “white man” had imposed! Everyone had to be addressed as “comrade”, since the colonial “hierarchy” was now overthrown as part of “decolonisation”! Look at Georgetown – of which Burnham was the mayor just before Independence. Several of the canals – which acted as catchments and drainage conduits – were filled in to “beautify” the city!! And we sank from a “Garden City” into a “Garbage City”.
After he nationalised the sugar industry, Burnham’s managers of “PNC people with party cards” refused to even enter the sugar fields to look at the cane – much less the canals. While so many have bemoaned the precipitous decline of sugar production from 1976 to 1992, they failed to highlight that one of the reasons for the decline was the dilapidated state of the infrastructure – including the canals, which drained the fields AND THE FRONT LANDS WHERE THE POPULACE LIVED!!
Cognisant of the precariousness of the balance between dry and flooded house lots, “white man” had decreed those houses must be built on stilts, and village drains must be cleaned. That, however, was observed in the breach as “independence” was interpreted as living in Florida-style slab bungalows!
The PNC decolonised us into the Stone Age!

…and politics
Burnham’s greatest act of “decolonisation”, however, was to degut the Parliamentary Democracy the British colonials had left. This was “bourgeois” democracy, he thundered! He’d run things so that “the small man would be the real man!” He promptly began to rig elections till he died in 1985. Seems that “decolonisation” meant that the leader – Burnham, of course – would decide who’d rule. He, of course. It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it, and Burnham would bear any burden for his people!
By 1970, Burnham decided that “decolonisation” also meant a new form of government – as he cut all links with Britain and declared us a “republic”. We would now be a “Co-operative Republic” – the only one in the world! Revolutionary, no? No! It was to be just a fancy term for extending his dictatorship into the economic sphere by nationalising 80% of the economy!
“Decolonisation” also meant all schoolchildren and public servants had to join his supporters in “mass games”.
And shout, “Hail Kabaka!”

…and food bans
Burnham also decided that “decolonisation” meant that we shouldn’t eat the foreign foods the colonials had imported. He banned them, and mandated we should “buy local”.
Sounded good! Save he personally imported the cognac and condensed milk he craved!