Degutting Independence

The decision by the PNC to boycott this year’s official commemoration of Independence Day has precipitated this meditation. During their rule over their empire, on which “the sun never set”, the British insisted that, unlike the white “settler colonies” such as Australia or Canada, the ones populated by non-European “natives” had to undergo a period of “tutelage” before they would be ready for independence. This policy was greatly resented by the new leaders of the latter colonies, including those of the then British Guiana, who insisted they were in no way inferior to the British in matters political. Guyanese revelled in one account that described us as politically “precocious”.
However, with the benefit of hindsight: after the PNC’s rule for 28 long years following independence; their subsequent 5 years at the helm, and now in opposition, one has to ruefully concede that maybe the colonial power had a point on “tutelage”. PNC leaders could “read and write”, and therefore understand the tomes on politics and government; and Forbes Burnham, the British-trained lawyer, could regurgitate their ideas with great aplomb and eloquence.
The problem was whether they could put those ideas into practice, to appreciate not just the words, but the spirit that gave life to the words. In a word, they had developed a tradition of governing for the welfare of the people, which is the substance of democracy. The British, after all, had developed their traditions from the time of their Magna Carta in 1215, and their habits of independence had percolated into all their institutions, not just at Westminster.
This is well illustrated in the famous remark by the Duke of Wellington, that the epoch-shaping Battle of Waterloo against Napoleon had been won “on the playing fields of Eton”. He said this a decade after the battle, while looking at a game of cricket at Eton, the elite Grammar School on which our Queen’s College was modelled. He meant, of course, that the games inculcated values that could guide one in all aspects of life – including war and politics. It was rather ironic that Burnham did attend Queen’s but, sadly, was not noted for his activities on the playing fields. He was to later mock Walter Rodney, who had to scale fences after being chased by his goons, for being a champion high jumper at Queen’s.
In cricket, for instance, there is the tradition of “walking” if the batsman knows he kicked the ball; even when it might not have been evident to the opposing side or umpire. This was illustrated in the 2011 World Cup, when a delivery from West Indies pacer Ravi Rampaul hit Tendulkar’s glove and carried through to the keeper. The umpire was stuck in two minds, but his predicament was resolved by the great man himself, as he decided to walk and forego his 100th century.
Even if one is inclined to give Burnham the benefit of the doubt for his acquiescence with the US/British ouster of the PPP in 1964, because his choice was, in the words of Tyrone Ferguson, “to survive sensibly or to court heroic death”, there is no gainsaying that he drove a stake into the heart of democratic practice in our land when he not only did not accept the notion of “walking” in the 1968 elections, but conspired to rig the elections, and to do so until he died. While it is to his eternal credit that Desmond Hoyte decided to “walk” in 1992, we have to note that it was bitterly opposed by his then Prime Minister, Hamilton Green.
Green and many in the PNC have continued to insist that Hoyte was “naïve” to accept the results of the elections, even though technically he was not actually walking, but bowing to international pressure. Ditto when Granger finally accepted the verdict of the voters in 2020, after squatting for five months.
But democracy is not only being in Government: there is also the role of being a responsible Opposition, as a Government-in-waiting. The present PNC have also failed abysmally in this role, as they undermine our efforts to become truly independent now that we finally have the wherewithal to do so.