Today we are commemorating the 57th Anniversary of our Independence from Britain. This usually highly celebrated event will today be toned, as the nation mourns the death of the 19 children who tragically lost their lives in the Mahdia Secondary School dormitory fire. We agree with President Dr Irfaan Ali when he decided to change the independence celebration activities to a Night of Reflection to remember the lives of the children who died.
Whenever we examine events that occurred in the past, we must acknowledge that we inevitably do so from the present, in which we are enmeshed. This implies that, no matter how hard we try, we cannot totally escape being influenced by the challenges and opportunities that confront us contemporaneously. It behooves us to consider that context in looking backward.
The Dutch, English, and French established colonies in what is now known as Guyana, but by the early 17th century, the majority of the settlements were Dutch. During the Napoleonic wars, Britain took over the Dutch colonies of Berbice, Demerara, and Essequibo, which became British Guiana in 1831.
British Guiana became a Crown colony in 1928, and in 1953 it was granted home rule. In 1950, Dr Cheddi Jagan became the leader of the newly-formed People’s Progressive Party (PPP), which struggled for human rights and Independence. In the 1953 elections, Dr Jagan was elected Chief Minister. The British, however, suspended the Constitution and Government within months and installed an interim Government. In 1955, the PPP split, with ambitious member LFS Burnham breaking off to create the People’s National Congress (PNC). In 1961, Britain granted the colony autonomy, and Dr Jagan was elected Prime Minister (1961–1964). Strikes and rioting, later proven to be the result of covert operations, forced Dr Jagan to make compromises inimical to his leadership in efforts to save his supporters from destruction. In 1964, Burnham succeeded Dr Jagan as Prime Minister – a position he retained after the country gained full Independence on May 26, 1966. British Guiana was renamed Guyana after Independence.
Guyana was a land roamed by its Indigenous Peoples, who comprised several tribes that lived sustainably in the rainforests. However, man’s lust for adventure and wealth brought the Europeans to these shores. With initial cajolery and barter, then trickery when they discovered the rich agrarian lands in these regions, the European nations tried to enslave the freedom-loving native tribes, with scant success, to farm the riverine areas.
Subsequently, enslaved Africans were transported to these colonies to work on the sugar plantations. After manumission, satisfying their desperate need for freedom, with monies they had saved literally from the sweat of their brows, they bought lands and contrived village structures, and their endeavours at farming provided sustenance out of the plantation landscape.
This left the plantocracy in a quandary. They needed a workforce that could withstand the burning sun and labor-intensive work of sugar cultivation and production; heralding the indenture of Chinese, Portuguese and Indians. However, only the Indians had the fortitude to work under the gruelling conditions imposed on the indentured servants. The Chinese and Portuguese became the merchant class.
These are the peoples who comprise the Guyanese nation. The fact is that, even with the granting of the Instruments of Independence by Great Britain, this country did not achieve real freedom, but was ruled by an iron fist under a dictatorship.
Down the corridors of Guyana’s history, the dictatorship continued to act in ways inimical to Guyana’s developmental trajectory, because the Guyanese people have become mere statistics – in the words of one politician, “collateral damage” in the drive of pseudo-leaders for self-aggrandizement/empowerment and wealth-acquisition.
After 28 years of PNC rule, October 5, 1992 heralded the dawn of a new era, as a PPP/C coalition Government – a combination of the PPP political construct and civil society, took the reins of administration, subsequent to which the country’s developmental paradigm began climbing on an upward trajectory that was near-miraculous.
The vehicle taking this nation on an inexorable climb toward the eventual attainment of individual and national progress and prosperity was taken over by the PNC-led APNU/AFC in 2015. Many questionable things happened during the period 2015-2020, forcing much discussion in Guyana as to whether the country was once again seeing the ghost of the dictatorship of the past.
When PPP/C was restored to the Government after agonising post-elections of 2020, the Irfaan Ali-led administration once again was constrained to clean up the Augean Stables, which is the aftermath that is Guyana under PNC rule.
The success of this Herculean task is clearly visible, as the visionary PPP/C leadership continues to guide this nation’s fortunes inexorably on an upward trajectory of social development and economic stability and growth.