Linden Forbes Burnham – A Square Peg in a Round Hole

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Have you ever looked at something and wondered how it got there? Former Guyanese President Linden Forbes Burnham is a good example of such. It makes you wonder “who elected the likes of these men to be rulers?” The answer: they were not elected but usurped power.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, the preacher laments, “I have seen servants on horses and princes walking the earth as servants.” The verse above suggests that the art of ruling cannot be taught but must be inherent within the individual. That is, rulers are born, not made.

Linden Forbes Samson Burnham (if I spelled that correctly) is a good example of a servant on a horse: a man who had no clue about the art of governance but who hijacked the seat of government and clung to it through illicit means.

You can measure a teacher’s performance by the results of the exams, and you can measure a doctor’s merits by the results of the patients he or she treats. In the same way, you can measure the capabilities of a ruler by the happiness and prosperity of the people in his territory. During the rule (or reign of terror) of Linden Forbes Samson Burnham, Guyanese starved, suffered and fled Guyana by the droves to Venezuela, Trinidad, Suriname, United States and any other country they could escape to.

Mr. Burnham actually believed that a country of just a few hundred people…more than 90% of whom were descendants of slaves and indentured laborers…could actually be self sufficient. And so he closed all borders to imports and told his “subjects” to “produce or perish.” To which in turn the people perished or fled.

This act of tyranny by this square peg in a round hole led to increased contraband activities where a few rebellious businessmen who resolved to challenge the system would make daring excursions “backtrack” to neighboring Suriname to import items such as sardines, flour, milk etc. And the high demand of these “contraband items” created high profit margins for the businessmen who dared to ply the trade.

In turn, Burnham’s soldiers would intercept and terrorize these contraband lawbreaking businessmen and demand huge sums of money in bribes from them. The soldiers often beat the businessmen, seized their goods and threatened to throw them overboard. Nevertheless, because of the high profits attached to contraband items, the men continued to ply the trade at the risk of their life and limb – and do whatever they could to pacify the “law enforcement officers.”

The soldiers and police would also show up at the houses of the businessmen who traded contraband items and terrorize them, extracting huge sums in bribe from them.

Linden Forbes Burnham never won an election in Guyana. He consistently rigged the elections and disposed of every mechanism in place to depose him from power. He was infamously quoted as saying, “no government in power should lose an election.”

The supporters of Mr. Burnham often argue that he was doing the right thing, and that true patriots detest foreign imports. Yet, when Mr. Burnham was diagnosed with cancer, he went to Cuba for “foreign” treatment. On his death bed, he requested imported condensed milk.

Despite all the horrors that Burnham brought upon the Guyanese people, upon taking office in 2015, Mr. David Granger said that Mr. Burnham was a great leader to be emulated. And like Burnham, Mr. Granger attempted to rig the March 2, 2020 elections. But, due to strong international intervention, the APNU/AFC’s attempt to right the March 2020 elections was thwarted, and Mr. Granger was deposed from power.

In Guyana, there is a local saying that goes, “you can’t put dankey fa blow mout argan.” That translates to: “you can’t put a donkey to blow a mouth organ.” That means that you have to find people cut out for a particular job to do the job. In other words, you don’t put a construction worker to fly an airplane anymore than you put a maths teacher to teach English.

In this context, Burnham was a man unfit for government and unable to rule who brought an entire nation to ruins. Putting Mr. Burnham in the seat of government was akin to putting a donkey to blow a mouth organ or putting a square peg in a round hole.

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