First Published: 30th of August, 2020.Last updated: August 30, 2020 at 15:13 pm
I decided to make a copy of this article for our archives because it gives details and insights of life under the rule of Mr. Forbes Burnham by someone who has lived through that era. This article was first published in the Kaieteur News by columnist and professor, Freddie Kissoon.
I was walking my dog on Thursday afternoon when this young man in an open back pick-up pulled up. He thanked me for my support for democracy during the five-month ordeal we have just passed through. I said to him: “Have you lived through the days of Forbes Burnham?” He said he was born in 1979 so I told him he missed the permanent monarchy of President Forbes Burnham.
I briefly explained the nature of Burnham rule and emotionally recounted that what happened on March 4, 2020 with Clairmont Mingo was something all Guyanese who lived through the reign of Burnham had to fight against with every ounce of passion.
I described what the kingdom of Burnham was like. He rigged every election from 1968 and to change the constitution to make his rule monarchical, he rigged the 1978 referendum. There was nothing even vaguely democratic about Burnham. Whatever ideas Burnham gave birth to, he implemented without consulting any section of Guyana. There was no distinction between pathways that were harmless and harmful. Burnham sought no audience from any quarter for what he had in his mind and what he wanted to implement.
The absurdities of Burnham’s rule were incomprehensible. He decided school children must do mass games; university students, public service scholarship holders and UG students must do compulsory national service in the interior; his party should be paramount to the state so it should have an office in each major ministry of government; what types of foods should be banned; what types of clothes public servants must wear to work.
The reign of Forbes Burnham was frightening and demoralizing. He rode on horseback sharing out cigarettes in south Georgetown. Young men ran to his horse to collect their smoke. He ordered public servants to do compulsory cleaning jobs at the weekends at the state-owned Hope Estate while he rode his horse and shouted at them if they appeared to be doing their grass-weeding too slowly.
This was what the reign of Forbes Burnham was like. But the evil in his reign scared you to death when you realized that he was not elected, could not be removed through free and fair election and if fate destined him to live in the nineties, he would dominate Guyana forever. This is why free and fair election is phenomenally priceless.
By the time of the 1980 election, Forbes Burnham had become a hated figure. He rigged the 1980 election giving his party 77. 7 percent of the vote compared with 19.5 percent for the PPP. If Walter Rodney had contested the 1980 election and if the 1980 election was free and fair, Burnham would have suffered a humiliating defeat, spending the rest of his life in jail.
What the psychotic misrule of Burnham revealed is that a country can die a slow death if people are not allowed to change their governments. In 2011, the PPP lost. In 2015, the PPP lost again. In 2020, the PNC lost and refused to concede taking us back to a Burnhamite wasteland and indeed Guyana became a Draculean wasteland under Burnham. It boggles the mind to think that President Granger could see this unelected tyrant as his hero. What was heroic about a politician that could never win an election contest yet acted as if he was the greatest gift to Guyanese?
Those young souls that braved the elements and the danger of COVID-19 in fighting for free election in March, protecting the ballot boxes in Kingston and at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre and spending endless hours protecting the CARICOM observed recount need to internalize the lessons of the Burnhamite psychosis.
They were not born when Burnham became the king of Guyana and the future became hopeless. They must now spend the rest of their lives sharing the knowledge they gained from the just concluded five month ordeal.
We conclude with a simple description of how Burnhamite psychosis could have been reborn if Clairmont Mingo, Keith Lowenfield, Roxanne Myers, Claudette Singh, Vincent Alexander, Charles Corbin, Desmond Trotman, leaders in the PNC, WPA and AFC and the recently retired police commissioner, Leslie James, were not stopped by brave international diplomats. Granger would have become the president. In 2025, the same GECOM team would have engineered another PNC victory (by which time, the AFC would have become shamelessly absorbed into the PNC). Granger would have appointed his successor.
Those born in 2020, by the time they reached 25 in 2045, the only government they would have known was the PNC. They would have become sad as we did under Burnham because they would have known that the right to vote and have it counted did not exist.