THE achievement of independence on May 26, 1966 marked another phase of development in the quest for freedom. This journey began with the fight against enslavement, indentureship and colonisation. In the process of acknowledging that development occurs in phases, recognition is given to the abolition of the slave trade which predated amelioration and freedom from slavery, which was followed by freedom from indentureship. These phases laid the foundation for the fight for and achievement of universal adult suffrage, limited self-government and independence.
The bottom line is, independence is a stepping stone in a nation’s growth and development. Among those who contributed to the 1966 struggle were Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, Cheddi Jagan, Forbes Burnham, Peter D’Aguiar, and, most importantly, the people of Guyana. And of all the people who were a part of that struggle, at the end of the day, there had to be someone in whom the British Empire trusted to hand the Instrument of Independence: That person was Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham.
In politics, it is also about policies and programmes, and in this regard, Burnham gained the favour of the British coloniser and its allies, in an era when the Cold War was raging, and no consideration was being given to any self-proclaimed communist. With political independence, Burnham was tasked with the responsibility of leading the nation to build and to forge “One People, One Nation, One Destiny”. It was he who took our young nation a step further to attaining republican status, which is the ultimate freedom from political control.
And as the nation finally achieved its political independence, the former coloniser/Mother Country still sought to retain its stranglehold on it, through various methods of control and influence, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It became increasingly evident that political independence did not necessarily mean economic independence, and the government of the day ought to have recognised this.
By adopting policies of economic self-reliance, such as feeding, clothing and housing the nation, it sought to address this challenge for a nation that was importing more than exporting, and not fully exploiting its agricultural and other natural resources for its own benefit. Independence also meant facing the many challenges of racial and ethnic tension.
An indigenous education was pursued to reshape the way Guyanese saw themselves, to forge a nation and to promote understanding, respect, tolerance and peaceful co-existence among the various ethnic groups. This had the potential of reducing tensions, particularly between the two major ethnic groups, but yet proved more challenging, given what appeared to be an imbedded appositional tendency to accept the domestic leadership of Burnham.
These struggles also gave rise to the promotion of egalitarianism, with efforts to ensure all were socialised to see themselves as equals. Each worker was promoted as important; no longer was the small man seen as mere hewers of burden, and his well-being incidental to production and productivity. The ideal that was being promoted was for “the small man to be the real man”.
The quest for economic independence also influenced the nationalisation drive, for instance, in the bauxite and sugar industries, and the opening of national banks to drive local economic ventures. These sectors at the time epitomised a class, colour and race hierarchy, where Guyanese were not at the helm. Nationalisation moved that away and created space and opportunity for locals to be in positions of ownership and control.
That foundation having being laid, all who came after had to add to that vision in keeping with time, national and global perspective and challenges. Whereas at independence there was need to establish resistance to cultural penetration and other factors, both local and external, that would have threatened the stability of a fledgling nation, it is now left for others to advance nationhood within the current context.
Today, the nation witnesses a decay in the early values. Guyana faces the threat of information communication technologies influencing anti-nationalistic behaviours. In addition to the threat of terrorism, there is the drug trade and corruption that transcend borders. Facing this challenge will require measures being put in place for social protection, in the context of crime and drugs, where they have infiltrated every strata of society, rivalling the formal economy and threatening the arms of government.
Whereas the National Insurance and Social Security Scheme (NIS) was put in place in 1969 as a safety net, there is now need for another safety net, such as protection from the influences of drugs. The APNU +AFC government, to its credit, has, in less than a year, undertaken to invite the DEA to set up a Guyana-based office. The government has also advanced the passage of stronger AML/CFT laws which will help in eradicating this scourge.
The ‘narco’ trade undermines the structure of government and independence, and destroys the very fabric of society. And last but not least, the most important challenge facing this nation and leaders lay in forging greater unity and respect. As a people, we have gone back on building one people, seeing ourselves as Guyanese with a purpose, where we are inter-related, inter-dependent and can co-exist in peace and harmony. There is work to be done to channel our energies towards nation-building, where all can enjoy the fruits and benefits of this country.