Who, really, is President David Granger?
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President David Granger photographed at State House by Saajid Husani
President David Granger photographed at State House by Saajid Husani

By Lloyda Garrett and Jasmaine Payne

President David Granger’s rise to political power may have seemed unlikely even a decade ago, even to his wife, First Lady Mrs. Sandra Granger. In an interview with Lloyda Garrett, his Public Information and Press Services Officer, the President gave a rare candid insight into his life, his family, and the decisions that influenced his decision to seek the presidency.
Inaugurated just ten days shy of the 49th Anniversary of Guyana’s Independence to a show of national pride that had seemed absent for many years, President Granger rode into office on a wave

President David Granger and his wife of 48 years, Sandra Granger (Photo by Saajid Husani)
President David Granger and his wife of 48 years, Sandra Granger (Photo by Saajid Husani)

of popular demand for change and the palpable hope and desire for national unity of a new generation of Guyanese.

With one year in office under his belt, President Granger has advanced clear policy positions for the development of a Green Economy built on the sustainable management of the country’s resources, economic diversification in agriculture and other sectors, information technology, high quality and accessible education from nursery to tertiary levels, regional and domestic security and social cohesion.

The President has emerged as a champion for the protection of the nation’s patrimony and has sought to assert Guyana’s sovereignty, in the face of threats from Venezuela, by seeking a definitive, legal settlement to the border controversy with Guyana’s western neighbor, though the intervention of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. President Granger’s policies are so closely linked to the modern day needs of Guyana, as it stands at the cusp of a new age of economic and social prosperity, that one would not be incorrect in thinking that he is the right man for the moment.

The President himself has declared himself President of all the people and has demonstrated a deep and abiding love for the people of Guyana. But as much as we know about him, there still begs the question: Who, really, is President David Granger and what led him to the highest office on the land?

“[My Vision] was conditioned not only by my own upbringing but joining the Defence Force in 1965 and facing the Venezuelan threat reinforced my views that we needed to be united as a nation in order to protect our territory and we were very poorly armed at that time compared with Venezuela; we had no aircraft and we had no coast guard, we had no artillery and we could have been overwhelmed if there was a serious invasion. But by 1969 we had overcome two of our major challenges,” he said, referring to attempts made by both Venezuela and Suriname to claim part of Guyana as their own.

Few can deny that President Granger has managed to bring with him a stronger sense of nationalism and hope. With every public appearance, President Granger preaches with passion about unity and his love and vision for Guyana.

President Granger and Lloyda Garrett enjoy a game of chess (Sandra Prince photo)
President Granger and Lloyda Garrett enjoy a game of chess (Sandra Prince photo)

But who is the man with the solemn face and the impeccable posture, the man that makes up the whole of President David Granger?

In an interview with Ms. Lloyda Garrett, his Public Information and Press Services Officer, the President gave a rare candid insight into his life, his family, and the decisions that have led him to running for Public Office.

Where it all began
Though born in Ruimveldt, Georgetown, it was in Bartica that President Granger spent the first years of his life, and for which he holds some of his fondest memories. It is there, too, at the gateway to the hinterland that Guyana’s beauty and the diversity of its people became apparent to him.

“I regard Bartica as my home because that’s where I first became conscious of life and friends and family…I was always conscious of Guyana and Guyanese being a multiethnic society and people who mix easily with each other. Bartica, of course, was a very pleasant

The early years at Queens College
The early years at Queens College

place.”

For a young David, Bartica was his whole world for the first few years of his life, and it provided for him simple pleasures, which he grew to cherish greatly. There, he attended St. John the Baptist Anglican School, and in his spare time, the President recalled indulging in simple activities like kite flying, community centre games and swimming in the river. These purely enjoyable activities served as the main sources of entertainment for children there.

“There were no organised sports in which we could participate in the type of athletics and the things that you see nowadays, but I would go frequently with my dad up the river -or what you call the line- when he was going about his policing duties, but the relationship among people was quite easy,” he recalled.

The President, who consistently advocates for the strengthening of the institution of the family, seemed influenced by his own upbringing and recalled the value that a close knit family life added to his life. Born to a mother, who was a nurse and a father who was a policeman, he was the seventh of eight children. They lived in the flat atop the Bartica Police Station near what is now known as the Modern Hotel. By the time he was born, his mother had given up her profession to become a full time housewife, while his father operated as a County Sergeant-Major.

Army days
Army days

President Granger described his father as very warm, though many people assumed him stern, due to his profession.

“He was certainly firm, but you know my best memories are of him and my mom, maybe because I was the seventh in the family; I had five sisters and two brothers.

“Every member of my family had some education. You always knew you had to go to school and never attempted not to go to school…that was the place you met your friends. We developed respect for each other and you developed respect for your teachers. And within my home there were always books. There were always elders in my family and you just knew that education was a necessity. There was no option.”

“I won’t say that I was spoilt, but my memories of him are very pleasant and I only wish that he could see me now. He was born in 1905 so, was he alive, he’d be a hundred and ten years old,” the President mused.

Education
It is hard to ignore that much of President Granger’s initiatives have had a strong focus on the country’s educational system. Looking back on his educational background, and his own experiences and achievements as a result, it is simple to see why education plays a paramount role in his policies with regard to its importance to Guyana’s development.

“Every member of my family had some education. You always knew you had to go to school and never attempted not to go to school…that was the

President Granger shows the writer, Lloyda Garrett, his coin collection (Sandra Prince photo)
President Granger shows the writer, Lloyda Garrett, his coin collection (Sandra Prince photo)

place you met your friends. We developed respect for each other and you developed respect for your teachers. And within my home there were always books. There were always elders in my family and you just knew that education was a necessity. There was no option,” President Granger said.

At five years old, his family moved to Whim, Berbice, and though he dearly loved Bartica, he admitted that the move was not as traumatic as one would expect, since he was still within the “bosom” of his family. At Whim, the President started his Primary education spending three years at the Auchlyne Church of Scotland School. By the time he moved to Georgetown, Granger was eight years old and enrolled in the Comenius Moravian School.

In 1956, after writing Common Entrance at Sacred Heart, President Granger entered Queen’s College (QC), where his next eight years of secondary schooling would begin to carve him into the man he would ultimately become. Many may have heard President Granger speak with much passion about his time at Queen’s College, and with much reason. Though admitting that he wasn’t the best in his class, he said that he worked hard to achieve the results which propelled him into his professional aspirations in life.

This hard work was an achievement in itself, as the distractions of the disruptive period of the 1960s affected the schools in the form of strikes and disturbances, and as a result, naturally caused self-doubt with regard to students’ personal performance in school as well.

Still, the President believes that he received a well-rounded education during his secondary school years and it was the myriad activities offered at the school that assisted in rounding out the young David Granger.

A member of Molder House (G House), he was very active in extra-curricular activities and then social life of the school, boasting membership in the Cadets, the school’s newspaper (the Lictor – from which his love for journalism was born), the Chess Club and the debating club. He admited that he was not good at the athletic games so instead stuck to the academic means of passing his time.

“So there was a cultural milieu, which is very difficult to describe. You behaved, you dressed, you spoke in accordance with those unwritten codes and you joined clubs. Everything was not just books or even sports; there were so many other things you could do.

“I could only describe it as a sort of culture and when people left school they left with that culture and so it’s not a matter of being elitist, it’s a matter of being able to share a certain view of the world that you were not there out of greed or selfishness, or to beat the next person, but you were just there to be well educated and part of a community. I think that is what I left with and I believe that is what a lot of my colleagues left with,” he said.

President Granger said that the strong relationships between the masters and students and among the students themselves were much the cause for the success of the students as it evoked a type of mutual respect and school honour among the students.

“I think the masters had it easy because when any one of us misbehaved you were more afraid of the discipline from your colleagues than from the masters. Because if they felt you behaved in an unethical way or you caused the class or the group any embarrassment, you were really afraid of them. They would have come after you after 3:00pm and that was the best discipline. You lived up to the expectation of your peers rather than to the discipline that was imposed by the masters,” he said.

The Disturbance Period
As referenced earlier, President Granger’s high school years were marred by the period of inter-racial and political disturbances of the 1960s. At the time, a then teenaged David Granger would have been at the beginning of coming into his own as a young man and the role he was to play with regard to making a meaningful contribution to his country. And while to this generation, the disturbances are little more than tales told in passing, for people growing up at that time, it is a period that remains etched in their memory to this day. The President, though admitting that he does not possess perfect knowledge of all that happened in this time, touched on some of the events that he was aware contributed to that sad era.

“It had several dimensions. One was the labour and industrial dimension because it was the first time I think in the English speaking Caribbean the entire public service struck against the government in 1961 and 1962 and it was all tied up with political party affiliation,” he said. He noted, however, that the industrial dispute was more due to salary issues that affected the civil service because the government at the time did not follow recommendations in the 1961 Commission of Inquiry (COI).

“In those days the government was run by the PPP [People’s Progressive Party] under Dr. Cheddi Jagan and elections were held in August 1961. So I would say agitation and unrest started as early as August 1961. In 1962, there was a huge confrontation. Part of the central business district in Georgetown was burnt down and there was looting and a part of the British army had to deploy troops here. That was short lived but it affected the confidence which the people had in the government and in 1963 there was another long strike. It was called the ‘Eighty Day Sstrike’. It was probably the longest general strike in the English speaking Caribbean at the time,” President Granger recalled.

This resulted in the shutdown of many government offices, followed by protests and a shortage in goods and services.

“So it was a very testing time. A few people were killed in 1962, a few were killed in 1963 but the disturbances were taking place at different levels. One was the labour level and many of the Trade Unions were aligned to different political parties. There was also political development because in 1962, Jamaica became Independent and Trinidad became Independent and Guyana under the PPP was attempting to become Independent as well,” he said.

In February 1964, the Guyana Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) called a strike in the sugar industry after the British Colonial administration changed Guyana’s electoral system from “First Past the Post” to “Proportional Representation.”

In his assessment, President Granger said that “it was a protest against the British imposition of the Proportional Representation system and many people were killed. The official record said 176 people were killed but it is suspected that many more people were killed and that period is known as the disturbances.”

The President described a period between February and July 1964, where there were murders almost daily and a bomb being thrown into a bus taking the school children of estate managers to Lusignan. There were also many cases of arson. In what became a struggle between the two major political parties, the fabric of Guyana’s nationhood was torn apart as villages became separated by race and political loyalty became largely fashioned by race.

As the President reflected on this period, painfully memories etched on his face, it is not hard to see why social cohesion has been one of the key principles of his leadership. He described this period as “divisive”, to say the very least and Guyana entered its Independence, a broken nation.

“It was traumatic and it did have an effect. It damaged race relations for a long time thereafter. For example the PPP did not go to the Constitutional talks to decide the Constitution for independent Guyana and apart from the token representation by a few of the leaders who boycotted the independence celebrations in 1966, I believe a lot of our problems, not only political problems but our ethnic problems, stemmed from that period,” he said.

After the Disturbances and the GDF
Guyana’s Independence in 1966 found President Granger a member of the Guyana Defence Force(GDF).

Having graduated from QC, he worked for a short time in the graphics department of a local newspaper and shortly after enrolled in the University of Guyana (UG) in 1965.

Yet, Mr. Granger felt that this was not much of a leap forward that he envisioned for himself as the University was housed in the QC compound. With many of his peers studying overseas, he left UG to join the army, where he believed opportunities to study overseas would be available to him. “I put my university studies on hold and went away to Britain to study to become an officer and then when I returned I was in uniform. So in fact my university education was interrupted for a significant part of my young adult life,” he said.

While overseas, however, President Granger kept close tabs on the situation in his homeland. As Guyana headed toward Independence, he recalled the changing atmosphere and attitudes of the people of that time.

“We were very optimistic because the disturbances had come to an end and the Prime Minister, at the time, established what he called a regime of consultative democracy and there was widespread reconciliation. Communities, which had been torn apart by the disturbances, were visited. Many of the refugees, people who had been driven out of villages, during the disturbances, were resettled and there was a powerful thrust to provide public services to the population,” he said.

But Guyana was still struggling. There was no proper international airport because the existing one had been burned down in 1959, much of the coastal roadways and even sea defences were in a decrepit state and there were not enough secondary schools. As such, the President said, much attention had to be paid to infrastructure countrywide.

Describing a very different time that we can envision today, President Granger said, “In the 1960s, life was very, very different… It was a luxury to even own a wristwatch. That’s why many of the markets had clocks because that was the only way you could tell the time. There were very few telephones and to make a long distance call… it was called a ‘trunk call’. In fact when we first came to Georgetown you had what they called party lines. Two completely separate houses would have one phone so when it rang a different family would answer and it was crazy but there were simply not enough lines.”

Sometimes with a bemused smile on his face as he reflected on that time, he said, “Everything was very difficult, even the cameras; to get a family photograph taken you would have had to go to a studio because few people owned cameras. You (had) to be very rich to own a camera or a watch or a car and I would say that the population was much poorer but in a way much happier. The city was very clean and the services although very rudimentary, were reliable. You had clean water in the pipes, you had regular electricity and telephone service although you had to book a call overseas and wait several hours… We were not yet a modern state and that was the duty of the government after 1964, to make Guyana into a modern country,” he said.

Still, Independence, which found President Granger, a young army officer in training in Britain, evoked pride of country and this was not lost on him. He recalled that as May 26 approached, his mother sent him a picture of the Golden Arrowhead, which evoked both a sense of patriotism and nostalgia. “I wished I was there because my colleagues were raising the flag and on parade. When I came back in June, maybe less than a fortnight after, I joined my first platoon and I felt very proud,” he said.

President Granger admitted that at that time all those who were part of the GDF were immensely proud to be Guyanese because the training standards were very high. And so began his career of distinction in the military. Even as he defended his country in the Cuyuni against Venezuelan aggression and in 1969 in the Rupununi Rebellion, his love of country and belief in Guyana’s sovereignty was only further strengthened.

“[My Vision] was conditioned not only by my own upbringing but joining the Defence Force in 1965 and facing the Venezuelan threat reinforced my views that we needed to be united as a nation in order to protect our territory and we were very poorly armed at that time compared with Venezuela; we had no aircraft and we had no coast guard, we had no artillery and we could have been overwhelmed if there was a serious invasion. But by 1969 we had overcome two of our major challenges,” he said, referring to attempts made by both Venezuela and Suriname to claim part of Guyana as their own.

Remembering the Rupununi Rebellion, another dark time in the country’s history, he said, “I was able to see it at close range, you know, how hatred could divide this country. And when we arrived there all of the bodies on the ground were policemen. The rebels just killed the policemen and they ran out of the station – shot them where they were, no questions asked. I just hope that we never return to that level of fierceness and enmity that I saw with my own eyes at Lethem…But these are experiences which strengthen your love for your country, not lessen. I never wanted to migrate and once I had put my hand on the plough I just stayed there as long as the Defence Force would have me,” he said.

(Next week, we continue the interview, featuring “Mr and Mrs David Granger” and the “Road to the Presidency”)

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