Book Review |David Granger’s ‘Forbes Burnham and the Liberation of Southern Africa’
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DAVID GRANGER’s Forbes Burnham and the Liberation of Southern Africa examines one of the more enlightened foreign policy initiatives of Forbes Burnham’s administration between 1970 and 1985. This book provides unassailable evidence of Guyana’s support for the liberation wars in Southern Africa.

Support for the liberation wars and the condemnation of apartheid and white-minority rule in South Africa were among the guiding principles of Forbes Burnham’s foreign policy from which he never deviated. Other precepts were support for the Non-Aligned Movement, Caribbean regional integration, African-Caribbean-Pacific collaboration, the peaceful settlement of disputes and the primacy of international law in relations between states.

Granger points out that Burnham’s Southern African policy was part of his wider opposition to colonialism, imperialism and racism, and predated the radicalization of Guyana’s foreign policy. Granger recalls Burnham’s condemnation of the barbarous killings perpetrated by the colonial powers in Nyasaland (now Malawi) in 1959 and his denunciation of the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa in 1960.

Granger did not set out to disabuse assertions of the link between Burnham’s international relations and the radicalization of national politics. He does provide, however, indisputable evidence of Burnham’s opposition to the white-minority rule in the South African government when Burnham said:

The whole South African Government’s policy is to be deprecated and the shootings at Sharpeville and Pondoland were just the culmination of the most disgusting policy. Not only are the native Africans – the original inhabitants of the country – robbed of their political rights but they are also destitute of human rights. They are not allowed to organise trade unions in the same way as the whites are; it is an offence for them to strike, and the trade union leaders, from time to time, are prosecuted.

This book – Forbes Burnham and the liberation of Southern Africa – provides proof of the various forms of support which Guyana provided to the liberation movements in Southern Africa. These included diplomatic, financial, political and sporting sanctions. Burnham’s support was remarkable considering Guyana’s economic difficulties at the time and the likely pressure such support was likely to evoke within the imperialist camp.

United States Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, on Christmas Eve day in 1975, asked his Ambassador to Guyana to request Burnham to deny the use of his country’s refueling facilities for planes transporting Cuban troops and supplies to support the Movemento Popular de Libertaçao de Angola (MPLA) in Angola. Another directive was issued, one week later, urging the US Embassy in Guyana to do all that was possible to urge the Government of Guyana to deny permission for the use of the Timehri International Airport for refueling the planes transporting Cuban troops to Angola. Burnham never acceded to the US demands.

The Forbes Burnham administration understood the risks involved in pursuing such a courageous policy and especially through the specific measures and political postures which were adopted. Those measures included granting Guyanese passports to African freedom fighters, imposing a ban on persons with sporting ties to South Africa, allowing refueling stops and advocating African liberation within the Non-Aligned Movement and the United Nations.

Guyana’s support for the African liberation struggles was consistent and has been so acknowledged. Addressing a ceremony to mark Guyana’s 51st Independence anniversary in May 2017, the Public Works Minister, Nathi Nhleko said:

“Guyana ardently and unapologetically became an activist state against the continuation of imperialism, colonialism and racism in Africa, and stood firm for the liberation of the oppressed peoples the world over.”

The book – Forbes Burnham and the Liberation of Southern Africa – is structured logically in three sections. The ‘Introduction’ establishes the historical record of support for African liberation; the second section, titled ‘The Struggle against Colonialism’, examines Burnham’s policy of support for ending colonial rule in Africa, and the third section, entitled ‘The Struggle for the Liberation of South Africa,’ addresses Guyana’s anti-apartheid policy, including the actions it took in pursuit of this policy.
The book demonstrates how a small state can punch above its weight in international relations. Guyana stood out as beacon of support for African liberation. Forbes Burnham was an indefatigable champion of that cause.

David Granger published this book two years before he assumed the Presidency of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. As President, he made it his duty to ensure that Forbes Burnham’s and Guyana’s contribution to the liberation struggles in Southern Africa were never forgotten. In his address at the accreditation of the High Commissioner of the Republic of South Africa to the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, in November 2016, the Guyanese President recounted the practical steps which Guyana took in helping to dismantle apartheid, liberate southern Africa and ensure majority rule in the Republic of South Africa. He recalled that:

Guyana employed every available international forum – including the Caribbean Community, the Commonwealth, the Non-Aligned Movement and the United Nations – to agitate for an end to apartheid in South Africa. Guyana sponsored and co-sponsored resolutions, at the United Nations, which condemned this racist system and which called attention to acts of brutality committed against opponents of this system. We welcomed Oliver Reginald Tambo to Georgetown in July 1987. We celebrated Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. We exulted in the introduction of majority rule in the Republic of South Africa. These events and achievements vindicated the solidarity between our peoples.

Scholars and students will find this book an invaluable source of information of a key pillar of Guyana’s foreign policy. David Granger is a scrupulous researcher. He has acknowledged earlier research by Vincent Alexander, Ronald Austin, Rashleigh Jackson and others and tapped into sources including policy speeches, newspapers, and unpublished manuscripts, government publications, newspaper columns and books.

The book’s greatest value is to be found, however, in its contribution to understanding the craft of policy-making. It reveals how Guyana constructed a policy predicated on ideology and principle and explains the manner in which it gave effect to that policy, including the forging of strong personal relations.
This book – Forbes Burnham and the Liberation of Southern Africa – is a permanent testimonial to Burnham’s admirable and bold policy towards Southern Africa. It is a policy which cannot ever be disabused or diminished.

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