The Sore that killed Guyana
by Freddie Kissoon
In response to one of my judgements on the rule of her father, Forbes Burnham, his daughter, Ulele, responded. I am of the opinion that she completely misread what I wrote about her father when I compared his government to what obtains under the present regime.
I did make the point in that evaluation that Mr. Burnham must be smiling in his grave to think that we criticised him for so many sins but the PPP is guilty of more horrible sins. I stand by that original viewpoint. But nowhere in that essay of mine was I positive about the political style of her father.
In a later reply to her, I went to great lengths to show her what the innate fault of her father was that led to his untergang (downfall). Unfortunately, she did not follow up. I would like to hear from her on what she thought of that particular analysis.
I believe that Forbes Burnham’s (I will come to the Jagan’s, Hoyte’s and Jagdeo’s below) essential political thought which he put into practice was that a ruler’s power must be all embracing and that it should override all other constituencies and institutions in a country.
In other words, power must be absolute. To put it another way – there should not be limitations on power.
Nearing the end of his life, Burnham came to the realisation that it was the cause of all of his problems and he tried to settle with Jagan Cheddi Jagan held to the same conceptualisation.
But the sources from which they drew this belief were different (I will come to the role of colonialism below). Jagan’s understanding of total power was derived from communist/fascist ideology. Burnham’s from his study of the Roman Empire.
Desmond Hoyte’s record was too short to merit assessment. There is the talk that he was forced into democracy by exigent circumstances over which he had no control. The same analysis applies to the presidency of Mrs. Jagan. Had the PNC not frightened Mrs. Jagan away with the torch of “mo fyaah/slo fyaah” she would have pursued a style like Mr. Burnham.
When Mr. Jagdeo assumed the power of the Integrity Commission and threatened the Opposition with arrest if they did not declare their assets, it wasn’t a scheme he insidiously and invidiously cooked up. His exclamation was done without any malice. Mr. Jagdeo innocently believed that he was doing the right thing because his understanding of power is that it has no limitations.
Mr. Jagdeo genuinely believed that the authority of the President of Guyana is superior to any institution and that omnipotence is backed up by the Constitution.
The coming into being of the second life of the ERC was done by Mr. Jagdeo because he felt that his power allowed him to do so.
So if Jagan and Burnham’s comprehension of the nature of power were derived from communist/fascist and the deportment of Roman emperors respectively, where must we look in the case of Hoyte and Jagdeo?
The culprit is colonialism. It was the Pakistani political scientist, Hamza Alavi who first adumbrated the concept of the “over-developed state” (later taken up and refined by many liberal and left-wing scholars). Alavi argued that the nature of colonial rule was authoritarian, and the state had to be broad, extensive and overlapping in order to keep colonial rule alive.
The anti-colonial leaders grew up seeing how over-strong was the colonial administration and how ubiquitous was the state apparatus. This was the state they inherited. This was their only understanding of power. Add communist/fascist ideology on to that monstrous machinery and you have an over-monstrous state.
This explains why many Marxist post-colonial states had such a horrible human rights record.
The list is too long to mention but names like Kampuchea, Ethiopia, Suriname, Guyana, Libya, Egypt, Malaysia and others come to mind. Cuba is the personification of the over-developed state.
What is the way out for Guyana? All indications are that the PPP will not break away from that culture. The present PNC will not either. If the PPP wins in 2011, the totality of society has to put extreme pressure on it to shape the state as it obtains in capitalist society, that is, make the state autonomous.
The most romantic manifestation of the autonomous state in a capitalist society is the election of President Obama. Guyana’s future lies in radical constitutional changes that will limit the power of the ruler.
No state institution in Guyana is autonomous, be it the DPP’s Office, GRA, UG, Auditor-General’s Office. The President decides who heads them. This is a farce! Absolute power continues to kill Guyana.