50 years is a significant milestone in the post colonial history of Caribbean societies. It is a time when these societies who attained independence in close proximity look back and reflect on the journey as a nation, the significant achievements and the noticeable failures. Guyana is no different. It is also a time when the societies celebrating this milestone recognise the people who are making and have made significant contributions to the society.
I noticed the awarding of national honours to well deserving and outstanding Guyanese at the jubilee celebration and to the Barbadian Prime Minister. However, there was one name that was noticeably missing and always is. I know Eusi Kwayana would not accept any national award (he seeks neither praise nor personal recognition), and seemingly, his non acceptance and indifference to such honours have deterred any national recognition. I believe that the nation should recognise his contribution anyway. Not with the intention of him personally accepting the award but for the recognition of his untiring and selfless contribution to Guyana for more than 70 years.
Eusi Kwayana was a member of the movement that sought adult suffrage and self rule in the 1950s. He made significant contributions to and was active in three political parties in Guyana (PPP, PNC and WPA), authoring the lyrics of all three party songs. He is one of Guyana’s most prolific authors, poets and political commentators. More importantly, he is and has been an educator for most of his life, having founded the then famous County High school in Buxton in 1956.
His activism in Guyana was based on principles and a desire to right wrongs, and as such, it is acknowledged that Eusi Kwayana is among the most incorruptible politicians Guyana has produced. Eusi Kwayana occupies Guyanese cultural folklore the way no other Guyanese has. He is spoken of with reverence and respected by Guyanese of every ethnic group.
The problem is that many young Guyanese do not know of him nor his contributions to Guyana. A national recognition would prompt young Guyanese to investigate the man and learn about, not only his contribution, but his simplicity and undying love for country, which kept him in Guyana fighting for freedoms and rights for ordinary Guyanese, while making much personal sacrifices. A national recognition would bring him into the consciousness of many young politicians who are struggling to live in a society where corruption is endemic to doing business. It would be a benefit for them to know of an activist, politician and parliamentarian who engaged in politics with utmost integrity and political morality.
Eusi Kwayana authored the book, The Morning After, when there was a growing impatience, in certain sections of Guyana with the dictatorial and vendetta-type politics practised by the PPP/C regime against African Guyanese. In the book, he counseled against retaliation when such thought and actions had begun to gain currency. His polemic argued for the preservation of country and with deep analysis, he examined the potential effect of irrational action on country and race, at a time when the society seems paralysed and edging toward dangerous territory.
As a Pan-Africanist in post-colonial Guyana Eusi positioned African Guyanese consciousness to Africa and African liberation issues. He promoted African pride and identity in early independent Guyana when African Guyanese were seen and saw themselves only as descendants of slaves. The organisation which he founded, African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA) was at the forefront of promoting African pride and awareness of African history.
Eusi Kwayana has always put country first, whether you agree with his politics or not. His resistance to the Burnham dictatorship is well known. When it would have been easy for him to have aligned with political power after independence, he chose instead to promote political justice. He resisted dictatorship at a time when the state apparatus was seen to be used to prop up certain ethnic domination. However, during the period in Guyana when elections were rigged by the Burnham regime, there was the analysis and conclusion that the Indian Guyanese majority who deserved the right to free elections would put Jagan in power. The thinking by those who understood the deep ethnic cleavages in the society were that such an outcome would replace African ethnic domination with Indian ethnic domination.
Eusi Kwayana, understanding this analysis, chose to align with the Working People’s Alliance whose praxis was to fight for and promote multiracial unity and racial inclusivity. It was on this basis that his activism was centred on putting country first.
When Bharrat Jagdeo was first sworn into power, Eusi counseled African Guyanese to ‘give the young man a chance,’ but he frequently recorded his grave and vehement opposition when Jagdeo’s presidency engaged in glaring ethnic marginalisation and corruption. Therefore, notwithstanding his non acceptance of national awards I believe he should be given national recognition anyway.