Eusi Kwayana had an active role in Guyana’s politics for many decades, beginning in the colonial period of the 1940s, and continuing until he retired to California a few years ago. He was the Minister of Communication and Works in the short-lived PPP government of 1953, and was detained following the suspension of the constitution that year. He was later to become a member of the PNC, which he left, and later still, one of the leaders of the WPA working closely with Walter Rodney. He returned briefly to Guyana in 2014, and gave evidence to the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry. He wrote the lyrics for the party songs of all three political parties with which he was associated at one point or another. He was also the founder of the African Society for Racial Equality, and then the African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa – ASCRIA. In this year of Guyana’s 50th anniversary of Independence Stabroek News requested an interview with him, which was conducted via email with Gaulbert Sutherland on May 24, 2016.
GS: Where were you on Independence Day in 1966 and what was most memorable on that day?
EK: On that day I spent the bulk of my time as a volunteer reception person in Prime Minister’s office, helping to welcome late arrivals. My hardest task was with the delegate from the Government of Mexico who came to protest that he had not been invited to the flag-raising ceremony. The staff called me to engage with him and I fell back on my feeble Spanish, much to his relief. He lit up at my reference to Lope de Vega, their famous [playwright]. After the staff had assured his accommodation at the National Park, he agreed to attend, provided I accompanied him. I sat with him in the car provided and handed him over to his official hosts on the lookout for him. I left the excitement and bright lights and music of the National Park for the flag-raising at the Market Square of my home village, Buxton-Friendship.
GS: What is your assessment of Guyana’s development since Independence – politically, economically, socially?
EK: I want to answer these questions fairly, and to say that my answers are not law but opinion. I’ll be writing separately about the late trade union leader and political figure, Andrew Jackson [Post Office Workers’ Union], whose scriptures on a critical period have not been equalled. And now, a brief political view. Many are puzzled by the legacies of Jagan and Burnham and many wonder why Burnham, whom I joined some others in opposing from 1971, still means a lot to some people. He is an icon for some people. That may not please many of us, but if we cannot understand it or allow it as a right, then we are functioning on the very basis of what we condemn and not really helping the small national community. And we have to question what we would do if we were in power. I was one of those who resisted that ruler vigorously in his lifetime on grounds not discredited. As the WPA was fond of saying, “That ended with his death.”
Mr Burnham’s greatest political service to his supporters was the winning of PR, which made possible a coalition government, which allowed those formerly shut out from the executive by a traditional system of voting districts to win the chance of legitimately running and respectably forming a government by first being ready to form a coalition. Jagan’s silence in all these cases, while protesting Western invasions, opened him to the risk of being regarded as a potential hazard to the West. It was he who had declared after the USSR had launched Sputnik, “We have friends with rockets, money and gold” at a time when he himself wrote that his government was a coalition with the Colonial Office.
This also meant that … Dr Jagan had been reaping the benefit of a system that gave him and his supporters in its last use an almost two to one advantage over opponents. In fairness, Jagan did not invent this system. We all inherited it and he defended it for the sake of victory. Mr Burnham benefited from Jagan’s public and proud loyalty as a mature adult, not to a set of ideas but to a regime set in its ways of military invasion for supposed ideological and strategic advantage. CLR James differed from those who felt that the new humanism could expand the same way the empires expanded. In this hemisphere the French and British in Haiti set the pattern with the necessary updates for the Soviet Union in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan.
I became a suspect in the PPP in 1956 for openly condemning the Soviet invasion of Hungary.
Although the British rulers had a preference for Jagan as against Burnham, they acted at the constitutional conference of 1963 in the interests of their ally.
Having used an improved electoral system, to come to power and bring some relief to coalition supporters, Mr Burnham proceeded to “modify” that electoral system by measures which taken together favoured the existing government.
When the Soviet Union fell, official Western non-interference in Guyana ended and the successor, President Hoyte, came under pressure starting one weekend off in Mustique with his Caricom colleagues. Hoyte had boasted, strangely, that Jagan had lost power because he had not “institutionalised” the party, a clear reference to their own proclaimed device of paramountcy which the PPP on its return to the government practised under the Soviet brand, “democratic centralism”, as proclaimed by Luncheon to an unsuspecting population…
It is not my intention to rake up muck at this time or any time except for reasons of public health. Guyana will reconcile or recede. Fairness demands the statement that Jagan and Burnham exhausted much of their intellectual resources in rivalry, as I will explain later. The PPP opened its second innings led by one who had attained the status of an ancient heroic figure returning from exile. Not fully understanding his responsibilities, he agreed to be the guest of some Asian tigers on a grand tour. I was among those who protested publicly. Academic research by Dr Janette Bulkan might suggest that this tour had an unfavourable effect on forestry practices. All in all, and especially after their leader died, the PPP floating in a relative abundance of liquidity and marketable assets, unleashed a regime of distasteful theft, feather bedding … and low-life unaccountability …
Mr T Anson Sancho had written a book in which he cast Jagan and Burnham as “supermen of history.” It is now striking me that each almost exhausted his intellectual resources in the need to outdo the other as proof of legitimacy. Some will ask, “And where does Rodney come in?” And I would venture to answer, “He does not.” He contended with power and delighted in it, but he was not a contender for power. Nor was he uncritical of Jagan as he settled in Guyana. After a public, joint meeting at D’Urban Street and Louisa Row, there was a meeting at Freedom House, between representatives of WPA and PPP. Jagan, chairing, said he had heard that Comrade Eusi had spoken at the last joint public meeting about the PPP’s support. Jagan then said, “I just want to make it quite clear that Indians are not leaving the PPP”.
Walter Rodney then said, quietly, “Cheddi, we are dealing with this situation, now. But when this is over, we shall have to deal with the sensitivity of politicians of your generation.” How did this arise? I had argued at the public meeting that not all Indians were in the PPP. It had been reported to Freedom House and worried rather than pleased Jagan. I repeated what I had said and Rodney’s remarks followed.
GS: What do you believe is the greatest barrier to Guyana’s development?
EK: An answer to this question is beyond my capacity. You put it under three heads and that is helpful and not helpful. I’ll try to answer briefly,
- i) You seem to refer to the present time when I am absent and cannot follow the “body language” as I am accustomed to do. No country develops in one year, although it may improve.
The coalition does not seem to have had time for grounding with itself. Because of poor vision I was not following up the news closely. Still, when the coalition was sealed and announced the Accord, I doubted that they had all studied it. On that ground I have not read it yet. These are serious things.
There are several parties forming the government, and the ministers have collective responsibility.
- ii) The major parts of the agricultural sector are troubled. This will affect foreign earnings and put pressure on the budget, which means the taxpayers. Gold is making the news as being managed without an eye on trends. The forensic audits and SARU’s work seem to be partly stalled by institutions. I don’t know whether the sectoral parliamentary committees can mount hearings which can command officials to be present and respond. This is an approach to accountability and can help to separate the stalk from the paddy and does not depend on the DPP.
Hearings should be broadcast so that cooks get to learn to govern and those worthy of prosecution can be sifted. The culture of accountability is all important. Prosecution will be a remedy in given cases, but a government that does not dramatise a culture of accountability should not look outside for enemies.
Beyond this I am incompetent to go near Guyana’s economy. There are issues here and there. It is a decade since I read a Bank of Guyana Report.
iii) Social: Here we think mainly of crime and how widespread and brutal it has been at various levels for decades. I want to join in the general sense that the
present officers on the job have shown that it can be done and have offered hope and some relief in crime detection. We still need advice in crime prevention. There has been silent unhealthy anxiety for decades. In particular, the female body has been a target and victims have ranged from childhood to old age. Body in an old tank, a shallow grave. Offenders can be citizens or police. A young man comes home on a visit, goes walking and disappears. A young male is scorched on the genitals by the police and there is no punishment. A woman comes home to do some trading and is suspected of having money and is sawn up like meat and dumped. Five young men suspected of gunplay are shot and killed in their sleep. A professor comes back home and is killed. A fisherman is arrested for beating his wife and dies after being in police custody and all the officers on duty are known but it is a mystery. Homes and business places are invaded. It is as though there is a lottery that can select those who don’t play. And when the crimes of people with government authority go for channa or get swept under the table, it is well known among seasoned offenders who argue that they too are using what opportunity they have. I heard that relatives of the late Mr [Ronald] Waddell are aware that evidence to help in the investigation of his case is available to the Guyana government. Lastly on issues of this nature, I wish to say that the graduates and scholars of Social Work at the University of Guyana used to be very competent in the whole area of social alienation.
Then there are the criminologists. They should be consulted.
GS: What could be done to overcome this hindrance?
EK: I have not even named all of them, nor can any one person do so. Life is more and more complex and knowledge more and more specialized. After the 2011 elections, your newspaper questioned me and I said that the electorate had decided that they wanted an all-party government. I felt then that a one-seat majority was a stretch; in fact a mandate for an all-party government that would include the then righteous opposition after over 20 years of the PPP ‒ I beg your pardon, the PPP/C. We have now another one-seat majority which in structure is no better mandate than the one seized in 2011 by the PPP/C. The difference is that the new opposition had been ruling and had made such a record of official abuse of everything that it could not be embraced. Briefly, then, we need wide-ranging and sincere consultations that the political parties understand only as writing a suitable constitution. Our problem has been that our population was built piecemeal, opportunistically and when one “piece” is excluded, we are excluding a sector of the economy and, to use Martin Carter’s line, “planting the seeds of anger”.
I was the instrument of a WPA motion in 1987 for a national dialogue of “all social forces” to resolve economic, electoral and social problems. It was unanimously accepted and President Hoyte began to mount it, but a strong man in his government ruled out electoral reform, and so the dialogue died and we ended up with Jimmy Carter and the PNC’s later unhappiness just as they made the Walter Rodney Inquiry necessary by their failure to investigate his death, and then had to complain when the PPP selfishly and disrespectfully but also unsuccessfully, used it for partisan purposes. Speaking for myself, if we are to develop as a liberated people, we need a long-term pact, or understanding morally binding, of agreement and mutual solidarity and respect on differences of race, youth and age, gender and orientation, religion, class, occupation, disability, and other differences that people bring to light. Who listens to teachers, to academics, to young people, to vendors who know where they place themselves, and know that they serve a purpose? So while a big foreign firm can escape the measures of the GRA, street vendors scraping their own livelihood must bow and feel the measures of the city council. We are not in a good state. Here for me is what defines the quality of the public morality in deeds, not words. I apologise to those not involved. The 2016 salary increases in the budget should have posed no problem. If the average public employee of lower income could deserve 17.5 per cent increase, how can those making the decision take 50 per cent for themselves? Are the two groups not part of the same economy?
I challenge any of them to publish any precedent for this except for Attorney General Ramphal. Faced with similar demands, Burnham introduced duty-free allowances which, though less vulgar than the present gap, we criticized endlessly. It is not just a matter of morality. Public morale is a productivity factor.
GS: Where do you see Guyana in the next 25 years?
EK: I am deeply flattered by this trap question. Guyana should be like the rest of the planet at year 2041. I am really evading the question. On a panel on the 23rd of May, we were discussing the village economies at a time when what braced them is collapsing. I was not able to hear many of the panelists who spoke before I did, but one, visiting from Canada, reminded us of Burnham’s proclamation of food security. It was a far-sighted idea but was wrecked on the ground by authority and political control. We need to know what the Institute of Applied Science and Technology of those days achieved. I had visited it with small producers. But on the panel, I suggested a formula: TPCCE (Training to Plant to Crop to Credit to Enterprise). And I named for investigation one crop ‒ a ground provision, which is reported to be useful in a widespread illness. And this is only one crop with such possible potential. I also touched on the problems of rice marketing.
So if old ways have run into a partial blocks, we can, in principle, study the market and work to meet its demands or study our resources to supply health improving products and create a demand.
Thank you Mr Sutherland, for inviting me to answer your questions.