Dec 05, 2017
Once you lived through the epoch of Forbes Burnham’s tenure of power, there must be snippets of his style that you will always remember. I can recall one incident. I was having lunch with some of my classmates in an old, beautiful Victorian styled building in the University of Toronto compound, when one of them with an amusing smile on his face said, “Fred, look your president on TV.”
President Burnham was one of the representatives of the Third World in what was then known as the North-South Dialogue. It was taking place in Cancun, Mexico. President Reagan represented the US. Mr. Burnham’s outfit was purple trousers, purple long-sleeve shirt jack and high top boots. Mr. Burnham loved the colour, purple. I grew up hearing that the reason he adored the colour was because Burnham had imperial tendencies and since purple was the favourite hue of the Roman emperors, Burnham adopted it
One day, long after Burnham was gone, just in a casual conversation, I asked one of Burnham’s aides, attorney Vic Puran, who worked closely with the then president in the late seventies, if it was factual that there was such a connection. Puran answered in the negative. He told me it was Burnham’s choice, just as any other human has theirs.
President Granger is a devoted admirer of Burnham, but there is no evidence that he harbours any embrace of the colour, purple. If in the pantheons of colours, Granger has a preference, it may be green. But is green his aesthetic selection or is the choice environmentally based?
Mr. Granger has answered that question. Green is not a personal option; state buildings are repainted in Green because of the environmental context. This means we are still to know which hue is the President’s cherished one. But the environmental context has run into problems, and here is where Granger’s inexperience in politics is showing up and the manifestations are not elegant. Green is also a part of the colour scheme of his party.
Naturally, the argument will arise (and that is absolutely inevitable once politics is involved) that the environment explanation is being used to mask the real intention – green is chosen for political purposes. How do we know if that is so? We don’t. In the complex working out of human instincts, truths, facts and motives and hidden reasons get really mixed up, and history remains mysterious. Policy-makers will tell you they did this and that for sincere reasons that were embedded in their minds. Others dispute that and accuse them of lying.
History is literally overflowing with such examples, one of which is the infamous description of former Prime Minister of the UK, Tony Blair. Blair keeps insisting that the UK participated in the invasion of Iraq because, he, Blair deep down in his soul accepted that the UK was at risk of Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. It turned out that there were no such things in Iraq. Many historians and countless people around the world reject Blair’s motive. They believe his decision was based on a request from President Bush which Blair was only too willing to accede to.
So do we believe Granger? Whether we believe him or not, perceptions play a gargantuan role in politics in this land. Perceptions make or break governments and politicians in Guyana. Any Guyanese politician that does not factor perceptions into his/her politics will end up being a loser. Donald Ramotar who is criticizing Granger for repainting State House in green would know about that, much to his bitter regrets.
The perception was that though he was president, Ramotar was a tool of Jagdeo. That perception undid Ramotar. Perhaps one of the cruelest perceptions at work at the moment is the one whereby Indians feel that the AFC is a servant of its larger partner, the PNC. Based on this perception, AFC’s rural constituencies that voted for them are moving away from the AFC. It may just be a perception, but it has devastated the AFC.
I cannot recall any situation where any Guyanese President knew perceptions were in full flow and tried to shape policies and attitudes to defeat them. The reason for this is the enduring authoritarian culture we inherited from colonial domination, and we have not surmounted that cancerous pathway.
Granger will continue to supplant the original paints of many state buildings without paying attention to the perception that he is politicizing governmental business by using his party colour. One thing is sure, De Donald was right when he said that if he had repainted State House in red, the then opposition would have seen red.