President David Granger documents the events of May 26, 1966 in his publications ‘Guyana’s Independence 1966’, published in 2008, and explores Guyana’s growth and development in Independence and Resilience published in 2016 in time for Guyana’s Golden Jubilee.
In this edition of Government in Action, we explore the President’s writings on the political build up to Guyana’s Independence; the establishment of Guyana’s sovereignty, and the way forward towards her sustainable development.
Registrar at the University of Guyana, Dr. Nigel Gravesande, who was present at that historical celebration, offers his commentary as he recalls the events and speaks to their significance, both then and now, of this turning point in the nation’s history.
Independence in 1966
“The colonial system included the political domination, economic exploitation, and cultural subordination of the subject peoples. Guyanese sought to reverse these conditions. Independence meant that the people who live in a colony, thereafter would exercise sovereignty over their territory, select their own representatives to govern them and determine their own policy for economic, educational, and social development. In short, Independence meant that Guyana would no longer be controlled by Britain.” – President David Granger, Guyana’s Independence 1966
“I was just in primary school, not even ten years old when I was with my parents at what was then the Queen Elizabeth Park, looking at symbolic lowering of the Union Jack and the hoisting of the Golden Arrowhead. For me, the most compelling moment was the embracing of the then Prime Minister, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham and the Opposition Leader, Dr. Cheddi Jagan in an embrace of genuine and compelling solidarity and unity,” Dr. Gravesande said.
“Independence was about transformation – the changing of subject into citizens’; the improvement of institutions such as the National Assembly, Judiciary, and the Public Service; the organisation of industries, commerce, currency, taxation; the ownership and use of natural resources; arrangements for the common defense and the safety of our people.” – President David Granger, Guyana’s Independence 1966
The event, Dr. Gravesande said, is significant because of Guyana’s tangible shift in the global arena, which gave Guyanese the opportunity to define themselves, their culture, and their country.
“It was a clear expression of maturity into nationhood, to be acknowledged by the rest of the international community as a sovereign country that will chart its own course of socio, cultural, and economic development and without the dictates of a foreign or sovereign nation. It was going to be an opportunity to be non-aligned and to, in fact, charter a foreign and economic policy that comes from the belly of your people without following the dictates, which we had to follow for centuries by colonial domination. Here we had an opportunity to unleash ourselves from the shackles of being given instructions and fashioning a developmental path that was indigenous, that was informed by the intellectual, academic, and nature of our people. Guyanese fashioned it. And that’s what political independence means,” he said.
“Independence implied ‘decolonisation’- the reform, reversal, or removal of attitudes that prevailed in the old economy and society. It also implied ‘Guyanisation’ – the education and employment of Guyanese to help them to attain their full potential.” – President David Granger, Guyana’s Independence 1966
Political independence also gave Guyanese the opportunity to define themselves as Guyanese without certain qualifiers. For the first time in the history of this country, all of Guyana’s people could unite under one title. This, of course, was exemplified in the unexpected embrace between then Prime Minister, Mr. Forbes Burnham and Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, who had become estranged due to ideological differences, but found common ground in Guyana’s first moments of freedom.
“Here were two Guyanese embracing whose historical paths to these shores were different, one forced to come to this part [of the world] as a result of slavery and the other whose entry to this part of the world was through a process of indentureship… On that night, Thursday, the 26th of May 1966, there were [first] and foremost Guyanese. They were not perceived as Indo-Guyanese or Afro-Guyanese. They were Guyanese and that should be the preoccupation of our mentality as we move forward as a nation, to see ourselves [first] and foremost as Guyanese,” he said.
This, Dr. Gravesande added, is a lesson that ages well for Guyana, a lesson that ought to be passed down from the Guyana’s leaders to her people.
“It has got to be a constant message that resonates, not only with our political leadership, but with our civic leaders, our church leaders, our religious leaders. We are all in this together and it should emanate from the bowels of our leaders across the political divide, across the social divide, across the cultural divide. Ours is a plural society that must embrace it, not only in word, but also in deed,” he said.
“The old economy was dominated by six commodities – rice, sugar, bauxite, gold, diamonds, and timber. Excessive economic dependence on the export earnings of these six primary commodities exposed us to the volatilities of global commodity prices. The old economy was susceptible to external shocks. The ‘Independence Covenant,’ therefore, remains unconsummated. Our task today is to complete our mission by securing within the next decade, a ‘good life’ for all Guyanese. The necessity of economic transformation cannot be denied or delayed. We must act resolutely to implement the reforms that are essential to building a resilient economy – one that is adaptive to the changes and responsive to the challenges of the global economy.” – President David Granger, ‘Independence and Resilience’
Independence Day affords Guyanese the opportunity to reflect on and learn from the nation’s history in order to fashion a better future for all Guyanese. The Government of Guyana has chartered a way forward for sustainable and resilient development in the Green State Development Strategy. Mr. Gravesande encouraged all Guyanese to commit themselves wholly to the ‘green’ agenda.
“All leaders of our country [must] recommit themselves and [I am] urging Guyanese, all Guyanese to a balanced development of our country, one that will preserve our environment, while ensuring opportunities, economic opportunities, are created, especially for our young people… I believe Independence should also permit us an opportunity to reflect on the need for building a more tolerant society in an environment where intolerance is very invasive, a society that can harness the collective strengths of all Guyanese, while acknowledging that we have our differences… As we celebrate 53 years of nationhood it is absolutely critical that there be a call on every Guyanese, both at home and in the diaspora, to seek the motivation, to seek the resolve, to seek the courage to shoulder personal responsibility to move Guyana forward… Forward ever, backward never,” he said.
“I’d just finally like to wish all Guyanese both at home and abroad, a wonderful Independence Anniversary and to reflect on what we now need to be to ensure that our independence and our symbols of independence are real in a genuine spirit of collaboration and cooperation and to try out best to minimize those areas that divide u and embrace those that unite us,” Dr. Gravesande urged.
Arguably, the best and most reverent way to observe Guyana’s independence is to honour the ancestors of our people, who endured enslavement, indentureship, and exploitation at the hand of colonialism, but who still emerged from such tragedies unified, resilient and independent. Out of respect for their efforts, every Guyanese is duty-bound to, not only carry on, but exceed the legacy of sovereignty, unity, and harmony envisioned and achieved by our forefathers. We keep their sacrifice in mind as we walk boldly into a socially cohesive and resilient future. Happy Independence Day!