Guyana Resource Center
Set like a gem in the crown of South America, nestled on the North-Eastern shoulder, defying the raging Atlantic Ocean, Guyana's many waterways reflect the source of it's name "The Land of Many Waters"
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Friday, May 26, 2006

BY TOTA C. MANGAR SENIOR LECTURER & DEAN
SCHOOL OF EDUCATION & HUMANITIES

May 26, 2006 marks the 40th anniversary of our country’s attainment of political independence from Great Britain. On this historic day in 1966 a new nation, Guyana the only English –speaking one on the South America continent, achieved national sovereignty to become the 24th member of the then British Commonwealth of nations, thus bringing to an end several decades of British colonial rule.

Guyana’s road to independence was indeed turbulent. For a brief period in the early 1950s its nationalist movement, the original People’s Progressive Party, under the leadership of the Late President, Dr. Cheddi B. Jagan and Mr. Forbes Burnham, enjoyed overwhelming support from the working class and the masses in general as they pursued the noble objective of national unity. Their resounding victory at the 1953 general elections astounded many, including local reactionaries, the Colonial Office and moreso the U.S. State Department.

The mass-based party’s tenure in office was only short-lived as Great Britain under considerable American pressure, suspended the Constitution and overthrew the legally elected government under the guise of a ‘communist threat’. The ironical thing about it was that an interim government was imposed and it comprised of many individuals who themselves suffered defeat at the hands of the toppled nationalist candidates. As if that setback was not enough the nationalist movement itself became severely fractured in 1955 and this paved the way for the intense political rivalry between our two foremost leaders, Dr. Jagan and Mr. Burnham. Unfortunately, it was this more than anything else which also led to racial strife and insecurity. Subsequent events such as political and social instability, including strikes and disturbances, which erupted a s a result of the Kaldor budget and the Labour Relations Bill in the 1962-1963 period, clearly illustrated the turbulent waters that this nation had to endure. Loss of several lives and the destruction of properties and dislocation of people to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars were the sad reality of life during this dark period of our country’s history.

Under a new electoral system of proportional representation in 1964 Mr. Burnham headed a coalition government. As Prime Minister he shouldered the responsibilities of leading the country to independence while his former colleague and by then bitter rival, Dr. Jagan, served as Opposition Leader.

Political Independence was achieved on May 26, 1966. With independence came the termination of more than a century and a half of British colonial administrative rule. At the twitching hour of midnight, thousands of Guyanese of all walks of life stood proudly and cheered at the Union Jack was lowered and the National Flag went up to herald the birth of a new, independent Guyana.

Among those who witnessed the highly significant and unique ceremony were the Duke and Duchess of Kent, Sir Richard Luyt, the first Governor-General of Guyana, former Conservative Colonial Secretary, Mr. Duncan Sandys and Colonial Secretary, Mr. Anthony Greenwood and 62 delegates from 47 countries world-wide.

Of added significance and to the tumultuous applause of all who thronged independence Square, was that comforting “bear hug” embrace between Cheddi and Forbes, the architects of Guyana’s freedom, only minutes before the attainment of nationhood. That emotionally charged happening promised much but in the final analysis realized very little.

As part of independence we saw the emergence of our new Guyana Coat of Arms.

On it is seen the pride of our fauna life, two jaguars holding a pickaxe and stems of rice and sugar cane and facing each other proudly across a painted shield on top of which rests a visored helmet topped by the feathered crown of an Amerindian chieftain.

Beneath a scroll-like banner boldly proclaims the Nation’s Motto: “One People, One Nation, One Destiny” while on the shield itself are found three barrulets of azure blue symbolizing Guyana’s watery nature and its water potential. This Coat of Arms justifiably accords pride of place in our national minds and reminds us of our unity and sense of purpose.

The independence brought with it our national flag, a slender golden arrowhead set proudly on a background of green and red and stands as a striking symbol of Guyana’s journey into the future.

The lush green colour symbolizes the fields and forests of Guyana’s assets, of which the country is richly endowed. The red triangle represents the zeal and dynamic nature of nation building that lies before the young and independent nation while the deep black border stands for the endurance that will sustain the forward thrust of its people. Finally white symbolizes our rivers, waterfalls and our hydro-electric potential of this “Land of Waters”.

Our new National Anthem is a popular aspect of our Independence. Reverend Archibald Luker wrote the words of “Green Land of Guyana” in response to the nation-wide competition sponsored by the National History and Arts Council while our distinguished Guyanese educationist and musician, the late R.C.G. Potter composed the music. The title our National Anthem is appropriate and expressive of colour and vitality and of land fertility.

On the morning of the 26th May, 1966, the National Assembly witnessed all the pomp and pageantry and ceremonial aspects of Westminister. In the historic Public Buildings, the Duke of Kent handed over to the country’s first Prime Minister, Mr. Forbes Burnham, the Constitutional instruments conceding to us the dignity and pride of Independent Nationhood on behalf of the Queen.

Undoubtedly, the expectations of all Guyanese were very high at that point in time and they had every right to be. Our then Prime Minister Mr. Forbes Burnham expressed high optimism when he said:” Thus our journeyings to Independence have ended. We face, however, the harder but more emotionally satisfying and definitely more self-respecting talks of making Guyana great among the nations - the task of building a free and just society.”

What can we say 40 years after gaining independence? We certainly share the joy, pride and dignity of being an independent nation. Our expectation was that with political independence we would have enjoyed political stability, national unity and social and economic progress. Unfortunately the stark reality is that today our nation cries out in shame.

In several aspects we are worse off now than then despite the best efforts by many. Political stability and national unity are as elusive as ever. Post-1997 elections events and recent political and industrial actions as well as an escalation of criminal activity are testimony to this.

While much progress has been made on the social and economic front the nation is still to completely rid itself of economic dependency on international financial agencies. Foreign debts continue to stifle us as we experience depressed world market prices for our products. We are still to fully accelerate our production and productivity drives. We continue to suffer from migration and consequential ‘brain drain’ and capital flight and the uncertainty of the impending European Union sugar reforms. As we reflect on independence, let us show a greater sense of purpose and maturity, and greater mutual respect, tolerance and understanding of all Guyanese if we are to survive as a nation.

Let us put nation first at this critical juncture of our country’s history and in the face of an increasingly harsh and oppressive world environment.

A Happy 40th Independence anniversary to one and all! Long Live Guyana


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1 Comments:
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Very enlightening. It's good that there are still people out there, who work at ensuring that Guyanese ppl do not forget their history, especially in the face of the so called 'help' that we get from tome to time, from the imperialists, who were once the COLONIZERS - "THE JAILERS, who imprisoned our ancestors and threw away the key. Guyanese need to realize that to this day many of us are still prisoners to those foreign entities - mental prisoners and to some extent literal prisoners, because they still continue to dictate to us in not so subtle ways. it must be noted that today the Americans have taken over from where the English/British has left.


However, it would be great if more information about the life and work of R. C. G. Potter can be made available to the public. It is so motivating to others, when we can honour our people for individual and collective contributions to our dear land. Thank you so much Mr. Mangar.