President Forbes Burnham: a Legacy with “Food For Thought” – by Francis Quamina Farrier

President Forbes Burnham: a Legacy with “Food For Thought” – by Francis Quamina Farrier

Burnham 33 Death Anniversary Feature of August 6, 2018

Forbes Burnham

Some say “Burnham”. Some say “Forbes Burnham”. Others say “Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham”, while there are those who say “The Founder Leader”. Of course, there are some who say, “The Dictator”.

Last Monday, August 6, 2018, dozens of individuals and groups converged at sunrise, at The Place of the Seven Ponds in the Botanical Gardens in Georgetown, where they payed homage to the memory of a man who, along with others, including Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Stephen Campbell, laid the foundations for an Independent Guyana. It was the occasion of the thirty third anniversary of the sudden passing, on August 6, 1985, of President Forbes Burnham; Guyana’s first executive President.

Prayers were said by representatives of Guyana’s three main Religions; Christian, Hindu and Muslim, which is one of the legacies of the late president. Verbal Tributes were paid. Floral Tributes were also be laid. Those attending exchanged pleasantries and some of their memories of a man they loved. Not present, were those who hate Burnham with a passion. Some who were already born and old enough at the time of his death on August 6, 1985, celebrated his passing with drinking and song and dance. Those who loved him, mourned his passing with prayers and tears and lamentations and thought of what Guyana would become without him as the Leader. Such is the reaction to strong National Leaders on their passing.

Last Sunday, the National Congress of Women (NCW), the women’s arm of the PNCR, held a Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Bust of their Founder Leader, President Burnham, in the compound of their Headquarters at 44 Public Road Kitty. Addressing the gathering were Party General Secretary Basil Williams and First Vice Chairperson Volda Lawrence.

Since my own writing career commenced with my winning First Prize at a schools National Essay-Writing Competition some seventy years ago, I’ve recently thought of the idea of an Essay Writing Competition, in which the Burnham admirers and the Burnham haters are invited to enter; two First Prizes of ten million dollars for the best essay submitted about Burnham. My idea is that the competition will be in two categories; Those who love Burnham to a fault, will write what they think was his worst mistakes. Those who hate Burnham to the core, will be invited to write a few things which they consider were his best achievements. The submissions will not be identified by the names or gender of the authors, but only by some other identification method.

Although I consider myself a Guyanese Patriot, I will recommend that all the adjudicators should be non-Guyanese. For example, President Jimmy Carter as the Chief Adjudicator, with Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, Prime Minister Lester Bird, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissesser, Caricom Secretary-General Dr Edwin Carrington and Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, as the other adjudicators.

Last year, my article on the death anniversary of late President Forbes Burnham, was embellished with photographs in which I was seen with the President, one in which I was presenting him with my first published play. Another in which he was interacting with members of the Public Service Union Drama Group of which I was the Director. This year, I am including photographs in which President Burnham is seen with other Heads of State from three different geographical regions of the globe; the Caribbean, Africa and Asia.

One of the most controversial acts by President Forbes Burnham, was his banning of certain foreign food items; wheat flour, for example. Some Guyanese welcomed such banning, even referring to it as a good economic policy. Others were in stark objection to what was taking place, and even referred to the President as “Banam”. On Monday July 23, 2018, while looking at the American TV Food Show, THE CHEW, on Channel 4, the Chefs were making a dish and one of the ingredients they were using was Rice Flour. On Saturday July 28, 2018, while looking at the American TV Show “Family Feud” with Host Steve Harvey on Channel 5, I noticed that one of the answers was “Rice Cake”.

Forty years ago, the introduction of rice flour in rice producing Guyana by President Forbes Burnham, was extremely controversial, and met with fierce opposition by many citizens. Some citizens even migrated to the USA, a country which now promotes Rice Flour on popular Food Shows, on National Television. That certainly is “Food for thought”, and could be one of the issues included in my proposed National Essay-Writing Competition about Guyana’s first executive President.

​Forbes Burnham (third from left) with Janet Jagan and Cheddi Jagan (at his immediate left), in Pre-Independence British Guiana

President Fidel Castro of Cuba with President Forbes Burnham

​President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, (at left) with President Burnham

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India presents a gift to President Burnham

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  • Emanuel  On 08/11/2018 at 12:44 am

    Forbes was a terrible president and Guyana pays the price for his 20 odd years of mismanagement, discord and electoral fraud. Every honest Guyanese knows it. The man cared more for himself than the people. Because of his ineptitude Guyana is economically years behind other Carribean nations.

    His life is not one most Guyanese can be proud of and that is putting it mildly.

    • Volney Williams  On 08/12/2018 at 3:50 pm

      What did the Jagdeo (PPP/CIVIC) 28yrs in government did in your opinion,that made Guyana what it is today.. Let me tell you . 1.The number one cocain distributor in the Caribbean. 2. Moneylaundering. 3. Crime per capital. 4. Unemployment high rate.of a population (85,000).5 Corruption, nepotism, racism, theft, and favouritism. Do I need to say more

      • Emanuel  On 08/13/2018 at 2:48 am

        I was not born when the PNC ruled, more appropriately, misruled, the country.

        But the history books say that Burnham did worse than the useless Jagdeo. He sowed the seeds of racism. He stole election are election, practiced nepotism and more.

        Burnham and Jagdeo failed to build a better country for future generations. We need new blood in there. Jagdeo should get lost.

        And you need to read your history books before coming here to teach me and others about corrupt Guyanese politicians.

  • Roxanne Franklin  On 08/11/2018 at 9:19 am

    Thank you.

  • panbrowne  On 08/11/2018 at 10:41 am

    I vehemently beg to differ with Emanuel. What a distorted view,But dare I ask who donates the prize money.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 08/11/2018 at 11:02 am

    For Indians, roti is a staple. Rice flour can’t make roti as it doesn’t have the binding agent, gluten. Hence the banning of wheat flour was seem as discriminatory by them. Pizza lovers would have complained also.
    Other ingredients used daily by Indians such as split peas, for another staple, dhall along with geera (cumin) and coriander for masala, hence curry, were all banned. Indians saw these moves as discriminatory, an attack on their cultural diet.

  • The Last Brahmin  On 08/11/2018 at 11:21 am


    He came in robes and crown
    From across the deep ocean and seas
    He made cities and many a town
    And conquered poverty and disease

    He was very good in his time
    We treated him like a lord
    Although he was in our clime
    Cause I was as free as a bird

    He brought his books
    And gave us discipline
    He changed our looks
    Which to some was a sin

    He showed us good husbandry
    Every year we got a bigger crop
    He utilized even the sundry
    We were glad, we were on top

    But he took the lion’s share
    I suppose he thought
    For his wisdom and care
    He had a right, why not

    He came with ideas that make sense
    Somebody had to do it
    The natives were backward and dense
    Dumb, lazy and unfit

    But was he right
    Was he right in being wrong?
    If he was right
    Then we were bleddy wrong

    Then some start to complain
    Being robbed and ripped off
    Others thought we were insane
    And started to sneer and scoff

    Saying, they were bleeding the country
    And sucking us so dry
    Leaving us with nothing but sheer poverty
    Unless we cooperate and try

    We had to get rid of imperialism
    Get rid of the Bakrah dictators
    Take charge in the name of socialism
    And get rid of our predators

    We then huffed and puffed
    Then we rebelled and revolted
    We thought we had enough
    He got scared and bolted

    Oh what the bleddy hell
    We really do not need them
    We rejoiced and rang the bell
    We got rid of our problem

    Or at least then so we thought
    Until we had our own masters
    Who said they couldn’t be bought
    Even if they meet with disasters

    From Britain we returned with independence
    We celebrated in the streets and played mass
    We said we were neutral, we sat on the fence
    We were happy for now we had our own bass

    But after the sounding of the cymbals
    And the hot steel bands stopped vibrating
    We started warfare with our tribals
    By the old trick of dividing and ruling

    Our former neo-colonial bastard of a master
    We so admired and yet despised
    Slapped their bellies and rolled in laughter
    And we weren’t a bit surprised

    Life looked bleak and dismal
    Unfortunately we were yet to see
    The writing on the bloody wall
    As we waddled in racial hostility

    We went red in a way
    At least in theory and rhetoric
    We befriended the USA
    We thought we had the enemy licked

    Little did we know
    With our heads so hard
    The enemy in the shadow
    Was in our own backyard

    Parties and boundaries changed power
    Thriving on ballots with leads
    As the Sword of Damocles hover
    Over our own naive heads

    Black-marketing, nepotism and corruption
    Became a way of life
    Coupled with National In-Service Induction
    In a land of strife

    We were not satisfied with Independence
    We went for the big one, a Republic
    And encountered problems so immense
    Worse than another banana republic

    We nationalized big business and Bauxite mines
    We even went after all the foreign banks
    And replaced the Airlines with bread-lines
    And the IMF smiled at us and said no thanks

    Party members became fat cats
    Parasitic on the remains of others
    Who lost even their shirts and hats
    To their so-called coloured brothers

    Yes! and we ran
    To other very strange lands
    Every brother man
    With nothing in our hands

    Braving the winter and all
    But free from persecution and fear
    Of detention and Sibley Hall
    Or some stinking pen elsewhere

    But the Creolese proverb says ‘Son
    ‘Moon ah run till daylight ketch um’
    Now the bosses are on the run
    Can’t be saved with white fowl and rum.

  • Tata  On 08/13/2018 at 11:55 am

    Mention the name Burnham and you certainly see the racial division in Guyana.
    Looking back, WEST INDIANS would have you believe, they were disrespected because Burnham took away their FLOUR, DHAL, GERA etc. Other Guyanese were very MAD because he banned corn beef, sardines and anything encased in a can. Unfortunately, I was also a Burnham critic Who did not understand the dynamics of politics but I’ve moved on because I’m more knowledgeable and realistic of the world we live in TODAY.

    Veda Nath! Your problem is not about FLOUR, DAHL, GERA etc.

    It’s ALL about ANY BLACK MAN having the governing power in the Republic of GUYANA.

    You know, for as long as this blog exists, you’ve been a strong critic of Burnham and anyone who counters your criticism of his politics. I don’t know how old you are but we now live in the 21st century and do have social media: to research countries like CHINA, RUSSIA, INDIA, PAKISTAN and all the oil rich countries in the Middle East, even the BRITISH who colonialized all of humanity, and see what their human rights records are: then come back and apologize to ALL GUYANESE who read these blog.

    YES Veda! Like every OTHER group of people who left their homeland, EAST INDIANS came to Guyana with NOTHING: they were a disrespected caste of people who ADAPTED to a different climate, strange foods and an unfamiliar environment. They survived generations because the WEST gave them a life
    India DID NOT provide.

    Get over FLOUR, DHALL and all the nonsense that has nothing to do with quality of life. Guyana is RICH in natural resources and anyone who STILL
    Harbors such RESENTMENTS of Burnham after all these years is nothing but a RACIST.

    Your people is not the only group of people in Guyana. Everyone lived through hard times and survived but no one else is complaining but Guyana’s WEST INDIAN community.

    Yes, your fore parents came from the EAST and you were born in the WEST.
    After all these centuries you want to set yourselves apart from the GUYANESE population. This is not the CASTE system.

    If a BLACK MAN came in the image of Ghandi you will STILL reject him.


    • Ron Saywack  On 08/14/2018 at 8:50 am

      Tata: Your comments are, unfortunately, highly inappropriate, anger-filled, inflammatory, provocative and hateful. Your rancor is also, ironically, racist to the core, whether you want to admit or not. It is time for you to stop posting such vitriol and hatred on this blog and simmer down. I’m surprised that Cy lets you get away with it.

      You state: ” … and anyone who STILL Harbors such RESENTMENTS of Burnham after all these years is nothing but a RACIST.” Not!

      I can one-hundred-percent assure you that I am a strong voice against racism and vehemently oppose it wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head anywhere on the planet. There is not a racist bone in my body. I find Black people to be the most genuine and kind people on Earth. Many of my trusted and close friends are Black. When they come to visit me in my home, they are like family. It is all about respect.

      But, at the same time, I still resent Forbes Burnham. He was a monster, a tinpot dictator and a narcissist who lusted power at all cost, even at the expense of fracturing the country along racial lines. At a rally in Georgetown on 24 May 1963, Burnham uttered the following regrettable words: “…agitation (violence) must (now) move away from the legislature (in Georgetown) to “places where they grow rice.”

      How can anyone condone such reckless and irresponsible rhetoric? The passage of time cannot erase this form of incitement to violence, not one iota.

      And yes, the banning wheat flour, spit-peas, and cumin was a direct assault on a certain demographic. It was an unbelievably cruel and mean this to do. It created unimaginable hardship in the country for those who love roti and dhal. As a child, I saw the sadness in my late mother’s eyes.

      This direct attack on my family, on many other Guyanese families, should never have happened. Shame on Burnham and shame on you for now trying to, revisionistly, gloss over Burnham’s brutal and spiteful attacks on a large segment of the population.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 08/13/2018 at 3:38 pm

    Tata: You have have written so much tripe as is usual, you are ignored!

  • Tata  On 08/13/2018 at 7:04 pm

    That’s food for though YA! I’ve provided you a mouthful, bring it on!
    It’s been far too long that Black people sit silently by and allow YOU ALL to continually discredit and trash Burnham and his legacy. I’ve NEVER heard ONE of YA’LL PEOPLE denigrate or question the politics or policies of the PPP. EVER! Everyone of you is UNITED and blind as a bat in your judgment of Jagan,
    Cheddi Jagan in your eyes is “God Send.” Flawless,………But to lead a nation, one must be free of ANY bias and Jagan was none of that. He was himself a racist. He’s done NOTHING for Black folks during his reign. He divided the masses and preached segregation. Go sing it to the choir YA’LL.

    Sadly, Burnham was YA’LL whipping Boy and Black allowed it to continue unchallenged. As a matter of fact, every Black man in history has been demonized and discredited for doing the same things everyone else has done without ridicule.
    We honor and admire the British monarchy and find their lives enchantingly beautiful but yet they have a history of enslaved brutality.


    • Emanuel  On 08/13/2018 at 7:50 pm

      If this was a heavy weight fight the ref woulda had to stop the fight.

      One fighter is on the canvas with a broken and bloody nose. He seems dazed and unable to fight back.

  • Tata  On 08/14/2018 at 10:58 am

    It’s called TRIUMPHANT over ADVERSITY.

  • dhanpaul narine  On 08/14/2018 at 12:09 pm

    Black men have come in the image of Gandhi and have made a world of difference to our society. I can think of Martin Luther King whose voice continues to ring true and to guide us. I can think of Nelson Mandela who set an example to all that peace is the way forward. After one term in office, he willingly transferred power to others. He did it in the interest of his country. Guyana, and the rest of the world, would do well to learn from these great men.
    In the Guyanese context, I can think of Desmond Hoyte who put his country first. Despite electoral irregularities, Hoyte opened up the economy, lifted the ban on various products and brought Guyana into the free market. He is not given the credit that he deserves. He also employed Indians in top positions and was criticized by his own folks who called him ‘Desmond Persaud.’ The economy grew under Hoyte.
    When the time came for elections in 1992, Hoyte agreed to the Carter proposals, knowing that his party stood to lose. As he said later, he put Guyana first. Just so you know, I was the only Indian to speak at Hoyte’s Memorial Service in Brooklyn. I called him a patriot, among other things.
    This did not go down well in Richmond Hill, in New York. But the truth had to be told. I can go on but you need to know that at this time in our history we all should put aside racism and work for a united Guyana. Do not fall into the blame game; we have had enough of that in our history.
    And you Tata, and indeed all of us, have a role to unite our beautiful country. The faults are many but it’s time to turn a new page.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 08/14/2018 at 1:42 pm

    Ron wrote:
    ‘At a rally in Georgetown on 24 May 1963, Burnham uttered the following regrettable words: “…agitation (violence) must (now) move away from the legislature (in Georgetown) to “places where they grow rice.”
    How can anyone condone such reckless and irresponsible rhetoric? The passage of time cannot erase this form of incitement to violence, not one iota.’

    Burnham did even more. That date, “24 May 1963”, was recycled. The Wismar ethnic cleansing, one year later, spanned May 24-26 !
    Then, he chose May 26 to be Guyana’s Independence Day; which is commemorated every year – thus an ongoing threat against Indians!
    Ian Fleming wrote in (Goldfinger?) ‘Once is happenstance; two is coincidence; three is “Enemy Action”’ (In war it was said: don’t light three cigarettes with one match).

    Re Hoyte. He was not so clean. At an elections meeting he called for ‘Mo Fyah, Slow Fyah’ and the supporter’s went on to burn business places in GT.
    Re. India.

    Tata and his ilk on this blog and outside love to tell us that India was/is a wasteland on all fronts. (I will deal with this more fully in an upcoming book tackling Prof. Clem Seecharan). Here is a quotable quote for the chronic haters and the under-educated.

    Alex Tunzelmann wrote in Indian Summer – The Secret History of the End of an Empire
    “In the beginning, there were two nations. One was a vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swathe of the earth. The other was an undeveloped, semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses. The first nation was India. The second was England. The year was 1577…the average Indian peasant enjoyed a relatively higher income and lower taxation than his [Indian] descendants ever would again[!]”

    As the latter sentence implies, Britain for 340 years (from c. 1610) drained and pauperized India (which money was used to fire-up the Industrial Revolution; and why India was called the “Jewel in th Crown” – also literally, as the Queens mother has the magnificent Indian Kohinoor stone in her crown).
    So, some of those ‘pauperized’ people were inveigled to travel by sea for 3 ½ months to Br.Guiana; and No, they weren’t just low caste.

    The under-educated or chronic haters would say, that is the past. So, here is a week ago from BBC:
    India’s Impressive Concept of Nothing(ness) – Zero
    “The invention of zero was a hugely significant mathematical development, one that is fundamental to calculus, which made physics, engineering and much of modern technology possible.”
    …In addition, the nation has long had a fascination with sophisticated mathematics. Early Indian mathematicians were obsessed with giant numbers, counting well into the trillions when the Ancient Greeks stopped at about 10,000. [and the Roman Numerals were useless for science]. They [Indians] even had different types of infinity.
    Hindu astronomers and mathematicians Aryabhata, born in 476, and Brahmagupta, born in 598, are both popularly believed to have been the first to formally describe the modern decimal place value system and present rules governing the use of the zero symbol.
    [So, discard the false learning that it was the Arabs who taught us how to count. They were just the invaders who took out the Indian Decimal system to Europe].

    So, it should not be surprising that the Indian brains which taught the world how to count would have also had the greatest world economy until the British famished and decimated the Indians.

    Oh, and I haven’t even talked about Yoga, which is sweeping the world, nor the Ayurvedic foods and therapies that are quickly replacing Western medicine… These are why she is often regarded even by outsiders as “Mother India”!

    Veda Nath Mohabir

    • Emanuel  On 08/15/2018 at 11:52 am

      Mr Nath,

      Isn’t the topic about Burnham? Why do you write so much about India?
      Tata belittles Indians as outcast to Guyana. You are within topic to refute that slight but not to write an essay on India. What’s the obsession with India?

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 08/15/2018 at 4:07 pm

    Emanuel: Looks like you are not a good reader or is it your comprehension that is challenged?

    Here is what Tata wrote:

    “YES Veda! Like every OTHER group of people who left their homeland, EAST INDIANS came to Guyana with NOTHING: they were a disrespected caste of people who ADAPTED to a different climate, strange foods and an unfamiliar environment. They survived generations because the WEST gave them a life
    India DID NOT provide.”
    Along with allusions to Gandhi and caste.

    Then, I responded with this rationale: “Tata and his ilk on this blog and outside love to tell us that India was/is a wasteland on all fronts.”


    • Emanuel  On 08/15/2018 at 5:08 pm

      Mr Nath,

      It seems that your comprehension could use a bit of fine tuning. You could have written that Tata’s broad scorn on Indian migration is false. But you did not have to get into “zero” discovery and threaten about giving us a lecture on yoga.

      The whole time you did not once mention Africa where a significant number of Guyanese originated. You totally ignore Africa where Burnham’s forebears came from.

      You often seize to opportunity to change the topic to write about India
      So, my question is what’s the obsession with India?

  • Tata  On 08/17/2018 at 1:18 am

    Saywack and Company! How ironic, for I do feel the same way about Jagan as you of Burnham.
    Oh Boy! Jagan was a monster and left a legacy of racial hatred among a large sector of the Guyanese populace. Try as you may, you cannot pull wool over anyone’s eyes about Guyana’s racial divide.

    Anyone who believes that Guyana don’t have a racial problem is delusional!
    Burnham died over 30 years and it seems that we have people who still have SERIOUS issues to settle with this dead man. Such sick souls.

    Poor Uncle Desmond, he had a rude awakening and didn’t see it coming! Everyone else did! 🇬🇾


    • Ron Saywack  On 08/17/2018 at 7:52 am

      Tata: I don’t know who you are, but you do seem to have a chip on your shoulder in addition to finding objectivity, vis-a-vis Guyanese political history, challenging.

      You wrote: “Jagan was a monster and left a legacy of racial hatred among a large sector of the Guyanese populace.”

      Ok then, how so? Please provide the evidence to support your ridiculous characterization of the noble man. I will assess such evidence with an open mind and let you ASAP what my conclusion is.

      You furtherly stated: “Burnham died over 30 years and it seems that we have people who still have SERIOUS issues to settle with this dead man. Such sick souls.”

      So, those who take issue with Hitler’s genocidal obliteration of 6 million Jews, or Joseph Stalin’s extermination of millions in the Gulag Camp, or Pol Pot’s extermination of millions in North Vietnam are “sick souls”? Really?

      Well, yours is not a view that’s shared by many.

      The Antiguan intellectual, Tim Hector, had this to say about the late Cheddi Jagan:

      “Modern Martyr and Exemplar of the New Caribbean.”

      See URL following for details:

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 08/18/2018 at 12:35 am

    Here is Bookers’ Sir Jock Campbell’ s view of Jagan vs Burnham (from a book review by Prof Birbalsingh of Seecharan’s Bitter sugar. Seecharan , in typical ‘coconut’ fashion has lionized Sir Jock vis a vis Dr. Jagan, but Sir Jock pays more respect to his ‘opponent’.
    (Excerpt from my upcoming book sourced from: )

    Ironically, it is Sir Jock who comes to the rescue of Dr. Jagan. Prof Birbalsingh reveals:
    “Surprisingly, we get a more sympathetic impression of Dr. Jagan from Sir Jock than from the author [Seecharan}: ‘I think he [Dr. Jagan] was a good man, and he was trying to do his best for the people of Guyana… he failed partly because of the Cold War and because of the Russian communists.’
    In contrast, of Jagan’s political opponent, Forbes Burnham we learn: “Sir Jock’s opinion on Forbes Burnham is just as revealing: ‘Burnham was a criminal, an absolutely beastly man in every way.’

    Need I say more?


  • Tata  On 08/19/2018 at 6:48 pm

    Saywack and comrades! I hate to respond to ignorance but i need to put you to put old men to bed.

    In the words of MSNBC political commentator, journalist and author Chris Hayes, “Racism is an old construct from an ignorant generation-that I’m not a part of.”

    • Ron Saywack  On 08/19/2018 at 7:37 pm

      We shall forever be indebted to Tata for his profound wisdom and generous enlightenment of the intrepid fools who dare to expose their ignorance on this blog.

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