The Walter Anthony Rodney Commission of Inquiry (CoI) has made a sweeping conclusion: Forbes Burnham and the PNC played a defining role in the assassination of the Guyanese scholar. The CoI was very clear in its wording: “Prime Minister Burnham knew of the plan and was part of the conspiracy to assassinate Dr Rodney”. One can only extrapolate that Burnham (the “Kabaka”) had knowledge of the plot, but the conclusion of most Guyanese is that Burnham must have ordered the assassination, or turned a blind eye and allowed the plan to become a reality. It was widely believed that Rodney’s influence penetrated deeply within the officer corps and sympathisers within the ranks posed a severe threat to the survival of the illegal regime. Burnham carried through with his threat and his ominous warnings to the WPA leadership that his “steel” was much sharper and members of the WPA should write their wills. Rodney exposed the lunacy of the “paramountcy” of the PNC over State institutions. Rodney had to go.
There are those who continue to argue, now that the CoI has been “leaked”, that millions of dollars were wasted to tell us what we already knew and the intellectual authors of this plan have passed on, and this Commission was a concoction of the PPP designed to score political points. Others, like Kean Gibson who dismissed the killing as “politics”, queried why “it would have been alright for Rodney to have eliminated Burnham but not the reverse”. Rodney may have become a romantic revolutionary when he espoused the popular chant that the Burnham regime must go “by any means necessary” without fully understanding the implications of his political pronouncement. However, Rodney was engaged in building a mass movement to replace a government that abused its powers. Those who condemn Rodney’s actions today are not only ignoring the authoritarian conditions under which Guyanese lived, but, indirectly, they condemn the thousands of Guyanese who were engaged in a movement to return democracy to Guyana.
The three-member Commission led by Chairman, Sir Richard Cheltenham understood fully the conditions that have led to political assassinations. They considered the nature of Guyanese society and the political conditions that existed under the Burnham regime. It was only fitting that they made recommendations as to how to prevent the conditions that contributed to the abuse of State power. Their recommendations require repeating since some of these recommendations are not alien to Guyanese politics. They were the subject of other Commissions.
Recommendation (9.2). “Every effort should be made to have a well-trained and highly professional Police Force with a thorough appreciation of its duty to serve impartially regardless of ethnicity or party affiliation….” The CoI has recognised that the breakdown of law and order in our society today stems from an unprofessional Police Force that is as corruptible as any other State agencies, perhaps more. That the Police Force does not reflect the population makeup is problematic.
Recommendation (9.4). “The Army, too, must be professional.” The CoI provided the rationale for this by explaining that “nothing is worse than an army in a country striving to be an ideal functional democracy being partial to any political party whether in government or otherwise. An army, by definition, has a near monopoly of the legitimate instruments of violence and must be trained to act responsibly at all times.” Since the Burnham era, the Army has remained predominantly African, despite the fact that the Commonwealth Commission of Inquiry of 1962 made recommendations for a balanced disciplined force.
Recommendation (9.10). “No party in Government shall be permitted to tamper easily or at all with the electoral system such as to secure an unfair advantage. The electoral system shall be entrenched in the Constitution and should only be amendable by a 2/3 majority.” This recommendation will go a long way considering the controversy surrounding GECOM during the recent, as well as previous, elections.
Recommendation (9.12). “….Every Government has a continuing responsibility to work in close consultation with national associations and diverse interest groups to design and implement a programme intended to strengthen ethnic harmony and a sense of national unity,” The ethnic divide in Guyana has been a longstanding one and it raises its ugly head more so during elections time.
As we approach our 50th anniversary, there is much work that has to be done to foster a cohesive and united polity in Guyana. (Send comments to BRamharack60@gmail.com)