Eusi Kwayana (pictured) is a Guyanese politician. A cabinet minister in the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) government of 1953, he was detained by the British Army in 1954. Later he left the PPP to form African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA), a Pan-Africanist grassroots political group that, after a brief flirtation with the People’s National Congress (PNC) of Forbes Burnham, fused into the Working People’s Alliance (WPA). Here, Mr. Kwayana — at 89 years old — remembers a powerful time in history: Ghana’s and Guyana’s independence!
On March 6, 1957, Ghana was the first British colony in Africa south of the Sahara to end its rule by colonizers, and indeed, the Ghanaian political and cultural leaders were taught that the country had regained its independence.
Lord Kitchener, the Trinidadian Calypsonian, composed one of the top tunes for the festivities. It was done in high-life style and people danced to the catchy rhythm everywhere.
Ghana, Ghana is the name
We wish to proclaim’
We will be happy merry and gay
The sixth of March, Independence day
Listen to Lord Kitchener’s “Birth of Ghana” here:
People of African descent everywhere in Ghana and the Caribbean, then called the West Indies, rejoiced at this liberation event.
The red, white, and blue Union Jack had been the British flag that the British made their colonies fly as their own. The Ghanaians made their own flag red, black, and green with a black star in the center.
This switch of flags is the official ritual of independence.
Dr. Nkrumah, with his understanding of history, declared, “Ghana is free forever.” He then went on to shock the listening world when he added, “The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked to the total liberation and unity of Africa.“
That was in 1957, and many world leaders were present in Accra. Among those present were Cheddi Jagan (pictured right) and Forbes Burnham (pictured) from my country, Guyana; one guest from the United States; and the African-American Dr. John Henrik Clarke, the historian of Global African history.
Clarke tells the story that as he stood in the crowd to watch the official motorcade, Prime Minister Nkrumah, sitting in his official vehicle, spotted his African-American friend and stopped the motorcade to greet him.
I got to Ghana in 1965 during school vacation to explain the political situation in Guyana to African leaders.
The Politics of Guyana
At the time, the political situation in Guyana was highly conflicted because the country’s politics had become a cold war issue: The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) flaunted Marxism and had the largest single ethnic electoral bloc with Guyanese of East Indian descent, and under the first pass of the post-electoral system won a clear majority of seats without a majority of the popular vote. They could win a parliamentary seat with just 4,500 votes.
On the other hand, the African Guyanese — represented by the People National Congress — (PNC) needed more than 10,000 votes to win a parliamentary seat. This anomaly was due to the spatial distribution of population and the constituency boundaries.
At the independence conference in London in 1963, three Guyanese parties negotiated with the British. They were the ruling PPP led by the aforementioned Jagan, an East Indian dentist; the PNC once part of the PPP and led by Burnham, an African lawyer, and the United Force (UF) led by Peter D’Aguiar, a Portuguese businessman.
The United States kept constant pressure on the British rulers because it did not want Guyana to become ” a second Cuba” under Dr. Jagan’s leadership. At the conference, there was a sharp disagreement among the parties. Duncan Sandys, the British colonial secretary, told them that in view of the disagreement, the delegation would return home empty-handed unless they authorized him to impose a solution.
Therefore, it was Dr. Jagan, eager to achieve the Independence of Guyana, who appealed to his opposite numbers to sign a letter requesting that Sandys impose a solution.
The conference was being held in the third year of violent inter-ethnic conflict in Guyana, and from my standpoint, the violence was wholly unnecessary and misguided but was happening because political leaders tended to use differences in ethnicity for their electoral advantage.
The upshot was that the U.K. agreed to Guyana’s independence on the condition that there would be a Commonwealth-supervised general election conducted under the electoral system of proportional representation before independence.
After the 1963 imposition, Jagan returned to Guyana and declared “a hurricane of protests” to stop proportional representation. This led to further inter-ethnic violence (see “The West On Trial” by Cheddi Jagan and “Next Witness and Guyana: No Guilty Race” by Eusi Kwayana).
The PPP had a far better international presence because of its popular rhetoric and connections with pro-Soviet media, and African countries were generally pro-Jagan. The PPP kept a New York mission headed by Felix Cummings, and he was in touch with the United Nations representatives.
There were two main issues concerning African leaders: First, that the constitution was manipulated to displace Jagan. Second, they felt that proportional representation had incidentally solved the representation problem and that this was vital because the voting in Guyana was based along racial lines since 1955.
To make sense of proportional representation, the PNC entered in to a coalition with the UF, which was led by the aforementioned Portuguese Guyanese D’Aguiar. In retailiation, the PPP emphasized the Portuguese connection at a time when the Portuguese colonies in Africa were waging a bitter liberation struggle, but I had to explain that D’Aguiar was as much a descendant of Portuguese indentured servants as Jagan was a descendant of Indian indentured servants and Burnham a descendant of enslaved Africans.
In order to convey my message, I chose Ghana as a starting point and a base, because Dr. Nkrumah had dispatched a goodwill mission to Guyana in 1964 to try to reconcile Jagan and Burnham. I was not a state official but agreed to take on the task as a volunteer with expenses paid.
I was the guest of the President of Ghana and stayed at the Ambassador Hotel and had the same room ,103 — as I recall — where Malcolm X had stayed. Everyone I met told me, “Oh! That was Malcom’s room.”
Cheddi flew in from Georgetown by the British Overseas Airway Corporation. In London, I had seen the staff of several African embassies, but the Ghana embassy was especially helpful, and Ghana Airways was an eye-opener: I had traveled in 1952 to a conference in Europe, and Ghana Airways was the only one I traveled on with an all-African staff, pilot, as well as stewardesses.
And there was more things about Ghana that were impressive and memorable.
Announcers read the news in English, with a rumble of drums and rhythms, saying, “This is radio Ghana and here is the news.” Then there was more music, and then the announcer said, “The news follows in Hausa, Nzima, Dagbani, Ewe, Ga, and Akan.”
The recognition of African languages made me sleep soundly as I overcame jet lag. …