We Decide Our Own Heroes: A Defense of Eusi Kwayana and Walter Rodney
Over the last few months Freddie Kissoon has engaged in a very vicious campaign to discredit and disrespect Eusi Kwayana. The issue stems from the fact that Eusi Kwayana did not rush to condemn Claudette Singh, who is the Chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). In Freddie’s view, this means that Eusi is trying to justify election rigging in Guyana, when the reality is that Freddie knows that Eusi has done no such thing.
Freddie even tried to bring Walter Rodney into this by writing: “ I say unapologetically, Kwayana’s positive words on Singh is a betrayal of everything Walter Rodney stood for. Kwayana, perhaps like all his colleagues in and out of Guyana, in the Walter Rodney movement (I chose that appellation instead of Working People’s Alliance, a name that is now leprous), has denigrated the beauty of Walter Rodney.”
Part of the issue here is that Freddie has a very shallow understanding of Walter Rodney’s Pan-Africanist views. He views Rodney as an African who opposed the PNC and for this reason he invokes Rodney to attack the PNC and to also attack Eusi. He also sees Rodney as someone who saved African dignity by opposing the PNC in the 1970s. In that same editorial, Freddie also writes:
Any school child, ten years old, if asked why the Black Lives Matter emerged will automatically tell you because white policemen kill Black Americans with impunity. The experience cannot be transported to Guyana because traditionally and historically the security forces have not been staffed by East Indians.
This is an extremely shallow take on Black Lives Matter, considering that in some high profile cases of Black Americans being killed by police officers, the officers involved were Black, such as the incident involving Freddie Gray’s killing. Black Lives Matter is about Black people being unjustly killed, not about the racial identity of the ones doing the killing. It is also worth noting that Rodney embraced the Black Power movement, which emerged in the United States. Would Freddie have concluded in the 1970s that Black Power cannot be transported to Guyana and the Caribbean because Black leaders were in power?
Freddie only seems to think of Walter Rodney as an African who opposed the African led PNC government, but he appears to have little use for Rodney’s Pan-Africanism or his support of the Black Power ideology, which was rooted in that Pan-African vision. Though Black Lives Matter began in the United States, it has resonated with African people throughout the diaspora. Freddie is ill-informed about the racial struggles of African people throughout the diaspora and the historical connection between these struggles — the history of Pan-Africanism in the diaspora — but he insists on invoking Walter Rodney, who was a Pan-Africanist.
Former president Donald Ramotar does the same thing with Walter Rodney. In his editorial, Ramotar writes: “In our own Guyana, the PNC emphasized race to support colonial domination and engineered racial clashes to allow the delay [of] independence and install the PNC in power. Since then, they have used racism like a knee on the throats of the whole nation, stifling social and economic progress of all Guyanese.” It is noticeable that Ramotar completely absolves the PPP of its history of racism. In fact, the reason why Eusi Kwayana originally split from the PPP was because Cheddi Jagan refused to have Guyana join the West Indies Federation for racial reasons.
Ramotar continues to write: “Make no mistake about it, the PNC/APNU/AFC does not represent the interest of the African-Guyanese working people.” The PPP does not represent the interest of the African-Guyanese working people. After all, the PPP was the same government which attempted to raise taxes on the struggling people of Linden and then sent the police force to suppress the protests there, which resulted in three people being killed. This type of police force being used against working class people in Guyana was the very thing that Rodney denounced not only in Guyana, but throughout the Caribbean and Africa as well. The PPP does not get to invoke Rodney to absolve itself of its wrongdoings.
To return to Freddie, he, like Ramotar, only invokes Rodney for the purpose of attacking the PNC. In fact, Freddie has demonstrated a complete lack of respect for Rodney by creating a fictional exchange between Rodney and Desmond Trotman. Freddie has Rodney say, “rigged elections were the cause of my death.” Freddie reduces Rodney’s struggle against the PNC as a struggle against rigged election, when it was so much more than that. Rodney’s struggle was a struggle for people’s power, as he explained “People’s Power, No Dictator.”
Freddie has Rodney conclude by saying: “I am turning in my grave knowing what you, Eusi, Clive, Bonita, Westmaas, Moses Bhagwan, Maurice Odle, David Hinds, Ogunseye and the rest I struggled with have become. Don’t do this to my legacy.” Not only is it disrespectful for Freddie to speak for Rodney, but it is also disrespectful to conclude that Rodney would feel the same way about Eusi’s position on the elections as Freddie does. Freddie could not possibly know what Rodney’s position on Eusi’s behavior would have been, but I am certain that Rodney might have been more sensitive to the racial division in Guyana than Freddie is and Rodney would not contribute to the racial division in the manner that Freddie insists on doing.
Freddie’s position on the electoral issue in Guyana is that the PNC was attempting to rig the election and that the current electoral impasse is taking place because the PNC refuses to concede power. That is certainly part of the problem. As I explained in a prior article, the APNU+AFC has been criticized by international observers for its conduct throughout the election. We know from how the APNU+AFC handled losing the vote of no confidence that this is not a group that wants to accept defeat gracefully, so I am not absolving the APNU+AFC of its conduct throughout the situation, which I find to be questionable at best.
My position is that if the APNU+AFC is correct and that the PPP did tamper with the elections, there must be some evidence or proof provided to justify why Keith Lowenfield would try to discard more than 100,000 votes, but you cannot simply discard votes without providing a justification for doing so and then expect the international community to support your position. If the APNU+AFC is innocent — and I am giving the party the benefit of the doubt here — the APNU+AFC certainly looks guilty by its inability to defend its position that the opposition parties are the ones who are trying to steal the election and also by the fact that individuals within the coalition have called for the APNU+AFC to concede.
With that being said, I also think that Guyanese will do well to remember than in 2011 and 2015, the PPP also complained about the opposition rigging the elections. The PPP did eventually concede in 2015 without dragging Guyana through a series of court cases as the APNU+AFC is doing now, but I mention the PPP’s actions in the past to point out that Guyana is a country where the electoral process is viewed with suspicion because of Guyana’s history of electoral violence and electoral fraud. Both parties have contributed to this. The PNC under Burnham has become infamous for engaging in electoral fraud, but we should also remember that when Cheddi Jagan lost in 1964, he refused to concede power and had to be removed by the Governor of British Guiana at that time. And the election which was held in 1997 was voided. I mention all of this to make the point that electoral issues in Guyana are not a new problem, and that both the PPP and the PNC have contributed to the insecurities and the tension that plagues Guyana every time an election is held.
Based on Guyana’s history of contentious elections, Eusi and Moses Bhagwan warned that regardless of who wins the election, Guyanese will lose. Eusi and Moses wrote:
In such a deeply divided nation, it remains possible for the leaders of the major parties to deescalate the situation by finding a mutually agreeable solution. This can be done irrespective of the outcome in the courts, irrespective of the final declaration of results by GECOM, irrespective of local, regional and international observers finally signing off on a credible election result.
If nothing else, the events of the past week have underlined forcefully that regardless of who wins under this current winner take all system, Guyana as a whole loses. A seat one way or the other, a margin of victory one way or the other, will not solve this dilemma. We simply cannot continue to kick the can down the road for yet another five years. Postponing the problem will not make it disappear. We cannot continue to accept the reluctance of the two main political parties that have brought us to this point, a reluctance that so far seems totally oblivious to the consequences that have played out in such predictable and devastating ways this past week. The security of the supporters of one major party cannot be premised on the insecurity of the supporters of the other. It is a system that guarantees that most Guyanese, starting with those most vulnerable among us, will always be shut out.
Freddie took it upon himself to go after Karen de Souza and Dr. Alissa Trotz for expressing similar views in an editorial which they wrote together. Freddie accused de Souza of being “mortally afraid” of using the words “rigged elections”. Freddie also explains that “ the return to Burnhamism is on the horizon.” Freddie’s frustration is that Karen de Souza, Eusi Kwayana, and others who struggled against Burnham’s government aren’t as vocal about the rigging as he is.
Freddie does not seem to understand the position of those who hold the view that condemning the PNC for rigging the election is not a solution to the problem. In their article, Trotz and de Souza open by writing:
The recent ruling of the Chief Justice in Misenga Jones versus the Guyana Elections Commission et al, despite the matter now being taken up at the Appeals Court, signals that legal maneuvering may finally be close to the end.
As the legal processes start to wind down, GECOM will no longer be constrained by the endless and dizzying round of motions and appeals from deciding on the outcome of the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections, and from making a declaration based upon the ruling of the courts.
But what then? We are deluding ourselves and misleading people if we believe that the solution to our problem lies in running back and forth to the courts to find out who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong,’ who has rigged or who has rigged more. This is a political matter that will never be settled by legal debates. Meanwhile lines are being drawn in the sand and tensions have been heightened rather than resolved. Racial divisions are being actively stoked on social media, explicitly and through subtle stereotyping, and in ways that have made it impossible to listen to, hear and address the fears on all sides. Histories are selectively drawn upon so that only one side has ever been the aggressor or wrongdoer, only one side is ever the martyr and victim. Vicious personal attacks — often sexist, racist and homophobic — against those with whom one disagrees or thinks one disagrees, are now the order of the day. And depending on what ‘side’ one is on, yesterday’s demon is today’s heroine, and vice versa. Strange bedfellows are self-righteously being made, with no regard for principles and with scant regard for truth. This is where we are today.
I also want to point out that in Freddie’s mind, the attempt to rig the election is of historical proportions. Freddie writes that “in Guyana at the moment, the very existence of the society is threatened by one of the worst manifestations of electoral fraud in the post-World War II era and up to the present moment.” This is an exaggeration. In the first place, there was a recount which was supervised by international observers. In countries which are routinely subjected to much worse electoral fraud than Guyana — such as Togo, which is a country that I have written about often —the opposition is completely stifled. They cannot rely on the international community for any sort of support, but in Guyana’s case CARICOM and the OAS intervened.
In 2005, hundreds of people were killed in electoral violence in Togo. The result of that election was that the dictator, who was previously installed by the military, won and he has been the president of Togo ever since. Guyana’s electoral debacle is disappointing and shameful, but it’s hardly among the worst manifestations of electoral fraud in the post-World War II era. It’s not even the worst manifestation of electoral fraud in Guyana’s history, but Freddie seems to see the problem as being much worse than it is. This is why he could label Claudette Singh as “one of the most unacceptable citizens this world has produced. She is one of the most questionable character [sic] Guyanese history has produced.” He continues to write: “Singh wants to take away the right of Guyanese to have their vote counted.”
Mind you, Freddie’s main issue with Eusi stems from Freddie’s dishonest belief that Eusi’s refusal to criticize Singh in such a harsh manner means that Eusi is defending rigged elections. Freddie writes:
Kwayana, after two months of deplorable misconduct by Singh, doesn’t have the facts to pass judgment on this citizen of Guyana. This gentleman admits he doesn’t know what wrong-doing Singh is engaged in. Here is Kwayana again, “Finally, I am in no hurry, as Mr. Kissoon seems to be, to pass judgment on the brief incumbency of the Chairperson of Guyana’s Election Commission”. I say unapologetically, Kwayana doesn’t want to pass judgment and will not pass judgment because it suits his approach to the rigging of the 2020 general elections.
Freddie wrote that “Eusi Kwayana has undermined a lifetime of work for his unashamed support for Singh.” Freddie tries to present Eusi’s refusal to rush to judgement to mean that Eusi supports Singh. Freddie also then presents this alleged support of Singh as support for rigged elections because Singh is supposedly part of this plot to rig the elections, even though she refused to accept the “rigged” figures and has decided to abide by the recount numbers which show a victory for the PPP. Freddie boldly predicted that Claudette Singh would accept Lowenfield’s numbers and declare that the election was improper, but this did not happen, which only validated Eusi’s unwillingness to condemn Singh without seeing any wrong-doing on her part.
In an editorial in which Rohit Kanhai called on Freddie to apologize for his attacks on Eusi, Kanhai explained: “It is noteworthy that Kissoon’s attack on Kwayana, that he was condoning the behavior of Justice Claudette Singh in aiding and abetting the rigging of the elections, has proven to be false. Kwayana is an ‘institutionalist’, who does not prejudge official judgments until it is rendered from the official source. In this respect, Kissoon should apologize to Kwayana. It is his arrogance at being proven wrong that has forced him to launch this attack upon Kwayana.” Kissoon was indeed proven wrong, but he has yet to offer an apology to Eusi. Instead, he continues to launch very vicious attacks against Eusi.
Freddie continues to accuse Eusi of defending electoral rigging, when Eusi himself wrote: “I have refrained from making pronouncements on a situation I could know only by hearsay and also through reports of persons with a political bias one way or the other.” Freddie even goes so far as to attack Eusi for writing this. Freddie writes: “This man truly disrespects himself. He wrote those words more than four months after the election rigging [was] denounced by persons with absolutely no connections to the PPP and PNC, some of whom are international figures.” The fact that international figures have been involved in Guyana’s election does not change the fact that Eusi has never been one to rush to conclusions, especially not on the basis of what other people are saying. Since the very first time I ever heard Eusi speak, I was aware of the fact that he is very cautious about coming to definitive conclusions about matters that he does not have direct knowledge of. That has not changed. It is also very apparent from Eusi’s remarks that he is trying to avoid stirring any more tension in Guyana, which is why he explained that “in Guyana, in the tissues of every general election are the fibres of communal struggle resulting from conscious designs of the colonial occupation.”
Finally, Freddie has taken it upon himself to tell African people who our heroes should be. I am a bit confused by what standard Freddie is using. Freddie writes: “I have long viewed Eusi Kwayana as someone far from the heroic types I admire like Walter Rodney, Maurice Bishop, etc. But his iconic status was immense.” It is rather ironic that Freddie continues to attack Eusi for allegedly defending rigged elections, while holding up Bishop as a hero, despite the fact that under Bishop’s leadership elections in Grenada were suspended, as well as freedom of press — these are things that Walter Rodney differed with the Grenadian Revolution over. If Freddie’s mark for heroic status is one who upholds fair and free elections, then Bishop certainly misses that mark.
I am not suggesting that Bishop does not deserve iconic status, but I am simply confused because Freddie proclaimed that Owen Arthur, Mia Mottley, Keith Rowley, and Bruce Golding are heroes because they “never accepted that they must embrace fraudulent election perpetrated by a group of African politicians because it was from their kit and kin.” Does Freddie think that no elections at all are better than rigged elections? I also believe that Bishop does deserve heroic status, but I just don’t understand what standard Freddie is using which gives heroic status to Bishop, but not to Eusi.
Freddie has appointed himself as the defender of African people, but African people have not asked him to do so. Freddie seems to think that what “is taking place in Guyana is the assault on African civilization by African Guyanese leaders who are using their people to acquire raw, naked power.” For this reason, he labeled Owen Arthur, the recently deceased Prime Minister of Barbados, as a hero of African civilization. African civilization cannot be reduced to a single election in Guyana, however. Moreover, it is not for Freddie Kissoon to decide who the heroes of African civilization are. African people will decide that. Myself, and many other African descendants, view Eusi Kwayana (formerly Sydney King) as a heroic figure; a figure whose work and whose legacy transcends Guyana because Eusi’s struggle for justice has gone beyond Guyana.
We also understand that although Eusi is a Pan-Africanist and a proud African, he is not a racist. By Freddie’s own admission, Freddie was one of the many individuals whose life has been positively impacted by Eusi’s work because Eusi’s struggle for a better Guyana.
Freddie argues that Eusi has reverted back to being Sydney King. According to Freddie this means that Eusi “has atavistically returned to the racially charged demagoguery of the sixties in which subliminal violent advocacy was part of his vocabulary before he travelled on the road to Damascus.” Remember that it was Walter Rodney who said: “Whenever an oppressed black man shouts for equality, he is called a racist.” In the 1960s, as Sydney King, Eusi was a black man who was fighting for justice. He was not only part of the anti-colonial struggle to free Guyana from colonial rule, but he also opposed American racism against Black Americans and spoke out in support of anti-colonial struggles in Africa.
Eusi Kwayana, in my view, is a heroic personality and nothing that has transpired throughout this last election in Guyana has diminished that view. I would further add that Walter Rodney should not be invoked to criticize Eusi. Freddie is employing the tactic of trying to pit two African men against each other. Bill Clinton recently did the same thing when he spoke at John Lewis’ funeral and used the opportunity to criticize Kwame Ture. Lewis and Ture worked together as members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and they admired each other. Eusi and Walter admired each other as well. It is for this reason that I leave the final words to Walter Rodney, who explained:
We take great pride in the presence in our ranks of Eusi Kwayana who is also fairly well known abroad, but who is not just an intellectual or a political figure, but who is as a human being a person of tremendous quality, an individual who has remained uncorrupted, uncorruptible within a context of corruption and squalor. He is a tremendous example to those of us who are younger than he is because if he could have moved through the various epochs of struggle, against first colonialism and then against one or another form of racist distortion in our history, and is still as young, as fresh as ever in his presentation of analysis on the contemporary situation and for the future, then it seems to me that we, the younger members of the Party [working People’s Alliance], are not making any greater sacrifice than those who have gone before us have done.
Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.