Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham (20 February 1923–6 August 1985) was a Guyanese political leader and leader of Guyana from 1964 until his death, as the Prime Minister from 1964 to 1980 and as President from 1980 to 1985. He is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of the anti-colonial movement.
Fordes Burnham is one of the most prominent leaders of the 20th century who carried out the Non-Aligned Movement’s ideology of anti-colonialism and liberation struggle. The post-World War II period witnessed a number of erstwhile colonies which had newly acquired their independence. The process of decolonization moved more slowly in the south. Forbes Burnham, therefore, focused on the liberation of Southern Africa.
The process of giving programmatic and institutional form to African democracy, self-determination and decolonization started in earnest in 1970 when Guyana became a Republic. Forbes Burnham, speaking at the Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement at the Mulungushi Hall, in Zambia, announced that his Government would give an annual subvention to the liberation movements in Southern Africa. This decisive gesture was characteristic of his statesmanship, leadership and support for the African liberation struggle. Forbes Burnham, urging other Non-Aligned countries to do likewise, said: “Guyana is a young nation, a small nation, a relatively poor nation, but Guyana proposes…to make a contribution to freedom fighters and this is going to be an annual feature insofar as the Government of Guyana is concerned.
Burnham, after attending the 1970 summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Lusaka, Zambia, paid official visits to several African countries—Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia—over the period 12-30 September 1970. The Guyanese government remained fully involved in the African liberation movement throughout the 1970s. Burnham sent more than a hundred Guyanese public servants to various departments of the Zambian Government. Many Guyanese doctors, engineers, lawyers and secretaries worked in Southern African states throughout the 1970.
Under Burnham’s leadership, Guyana was an active supporter of liberation struggles in Africa. The Tanzanian statesman Julius Nyerere publicly acknowledged during his 1974 visit to Guyana that “The Cooperative Republic of Guyana is renowned to our people as this small nation has publicly identified itself with the progressive and liberation movements of the world.” President Forbes Burnham emphasized that the liberation of Southern Africa has always been a critical theme in Guyana’s foreign policy and reaffirmed the country’s political and material support to the anti-colonial struggle.
Burnham’s ideas and actions were motivated by attempts at nation-building and founding a new viable state. Policies of socialism and non-alignment characterized his regime. Under Burnham, Guyana’s relations with the states in the English-speaking Caribbean were conditioned by belief in the intrinsic, practical utility of Caribbean unity. Thus, Burnham was an advocate of South-Sooth cooperation.
At the domestic level, Burnham helped Guyana economy to achieve self-dependence and reliance and end its dependence on foreign products. Burnham rightly knew that the only way for Guyana to emerge from the dependency syndrome and what respected Caribbean economist, George Beckford referred to as “persistent poverty”, was to pursue a path of economic independence and self-reliance. Burnham played a significant role in the political social and economic development of Guyana. It was under his Leadership that Guyana attained political Independence and Republican status. It was under his leadership, in collaboration with other Caribbean Leaders, that CARICOM was initiated and developed. It was under his leadership that CARIFESTA became a reality.
And, it was also under his leadership that many of the significant infrastructural developments in Guyana materialized. These include, the MMA Scheme, the expansion of the Black Bush Polder and the Tapacuma Drainage and Irrigation Schemes; the Demerara Harbour Bridge and the Canje Bridge; the entire network of coastal roads from Corentyne to Essequibo; and, the National Cultural Center, to name just a few. It was under the leadership of Forbes Burnham that education was made free for Guyanese from Nursery to University, President’s College was built and initiated and the Guyana National Service was established.
Burnham was committed to the goals of national liberation and regional integration. He led Guyana to independence and defined the principles of statehood, which have been largely responsible for the country’s Non- Aligned posture and its adherence to Caribbean community. His enduring legacies are the spirit of independence and self-determination.