Forbes Burnham

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Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham
Forbes Burnham (1966).jpg
Burnham in 1966.
2nd President of Guyana
In office
6 October 1980 – 6 August 1985
Prime Minister Ptolemy Reid
Vice President Ptolemy Reid
Shiw Sahai Naraine
Hugh Desmond Hoyte
Hamilton Green
Bishwaishwar Ramsaroop
Mohamed Shahabuddeen
Ranji Chandisingh
Preceded by Arthur Chung
Succeeded by Hugh Desmond Hoyte
1st Prime Minister of Guyana
(British Guiana until 1966)
In office
14 December 1964 – 6 October 1980
Monarch Elizabeth II
President Edward Victor Luckhoo
Arthur Chung
Preceded by Cheddi Jagan
Succeeded by Ptolemy Reid
Personal details
Born (1923-02-20)20 February 1923
Kitty, Georgetown, East Coast Demerara, British Guiana, British Empire
Died 6 August 1985(1985-08-06) (aged 62)
Georgetown, East Coast Demerara, Guyana
Political party PPP (1950–1958)
PNC (1958–1985)
Spouse(s) Bernice Lataste (1951-1966)
Viola Burnham (1967-his death)
Children Roxane
Larry Lumsden
Alma mater London School of Economics

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 first Prime Minister from 1964 to 1980 and as second President from 1980 to 1985. He is widely regarded as a strongman[1] who fought for nationalism and encouraged Guyanese to manufacture and export more local products.

Personal life and education[edit]

Burnham, an Afro-Guyanese man, was born in Kitty, a suburb of Georgetown, East Demerara in Guyana, as one of three children. He attended the prestigious and the colony's elite Queen's College. In 1942, he won the Guiana Scholarship as the colony's top student. Burnham received a law degree from the London School of Economics in 1948. Burnham met many African and Caribbean students – including Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria, Seretse Khama of Botswana and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana as well as Michael Manley of Jamaica and Errol Barrow of Barbados – during his studies in London.[2] He was married to Viola Burnham, who was also involved in politics. He has three children, Roxane, Annabelle, and Francesca from his first marriage to Bernice Lataste. His second marriage to Viola produced two daughters, Melanie and Ulele and later they adopted a son, Kamana.

Early years: The People's Progressive Party (PPP)[edit]

Burnham was one of the founding leaders of the People's Progressive Party (PPP), which was launched on 1 January 1950. The Indo-Guyanese labour leader Cheddi Jagan became Leader of the PPP and Burnham became its chairman.[3] In 1952, Burnham became the president of the party's affiliated trade union, the British Guiana Labour Union. In 1953, the PPP won 18 of 24 seats in the first election by Universal Adult Suffrage/Franchise permitted by the British colonial government. (There were previous elections based on a limited suffrage/franchise according to property, income and literacy qualifications). In the short-lived PPP government that followed, Burnham served as Minister of Education.[4]

In 1955, there was a split in the PPP between Burnham and Jagan (which resulted directly because of differences in ideological perspectives between the two leaders, and the USA/Britain's desire – and support towards Burnham – to topple the PPP government). Jagan supported a socialist path,[5][6] but Burnham believed that, given the geopolitical conditions of the era, a more moderate approach was needed. Neither the USA nor Britain wanted a communist government controlling the small South American country.[7] As a result, Burnham went on to form the People's National Congress in 1958 entering its first election under that name in 1961.

Leader of Guyana: The People's National Congress (PNC)[edit]

Forbes Burnham Presidential Standard

In the 1964 election Jagan's PPP won the highest percentage of the vote (46% to the PNC's 41%), but it did not win a majority. Burnham succeeded in forming a coalition with the United Force (TUF) (which had won the remaining 12% of the votes) and became premier of British Guiana on 14 December. On 26 May 1966, British Guiana became an independent country and was renamed "Guyana".

Due to the (at the time) radical views of Cheddi Jagan (who leaned towards communism – both due to his socialist economic views, and his alliances with the Soviet Union and Cuba), Burnham was propped up by both the American and British Governments to assure the propagation of US/British control within the region[8] At first Burhnam pursued moderate policies, but in one of his first acts upon independence he had passed a sweeping "National Security Act" giving the police the power to search, seize and arrest anyone virtually at will.

He won full power in 1968, although many[quantify] condemned the elections as fraudulent because of a large number of irregularities (such as questionable numbers of overseas voters on the rolls).[citation needed] In 1970, he veered sharply to the left and established strong relations with Cuba, the Soviet Union, North Korea and other communist countries. On 23 February of that year, he declared Guyana a "co-operative republic". Adopting a policy of autarky, he banned all forms of imports into the country, including flour and varieties of rice. Burnham also nationalised the major industries that were foreign-owned and -controlled, reducing the private sector's share of the economy to 10 percent by 1979.

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.[2]

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 1970s.[2]

In 1974 Burnham declared the PNC to be paramount and socialist. He won a 1978 referendum which made it much easier for the government to change the constitution, but there was wide evidence that the referendum was tainted by fraud. Anecdotal evidence from hundreds of Indo-Guyanese (and Afro-Guyanese who were PPP supporters) claims that PNC enforcers aggressively (and often violently) denied PPP supporters of the opportunity to vote. Most notably, official figures showed the referendum passing with an implausible 97 percent of the vote. In 1980 the constitution was changed to make the presidency an executive post. Burnham won election as president that year.

Burnham introduced mass games to Guyana. They were first held in February 1980 to commemorate the founding of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.[9]

Burnham remained President of Guyana until his death. He died on 6 August 1985 after undergoing throat surgery in Georgetown Hospital.[4]


  1. ^ George K. Danns (1 January 1982). Domination and Power in Guyana: A Study of the Police in a Third World Context. Transaction Publishers. pp. 141–. ISBN 978-1-4128-2190-2. 
  2. ^ a b c David A. Granger. "Forbes Burnham and the Liberation of Southern Africa" (PDF). Retrieved 1 August 2015. 
  3. ^ History of the PPP, PPP website.
  4. ^ a b Biographies of former presidents Archived 28 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine., GINA.
  5. ^ The Guyana story, from prehistory to independence
  6. ^ Cheddi Jagan's 'the West on trial
  7. ^ (see also: Forbidden Freedom by Cheddi Jagan)
  8. ^ Jagan, C. 1994. Forgotten Freedom. Hansib Publications Limited. Guyana. 3rd edition.
  9. ^
Political offices
Preceded by
Cheddi Jagan
Prime Minister of Guyana
(until 1966: British Guiana)

Succeeded by
Ptolemy Reid
Preceded by
Arthur Chung
President of Guyana
Succeeded by
Desmond Hoyte