We Must Put Dr. Shahabuddeen in Context


By Laurie Ganpat

The great philosophers remind us that, “if we forget the lessons of the past, we shall be condemned to repeat them.” Now that we have all collectively and formally paid our tributes to Dr. Mohamed Shahabuddeen’s remarkable life, the public record and national interests demand that we consider a few thoughts in perspective relative to the common good, the historical record, and the future development of Guyana in the context and consequence of Shahabuddeen’s opus magnum (greatest achievement).

Indeed, Dr. Shahabudeen’s own words puts his life, and this letter, in perspective, “I shall not pretend that my life has been a triumph. I cannot even lay claim to the loser’s glory in coming through bloodied but unbowed. The case is that I have been blessed with luck in my career and satisfaction in work. I hope that I have not spoiled my good fortune. If I have, I ask forgiveness from the Lord; if I have not, I give him praise.”

The hard truth is that Shahab, burdened, or liberated by these admissions which could not have been lost on him, seems to be acknowledging that he used his gifted intellect to legitimize and consolidate the Forbes Burnham dictatorship with impunity, when he authored and shepherded the present Guyana Constitution, replete with all its farcical bells and whistles, preambles and schedules, to become the supreme law of Guyana, and dumped the Westminster model-and all democratic and legal processes-into the dustbins of history.

This supreme law now inures to the benefit of Guyana’s past, present and future dictators and cronies, and those in-between, but more so to the pain, marginalization, mass migration and suffering of the Guyanese people. Shahab himself seems to accept that he can gain no virtue in his previous act of using his craft to fortify a dictator’s legitimacy to the detriment of an entire nation and country of nearly a million people. Dr. Jagan once remarked that, “all of the gold coins found after the Jonestown tragedy would not have been enough to pay Shahab for his dubious legislative masterpiece, nor constitute the price for which he re-sold his own people into legal bondage, turning back the clock on true independence.”

Psychologists and grief counsellors opine that the deceased often crave forgiveness and redemption in their final years of reflection when they prepare to meet the Almighty, which may be the case with this great Guyanese intellect, especially given that many Burnham loyalists and he and his family abandoned the very duty he himself conjured and drafted in the CONSTITUTION OF THE CO-OPERATIVE REPUBLIC OF GUYANA as the supreme law of the land, that “all Guyanese people have pledged to defend our national sovereignty, to respect human dignity and to cherish and uphold the principles of freedom, equality and democracy and all other fundamental human rights.”

Shahab may have made it possible today, despite his demise, for many crimes to be visited upon his fellow countrymen, such as treason charges against those who refuse to defend Guyana. Contrary to his son Sieyf’s assertions, these actions define “the essence of Shahadudeen,” and constitute a mixed legacy.


The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.