Today marks 29 years since Walter Rodney was murdered. That is almost three decades ago. How many young people know about the heroism and humanism of Dr. Walter Rodney, one of the great learned men the Caribbean produced? I regard Walter Rodney, Hubert Nathaniel Cricthlow, and Eusi Kwayana as the defining heroes of the 20th century Guyanese history. Rodney is in a class of his own.
We live with a tragic paradox in this country. Young people know who Cheddi Jagan was because they will ask the older generation who is this man after whom the airport is named.
People in Guyana know that there is the Cheddi Jagan Dental School. They no doubt read about the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre. What is there for them to ask of Dr. Walter Rodney? One day this unfairness will come to an end.
If there is a change in Government after 2011, this rascality must be excised from the Guyanese landscape. I would not object to places being named after Jagan and Burnham, but Rodney deserves greater commemoration. You read the persistent nonsense about how Burnham brought dignity to Guyana.
You read the constant farce about Jagan fighting the colonials. These outpourings of course come from the people who are admirers of both Jagan and Burnham. Objective reality is another matter.
Yes, Burnham and Jagan have to be contextualized and in doing so, their contributions have to be recognised. But men and women stumble along the way and Burnham, Jagan, Castro, Mugabe, Kenyatta and so many others of their ilk destroyed their own historical record.
Walter Rodney’s balance sheet remains intact. A post-colonial fighter of unique quality, Rodney gave his life for the freedom of this country. Once a repressed population struggles to free itself from bondage and dictatorship, his name and legacy will be a guiding post for all those who cherish freedom and justice.
To many Guyanese, Rodney’s values have been defaced by the PPP Government, including Cheddi Jagan himself. This writer shares that opinion. Walter’s essential philosophical input to Guyana’s cultural architecture was in his multi-racial ethics. Tracing Guyana’s history from early times, he highlighted the theme of divide and rule to emphasize the importance of racial unity. He situated his own praxis in this fabric of Guyanese life, when he sought to save the life of Arnold Rampersaud from the altar of racial sacrifice. And he did.
Walter Rodney remains the most unifying political figure in this country’s history.
If he were alive today, he would have died a thousand times to see what his Guyana has become under the PPP. Everything that Walter stood for has been contemptuously tossed aside by those that he trusted and fought with. The sad implication of this is that a substantial percentage of African Guyanese now adopt an ironic attitude to Walter Rodney.
When they see the discrimination that has taken place and is being perpetrated against African Guyanese, they ask themselves if Walter was not too intemperate to have fought Burnham in a zero-sum battle.
No other person personifies this profound frustration more than Tacuma Ogunseye. In fact, it was the intrinsic values of Rodneyism that was used by me and Eusi Kwayana to argue against the tenability of Ogunseye’s Buxton thesis. Both Eusi and I took the position that what was taking place in Buxton was a violation of Walter’s philosophy.
Though Ogunseye never came out openly and say that Walter had become irrelevant in a society where Burnham’s excesses were surpassed by millions of miles by the PPP’s racism, his action implied that.
For Ogunseye, he was putting an African rights agenda on the table and not Walter’s multi-racial programme. The deep psychic wound that Ogunseye feels about the PPP’s betrayal has taken him away from the politics of Walter Rodney. That is unfortunate. Though it may be logical for African Guyanese to feel that Walter’s era and philosophy have passed and have become irrelevant, and that Africans must go beyond Rodney and recapture the struggle of the African post-emancipation legacy, Rodneyism remains the only viable option in securing a multi-racial future for this country.
At the time of composing this essay (Friday morning), I haven’t read or heard about any event to mark Rodney’s death anniversary. That would be unfortunate because Rodney’s greatness needs to be kept alive so this and succeeding generations can learn and internalize the lessons and meaning of his politics.
One day, when the cancer of racism and oppression that both the PNC and PPP brought to this land is removed from the soul of this nation, the spirit of Walter Rodney will live once more.
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