Last Monday was the thirty-first anniversary of the murder most foul of Dr. Walter Rodney. It is rather pathetic that those who are members of the organisation for which his life was snuffed out at the age of thirty-nine have chosen once again not to call for an inquiry into that murder. The cant and platitudes uttered about his “legacy” ring hollow when his murderers are running free and even chirping about “democracy” and “freedom”. And our youths, our only hope for taking our country out of the decrepitude into which has been mired for so long, know not of whom they must beware.
Walter Rodney represented the best of what Guyana can produce, given half a chance. Growing up as a boy when there was no PPP and PNC but just the PPP united under Jagan and Burnham, he came to political consciousness at a time when “the people” was not an aspiration but a reality. But he was to know early on also of the canker of ambition as Burnham split the nationalist movement under inducement from the British imperialists. He had only recently entered Queen’s College on a scholarship by then.
As the dance of ambition played itself out in the inexorable polarisation of the previously vaunted “six races” of Guyana, young Rodney starred academically and athletically at Queen’s. He was a champion debater and high jumper and yet could write profoundly enough about slavery for his effort to be published. It is a pity that the present crop of “high flyers” at Queen’s do not even aspire to those heights nowadays.
On a scholarship to UWI in Jamaica, he did not merely speed through his degree in three years, but could look with a wider perspective at the fratricidal war that was unfolding in his native land – fuelled by the anti-communist paranoia of the USA. By the time he proceeded to university in London and then on to Africa to complete his PhD at twenty-four, Guyana had attained independence under the PNC-UF coalition. But not before the country was torn apart by the worst racial violence in its history and still not surpassed.
The newly minted Marxist, as he had become by then, decided not to return to Guyana because of the racial schisms.
He taught at UWI in Jamaica, but did more than that. He rebuffed the middle-class presumptions to which he was expected to hone and instead “grounded” with the poor and the powerless in the slums or “gullies” of Kingston. He became a threat to the reactionary government, which took the opportunity to ban him from returning when he went off to a conference in Canada in 1968.
This was not such a good move. Riots by the partisans of Rodney scarred not only the island but several other Caribbean territories. Even Guyana under the PNC had protests. Rodney proceeded to Tanzania and published his Jamaican “gully” talks as “Groundings with my Brothers”. This is still required reading for any aspiring Pan-Africanist. While in Tanzania he was to produce the path-breaking “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”.
The present crop of local leaders would be well advised to peruse this volume as they grapple with the EPA CariCom signed with the EU.
Rodney decided to return to Guyana in 1974 to take up an appointment at UG – only to have it rescinded by the PNC-dominated university council. He refused to disappear and plunged into political activism with the newly formed WPA. For the next six years he was to work assiduously to galvanise the moribund opposition against the PNC dictatorship that had seized the country. He created a multiracial opposition such as had not been seen since 1953.
With the benefit of hindsight we can confidently conclude that after Burnham had broken the WPA’s planned uprising of 1979, Rodney was not prepared to give up. He was assassinated in a clever plot by his enemies as he singlehandedly attempted to seize the revolutionary initiative. He deserves a better epitaph than his erstwhile comrades are writing in the present.
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