A Man to Remember: Walter Rodney

Walter Rodney (23 March 1942 – 13 June 1980) was a prominent Guyanese historian, political activist and preeminent scholar, who was assassinated in Guyana in 1980.

Born into a working-class family, Walter Anthony Rodney was a very bright student, attending Queen's College in the then British Guiana (now Guyana), where he became a champion debater and athlete, and then attending university on a scholarship at the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) in Jamaica, graduating in 1963 with a first-class degree in History, thereby winning the Faculty of Arts prize.

Rodney earned a PhD in African History in 1966 at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, England, at the age of 24. His dissertation, which focused on the slave trade on the Upper Guinea Coast, was published by the Oxford University Press in 1970 under the title A History of the Upper Guinea Coast 1545-1800 and was widely acclaimed for its originality in challenging the conventional wisdom on the topic.

Rodney traveled widely and became very well known internationally as an activist, scholar and formidable orator. He taught at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania during the period 1966-67 and later in Jamaica at his alma mater UWI Mona. He was sharply critical of the middle class for its role in the post-independence Caribbean. He was also a strong critic of capitalism and argued for a socialist development template.

On 15 October 1968 the government of Jamaica, led by Prime Minister Hugh Shearer, declared Rodney persona non grata. The decision to ban him from ever returning to Jamaica because of his advocacy for the working poor in that country caused riots to break out, eventually claiming the lives of several people and causing millions of dollars in damages. These riots, which started on 16 October 1968, are now known as the Rodney Riots, and they triggered an increase in political awareness across the Caribbean, especially among the Afrocentric Rastafarian sector of Jamaica, documented in his book The Groundings With My Brothers.

In 1969, Rodney returned to the University of Dar es Salaam, where he served as a Professor of History until 1974.

Rodney became a prominent Pan-Africanist, and was important in the Black Power movement in the Caribbean and North America. While living in Dar es Salaam he was influential in developing a new centre of African learning and discussion.

Later years and assassination
In 1974 Rodney returned to Guyana from Tanzania. He was due to take up a position as a professor at the University of Guyana but the government prevented his appointment. He became increasingly active in politics, founding the Working People's Alliance, a party that provided the most effective and credible opposition to the PNC government. In 1979 he was arrested and charged with arson after two government offices were burned.

On 13 June 1980, Walter Rodney at the age of thirty-eight was killed by a bomb in his car, a month after returning from the independence celebrations in Zimbabwe and during a period of intense political activism. He was survived by his wife, Pat, and three children. His brother, Donald Rodney, who was injured in the explosion, said that a sergeant in the Guyana Defence Force named Gregory Smith had given Walter the bomb that killed him. After the killing Smith fled to French Guiana, where he died in 2002.

It was, and is still widely believed - although technically hard to prove - that the assassination was a set-up by then President Linden Forbes Burnham. Rodney's ideas of the various ethnic groups who were all historically disenfranchised by the ruling colonial class, working together, was in conflict with Burnham's maniacal need for control.

Academic influence
"Rodney's most influential book was his magnum opus, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, published in 1972. In it he described an Africa that had been consciously exploited by European imperialists, leading directly to the modern underdevelopment of most of the continent. The book became enormously influential as well as controversial. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was groundbreaking in that it was among the first to bring a new perspective to the question of underdevelopment in Africa. Rodney's analysis went far beyond the heretofore accepted approach in the study of Third World underdevelopment.

"When we think of Walter Rodney as a Revolutionary Scholar we are talking about two things, Radical Scholar and his revolutionary contribution to the study of History ie. History of Africa. Walter Rodney was a pioneering scholar who provided new answers to old questions and posed new questions in relation to the study of Africa." — Remarks by Professor Winston McGowan at the Walter Rodney Commemorative Symposium held at York College, USA, in June 2010.

"Walter Rodney was no captive intellectual playing to the gallery of local or international radicalism. He was clearly one of the most solidly ideologically situated intellectuals ever to look colonialism and its contemporary heir black opportunism and exploitation in the eye" — Remarks by Wole Soyinka, Oduduwa Hall, University of Ife, Nigeria, Friday, June 27, 1980.

Biography accessed on  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Rodney on March 25, 2014.

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