Victory after 41 years

For over 40 years, talk of Walter Rodney has sparked divisive debate in his native Guyana. Last week’s announcement by the country’s Government that it would amend his death records and afford him overdue national recognition is relief for the firebrand academic’s family and admirers.

Those admirers include Rupert Lewis, professor emeritus in the Department of Government at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus. He said the gesture is a long time coming.

“Too long. Forty-one years,” Lewis told the Jamaica Observer.

Rodney, 38, was killed when a time bomb, placed in a walkie-talkie, detonated in his car on June 13, 1980 in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital. The instrument was given to him by Gregory Smith, a member of the Guyanese army.

Initially, Rodney’s demise was ruled “death by misadventure” by the Guyanese authorities. Last week, Attorney General Anil Nandlall said the cause of death would be changed to “assassination” and that the records would be amended to state that Rodney was a professor and not unemployed at the time of his death.

Nandlall added that his Government will revive the Walter Rodney Chair at the University of Guyana and declare his grave site a national monument.

“This is a victory for the Rodney family after years of struggle – Dr Pat Rodney [his widow], her son, Shaka and daughters, Kanini and Asha, as well as Walter’s brother, Donald. Donald, who was charged with being complicit in the death of his brother, is now free,” Lewis told the Jamaica Observer.

“It is also a victory for the thousands of supporters of Walter Rodney’s intellectual and political legacy throughout the world, especially in Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States,” Lewis added.

Rodney, leader of the Working People’s Alliance party, was considered a threat to the Government of President Forbes Burnham. He openly challenged government policies and was seen as a serious contender, and rival, to Burnham’s position.

A commission of enquiry into his death concluded in 2016 that Smith was part of a State-organised effort that assassinated Rodney, whose pan-African views won him scores of followers in Tanzania and Jamaica, where he previously taught.

His anti-colonial views, considered radical, influenced Prime Minister Hugh Shearer to block him from re-entering Jamaica in October 1968, a move that resulted in day-long protests throughout Kingston. Rodney was also removed from his lecturer’s post at The UWI Mona campus.

Born in Georgetown to working-class parents, Rodney was a prolific writer. His books include The Groundings with My Brothers, a 1969 recollection of intimate meetings with the August Town community close to the Mona campus; and the seminal How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, released in 1972.

Lewis, a Rodney biographer, described him as the Caribbean’s “greatest exemplar of a scholar-activist”.

He added that, “Rodney’s greatest contribution to the Caribbean is his advocacy of the unity of the social and economic interests of working people and his hostility to divisive politics that sets Indians against Africans or that puts one set of black working people against others.”

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