ALL AH WE IS ONE: Justice for Rodney
LAST WEDNESDAY, the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), in conjunction with the Walter Rodney Justice Committee, held a panel discussion as part of an ongoing series of public encounters designed to advance the claims of the Justice Committee.
In addition to Pat Rodney, the other panellists included Donald Rodney (Walter Rodney’s brother whose charge of “possession of explosives” implicated him in the Rodney incident); Andrew Pilgrim, the attorney for the Rodney family, and Wazir Mohamed, a former joint co-leader of Rodney’s Working Peoples’ Alliance (WPA) and coordinator of the Justice Committee.
Walter Rodney was one of the sharpest minds ever to have passed through the halls of the UWI, as student and lecturer. He attained his PhD from the University of London at age 24, followed by lecturing stints at UWI Mona, and on his expulsion from Jamaica, a lecturing stint at the University of Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania where he became best known for his seminal work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
In Guyana, he plunged into political struggles against the ruling Forbes Burnham-led Peoples National Congress pursuing a consciously non-racial, ethnic unification politics. His assassination in 1980 created the context, as argued by Donald Rodney, for the perpetuation of the problems of contemporary Guyana.
It is in the context of a long-delayed Commission of Inquiry into the events of Rodney’s death, the subsequent holding of such an enquiry by the Donald Ramotar-led Peoples Progressive Party-Civic administration chaired by Barbadian jurist Sir Richard Cheltenham, and the subsequent failure by the present coalition government led by David Granger’s Peoples National Congress, to acknowledge the final report and the perpetuation of the wrongs against the name, life, work and legacy of Walter Rodney, that the Cave Hill panel discussion was conducted.
Quite apart from the specific demands of the Justice Committee, such as establishing the role of a key witness Gregory Smith (now deceased), the retraction of the charges against Donald Rodney, the altering of the cause of death on Rodney’s death certificate from “death by misadventure” to murder, the reclassification of Rodney’s occupation from “unemployed” to “professor of history”, Rodney’s life as a UWI academic holds special interest to us.
More than any other UWI academic then or since, he actualised the model of the “engaged organic intellectual”, one who placed his knowledge at the service of the poor and the marginalised. This model has always met with the most hostile of responses from Caribbean governments whenever it is manifested, and Rodney’s murder is perhaps the most extreme of such responses. Deportations, black listing, revocation of work permits and parliamentary insults are but milder manifestations.
Justice for Walter Rodney, therefore, should not be understood in the limited sense as benefiting his surviving relatives. It will serve to heal Guyana and signal a more mature acceptance of the role of the independent thinkers in our midst.
•Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email: [email protected]