[OPE-L] A Celebration for Walter Rodney & _How Europe Underdeveloped Africa_

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Fri Jan 27 2006 - 16:27:58 EST

Posted today at the Interactivist Info Exchange site.  Note reference
to Patrick near end of article. / In solidarity, Jerry

                  "Thirty Years Later, A Celebration
                  for How Europe Underdeveloped Africa"
                  Peter Kimani
                    Many independent African and Third World states were
born amidst intense ideological struggles in the 1960s, and lived to the
end of the 1980s through heated debates about, among other things,
whether capitalism or socialism was the best path to prosperity. No
single individual was at the heart of those contestations more than Dr
Walter Rodney. Born in the Caribbean, Rodney was schooled in Europe and
fated to work in Africa, where while at Dar es Salaam University he
produced his influential work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. His
assassination in June 1980 due to his radical political views opened a
troubling chapter in Guyana.
                    Peter Kimani attended a recent conference in Dar es
Salaam that celebrated Rodney's life and reflected on his legacy.

                  "Walter Rodney lives!" proclaims a message beneath the
image of a man in an Afro hairstyle, scraggly beard and spectacles. The
simple poster said many things: the hairstyle echoed the Black Power
movement that dominated the USA of the civil rights movement, and
permanently altered the history of America.

          That movement provided some of Dr Walter Rodney's political
influences, while ragged beards were associated with radical
politics - whi! ch may well have described Rodney, an avowed
          But the Guyanese scholar, author and politician, who was
assassinated 26 years ago in his hometown, Georgetown, represents a lot
more to many people. His murder at the young age of 38 catapulted him
into instant martyrhood, often mentioned in the same breath as other
historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi.

                  But others see him as the formidable bridge that
linked continental Africa with its diaspora, re-connecting the
people to the culture from which they had been so brutally severed
centuries earlier by slavery.

                  He had worked in Africa, studied in Europe and taught
in America and the Caribbean, revealing what Kenyan scholar
Ali Mazrui calls "global pan-Africanism."

                  To many scholars, Walter Rodney was simply a historian
whose unrivalled contribution exemplifies academic commitment.

                  Rodney's colleagues at the University of Dar es Salaam,
where he was based when he wrote the ground-breaking book, How Europe
Underdeveloped Africa, met recently to talk about the man and his legacy,
in a conference titled, Walter Rodney: The Revolutionary Intellectual.

                  Beyond the nostalgia that tempered most speeches, or the
inevitable anger that boiled over when his former associates spoke of his
murder due to his political activism, thoughtful reflections were offered.

                  In addition, they sought to validate Rodney's vision and
situate it within contemporary struggles, and also introduce him to a new
generation who may have never heard of his name or read his work.

                  "Often times," said one of Rodney's two daughters,
Kanini, "You ask, what did he die for, when so many do not know his

                  Kanini's spirits might be lifted somewhat by the fact
that many students at the University of Dar es Salaam know Rodney as the
man who wrote a famous book. "He wrote How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,"
Aisha Sinda, 20-year-old law student at the University, said without

                  What metamorphosed into Development Studies at Dar were
part of Rodney's initiative to teach young people about Africa's past, in
order to best understand its present condition.

                  Although a copy of the book would not be found at the
university library, it continues to draw attention from students and
general readers, according to the Kenyan publisher, the East African
Educational Publishers (EAEP), who bought the publishing rights in 1990.

                  "The book has sold more than 15,000 copies within the
region," said EAEP's Editorial Manager Kiarie Kamau. "It remains a very
popular book."

                  First published in 1972 by Bogle-L'Ouverture, in London,
in conjunction with Tanzanian Publishing House in 1972, the book has gone
into reprint almost every year, attesting to its everlasting value.

                  It is a diagnostic book, going centuries back to
demonstrate the plunder that the colonialist carried out on the
continent. It does not excuse Africa's underdevelopment, but acknowledges
that past wrongs have been committed against the continent naming
genocide and its people.

                  That, however, was not Rodney's sole contribution to
scholarship, but the book's greatest tribute, says Prof Horace Campbell,
is that Rodney established a "tradition of naming genocide."

                  He enumerates titles like Carol Elkin's Imperial
Reckoning (also known as Britain's Gulag, echoing Russian forced labour
camps, and not too dissimilar from what the British established in Kenya
in the 1950s) David Anderson's Histories of the Hanged and Adam
Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost, as testimony of a genre that Rodney
originated in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa being forgotten. "We now
recognise that colonialism and slave trade constituted crimes
against humanity," says Campbell, who teaches African-American Studies
and Political Science at Syracuse University in the United States. "What
we need it do now is to engender the scholarship in response to
this. It's part of the new scholarship, the new research, legal and
social question that we need to develop," Campbell said.

                  Kanini's assertion that her father was in danger of
being forgotten is corroborated by Campbell, who recounted his encounter
with Ugandan students on a bus trip. "When I told them I was coming to
Dar to attend a conference on Walter Rodney, they said they had no idea
who he was."

                  A walk around the Dar campus, which is fondly referred
to as "the Hill," and where Rodney spent seven productive years after
graduating with a doctorate from the University of London's School of
Oriental and African Studies, elicits a mixture of emotions.

                  As Issa Shivji, Professor of Law at Dar University
observed, and what underlined his keynote address, times, indeed, have

                  "During Rodney's time at the Hill, we swore by wafanya
kazi na wakulima (workers and peasants); now we all aspire to become
wawekezaji na walaji (investors and consumers). Or more correctly wakala
na wawekezaji (investors' agents or compradors)."

                  Even more distressing, what was known as the
Revolutionary Square, the place where progressive open
performances would be staged, has now being turned into a private parking.
And the bookshop has given a bit of its space to a private bank. The Dar
es Salaam of the 1960s was a hub of intellectualism, a spirit that was
reflected by Tanzania's founding President, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere own
dalliance with socialism.

                  The birth of the young nation, which distinguished
itself by embracing Ujamaa - a fusion of socialist doctrines and
egalitarian African values - resonated with Rodney, for he too had arrived
in Dar fairly young, accompanied by his young wife Patricia, and their
three-week old son, Shaka. Rodney was only 24, imbued by youthful
enthusiasm, and having just affirmed his roots with Africa by producing
his doctoral thesis, "A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800."

                  "This work was path-breaking in the way in which it
analysed the impact of slavery on the communities and the
inter-relationship between societies of the region and on the ecology of
the region," says Campbell. But Tanzania offered more. There was a
revolution in the offing, and what better place could one be?

                  "Revolutionary hot air"

                  "He [Rodney] believed his main role was to participate
in ideological struggles and in the process clarify the character of the
African Revolution," Shivji writes in Intellectuals At the Hill, a
collection of essays and speeches that cover 1969 to 1993.

                  "Rodney and Nyerere both served Tanzania at a crucial
moment in the country's history when Tanzania was beginning to move to
the left under the Arusha Declaration," said Mazrui, who was named the
first Walter Rodney Chair at the University of Guyana, when
the post was inaugurated in 1998.

                  Rodney's task was not easy. As Shivji recounted at the
conference, Rodney had a famous spat with the Mwalimu administration in
1969, that demonstrated his unwavering belief in truth.

                  It was December 1969, and Rodney was invited to present
a paper at the Second Seminar of East and Central African youth at the
university's Nkurumah hall, so named after Ghana's founding President, who
is credited as the father of modern pan-Africanism. Rodney presented
a paper, The Ideology of the African Revolutionary, and which appeared to
propagate violent overthrow of oppressive African regimes. It elicited a
swift rejoinder in the ruling party Tanu(now CCM) newspaper,
The Nationalist, and a thinly veiled threat of Rodney's deportation.

                  "Revolutionary hot air," the paper chided in a
hard-hitting editorial.

                  "Both Tanzanians and non-Tanzanians in this country must
accept two things. The subversion of our constitution, and the use of
Tanzanian facilities ! to attack other African states, are both equally
unacceptable. Surrounding them with revolutionary jargon, and the use
of words like 'imperialist, neo-colonialist' and 'capitalists' does not
alter their unacceptability.

                  "Those who insist upon indulging in such practices will
have to accept the consequences of their indulgence." After a few days of
meditation, Rodney wrote his response, was also published in the same
paper. He was clearly unrepentant.

                  "My indulgence in those terms is aimed at exposing a
system which is barbarous and dehumanising - the one that snatched me from
Africa in chains and deposited me in far-off lands to be a slave beast,
then a sub-human colonial subject, and finally an outlaw in those

                  That seemed to be the last of the matter, at least in
Dar, although Rodney soon left for his alma maters, the University of
West Indies in Mona, Jamaica, where he had a job offer.

                  The choice of the Jamaican university, explains his
widow, Prof Patricia Rodney, now director of the Morehouse School of
Medicine in the US, is that the University of Mona was a regional
university, in the mould of Makerere and Dar universities in colonial
times. Jamaica had its lessons for Rodney, which were to be found in
abundance in the ghettoes of Kingston, where reggae was taking root, as
was a cultural consciousness embodied in Rastafarianism, a religious
movement that considered former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie as
their messiah.

                  Ngugi Parallels

                  Independent Jamaica was just finding its feet, and the
Jamaica Labour Party government led by Hugh Shearer fiercely defended its
right-wing position by ganging up with the police, whom they unleashed on
their critics. It was evident that the likes of Rodney, Clive Thomas,
Arnold Bertram, Rupert Lewis, Ralph Gonsalves and later Trevor Munroe,
would not be tolerated beyond the ivory tower.

                  But Rodney and his colleagues were determined to carry
on with their activities, learning from the downtrodden whom the
authorities considered illiterate.

                  Just as Kenya's author and scholar, Prof Ngugi wa
Thiong'o, learned from his encounter with the Government in the late
1970s, academics' belong in campuses, not villages.

                  Ngugi's had returned to Kamiriithu, the village of his
birth in Limuru, some 30 kilometres from Nairobi, and mobilised the
villagers to stage a theatre performance that he had scripted in his
indigenous language, Kikuyu, the most widely spoken language in Central
Kenya. His collaboration with "the peasants and the workers," yielded a
play, "Ngaahika Ndeenda," ("I Will Marry When I Want"), and the wrath of
the government. In the sunset of 1978, a contingent of policemen descended
on Kamiriithu, razed the make-shift open theatre and hurled Ngugi in
detention - without trial.

                  He languished there until 1979, when he was released
after the death of founding President Jomo Kenyatta. Bar the short visits
that Ngugi made to Kenya in August 2004 and last year, he has lived abroad
ever since. Rodney's short visit to Canada to attend the 1968 Black
Conference in Montreal, is all the Jamaican authorities needed to get rid
of him.

                  Refused entry in Jamaica, Rodney made a brief sojourn in
London, before heading to Cuba to work on a book. His exit from Jamaica
left a trail of destruction, as student riots spilled into the streets
where the people who knew and interacted him were expressing their

                  In London, his wife was heavy with their second child,
and the visa to Cuba was taking long to process. "I decided to go back to
Tanzania as I couldn't be allowed to travel if more than seven months
pregnant." Rodney with the skills of political activism," Mazrui said in
his presentation, which was a comparative study of the two leaders. "They
were both teachers before they became active politicians."

                  The Hill is an emotional journey for Rodney's three
children, two of whom were born there. Kanini, a doctor in Atlanta, was
born in March 1969 while Asha came in 1971 the same month.

                  The eldest, Shaka, was born in July 1966, just hours
after Rodney got his doctoral degree from the University of London.

                  Assasinated in Guyana

                  "Tanzania was our first home in the real sense," said
Patricia, saying the Dar teaching job was the first for Rodney, while she
took up a nursing job with the Dar municipal council.

                  This feeling of home did not last long. It may have been
a restlessness on Rodney's part, or it may well be a subtle sense of
alienation that drew him back to Caribbean.

                  "Comrade, I do not know the idiom of the people here,"
Shivji recalled of Rodney's reaction when he broached the topic of Rodney
applying for Tanzanian citizenship. "I cannot immerse in the people and
struggle with them. I have to go back to the people with whom I can
communicate and be part of."

                  This yearning was fulfilled in 1974, when Rodney
returned to Guyana to take up an appointment as Chair of History at the
University of Guyana.

                  While on the long haul, it appeared there was a change
of heart in some elements in Forbes Burnham's government, for the
appointment was blocked.

                  Suddenly jobless and with a young family to take care
of, the pressures were immense for Rodney. But he did not change his mind.
There was no turning back.

                  He joined the Working People's Alliance, a coalition of
socialist groups formed in 1975, and naturally, soon emerged as one of its
leading lights.

                  Harassment was rife, and the authorities relentlessly
pursued Rodney and his associates. When the ruling party's headquarters
were razed down, Rodney and others were arrested and charged with arson.
But the fires of oppression would scorch even deeper: On June 13, 1980,
Rodney was blown up by an anti-personnel device that was probably

                  "Guyana still bears a scar for killing Rodney," Campbell
said. "They killed him physically, and unleashed their scholars to
assassinate him intellectually."

                  There was a resurrection of sorts with the establishment
of the Walter Rodney Chair at the University of Guyana, which was in
response to Mazrui's call a decade earlier to President Desmond Hoyte to
"restore Walter Rodney to national legitimacy."

                  The Rodney family further revealed that a public park
has been established in the neighbourhood where Rodney met his death,
after being handed a device by Gregory Smith, a mole who had infiltrated
the Working People's Alliance.

                  The Guyanese Parliament established an inquiry to probe
the Rodney murder last year. But Rodney's last born child, Asha, is
incensed by a more fundamental wrong contained in Rodney's death

                  "They wrote on the certificate that his profession was
'unemployed' and cause of death was 'misadventure.' I would like them to
clarify what they meant by misadventure.

                  "And to call a scholar and author unemployed..." She
does not finish the sentence. Her voice breaks and tears well in her eyes.
The bitterness hasn't quite left his family, and understandably so.

                  Beyond the search for justice, there are new initiatives
that seek to honour Guyana's greatest son. Strong recommendations were
made to establish a Walter Rodney Chair in Dar University's History
Department. The Dar University Vice Chancellor, Prof Mathew Luhanga,
confirmed that scholarships would be soon offered in Rodney's name, while
the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu Natal is issuing
a critique on How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, demonstrating that
Rodney's projections on African economies and social transformation have
come true with the passage of time.

                  The book will be edited by Prof Sufian Hemed Bukurura
and Prof Patrick Bond, both of whom are based at the Centre for Civil
Society. Equally significant, Rodneys vision of African unity has enjoyed
a leash of life with recent developments on the continent and its diaspora.

                  "Pan-Africanism is alive and well," said Ben Magubane, a
retired sociology professor and author of Ties That Bind, which analyses
the prospects of pan-Africanism.

                  For Shivji, there can be no meaningful award to honour
Rodney, for he gave his own life to a cause he believed in. The only way
to reciprocate is to be similarly devoted. In the US, the Walter Rodney
Symposium, now in its third year, is coming up in March at the Clark
Altanta University.

                  For the youth of Africa, the generation born after
Rodney's death, his son Shaka conveyed his hope in the future, by reading
a segment of his father's 1979 speech: "I believe that our young people
are beginning to get re-politicised... For a long time, we were hiding
from thinking. Hiding because we have certain fears that somebody else
might get in or we might rock the boat and so on. But there is no boat
left to rock. Just a sinking ship..."

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