Dr. Fraser- Point of View
July 27, 2018
50 Years Ago – Walter Rodney remembered (part 2)

After being banned from Jamaica, Walter Rodney returned to a teaching position at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. That was an exciting period,for Tanzania housed the headquarters of a number of liberation movements and provided strong support to their mission. Additionally, President Julius Nyerere had introduced the Arusha Declaration with its progressive agenda.

Rodney supported Nyerere’s thrust, but had his differences. He was made an honorary member of the Youth arm of the ruling party, but always felt that political change should come only from the people of the country. His period in Tanzania was a very prolific one with his historical research and writings and invitations to address gatherings of students and others where the crowds were always large.

The reaction to him was always the same. He was considered humble, unassuming, and modest and had that rare ability to explain complex thoughts in simple language.

He engaged other historians, academics, and intellectuals in Africa and had a strong following in the US. Wole Soyinka, Nigerian playwright and Nobel Prize winner, said of him that he was “no captive intellectual playing to the gallery of local or international radicalism”. His most popular work was his 1972 publication How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. He challenged Euro-centric interpretations of African history, especially those that saw a largely positive role for colonialism.

They drew their swords, but he was a strong defender of his works. His book was translated into German, Portuguese and Japanese. He also had differences with some African historians with his view that Africans bore some responsibility for the Slave Trade. His class analysis allowed him to point to the role of tribal leaders, elites, and mulatto traders, collaborating with Europeans, although admittedly some were forced to do so. Many felt that he attached too much importance to it.

By 1974, he was ready to return to Guyana. He was offered a position as Head of the History Department, but on his return found that the Burnham government had intervened and pressured the Board of Governors to overturn the offer. Burnham then had total control of his Government. He was first a co-founder of the PPP in the early 1950s, but British and American manipulation led first to the suspension of the constitution that facilitated a split within the party and opened the way to racial politics, with two parties catering to the particular racial groupings of their leaders. Jagan won in 1958 and 1961, only to be removed following disturbances in 1963. The British introduced proportional representation allowing Burnham, with the help of the Portuguese Peter d’Aguiar, to gain power in 1964. Jagan won the majority vote, 46 percent to Burnham’s 41 percent, but Burnham in alliance with the white Portuguese-led United Force that won 12 percent of the votes, assumed power.

Jagan was an acknowledged Marxist and considered an enemy by the colonial power. They threw their lot with Burnham whom they considered moderate. Guyana became independent under Burnham in 1966 and a Republic in 1970. He eventually began to spout Socialist rhetoric and built strong relations with the Communist governments of Cuba, the Soviet Union, North Korea and with the Southern African liberation movements.  Guyana was declared a “cooperative republic” and the President introduced a series of harsh measures banning imports and controlling the public sector after nationalising the foreign owned industries. The PNC was declared a paramount party and Socialist. Burnham is alleged to have said that a governing party should never lose power. His rigged elections of 1968, 1973 and 1980 and the constitutional referendum of 1978 bore testimony to that. He held on to power as Premier, Prime Minister and President until his death in 1985. That was the Guyana to which Rodney, the historian and political activist returned in 1974. (To be continued)