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Walter Rodney

Walter Rodney

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Walter Rodney was a prominent Guyanese
Guyana , officially the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, previously the colony of British Guiana, is a sovereign state on the northern coast of South America that is culturally part of the Anglophone Caribbean. Guyana was a former colony of the Dutch and of the British...

 historian and political activist, who was assassinated in Guyana in 1980.


Born to a working class
Working class
Working class is a term used in the social sciences and in ordinary conversation to describe those employed in lower tier jobs , often extending to those in unemployment or otherwise possessing below-average incomes...

 family, Rodney was a bright student, attending Queen's College
Queen's College, Guyana
Queen's College is the top secondary school in Guyana;Situated at the South-Easterly Junction of Camp Street and Thomas Lands. Alumni can enter the school through the National Grade Six Assessment and at the Lower 6th Form Level if the academic performance of the student at the Caribbean Secondary...

 in Guyana
Guyana , officially the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, previously the colony of British Guiana, is a sovereign state on the northern coast of South America that is culturally part of the Anglophone Caribbean. Guyana was a former colony of the Dutch and of the British...

 and then attending university on a scholarship at the University of the West Indies
University of the West Indies
The University of the West Indies , is an autonomous regional institution supported by and serving 17 English-speaking countries and territories in the Caribbean: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Dominica,...

 (UWI) in Jamaica
Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, in length, up to in width and 10,990 square kilometres in area. It is situated in the Caribbean Sea, about south of Cuba, and west of Hispaniola, the island harbouring the nation-states Haiti and the Dominican Republic...

, graduating in 1963.

Rodney earned his PhD
Doctor of Philosophy
Doctor of Philosophy, abbreviated as Ph.D., PhD, D.Phil., or DPhil , in English-speaking countries, is a postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities...

 in 1966 at the School of Oriental and African Studies
School of Oriental and African Studies
The School of Oriental and African Studies is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and a constituent college of the University of London...

 in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

. His dissertation focused on the slave trade on the upper Guinea
Guinea , officially the Republic of Guinea , is a country in West Africa. Formerly known as French Guinea , it is today sometimes called Guinea-Conakry to distinguish it from its neighbour Guinea-Bissau. Guinea is divided into eight administrative regions and subdivided into thirty-three prefectures...

 coast. The thesis was published in 1970 under the title A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800, and it was widely acclaimed for its originality in challenging the conventional wisdom on the area.

He traveled widely and became very well known around the world as an activist and scholar. He taught for a time in Tanzania
The United Republic of Tanzania is a country in East Africa bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south. The country's eastern borders lie on the Indian Ocean.Tanzania is a state...

, and later in Jamaica at his alma mater - UWI Mona
Mona, Jamaica
Mona is a neighbourhood in southeastern Saint Andrew Parish, approximately five miles from Kingston, Jamaica. A former sugar plantation, it is the site of a reservoir serving the city of Kingston and of the main campus of the University of the West Indies...

. Rodney was sharply critical of the middle class
Middle class
The middle class is any class of people in the middle of a societal hierarchy. In Weberian socio-economic terms, the middle class is the broad group of people in contemporary society who fall socio-economically between the working class and upper class....

 for its role in the post-independence Caribbean
The Caribbean is a crescent-shaped group of islands more than 2,000 miles long separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, to the west and south, from the Atlantic Ocean, to the east and north...

. He was also a critic of capitalism and argued for a socialist development template.
On 15 October 1968 the government of Jamaica, led by prime minister Hugh Shearer
Hugh Shearer
Hugh Lawson Shearer, ON, OJ, PC was the third Prime Minister of Jamaica, from 1967 to 1972.Born in Martha Brae, Trelawny Parish, Jamaica, near the sugar and banana growing areas, Shearer attended St Simon's College after winning a parish scholarship to the school.In 1941 he took a job on the staff...

, barred Rodney from returning to the island.
The decision to ban him from ever returning to the country 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 October 16, 1968, are now known as the Rodney Riots
Rodney Riots
The Rodney Riots were riots and civil disturbances in Kingston, Jamaica in October 1968.The riots were inspired when the Jamaican government of Hugh Shearer banned Guyanese university lecturer Dr. Walter Rodney from returning to his teaching position at the University of the West Indies...

, and they triggered an increase in political awareness across the Caribbean, especially among the Afrocentric Rastafarian
Rastafari movement
The Rastafari movement or Rasta is a new religious movement that arose in the 1930s in Jamaica, which at the time was a country with a predominantly Christian culture where 98% of the people were the black descendants of slaves. Its adherents worship Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia , as God...

 sector of Jamaica, documented in his book, The Groundings With My Brothers.

Rodney became a prominent Pan-Africanist, and was important in the Black Power
Black Power
Black Power is a political slogan and a name for various associated ideologies. It is used in the movement among people of Black African descent throughout the world, though primarily by African Americans in the United States...

 movement in the Caribbean
The Caribbean is a crescent-shaped group of islands more than 2,000 miles long separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, to the west and south, from the Atlantic Ocean, to the east and north...

 and North America. While living in Dar es Salaam
Dar es Salaam
Dar es Salaam , formerly Mzizima, is the largest city in Tanzania. It is also the country's richest city and a regionally important economic centre. Dar es Salaam is actually an administrative province within Tanzania, and consists of three local government areas or administrative districts: ...

 he was influential in developing a new centre of African learning and discussion.

Academic legacy

Rodney's most influential book was How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa is a book written by Walter Rodney in which he portrays the view that Africa was deliberately exploited and underdeveloped by European colonial regimes....

, published in 1972. In it he described an Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million kmĀ² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 that had been consciously exploited by Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

an imperialists
Imperialism, as defined by Dictionary of Human Geography, is "the creation and/or maintenance of an unequal economic, cultural, and territorial relationships, usually between states and often in the form of an empire, based on domination and subordination." The imperialism of the last 500 years,...

, leading directly to the modern underdevelopment
Underdevelopment is a term often used to refer to economic underdevelopment, symptoms of which include lack of access to job opportunities, health care, drinkable water, food, education and housing...

 of most of the continent. The book became enormously influential as well as controversial.

Later years and assassination

In 1974 Rodney returned to Guyana
Guyana , officially the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, previously the colony of British Guiana, is a sovereign state on the northern coast of South America that is culturally part of the Anglophone Caribbean. Guyana was a former colony of the Dutch and of the British...

 from Tanzania. He was supposed to take a position as a professor at the University of Guyana
University of Guyana
The University of Guyana, in Georgetown, Guyana is a public university established in 1963 by the Guyanese government.-History:Cheddi Jagan, then Premier of British Guiana considered that the University of the West Indies, to which his government had contributed since 1948, was not meeting the...

 but the government prevented his appointment. He became increasingly active in politics, forming the Working People's Alliance
Working People's Alliance
-History:The party was established in 1974, as an alliance of the Working People's Vanguard Party, the Association for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa, the Indian Political Revolutionary Associates and Ratoon, and became a political party in 1989. The party first contested national...

 against the PNC government. In 1979 he was arrested and charged with arson
Arson is the crime of intentionally or maliciously setting fire to structures or wildland areas. It may be distinguished from other causes such as spontaneous combustion and natural wildfires...

 after two government offices were burned.

In 1980, Rodney was killed by a bomb in his car while running for office in Guyanese elections. Rodney was survived by his wife, Pat, and three children. Walter's brother, Donald, who was injured in the explosion, said that a sergeant in the Guyana Defence Force
Guyana Defence Force
The Guyana Defence Force is the military service of Guyana.-History:The GDF was formed on November 1, 1965. Members of the new Defence Force were drawn from the British Guiana Volunteer Force , Special Service Unit , British Guiana Police Force BGPF and civilians...

 named Gregory Smith had given Rodney the bomb that killed him. Smith fled to French Guiana
French Guiana
French Guiana is an overseas region of France, consisting of a single overseas department located on the northern Atlantic coast of South America. It has borders with two nations, Brazil to the east and south, and Suriname to the west...

 after the killing, where he died in 2002.

It was, and is still widely believed, that the assignation was a set-up by then President Linden Forbes Burnham, while technically hard to prove because of his stature. During the 1970s, Burnham, a hard line socialist (much closer to Communist), continuously rigged elections, and was generally feared by the general populace much like Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

 in Russia, whom Guyana received some assistance from, and was on extremely friendly terms with. Rodney's ideas of the various groups who were all historically disenfranchised by the ruling colonial class, working together, was in conflict with Burnham's maniacal need for control.

Rodney's death was commemorated in a poem by Martin Carter
Martin Carter
Martin Wylde Carter was a Guyanese poet, who has been compared in stature to W. B. Yeats and Pablo Neruda, as well as being called "the most Caribbean of Caribbean poets". Of mixed European, East Indian, and African descent, he began publishing in 1950 in Thunder Martin Wylde Carter (June 7,...

 entitled "For Walter Rodney" and by the dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson
Linton Kwesi Johnson
Linton Kwesi Johnson is a UK-based dub poet. He became the second living poet, and the only black poet, to be published in the Penguin Classics series. His poetry involves the recitation of his own verse in Jamaican Patois over dub-reggae, usually written in collaboration with renowned British...

 in "Reggae fi Radni".

In 2004, his widow, Patricia, and his children donated his papers to the Robert L. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center
Atlanta University Center
The Atlanta University Center Consortium is the largest contiguous consortium of African Americans in higher education in the United States. The center consists of four historically black colleges and universities in southwest Atlanta, Georgia...

. Since 2004, an annual Walter Rodney Symposium has been held each 23 March (Rodney's birthday) at the Center under the sponsorship of the Library and the Political Science
Political science
Political Science is a social science discipline concerned with the study of the state, government and politics. Aristotle defined it as the study of the state. It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics, and the analysis of political systems and political behavior...

 Department of Clark Atlanta University
Clark Atlanta University
Clark Atlanta University is a private, historically black university in Atlanta, Georgia. It was formed in 1988 with the consolidation of Clark College and Atlanta University...

, and under the patronage of the Rodney family.


  • Walter Rodney Speaks: the Making of an African Intellectual (1990)
  • A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881-1905 (1981)
  • Marx in the Liberation of Africa (1981)
  • Guyanese Sugar Plantations in the Late Nineteenth Century: a Contemporary Description from the "Argosy" (1979)
  • World War II and the Tanzanian Economy (1976)
  • How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972)
  • A History of the Upper Guinea Coast (1970)
  • The Groundings with my Brothers (1969)

External links