[Marxism] Walter Rodney

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Jan 28 07:33:08 MST 2006

"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 

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 Marxist.

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 

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 name?"

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 hesitation.

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."

full: http://info.interactivist.net/article.pl?sid=06/01/27/1827240

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