[Marxism] Walter Rodney
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Jan 28 07:33:08 MST 2006
"Thirty Years Later, A Celebration
for How Europe Underdeveloped Africa"
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."
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