Peter Kimani, "Thirty Years Later, A Celebration for <I>How Europe Underdeveloped Africa</I>"

"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 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 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 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."

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 changed.

"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 theatre 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 lands..."

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 Writers' 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 outrage.

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 returned to Dar to find his new-born child already three months old, and he threw himself to work, working for the next six years in Dar.

"Rodney and Nyerere combined the skills of teaching 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 t! he 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 remote-controlled.

"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 certificate.

"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..."