Lift the Rodney ban as a symbolic gestureFriday, June 18, 2021
The Government of Guyana is to be commended for its announcement last week that it will honour the memory of late historian, political activist, and academic Dr Walter Rodney nearly 41 years after he was assassinated.
According to Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall, efforts will be taken to change key details on Dr Rodney's death certificate and make his grave site a national monument.
Mr Nandlall, in a statement to the National Assembly, said the actions follow a request by Dr Rodney's family, his wife, children and brother, to bring a level of closure to his brutal slaying.
For younger readers who have not done any research on Dr Rodney, he was killed when a time bomb, placed in a portable two-way radio, also referred to as a walkie-talkie, detonated in his car on June 13, 1980 in Georgetown, Guyana's capital city. The radio was given to him by Mr Gregory Smith, a member of the Guyanese army who, after the murder, fled to French Guiana, where he eventually died in 2002.
As is reported on Page 7 of today's Jamaica Observer, Dr Rodney's killing was ruled “death by misadventure” by the Guyanese authorities and the Government record stated that he was unemployed at the time of his death.
However, Mr Nandlall, in his statement last week, said the cause of death would be changed to “assassination” and the records would be amended to state that Dr Rodney was a professor.
He also announced that the Government will revive the Walter Rodney Chair at the University of Guyana.
The development has been described by Rupert Lewis, professor emeritus in the Department of Government at The University of the West Indies, Mona campus, as a victory for the Rodney family after years of struggle, as well as for the thousands of supporters of Dr Rodney's intellectual and political legacy throughout the world, especially in Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States.
We agree, because what the Guyana Government, at the time headed by President Forbes Burnham, did was a historical wrong rooted in fear of a political adversary.
Dr Rodney was leader of the Working People's Alliance party and was considered a threat to the Burnham regime, as he openly challenged the Government's policies and was regarded as a serious contender for the presidency of the country.
We have no doubt that the respect that Dr Rodney gained globally for his political activism, academic accomplishments, scholarship, and anti-colonial views contributed significantly to the Burnham regime's undemocratic attitude towards him.
The Jamaican Government at the time, led by Prime Minister Hugh Shearer, was equally influenced and went further by banning Dr Rodney from re-entering Jamaica in October 1968 after he had attended a black writers conference in Canada.
That ban resulted in demonstrations by UWI students and Kingston's urban youth, which Professor Lewis noted recently was a watershed in Jamaica's political development as the scale of mass action in support of Dr Rodney surprised the Government.
The ban, as far as we know, was never lifted, even though it would, we expect, have offended former Jamaica Prime Minister Michael Manley. But Mr Manley was a close associate of President Burnham and probably didn't wish to cross his comrade.
Dr Rodney, we are told, did visit Jamaica twice after the ban — in 1976 and again in 1978 — both times under a waiver.
That such accommodations were made suggest that a symbolic lifting of the ban can be made as a gesture to Dr Rodney's family.
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