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Walter Rodney Memories are Upsetting

by Gary Girdhari
Guyana Journal, June 2013

I am advised: “use your anger to's still a viable weapon,” – LM
               Assassins of the conversation
                        they bury the voice
                        they assassinate, in the beloved
                        grave of the voice,
                        never to be silent …
– Martin Carter        
The University of Warwick, Centre for Caribbean Studies, in England conducts a yearly Walter Rodney Memorial Lecture Series with the hope of keeping Walter Rodney alive. The lines above introduce their website. What a challenge it must be for choosing the high profile Baroness Valerie Amos as keynote speaker in 2004! (And if I could I would certainly admonish the Centre’s organizing committee for so doing even though the Baroness is a Warwick graduate. Should I feel proud because I was also born in Wakenaam?) The little I know of the Baroness I’ve read on the internet: she is a Guyanese who, having left Guyana at age 9, has been living in the UK for approximately 40+ years. I am not aware of any significant contact with her country of birth during these years. She is best known for her work in local governments in the boroughs of Lambeth, Camden and Hackney, London, England, which she apparently acquitted with a measure of distinction. Recently she has become patronizing to Guyanese causes (?).

     Well, why should I fancy someone who is a Baroness in the House of Lords? That's contradictory to my belief. Historically, the Lords and Ladies (and Baronesses) have not been on the side of the colonial people (or of ordinary people in their homeland). In addition, why should I like someone who appears to "slavishly" support Tony Blair – the warmonger and truth denier about Iraq! She replaced Clare Short as Minister in the Labour Government. (Clare Short strenuously opposed Tony Blair’s role on the Iraq invasion.) Then, of course, I am not privy to all the motives of the Memorial Lecture Series!

     As a historian and political and social thinker, Walter Rodney himself would most decidedly shudder at this. In the past the Centre has invited Sir Shridat Ramphal as keynote speaker to commemorate Rodney! I consider Rodney’s thinking and worldview in politics, philosophy, economics, and probably everything else as antithetical to those illustrious speakers aforementioned. What can these speakers say in honor of the memory of Walter Rodney? Since their outlook are poles apart to that of Rodney it is unlikely that they could resonate his esteem. And if they do the honorable thing – in appreciation of him – that would be hypocritical. Remember Mark Antony in Act III of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. “… Take thou what course thou wilt!” is my regretful refrain.

     What does it matter if “you are the first Guyanese…” or if you are a high profile honoree of Her Majesty! Some have unadvisedly admired such people. But such blind adoration is acceptance without questioning. When we are blind to “certainty untroubled by empirical evidence, intellectual curiosity, or open debate” we lose all sense of our objectivity, rational assessment and clarity of ideas – particularly at this historical juncture when there is a crying need for critical analysis.

     I would not liken such blindness to Samuel Johnson’s “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” but it is such excessive obsession with chauvinism that clouds lateral thinking. Even the radical and venerable politician, Janet Jagan, has proffered praise to Baroness Amos in presumed self-interested overtures to broker sympathetic favors from Blair’s government – either because she is Guyanese (albeit for nine years) or she has accomplished a first as a Black Guyanese woman Baroness. 

     We must not feel obliged to acquiesce to false patriotism in support of our fellow country-men and women unreservedly when in so doing we overlook the true thrust of the ideals of real patriots and when, as in the case of Walter Rodney, we quickly forget what he fought for and that he was killed (and who killed him) in the cause of liberty, justice and bread for all his country-men and women. At the bare minimum, we should be obliged to question those on whom such spotlight shines.

     Another kind of atavistic groveling – to surrender one’s self-respect to former “colonial masters” – came from the Rose Hall Town Youth and Sports Club when “[they] publicly offer congratulations” on an honoree’s “achievement of being awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) by [H]er Majesty, Queen Elizabeth.” – Stabroek News, October 25th 2004) The anti-colonial freedom loving people of the world must be sickened in their grave!

     I personally find people like Baroness Valerie Amos, Sir Shridat Ramphal and others who accept honors from former “colonial masters” (the Queen symbolizing the remnant of a sordid past) rather distasteful and insulting. Asking them to be keynote speakers at Walter Rodney Memorial Lecture Series is like getting Forbes Burnham or one of his lieutenants to read a eulogy for Walter Rodney! Why do our people still kowtow to an anachronism that has always been unfriendly to freedom loving colonial people?

     And now I am left confused and befuddled as to the criteria for their selection and motive of the Centre, if any? One’s pride and sense of history, and self-respect, sadly, are wearing thin.

     If I sound nasty it is only because I am indignant and do feel strongly about this. I love and respect Walter Rodney. I knew him personally. I admired (still do) his wisdom and his ability to make the complex uncomplicated, his moral strength and selflessness, his vision for unity of the Guyanese masses in a struggle for freedom and fair play. He was killed by a regime (which Sir Shridath willingly and openly served) in a cruel and dastardly manner. Brings to my mind Martin Carter: “If you see a smile of bitterness on my mouth // You must not think some joke amuses me // It is only the fury of my heart changing to fire.” Somehow I feel the Walter Rodney Memorial Lecture Series as a desecration of the man.

     Yet, I hope that it may be a springboard for renewed deliberation and thus really keep the spirit of Walter alive. Let's us also hope that we use opportunities like these to visit the issue of historical revisionism and recognize our heroes who really challenged the ignominious status quo then and paid with their very lives. We must always question revisionism now, which is becoming pervasive in the Guyanese society in the remaking of LFSB. Indeed, where are Rodney’s erstwhile friends, colleagues and comrades-in-arms? A few have ostensibly cohabited with and sleeping comfortably with the ‘enemy’; some are silent, in denial, others remaking history. Why? Is there ideological bait-and-switch? Is it because there is a new ‘enemy’ – that the enemy of my enemy is my friend? Is it because “the mouth is muzzled by the food it eats…”?

     Walter once said: “For a small nation, Guyana has produced a discouragingly large number of lackeys and stooges who hide in the shadow…” How apropos!

     Let us sincerely remember and celebrate a true Guyanese and international martyr and hero for all time.