Tuesday 24 March 2020

The Trouble is Silence: Notes of a Guyanese Daughter

For the past few weeks I’ve been wrestling my conscience about engaging with what’s happening in Guyana. I know I’m not alone. I have felt the kind of paralysis no writer should overindulge. This is because there is always criticism about outside ‘interferences’ by Guyanese who live in the diaspora engaging in its affairs. If we say pleasant things, it’s cool, but raise the dirty rug, call out the blights, historical or contemporary that everyone knows exist and we’re spurned as not knowing what we’re talking about, or not having a credible voice because we no longer live there. But some writers can’t be easily silenced because part of our effort is to observe, participate and contribute to a meaningful manifestation of the national consciousness, which we feel duty bound to attempt. We no longer have to reside in the nation, since history has intervened and because the ‘nation’ from whence we were sprung resides in us, come what may. The conscientious writer, I should have said, and activist too knows her role, as Albert Camus tells us ‘is to stop civilisation from destroying itself.’ At least the intent is there.

My quandary may have started when I shared a short story titled ‘Watermamma and the President of The Republic’ with a few Guyanese, many living in the diaspora and was told it would not be published (or well received) in Guyana. This because its content portrayed a fictional president as being compelled by his secretary, with whom he was having an affair, to rethink prospecting for oil as an economic venture. The actual theme about the environment was missed. Scandal (the affair), instead was isolated as controversial. The secretary (the story’s protagonist) – Cybelle – is a manifestation of watermamma whose primary concern is about the way humans preserve the environment; she judges and rewards them accordingly to the harm they do to her and her children. This central motif for the story was missed. This I feel is because any reflection on Guyana comes with the debilitating caution – whose side is the view espousing? Impartiality and objectivity have no place.

Worse, this debility is race precious as opposed to humane. Rightly, I’m not in favour of cold objectivity, but my subjectivity should not be forced upon me either. We all have agency. We all can speak and make our voices heard because there is always a wider angle from which to see things. When we’re cornered by fear we repeat the same foolishness time and again. What has been startling me is this sense that one cannot speak without being accused of betrayal when the only loyalty we should have is to justice, freedom and the will of the people en mass not to the wiles of politicians who flout the responsibility of their office often with callous disregard for the ordinary people who’ve empowered them. So now is hardly time for silence and the kind of faux-chess playing we’ve been detrimentally witnessing the last few weeks (dare I say much much longer than this). I doubt any Guyanese witnessing it now will ever get over this period in our history, just as past experiences continue to haunt the present and are the reason we are once again right here.

I recently wrote that Guyana is ‘both my heart and its ache.’ I don’t mean this to be interpreted as pretentious nostalgia. That is always tempting, given again the intervening history and migration experiences for many of us. Truly it is impossible to disregard the place where one was born. A real malady of the heart, permissible or insidious would be the consequence of trying. I do not feel nostalgic about a once wonderful Guyana when all was utopic. Nor do I desire to will it to become the same. Having been removed when I had not yet completed Common Entrance I don’t have such a rosy image of Guyana as some of my elders will – save the affections of my grandparents and the quaint village (Seafield) living I experienced during school holidays. The rest is a complex and brief history.

Outside of that time in Berbice I lived in Linden. Bauxite mining ordered our lives, since it was the reason people like my uncle migrated there. It promised, but did not quite deliver economic prosperity for its workers. Instead it saw my uncle dead before he reached 50, leaving my aunty and a whole lot of children to fend for life without any kind of insurance and other means to feed the many mouths. Bauxite left many of us battling respiratory problems; I attribute my asthma to it, currently flared in the height of the Covid-19 pandemic (as I’m now writing this). I have not seen, but would welcome, any cost-benefit analysis about the quality of life rendered significantly better because of the bauxite industry in Guyana, and especially Linden. I would welcome too any study of the continuing ecological impact of bauxite mining on the local population. I recall the all-day round dust clogging everything, especially our lungs. Where I lived – in Silvertown, we were surrounded by grit and sand; and dirt tracks for road. All seemed accidental rather than well-organised, civil-engineering and town planning. That area hasn’t changed in 50 years. There are some flashy concrete houses but the ‘streets’ are no different; dishevelled and pot-holed; the market building still drab and depressing. All seem to be in the same posture of arrested development and retarded expectation. I know development is a long bitter process but I wonder - did Forbes Burnham, the demi-god of the region (10), after whom Linden was named, dream that this would be the amalgam of his pride? He may recently have quivered in his mausoleum at Russian company RUSAL’s attempts in February this year to stop its bauxite operations. I don’t know the ins and outs – but the eye-pass is evident – especially the easy disregard for Guyanese workers, when they could so readily try lay off 326 of them. One wonders too how they have 90% of Guyana’s bauxite. And does the meagre 10% enable real development of the local (let alone national) economy? Who has the answers and where are the figures? The scrupulous figures, I mean. The game to me (an overseas ‘Guyanese daughter’) is so fine –tuned, you see, because this occurred weeks before the election which final results (at the time I started writing this) we’re still awaiting.

The same inquiry is warranted about the hallowed new oil and gas sector. All kinds of unexacting promises, figures and potentialities are bandied about in the local and international presses about the oil production: most recently - ‘Guyana paid US$55 Million for first oil Cargo’ (Stabroek News 21st March) – subtitled – ‘royalties paid next month.’ The money is, however, being held in the National Resource Fund (NRF) that’s in the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Given that for the past 3 weeks there has been an impasse over the election, held on 2nd March, coupled with the current pandemic of Covid-19 (the Corona Virus that started in China at the end of 2019), what does this really mean? I ask this because international observers to the election have called into question the credibility of the tabulation process; and particularly region 4’s results. Consequently, the US has threatened Guyana with sanctions – a word that spells terror to any developing nation with a small , struggling economy (no matter what we’re reading about the oil) – knowing as we all do that US foreign policy makers are odorous bullies, who care only for their multi-national corporate interests. We know they are the least reputable country when it comes to equity in electoral process and world affairs generally but the world jumps when they threaten sanctions as they have done with Guyana. It’s acute for Guyana because its neighbour Venezuela is tragically staggering under such US enforced measures – not least that of destabilisation and deliberately recognising their sweet boy Juan Guaidó over Nicolás Maduro. Perhaps those who think overseas Guyanese ought to keep out of the country’s affairs might reconsider the extent of the influences such ‘outsiders’ as multi-nationals and the international community generally have and have always had in Guyana’s politics, economy and social affairs.

Here’s what US Secretary General Mike Pompeo said: “The United States is closely monitoring the tabulation of votes in Guyana ….we join the OAS Commonwealth, EU, CARICOM and other democratic partners who are calling for an accurate count. We commend CARICOM’s role in seeking a swift democratic resolution and it is important to note that the individuals who seek to benefit from electoral fraud and form illegitimate governments/regimes will be subject to a variety of serious consequences from the United States” (Stabroek News: 21.3.2020). It seems it doesn’t matter what the organisation is called, US is its bad cop mouth piece. Furthermore, Guyana has a constitution that, to my understanding, gives the overriding powers to GECOM (the Elections Commission) to declare the outcomes of the elections.

So this looming threat does not only come from the US, but those international observers that are relied upon interminably to oversee that our elections are ‘free and fair’ as there’s all are ‘free and fair’ no doubt! We’ve seen political theatrics that many of us are too mindful to say are embarrassing and belittling to the people of Guyana whose general voices throughout have been largely silenced. Except for the way each know that they voted. When violence broke out - especially by PPP supporters - those hypocritical observers were silent. Just as there is silence about that US threat that should bother all of us at a time when Guyana needs compassion. But first order business has no time for compassion. If a country is battling a pandemic amidst electoral disturbances how helpful to its people is it to be faced also with world condemnation and the terror of sanctions? Why doesn’t the US general Secretary bully China to abandon its ‘wet markets’ that are purported to be the cause of this current pandemic and previous animal to human transferred diseases? We know the answer – bullies don’t pick on anyone bigger or the same size as them. There was eerie silence when school children were attacked in the David G school buses, again by PPP supporters. It’s not the point here to argue about the sadly named buses – though I don’t know why they were not called something generic like Guyana’s national school bus so that whomever is leading the country, the buses will evidently still belong to the nation to ferry its school children. The digression is over, only to add that I feel the same about the crass renaming of the previous Timehri airport to Cheddi Jagan International. Maybe there is a bit of nostalgia, after all!

I felt compelled to write – notwithstanding the fact today is Walter Rodney’s birthday and to whom I dedicate this effort because no writer should ever be stunned into silence. I was also inspired by a young woman in tears in a WhatsApp post yesterday. She was distressed by the impasse on the elections and was colourfully cursing both party leaders in an impassioned plea for them to sort out the mess. It seemed she wanted Granger to do something more than he is, though who could say what she meant. And after all, whatever the ‘game’ GECOM has the ultimate role to play. Yet I think she was expressing the frustration of all Guyanese – say what you will – at home and abroad. The frustration and even the disruptions are not really new and I fear may be incurable. Certainly now is not the time to stay silent – especially not for writers, artists, the people on the whole – given that interferences in our history has blighted our struggles for nationhood for as long as many of us care to remember. Most fair minded Guyanese would support any conscientious call for national unity, since no one wants to invoke that bitter 1960s past – or before then. Trouble is the wounds of that past are painfully deep and too many silences (involuntary and imposed) thus far have enabled the continuing stand-offs.

I write this in the hope that whoever takes that unenviable seat as the country’s leader will use this diabolical period as an opportunity to revisit the constitution. I feel that had this been done previously there could be no room for Bharrat Jagdeo to have such a presence in the current election process. Impishly, he is at the forefront of crossfires and confusion, leading the ‘opposition’ while not a ‘presidential candidate.’ I don’t know how this is possible, but can only surmise as others do that Irfan Ali is equally corrupt. This begs the question – rather than silence - of who can legitimately become president of Guyana if those who are obviously of ill repute can to all intents and purposes ‘run’ for third terms by some kind of proxy. A silent beat is hidden in this, the history needs evoking.

I hope too that teaching of the constitution, human and civil rights would become mandatory in schools in Guyana, along with financial literacy and far reaching humanities subjects, aimed at promoting critical thinking, creativity, as well as subjects that enable better understanding of history; if history itself is not properly being taught. That is - if these are not happening already. To be and feel Guyanese is as precious and necessary as other patriots feel about their homeland. Silences that shut out truth, understanding, clarity and the wider angle through which we see ourselves do no one any good in the long term. What we bury will always come to light. We cannot afford to consider the non-resident Guyanese irrelevant, not least now when in the height of international threats of isolation we will need each other as we have always needed each other. We need also to be aware of who we really consider as ‘outsiders’ and how these forces have powerful influences and yet have no consideration for the lives and experiences of the ordinary Guyanese who comprise the body and blood of the country. Power-sharing has been suggested as a possibility for a long time. I'm not sure how this would be seriously achieved given those wounds that resurface so fiercely. It’s not so much about who has the power, but how well they handle the responsibility that it comes with; their integrity and will to remember and protect the people's interests. This responsibility must be taken seriously if we are to evolve the country in a healthy, economical and socially productive way. Some are calling for a ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ process, as we’ve seen in places like South Africa, that they feel might help cure the deep wounds that get reopened over and over at pivotal times in Guyana. But in a land of many waters, the largest of which is muddy, and with very little that’s horizon blue, for that light of truth and awakening to take place there needs to be a lot more well-constructed and well-maintained bridges.

Wednesday 19 February 2020

Are You Walter Rodney? By Olatunji Heru

June 2020 marks 40 years since the assassination of Dr Walter Rodney. The following blog post formed the basis of an interview with Donald Rodney (brother of Dr Rodney's brother) and Eric Huntley (who with is late wife Jessica Huntley published How Europe Underdeveloped Africa) aired

on Galaxy Radio, December 9th. The words herein expressed are those of the author's, Olatunji Heru of Alkebu-Lan Revivalist Movement, and are thus copyrighted.

Way wive Wordz Admin.

In his Letter From A Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr, mused that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” (1)  But when denial is the prevailing modus operandi of an oppressive system, even long delayed justice needs to be pursued.  A case in point is the recent announcement of the quashing of the convictions of the ‘Oval Four’, wrongly imprisoned on the basis of a corrupt police officer’s evidence back in 1972.  (2)  However, the pursuit continues in the case of Mark Duggan where they are striving to overturn the “perverse” inquest verdict that exonerated the police in his 2011 shooting.  (2)  Now there are calls for the case to be reopened following groundbreaking virtual modelling of the scene by Forensic Architecture, a London-based research organisation that uses modern technology to search urban areas for evidence.  Their technology cast serious doubt on the version of events advanced by the police and the conclusion arrived at by the jury. (3)
As we know the pursuit of justice is a global issue and one the continuing fights concerns legendary warrior scholar activist Walter Rodney and also his brother Donald Rodney.
For those unaware, Dr Walter Rodney was a prodigious intellectual powerhouse, author of, among other important works, the seminal 1972 book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, published jointly by London based Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications and Tanzania Publishing House, which transformed the analysis of the relationship between Afrika and the west.  At age twenty-one he gained a first-class degree in history from University of the West Indies (UWI) and three years later he attained a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.  However, his immense academic prowess never prevented him from “grounding” with his brothers, whether it was teaching in Tanzania between 1966 and 1974, a tempestuous semester at UWI in Jamaica in 1968, or organising in Guyana from the mid-seventies until his untimely death in 1980. (4)
His time teaching at the UWI Mona Campus in Jamaica, ostensibly with a view to establishing a faculty of African History is particularly illustrating.  (5)  While there, as as advocate of Black Power, he mobilised among “Rastafarins… urban youths (including youth gangs) and a heterodox religious movement led by the Rev. Claudius Henry.”:(6)
“At an exploratory gathering at UWI, he reportedly outlined four aims of Black Power: creating an awareness of blackness, mobilizing black people ‘to act in their own interests,’ rejecting ‘white cultural imperialism,’ and ensuring ‘the rule of blacks in black society.’ He demanded ‘a complete break with the capitalist system,’ and rejected the official Jamaican creed ‘out of many, one people.’ Jamaicans, the report quotes Rodney as saying, are ‘predominantly black and not a multiracial community. Therefore they should be governed only by black people.” (7)
He was subjected to extensive surveillance and eventually barred from the island by Prime Minister Hugh Shearer, sparking widespread protests involving students and many in the grassroots community.  According to eyewitness accounts, the police acted with violent repression and in the aftermath, there were three fatalities, fifty buses and $2 million worth of property damaged. (8)  To help raise awareness, of Walter Rodney’s case, Eric Huntley, his wife Jessica Huntley and others founded Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications and released The Groundings with My Brothers, a collection of his lectures that the Jamaican government sought to censor.  The publication was the beginning of a fifty plus year journey they would have with the esteemed scholar. (9)
Government intervention also lead to lecturing posts being rescinded in 1968 and 1974 in his native Guyana where he had relocated after his Afrikan sojourn.  He engaged in community politics and emerged as the most well-known spokesperson of the newly formed Working People’s Alliance, which aimed to resist the increasingly violent, authoritarian and corrupt regime of Forbes Burnham.  Indeed, Rodney was garnering international support from as a far afield as Zimbabwe and was feted as an honoured guest at their independence celebrations in 1980 even though the People's National Congress government had withdrawn his passport. (10)
All of this meant that the he was seen an ever more dangerous threat to the status quo and he remained undeterred even by his 1979 arrest on spurious charges.  After an international campaign the charges was dropped.  (11)
Less than a year later, Walter Rodney was killed in an explosion.  Few doubt that the government of Forbes Burnham was responsible.  In fact he was on public record exhorting WPA members to “make your wills”, perceived by many as death threats. Yet they came up their own, bizarre version of events – and implicated Walter Rodney’s own brother, Donald.  In many respects this is consistent with repressive regimes.  Not satisfied with extinguishing the physical life of those that oppose them, fearing a spirited rebellion, they go after those closest to the martyr – even across generations.  Advocates of this view point to examples such as:
·        The deaths of Rev Dr Martin Luther King’s brother A.D in suspicious circumstances and the murder of his mother Alberta one and six years respectively after his assassination. (12)
·        Fred Hampton Jr, the son of revered Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, murdered by Chicago police fifty years ago this week, framed and locked up on spurious charges. (13)
·        The alleged FBI plot to frame Omowale Malcolm X’d daughter Qubilah for planning an assassination attempt on Min. Louis Farrakhan as well as the FBI targeting of her son Malcolm and his subsequent murder in Mexico in 2013. (14)
Thus, in the case of Walter Rodney, the government blamed his brother Donald who survived the blast.  Bro. Donald gives “a narrative of injustice” of what happened next in his own words:
“When Walter Rodney was killed by a concealed bomb on June 13 1980, the government of the day claimed he was killed accidentally whilst on his way to bomb the Georgetown prison:
1.      Days later Donald Rodney, an eye-witness and injury victim of the killing was arrested from a hospital bed and taken to the Magistrates’ Court to face a change of unlawful possession of explosives. He was convicted therein in February 1982 and gave notice of appeal to the court of Appeal immediately.
2.      Inexplicably, 26 years later, at a week’s notice, on August 6, 2010 a two-judge bench of the High Court, chaired by the then Chief Justice, called Rodney’s appeal and purported to throw it out for non-appearance of Rodney or his Attorney.  However, Rodney never filed an appeal with that particular court, nor was he notified of the hearing beforehand.
3.      Move forward 9 years later, Rodney filed an appeal for leave to appeal out of time in the Court of Appeal. In the process the Court of Appeal, on May 23 2019 ordered the application to be, technically, an appeal against the High Court dismissal and allowed said appeal, on the ground that the High Court no jurisdiction, thus paving the way for the substantial appeal to proceed in the Court of Appeal, which it also ordered. To date that substantial appeal to proceed in the Court of Appeal, which it also ordered. To date that substantial appeal is still to be heard…
4.      But before moving on the order that the High Court lacked jurisdiction is significant, since apart from that unlawfulness, neither Rodney nor a representing Attorney were present, yet the two senior judges, in the presence of the prosecution, staged a secret hearing and dismissal of that appeal.  In the Court of Appeal hearing Rodney denounced this process as a “farce.” Previously in 2018, Rodney had written the Court Registrar requesting the name(s) of those purporting to file the appeal, but had no response.  Thus no explanation has ever been offered by the Courts or the DPP for this extra-ordinary episode, which therefore stands as a glaring parody of judicial integrity.
5.      It is against this background that the present stalling of Rodney’s substantial appeal in the Court of Appeal is narrated:
·        On September 10, 2019 on enquiry at the Appeal Court Registry Rodney was told that no hearing date could be set as the trial transcript was not available.
·        Next day he wrote the Chancellor of the Judiciary, through the Registrar, pointing out the document’s existence since he, Rodney, already had court certified copies of the trial transcript and written decision.
·        On October 14th 2019 he again enquired and was informed that the Registry now had a copy of the documents but was “not satisfied” with said copy.  This is baffling, Rodney was told he would be contacted the same or the next day, after this was done.
·        To date the Registry has made no contact as promised.  On October 24, 2019 Rodney wrote pointing this out, and gain asked for a date for this appeal but has had no response.
·        It is now public knowledge that Donald Rodney’s main ground of appeal is that his evidence at trial was substituted with fictitious material stating that he knew he had a bomb and was on his way to the prison when it exploded.  Apart from its falsity, the material matches the story of the government, and is opposite to what Rodney related to Guyana and the world, thus seeking to portray him a deceiver.
·        This falsity was also meant to portray Walter Rodney as a criminal as a cover to the assassination, the sustained court action against Donald is merely collateral damage.”
As shown above the government account stretches the limits of credulity yet Donald Rodney is still subject to its subterfuge nearly four decades on. However, in 2014, then president Donald Ramotar of the People's Progressive Party appointed a commission to “enquire and report on the circumstances surrounding the death in an explosion of the late Dr. Walter Rodney on thirteenth day of June, one thousand nine hundred and eighty at Georgetown.” 
The commission delivered its report to new President David Granger of the People's National Congress (party of Forbes Burnham) on February 8th 2016.  To the dismay (but perhaps not surprise) of many the president dismissed the report as “deeply flawed” and does not reflect “the truth.” He further indicated that he would challenge the Report’s findings and “the circumstances under which that Report was conducted.”  He also faulted the Commission for letting in much hearsay, but in this regard, he named only one witness whom he described as a “convict.” (15)
To date, President Granger has yet to release the report but it is available online  and its finally brings some sanity to the accounts of the assassination of Walter Rodney, vindicating Donald Rodney in the process.  Chapter 8 is worth quoting at length as it provides “Critical Findings and Summary on Gregory Smith”:
“8.1 - We accept that Gregory Smith gave Donald Rodney an anti-personnel device namely, a remotely controlled explosive in what appeared to be a walkie-talkie, a communications device.
8.2 - At the time Gregory Smith was a sergeant in the Defence Force in the marine department.
8.3 - We accept, too, that Gregory Smith was encouraged in providing that device by prominent members of State agencies.
8.4 - We find on the balance of probabilities that Walter Rodney had intended the walkie-talkie to be a communications device which would have permitted him to be in relatively easy contact with fellow WPA activists and for no sinister purpose. The point must be made at this stage that telephones were not easily available and there was discrimination in the distribution which was controlled by a State agency and which, in all likelihood, would have been denied the WPA.
8.5 - We find, further that Donald Rodney, whose testimony we accept, was on the night of 13th June, 1980, doing no more than accompanying his brother, Walter, to collect what they thought would have been a walkie-talkie.
8.6 - There is no evidence before us to suggest that the reason for collecting the device was other than indicated by Donald.
8.7 - Further, we are satisfied on the evidence presented that Smith was protected by the State and this inference is strengthened when it is borne in mind:
1. That within a matter of hours after the explosion and resultant death of Walter Rodney, Smith was taken to Kwakwani in a Defence Force aircraft.
2. He was given a passport, not in the name of Gregory Smith which name he carried as a member of the Defence Force, but in the name of CYRIL MILTON JOHNSON.
8.8 - We hold that the change of name was intended to conceal the true identity of the killer of Walter and that it could only have been achieved with the cooperation and support of the Passport Office which was part of the Police Force.” (16)
The report lays bare the government role in the murder of Walter Rodney and the framing of his brother Donald, carried out by Gregory Smith, Sergeant of the Guyana Defence Force, who facilitated the execution of the plot and his escape.  (17) President Granger’s reluctance to accept the Commission’s findings may be explained by the fact that he was commander of the Guyana Defence Force at the time of the killing.  We can only speculate on whether he had some involvement in the scheme. (18)
Bro. Donald Rodney continues to pursue his campaign for justice, “particularly in the face of these lame excuses and non-responses of the various court officials”, in local and global ways.  Locally as of Thursday November 21, 2019 he has mounted a vigil outside of the Court of Appeal building in Georgetown.  This vigil will be continued for one day per week.  During the vigil, an ‘I am Walter Rodney’ hardcopy petition will be launched in Georgetown for presentation to the Chancellor.
Globally, friends and well-wishers are encouraged to show resistance to the cover-up by writing to the Chancellor, through the Registrar, asking for two things an early date for the Rodney appeal, and an investigation into the unlawful High Court hearing. A sample letter is included at the end of the synopsis.
The government of Forbes Burnham ultimately failed in their attempt to extinguish the message of Walter Rodney but to be sure that campaign went far beyond the shores of Guyana, or even the Caribbean and continues up to this day.  Few could query his accomplishments as an academic yet his books are nowhere to be found on any higher education reading list in the UK, including his alma mater, SOAS “the most left-wing university.” (19)  One also wonders what impact an Afrikan history faculty at UWI headed by him would have had, given his living example of an academic grounded in grassroots activism.  These are some of the concerns that prey on the mind of independent scholar, writer, editor and publisher, Dr Michelle Asantewa:
“I wonder where we might be if every Black intellectual was prepared to forgo the privilege afforded them in society and abandon the prerequisite of ‘joining the establishment’ as Rodney did.  What if they were prepared to to the gullies and ‘dungles’ and to the ‘rubbish dumps’ where the people are forced to live out of poverty? What if that particular class saw their responsibility they way Rodney did – and wanted to contribute something of what they had learnt about life not just to the willing students who populate the university campuses but to those who didn’t have those kind of opportunities?  Successive governments would have to ban them without end.  But the responsibility to give back the way Rodney saw it would have phenomenal impact, were those intellectuals prepared to organise with the masses, bringing conferences to the people in the ‘low places’ too so that those governments that crush rebellions and kill revolutionaries would find it impossible to also kill those ideas with each one teaching one and saying that I too am Walter Rodney. ” (20)

(1) Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr (16/04/63) Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html.
(2) Florence Snead (05/12/19) 'If you are innocent, don't give up': Wrongly convicted man jailed as part of 'Oval Four' has name cleared after nearly 50 years. https://inews.co.uk/news/uk/oval-four-winston-trew-wrongly-convicted-overturned-court-appeal-1333683
(3) Stafford Scott (09/01/14) This perverse Mark Duggan verdict will ruin our relations with the police. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/09/mark-duggan-verdict-relations-police
(4) Eric Huntley (2018) Come Lehwe Reason: A Journey of 50 Years with Walter Rodney. Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications Ltd. passim.
(5) Huntley.p. 54-5
(6) Michael O. West (2006) ‘The Targeting of Walter Rodney. https://solidarity-us.org/atc/120/p136/
(7) Ibid.
(8) Huntley. p. 57-65
(9) Huntley. p. 8
(10) Huntley. p. 88-93
(11) Huntley. p. 91-2
(12) CBN News (15/01/18) What You Might Not Know About MLK’s Family History. https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2017/january/what-you-might-not-know-about-mlk-rsquo-s-family-history
(13) Sarah Downey (11/06/98) Hampton's son's backers protest his incarceration.  https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:_QeOp6D4dcYJ:https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1998-06-11-9806110160-story.html+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk
(14) Bro. Ldr. Mbandaka (2014) Countering the Character Assassination of Malcolm Shabazz Jr. The Whirlwind, Edition 11, p. 6
(15) Justice for Walter Rodney Committee (02/05/16) Justice for Walter Rodney Committee: Release inquiry report. https://www.pambazuka.org/pan-africanism/justice-walter-rodney-committee-release-inquiry-report
(16) Sir Richard Cheltenham, Seenath Jairam, Jacqueline Sameuls-Brown (08/02/16) The Report of the Commission of Inquiry to enquire into and report on the circumstances surrounding the death in an explosion of thelate Dr. Walter Rodney on the thirteenth day of June one thousandnine hundred and eighty at Georgetown.  p. 100-1. https://radar.auctr.edu/islandora/object/coi%3Arodney_report
(17) Femi Harris-Smith (21/05/19) Donald Rodney’s appeal of 1982 explosives conviction to be heard by appellate court. https://www.stabroeknews.com/2019/05/21/news/guyana/donald-rodneys-appeal-of-1982-explosives-conviction-to-be-heard-by-appellate-court/
(18) Staff Reporter (17/01/19) Granger to lead coalition.  guyanachronicle.com/2019/01/19/granger-to-lead-coalition
(19) Julian Lahai Samboma (14/04/19) On Walter Rodney: Pan-Afrikanism, Marxism and the next generation.  https://www.pambazuka.org/pan-africanism/walter-rodney-pan-afrikanism-marxism-and-next-generation
(20) Michelle Asantewa (2018) Reflections on Walter Rodney’s Grounding fifty years on in Eric Huntley, Come Lehwe Reason: A Journey of 50 Years with Walter Rodney. Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications Ltd. p. 86-7.

You may be interested in attending the 15th Annual Huntley Conference, which theme is: Rodney's Enduring Legacy; Saturday 22nd February 2020.

Thursday 12 December 2019

To Guyana with Love: A Sankofa

I had planned to go to Guyana later in the year as a kind pilgrimage for my 50th birthday. A prompt from the University of Guyana that I should take part in the planned Diaspora Engagement Conference (the second of its kind) encouraged me to go in July instead. I knew Eric Huntley and his family were planning to go that time which provided the opportunity for his participation in the conference too. This would be fitting homage for his 90th birthday, the trip serving also as a pilgrimage for him in the country of his birth.

But just before we left for Guyana, the then University Vice Chancellor Ivelaw Griffith – who had championed the first and this next Diaspora Engagement Conference withdrew his request for the renewal of his contract. This was due to persistent attacks by the likes of Freddy Kissoon, factions of the University’s Union and as far reaching as elements of the Guyana government – which played out like macabre theatre in the national Newspapers. The display was horrendous and put yet another blight on the University’s image at home and elsewhere. I felt it for those students who were in the thick of it. I felt it too for the academics who were enmeshed in the nightmare, who had longed for and welcomed Professor Griffith’s approach and readiness to give the University a better local and international profile. None of this should have meant the cancellation of the Conference, despite my gut feeling that it would. Cancelled it was, however, with 400 delegates who had planned to attend left in literal limbo; some I met in passing in Guyana.

This all peaked after I had my ticket ready to travel. My intention was to attend the conference and do some further research. I would also support the film crew, led by Claudia Coulter for the documentary on Eric and Jessica Huntley. With the conference no longer running this now became the main reason for my being there – “the god-directed steps” as my Mum later referred to it.

Some months have lapsed since this time but I wanted to briefly record some of the experiences which here follow.

Green Land of Guyana
From the outset I’ve disfavoured the impending oil production in Guyana – scheduled for 2020. Aside from the shocking ‘deal’ the country has settled for with the oil corporations, evidence has rarely shown the benefits of such discoveries to the people of underdeveloped countries. Odd successes here and there do not outweigh the many curses that come with finding oil. Venezuela – Guyana’s neighbour is a glaring example – albeit in my view a consequence of interference by outside forces blatantly averse to its political and economic system that might provide alternative routes to development. It did not escape my notice that when the new administration was elected and with the push towards the “oil money” the land dispute between Venezuela and Guyana was heightened with the USA insidiously primed as the central allies of Guyana should there be any fire behind the long term smoke of the land dispute between these neighbours. Guyanese at home and abroad were reinvigorated by the “Not a Blade of Grass” anthem popularised by Tradewinds. We became big chested patriots – eyeing up the prospect of phenomenal wealth and in a sense long overdue recognition about our country (no small island, but ‘big land mass’ on the continent of South America; boastfully reciting that we’re the ‘only English speaking country there’!).

Instead of oil, however I dreamt Guyana would push for a better agricultural and sustainable development economy; leading the way in the region for it. There is constant talk of this – that our ‘green shield’ is protected – the eco-tourism industry has been slowly developing. “Oil money” is projected to help advance this. I truly want to believe it. But I can’t. I want also to believe that the sovereignty of Guyana is assured. But I have no trust in ExxonMobil – stereotypically it’s another US multi-national Corporation with an unscrupulous record (don’t believe me Google them – and how as example they mislead the public about the impact of climate change among other misadventures). How this ‘green Guyana’ plug and the development of oil will marry pricks the conscience of those acutely aware what oil discovery and production mean to our world intensely impacted by climate change.

At one time I used to hear my family talking about how much of a food basket Guyana was – during this trip I was struck by the fact that it still is. Food is one of Guyana’s many riches – everything grows large and abundantly – be it succulent paw paws and mangos, the lush fleshy avocado pear, watermelon and mus melons; our sugar apples, sour saps, five fingers and the bountiful ranges of bananas – the abundance is amazing. I wondered how the locals afforded the fruits – plentiful and affordable to tourists. Yet, there is no major tourist industry (that’s changing) so the local Guyanese must be able to buy them, I told myself.
As for cook food shops and restaurants there are so many to choose, with a splendid variety. We ate at Germans, Shantas, Alberta’s (Smythe Street), Nicky’s fish bar (by the way you must get banga marie fish and plantain chips there when you go, also Fish Shop). If you’re with the right local who knows the road, you’ll have no problem eating in Guyana at all hours!

Waterfalls, Rivers and Plains
Eric Huntley and his family went for the first time to Kaieteur. I can only imagine how that must have impressed them from my own experience of seeing the mighty falls a few years ago. For Uncle Eric, at 90 this must have fulfilled a lifetime longing to know the country of his birth at a certain angle than he had done previously. And there is so much to know that it would take another 90 years and more.
Whilst the Huntleys visited Kaieteur I went to Pandama, a resort about 45 minutes outside of Georgetown and off the Linden Highway. It’s named after the huge yellow and green palm plants that are strewn throughout the grounds. A black water creek is a central feature, its coolness offering a refreshing sanctuary away from the bustle of the town. You can also revisit a throwback basic overnight in one of their lodges with the meddling chorus of night wildlife for company. It’s run by a beautiful husband and wife team Warren and Tracey. Next time you visit – check it out. You can do day trips or overnight. http://www.pandamaretreat.com/home.html - the package includes a glass of their homemade local wine. There are of course a good number of such resorts throughout the country – notably Adel’s in the Pomeroon (where I visited a couple years ago); Iwokrama and other Rupunnuni hot spots. These will naturally see a surge of visitors in the next few years.

Racism was less in the face?
Unlike a number of previous trips home I had a different sense about the racism that is always so overwhelming. I am in no way suggesting some miracle has occurred, but the optimist in me had an inkling that there has been a shift - maybe underscored by the reality that times have to change. An obvious, though not necessarily progressive change I observed is the influx of non-Guyanese, white Americans, Cubans, Brazilians, Venezuelans, Chinese and so on, swirling through Georgetown with such boisterous confidence I had the feeling I was in a different ‘home’. It is easy to see where the country is heading in a few years – given the big oil push – and the global hustle for new places to explore and exploit. I eaves-dropped on a white American woman saying in her discernibly Texan/Southern accent “it’s going to be great for the people of Guyana”– when oil money starts flowing as she flashed some cash for something she was buying. I knew, from the same poked out ears, that she was the wife of those modern explorers working for ExxonMobil who are called “expats.” (Note that others – non-whites usually - ‘living outside their native countries’ are ‘immigrants’ contrarily.) I sighed and imagined the eye-rolling emoji!

At Emancipation
(1st August) as we (Eric Huntley and family) entered the grounds – we saw the Buxton Fusion drummers who had earlier opened the proceedings. They played for us, gathering an enthralled crowd. Two East Indian couples, attired in Dashiki’s and African print clothing entered the grounds and started dancing to the drums. As they danced their rum inspired merry dance - one of them said to me “we have to stop this racial thing. Guyana is for all awee. This is a new time.” And he continued dancing as many of the African Guyanese puffed up bemusedly and seemed to find no way to feel those pounding drums and shout out as their ancestors would have done back then “FREEDOM!” Of course, racism in Guyana reaches fever pitch during election season – a time now well under way and when true sentiments will out.
As for the Emancipation celebration – this is always feel great; the ancestral energies are always vibrant. I love the gorgeous colours and clothing worn and the general participation. The market place has been moved outside (not sure how long it’s been that way) but it had a good buzz with excellent craft and locally made goods – to live for seriously!

A couple days after Emancipation I had on an “African” outfit and a sister on whom I eaves-dropped commented to her friend – “emancipation over.” The friend sussing that I’d ‘heard’ tried to cover her by saying; ‘that’s how she does dress, is nat only for emancipation’ words thereabouts.

Filming around town
We filmed a number of areas relevant to Eric Huntley’s time in Guyana before he left for London. Bent Street, where he lived was one of these locations, close to Camp Street Prison where he served a year as a political prisoner. Smith’s Anglican Church, which also doubled as one of his first schools is still in pretty good condition. In fact the best kept wooden buildings in Guyana are the churches. Lamentably City Hall is woefully left to the ravages of time in a terrible state of deterioration as the factions debate who is responsible for its upkeep. I love the gothickiness of this building and wish sense will prevail and the government will do something about renovating it. Point of note, I visited Suriname some years ago and was impressed by the way their old wooden (colonial) buildings in and around Paramaribo have been maintained. I was told that Holland, being its former colonisers was lobbied to do this by the Surinamese government. Is there any day, or notion Guyana could/would/have tried to do the same?

The High Court where Eric Huntley was tried and convicted is still foregrounded by the grim faced statue of Queen Victoria – one hand hacked and a chipped nose (so much could be read into this – but alas I’d be off target with this post). At one time Eric Huntley was suspected of having blown up this monument of colonialism that over time has withstood a number of attempts to entirely topple it. Consecutive Republic leaders always bring her back to proudly look out at the locals and visitors taking snapshots of this dire symbol that no one refers to as a big white bacoo – the way I’ve heard Guyanese call Cuffy (one of the leaders of the Berbice uprising 1763).

Though I wasn’t there for all the filming – the crew filmed the Botanical gardens – especially the Burnham mausoleum; the National gallery (Castellani House) another structure needing work and renovation. Before I left Guyana I experienced the magnificent exhibition of Frank Bowling at Tate Modern. It is tragic that our National gallery is ill-equipped to host even a moderate rendering of our many artists who reside outside – and I’m not sure why such institutions like the Tate cannot be compelled to partner with local galleries (as one potential instance of reparations) to enable them to function more efficiently. The National library, the university, National Archives and the promenade gardens, African Heritage Museum, among many other sites around town were filmed. As for the latter – would that someone could explain why Gandhi has a place there? Revisionist narrative places him as racist, not to mention the emerging narratives about his proclivities towards young girls. Less racism? Depends on how deeply one chooses to look or when heads bow or turn away from facts. Left to me Ghandi’s and Victoria’s would be gone; after all where oh were is there a monument of any kind for the enslaved Africans without whom there would be no Guyana as we have come to know it? That reparations call that some are dodging is a serious thing we will have to face when the facts, and the moral compasses get put right.

Where we stayed
It’s always an anxiety wondering where to stay when visiting Guyana, if you don’t have reliable family. But I am pleased that it has got so much better with the advent of AirBNB and more flexible accommodations. The hotels are still expensive and none really 5 star though they are priced as if in some cases. I recommend considering flexible bases where possible; for example if you have to go out of town but have booked into a hotel, say the lovely Herdmanston Lodge or Brandesville (Kitty) check out and resume your stay after. Both hotels here mentioned are worth considering.

But we also stayed for part of the trip at a lovely AirBNB in Thomas Street (BelleChrist Vistas) run by lovely sister Annabelle. It’s very central and not far from Bourda Market. It was clean, spacious and had wifi and all those modcon requirements. The link to share here doesn’t seem to be coming up here. I then stayed with family for the balance of the trip, which always makes for an all-round experience.

Getting around

The past visits home I’ve avoided the mini-buses! Kind of been there and done that, especially when time is so tight. If I was there for longer periods I’d use them. Maybe it’s just being a little older and wanting a different, unhindered experience. We were blessed to have a good friend of mine as our driver; he owns a mini-bus and this suited our movements. He was absolutely brilliant. If and when next going, I would recommend him and the taxi services I used for reliableness, professionalism and security. His bus can hold 14 passengers so we were often all travelling together.

I didn’t want to mention this but given the changes taking place in Guyana at rapid pace it’s necessary. I had my mobile phone pick pocketed the first day of my arriving in Guyana. This was the first time I’d experienced it so don’t want to make a big thing of it. That said, it was two months old! Yes, one of those latest Samsung’s. Though insured it was traumatic having to deal with the whole process. We did attempt to report it – writing that part is another entire blog! But I here ask you to be careful but not paranoid – as this could happen anywhere. Also – I recommend adding these aps about phone tracking which could help locate it quickly once you discover it’s missing. Report it immediately. The police can track it through the IMEI but…I hate to say it in complicity with the locals (family who looked at me in despair when I hoped I might get it back this way) that we are talking about Guyana!

Bogle and Way Wive Wordz Books
We organised a workshop on publishing, which took place at Moray House. The aim was to inspire local Guyanese of the wider possibilities of publishing, given the lack of national publishing houses. Most Guyanese still send manuscripts abroad in the hope of being published. We highlighted that while traditional publishing offers the credibility most people are looking for to validate their work, and also alleviating the work done to produce books, self-publishing has come a long way in challenging perceived notions about the quality and indeed ‘vanity’ of that way of doing it. We were pleased to have in attendance Petamber Persaud who reminded us about the many writers (Guyanese and others) who self-published. We got the general sense, all the same, that the expectation remained that traditional – which would also bear the burden of funding – was preferred by locals. I saw Uncle Eric looking somewhat dismayed at the lack of elasticity in thinking that there is another way – after all for him and late wife Jessica Huntley simply sitting by and waiting for someone to do for them was never an option.

In the evening there was reading by myself, uncle Eric and Scott Ting-A-Kee, which though sparsely attended was all the same a special treat. Scott, for the second year running, won first Prize for the Guyana Annual Poetry competition. I was so proud of him and delighted to attend the awards ceremony whilst I was there. He was also selected, along with 3 others to represent Guyana at Carifesta in Trinidad in August this year.
We, Eric Huntley and I were hosted by Petamber Persaud on his segment – Oral Traditions on NCN a local TV channel, which aired whilst we were there. We spoke about the continuing worth of literature and our respective journeys in producing work that contribute to this.
I organised a screening of the documentary Ancestral Voices, for which I also did the Q&A at Herdmanston Lodge. I am indebted to Keith Williams of the Lodge to agree to host it there at short notice. It was the first time it has been screened in Guyana and I am awaiting the promise that it may get a wider airing on television, courtesy of The Reparations Committee.

I Am Walter & Donald Rodney!
One of the memorable moments of this trip for me was meeting Donald Rodney (and his wife Pamela), Walter Rodney’s brother. We filmed him the same day of the publishing workshop. He escorted us through the areas where they lived as children, locating the houses they grew up in. He showed us the house where Gregory Smith lived, not far from theirs. Smith was the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) sergeant who supplied the walkie-talkie-cum-bomb that killed Walter. We drove by Camp Street prison where Walter had been detained in 1979 following a fire that burnt two government offices (he and others were charged with arson). Donald Rodney walked us through the route that would eventually end in the explosion that killed his brother. This location is by Fish Shop – a regular night spot where I’d been without ever knowing its historical significance; it’s on John and Hadfield Streets – opposite the rudimentary memorial Friends have created for him.

Donald explained that after the bomb exploded he ran – disorientedly due to temporary deafness from the explosion – to the house where friends (recently deceased) Andaiye and Karen De Souza were waiting. On hearing what happened one or both of these WPA members ran to the scene of the explosion. Observing Walter’s gutted midriff, knowing he was dead they ran back to the house, whereafter they sought medical help for Donald. At this point in his relating the narrative I kept wondering how he was so calm. But that calmness has perhaps been crafted out of this immense tragedy that continue to plague his life. He didn’t only lose his brother that day, he was charged and convicted of acquiring the banned walkie-talkie bomb that claimed his brother’s life at only 39 years old. He is currently appealing this charge and conviction at the Court of Appeal in Guyana. We promised him we’d do what we could to help his campaign; hence the movement #I AM WALTER RODNEY. He recently started a once a week vigil outside the Court of Appeal to get a date for this appeal. I am saddened by how he has been treated by successive governments since his brother was assassinated – 40 years ago next year June.

Birthplace and heartspace

I renewed my Guyanese passport finally and felt so proper patriotic. The process was pretty quick and efficient – which is a big improvement on those days when I used to see long queues outside the office. I understand this is because people no longer have to travel all the way from say Berbice to come to Georgetown to renew their passport.

I was in part inspired to renew it because of the recent development by the Ghanaian government to get rid of the visa requirement for those of us with passports from countries like Guyana, Jamaica. It is part of the Year of Return Ghana launched, which is a brilliant initiative to encourage those in the diaspora to travel there and per chance to feel the heartbeat of the home of our ancestors. If it’s a stunt to attract tourism – I welcome it all the same.

Now imagine if Guyana was to launch a similar campaign to encourage the diaspora to come home? Yes – that’s what the cancelled Conference was trying to do… that commitment comes with expanded vision.

Guyana is for me both my heart and its ache. It is so stunningly beautiful, with a real chance to beacon this beauty to the world but amidst the beauty so much of its blight remain in high and low places. Past ghosts haunt its development – that very consequence of Western imperialism Walter Rodney wrote about in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. With the pro-Western leaders cruelly and critically installed in many of its neighbouring countries (Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil) where media black outs are currently shielding the world from seeing this tyranny HD or otherwise, I fear it’s only a matter of time before what truly erupts will be much more than the billions of barrels promising the people of Guyana salvation when history has shown us this has rarely worked out for the many but has rather fattened the pockets of foreign fat cats.
The heart experiences the full complexities of life, without which it does not have existence. My spirit comes alive in very special and powerful ways when I'm in Guyana. I attended a few of the spiritual ceremonies at St Matthais Church, in Buxton, lead by Reverend Desrie. I expressed to the few people who came to watch the ancestral screening at Herdmanston Lodge, that whilst I can do some of the spirituals in London, it is much move alive when in Guyana. The energy is stronger, and it's an energy of love, of nature. Thus love, joy, hurt, wonder, loss are all requisite experiences of the heart. Guyana fills me with all these marvels, most vividly among them and what I have always found there despite all else is love.

Join us for the annual Bogle L'Ouverture Publications and Way Wive Wordz Open House book sale on Saturday 14th December, from 3pm Book HERE

Above pictures credited to Michelle Asantewa and Claudia Coulter.