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)
 
REFERENCES

(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.

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