Walter Rodney

Walter Anthony Rodney (23 March 1942 13 June 1980) was a Guyanese historian, political activist and academic. His notable works include How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, first published in 1972. Rodney was assassinated in Georgetown, Guyana, in 1980.

Walter Rodney
Walter Anthony Rodney

(1942-03-23)23 March 1942
Died13 June 1980(1980-06-13) (aged 38)
Georgetown, Guyana
Academic background
Alma materUniversity of London
SOAS, University of London
Academic work
Main interestsAfrican studies
Notable worksHow Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972)

Early career

Walter Rodney was born in 1942 into a working-class family in Georgetown, Guyana. He attended the University College of the West Indies in 1960 and was awarded a first-class honours degree in history in 1963. He earned a PhD in African History in 1966 at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, England at the age of 24. His dissertation, which focused on the slave trade on the Upper Guinea Coast, was published by the Oxford University Press in 1970 under the title A History of the Upper Guinea Coast 1545–1800 and was widely acclaimed for its originality in challenging the conventional wisdom on the topic.

Rodney travelled widely and became known internationally as an activist, scholar and formidable orator. He taught at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania during the periods 1966–67 and 1969–1974 and in 1968 at his alma mater University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica. He was sharply critical of the middle class for its role in the post-independence Caribbean. He was also a strong critic of capitalism and argued that only under "the banner of Socialism and through the leadership of the working classes" could Africa break from imperialism.[1]

On 15 October 1968, the government of Jamaica, led by prime minister Hugh Shearer, declared Rodney persona non grata. The decision to ban him from ever returning to Jamaica and his subsequent dismissal by the University of the West Indies, Mona, caused protests by students and the poor of West Kingston that escalated into a riot, known as the Rodney Riots, resulting in six deaths and causing millions of dollars in damages.[2] The riots, which began on 16 October 1968, triggered an increase in political awareness across the Caribbean, especially among the Afrocentric Rastafarian sector of Jamaica, documented in Rodney's book The Groundings with my Brothers, published by Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications in 1969.

In 1969, Rodney returned to the University of Dar es Salaam. He was promoted to senior lecturer there in 1971 and promoted to associate professor in 1973.[3] He worked at the university until 1974 when he returned to Guyana.[4][2] He was promised a professorship at the University of Georgetown in Guyana but the Forbes Burnham government rescinded the offer when Rodney arrived in Guyana.[4]

Rodney was close to C.L.R. James, among others, and supported the socialist government of Julius Nyerere. While his academic work contributed "to the emergence of decolonised African social sciences," Rodney worked to disseminate knowledge in Tanzanian villages, where he spoke in Kiswahili, the language of the people.[5] He continued his pan-African activism and, analysing the causes of the continent's underdevelopment, published How Europe Underdeveloped Africa in 1972. With a view to the Pan-African Congress of 1974, he prepared a text on the "international class struggle in Africa, the Caribbean and America." In this landmark work, Rodney denounced leaders who, like Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Jean-Claude Duvalier, Idi Amin Dada and Joseph Mobutu, were turning to tribalism under the guise of "negritude."

Rodney became a prominent Pan-Africanist and Marxist, and was important in the Black Power movement in the Caribbean and North America. While living in Dar es Salaam he was influential in developing a new centre of African learning and discussion.

Later life

In 1974, Rodney returned to Guyana from Tanzania. He was due to take up a position as a professor at the University of Guyana, but the Guyanese government prevented his appointment. Increasingly active in politics, he joined the Working People's Alliance,[6] a party that provided the most effective and credible opposition to the People's National Congress government and aimed to "create political consciousness, replacing ethnic politics with revolutionary organisations based on class solidarity."[5] In 1979, he was arrested and charged with arson after two government offices were burned. The trial was deferred three times and later dropped due to lack of evidence.[7]


On 13 June 1980, Rodney was killed in Georgetown, at the age of 38, by a bomb explosion in his car, a month after he returned from celebrations of independence in Zimbabwe at a time of intense political activism. He was survived by his wife, Patricia, and three children. His brother, Donald Rodney, who was injured in the explosion, said that a sergeant in the Guyana Defence Force and a member of the House of Israel,[8] named Gregory Smith, had given Walter the bomb that killed him. After the killing, Smith fled to French Guiana, where he died in 2002.[9]

It is widely believed, but not proven, that the assassination was set up by Guyana's president, Linden Forbes Burnham.[10][11] Rodney believed that the various ethnic groups historically disenfranchised by the ruling colonial class should work together, a position that challenged Burnham's hold on power.[12]

In 2014,[13] a Commission of Inquiry (COI) was held during which a new witness, Holland Gregory Yearwood, came forward claiming to be a long-standing friend of Rodney and a former member of the WPA. Yearwood testified that Rodney presented detonators to him weeks prior to the explosion asking for assistance in assembling a bomb.[14] Yet the same Commission of Inquiry (COI) concluded in their report that Rodney's death was a state-ordered killing, and that then Prime Minister Forbes Burnham must have had knowledge of the plot.[15][16]

Donald Rodney, Walter's brother, was in the car with him during the time of the assassination, and was convicted in 1982 of possessing explosives in connection with the incident that killed his brother. On 14 April 2021, the Guyana Court of Appeals overturned this judgment and Donald's sentence, exonerating him after forty years in which he contested his conviction.[17][18]

On 9 August 2021, the National Assembly of Guyana voted to adopt "Resolution No. 23" to implement the 2016 findings of "The Commission of Inquiry Appointed 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".[19]

Academic influence

Rodney's most influential book was How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, published in 1972 by Jessica Huntley and associates of Bogle L'Ouverture Publications. In it he described how Africa had been exploited by European imperialists, which he argued led directly to the modern underdevelopment of most of the continent. The book became influential as well as controversial: it was groundbreaking in that it was among the first to bring a new perspective to the question of underdevelopment in Africa. Rodney's analysis went far beyond the previously accepted approach in the study of Third World underdevelopment.

"Instead of being interested primarily in the interrelations of African trade and politics, as many of us were at that time, Rodney focused his attention on the agricultural basis of African communities, on the productive forces within them and on the processes of social differentiation. As a result, his research raised a fresh set of questions concerning the nature of African social institutions on the Upper Guinea coast in the sixteenth century and of the impact of the Atlantic slave trade. In doing so, he helped to open up a new dimension to the study of colonialism in Africa. Almost immediately his work stimulated further writing and research on West Africa, and he initiated a debate, which still continues and now extends across the whole range of African history.

When teaching at the Universities of Dar es Salaam and the West Indies, he launched and sustained a large number of discussion groups which swept up and embraced many who had had little or no formal education. As a writer, he reached out to contact thousands in The Groundings with my Brothers (1969) and in his influential How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972)." — Remarks by Professor John Richard Gray, History Today, Vol. 49, Issue 9, 1980.

"When we think of Walter Rodney as a Revolutionary Scholar we are talking about two things, Radical Scholar and his revolutionary contribution to the study of History ie. History of Africa. Walter Rodney was a pioneering scholar who provided new answers to old questions and posed new questions in relation to the study of Africa." — Remarks by Professor Winston McGowan at the Walter Rodney Commemorative Symposium held at York College, USA, in June 2010.

"Walter Rodney was no captive intellectual playing to the gallery of local or international radicalism. He was clearly one of the most solidly ideologically situated intellectuals ever to look colonialism and its contemporary heir black opportunism and exploitation in the eye." — Remarks by Wole Soyinka, Oduduwa Hall, University of Ife, Nigeria, Friday, 27 June 1980.

In a new foreword to Rodney's book, academic and political activist Angela Davis writes: "To mark time," he [Rodney] insists, "or even to move slowly while others leap ahead is virtually equivalent to going backward". In How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Walter Rodney painstakingly argues that imperialism and the various processes that bolstered colonialism created impenetrable structural blockades to economic, and thus also, political and social progress on the continent. At the same time his argument is not meant to absolve Africans of the "ultimate responsibility for development."[20] Davis also draws attention to the fact that Rodney did not ignore gender issues. On the contrary, he addresses the role of gender. He pointed out that under colonialism, African women's “social, religious, constitutional, and political privileges and rights disappeared while the economic exploitation continued and was often intensified".

Rodney's community-grounded approach to mass education during the 1960s and his detailed descriptions of his pedagogical approach in Groundings (1969) document his role as an important critical pedagogue and contemporary of Paulo Freire.[21]

Posthumous memorials

Rodney's death was commemorated in a poem by Martin Carter entitled "For Walter Rodney," by the dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson in "Reggae fi Radni," and by Kamau Brathwaite in his poem "Poem for Walter Rodney" (Elegguas, 2010). David Dabydeen also wrote a poem on Rodney in his 1988 collection Coolie Odyssey.

In 1977, the African Studies Centre at Boston University inaugurated the Walter Rodney Lecture Series.

In 1982, the American Historical Association posthumously awarded Walter Rodney the Albert J. Beveridge Award for A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881-1905.

In 1984, the Centre for Caribbean Studies at the University of Warwick established the Walter Rodney Memorial Lecture in recognition of the life and work of one of the most outstanding scholar-activists of the Black Diaspora in the post-World War II era.

In 1993, the Guyanese government posthumously awarded Walter Rodney Guyana's highest honour, the Order of Excellence of Guyana. The Guyanese government also established the Walter Rodney Chair in History at the University of Guyana.

In 1998, the Institute of Caribbean Studies at the University of the West Indies inaugurated the Walter Rodney Lecture Series.

In 2004, Rodney's widow Patricia and his children donated his papers to the Robert L. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center. Since 2004, an annual Walter Rodney Symposium has been held each 23 March (Rodney's birthday) at the Center under the sponsorship of the Library and the Political Science Department of Clark Atlanta University, and under the patronage of the Rodney family.

In 2005, the London Borough of Southwark erected a plaque in the Peckham Library Square in commemoration of Dr. Walter Rodney, the political activist, historian and global freedom fighter.

In 2006, an International Conference on Walter Rodney was held at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Dar es Salaam.

In 2006, the Walter Rodney Essay Competition was established in the Department of Afro-American and African Studies at the University of Michigan.

In 2006, the Walter Rodney Foundation was established by the Rodney family. It is headquartered in Atlanta and aims to share the works and legacy of Rodney with the world.[22]

In 2010, the Walter Rodney Commemorative Symposium was held at York College.[23]

The Department of African American Studies at Syracuse University has established the Angela Davis/Walter Rodney Award of Academic Achievement.

The Department of Afro-American and African Studies (DAAS) at the University of Michigan established the DuBois-Mandela-Rodney Postdoctoral Fellowship Program.

In 2012, the Walter Rodney Conference celebrating the 40th anniversary of the publication of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was held at Binghamton University.

In 2022, at the 36th Elsa Goveia Memorial Lecture, 50th Anniversary of Dr. Walter Rodney’s Book: “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” was presented by Horace G. Campbell at University of the West Indies.

Rodney is the subject of the 2010 documentary film by Clairmont Chung, W.A.R. Stories: Walter Anthony Rodney.[24]

The Walter Rodney Close in the London Borough of Newham has been named in honor of Rodney.

Walter Rodney is listed on the Black Achievers Wall in the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool, UK.

In 2022 and 2023, SAVVY Contemporary, an independent art space in Berlin (Germany), dedicated a research, performance and exhibition project, titled to Walter Rodney, fifty years after the publication of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.[25]


  • The Groundings with my Brothers (London: Bogle L'Ouverture Publications, 1969)
  • West Africa and the Atlantic Slave-Trade (1970)
  • A History of the Upper Guinea Coast 1545–1800 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970)
  • How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972)
  • World War II and the Tanzanian Economy (1976)
  • Guyanese Sugar Plantations in the Late Nineteenth Century: a Contemporary Description from the "Argosy" (Georgetown, Guyana: Release Publications, 1979)
  • Marx in the Liberation of Africa (1981)
  • A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881–1905 (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981)
  • Walter Rodney Speaks: the Making of an African Intellectual (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1990)
  • Kofi Baadu Out of Africa (Georgetown, Guyana), children's book
  • Lakshmi Out of India (Georgetown, Guyana: The Guyana Book Foundation, 2000), children's book
  • The Russian Revolution: A View from the Third World (New York: Verso Books, 2018)

Further reading

By Walter Rodney

  • "African History in the Service of the Black Liberation", lecture presented at the Congress of Black Writers, Montreal, Canada, 12 October 1968
  • "George Jackson: Black Revolutionary" in Maji Maji, (5): 4–6 (1971)
  • Street speech given in Guyana
  • "African slavery and other forms of social oppression on the Upper Guinea Coast, 1580–1650, Journal of African History, 7(3):431–43.
  • Portuguese attempts at monopoly on the Upper Guinea Coast", Journal of African History. 6(3):307-22.
  • "The impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade in West Africa", in Roland Oliver (editor), The Middle Age of African History, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967.
  • "Education and Tanzanian socialism", in Resnick (editor), Tanzania: Revolution by Education, Longmans of Tanzania, Arusha, 1968.
  • "European activity and African reaction in Angola", in Terence Ranger (editor), Aspects of Central African History, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, 1968.
  • "The role of the university in developing Africa", Public Lecture, Makerere Students Guild, Makerere University, Kampala, October 1970.
  • "African labour under capitalism and imperialism", Cheche, University of Dar es Salaam, November 1969, 1:4–12.
  • "Ideology of the African revolution: Paper presented at the 2nd seminar of East and Central African Youth", The Nationalist (Dar es Salaam), 11 October 1969.
  • "The Colonial Economy", in A. Boahen (editor), African under colonial domination 1880–1935, Heinemann and UNESCO, California, 1985.
  • "The political economy of colonial Tanganyika 1890–1930", in M. H. Kaniki, Tanzania Under Colonial Rule, Longman, London,1980.
  • "Africa in Europe and the Americas", in Richard Gray (editor), The Cambridge History of Africa, Volume 4:c.1600–c.1790, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1975.
  • "The Guinea Coast", in Richard Gray (editor), The Cambridge History of Africa, Volume 4:c.1600–c.1790, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1975.
  • "Some implications of the question of disengagement from imperialism", MajiMaji, University of Dar es Salaam, January 1971, 1:3-8
  • "State formation and class formation in Tanzania", Maji Maji, 1973, 11:25–32.
  • "Slavery and underdevelopment", in M. Craton (editor), Roots and Branches: Current directions in Slave Studies, New York: Pergamon Press, 1979.
  • "Class contradictions in Tanzania", in H. Othman (editor), The State in Tanzania: Who controls it and whose interests does it serve, Dar es Salam: Dar es Salaam University Press, 1980.
  • "A Reconsideration of the Mane Invasions of Sierra Leone". In: Journal of African History, 1967a, 8/2, 219–246.
  • "Resistance and accommodation in Ovimbundu/Portuguese relations". History departmental seminar, University of Dar es Salaam (1972b)
  • "The year 1895 in southern Mozambique: African resistance to the imposition of European colonial rule", Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, 1971, 5 (4): 509–35.

By others

  • "And finally they killed him": speeches and poems at a memorial rally for Walter Rodney, 1942–80, Oduduwa Hall, University of Ife, Nigeria, Friday, 27 June 1980.
  • Walter Rodney: Revolutionary and Scholar: A Tribute. (Los Angeles: Center for African-American Studies and African Studies Center, University of California, 1982)
  • C. L. R. James, Walter Rodney and the Question of Power (London: Race Today Publications, 1983)
  • David Dabydeen and Andrew Salkey (eds), Walter Rodney, Poetic Tributes (London: Bogle-L'Ouverture, 1985)
  • Horace Campbell. Rasta and Resistance: From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1985)
  • Gabriehu. Dangerous Times: The Assassination of Dr. Walter Rodney (Brooklyn, NY: Gibbi Books, 2003)
  • Rupert Lewis. Walter Rodney`s Intellectual and Political Thought (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998)
  • Rupert Lewis. Walter Rodney: 1968 Revisited
  • Issa G. Shivji, "Remembering Walter Rodney", Monthly Review, Volume 64, Issue 07 (December 2012).
  • Clairmont Chung, "A Promise of Revolution", in Monthly Review Press (2013)
  • Karim F. Hirji, The Enduring Relevance of Walter Rodney's How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (2017)
  • Kimani Nehusi, "Forty-Seven Years After: Understanding and Updating Walter Rodney", Africa Update, 26.3 (Summer 2019)
  • Matthew Quest, "The Historical Retrieval and Controversy of Walter Rodney's Russian Revolution", New Politics, Winter 2020
  • Kristin Plys, "Theorizing Capitalist Imperialism for an Anti-Imperialist Praxis: Towards a Rodneyan World-Systems Analysis", Journal of World Systems Research, Volume 27, Issue 01, 2021.[26]
  • Leo Zeilig, "A Revolutionary for our Time" (The Walter Rodney Story) Haymarket Books, May 2022
  • Temin, David Myer (2022). "Development in Decolonization: Walter Rodney, Third World Developmentalism, and 'Decolonizing Political Theory'", American Political Science Review.
  • Chinedu Chukwudinma, "A Rebel's Guide to Walter Rodney", April 2022.
  • University of Hamburg (1984) A tribute to Walter Rodney: "One Hundred years of development in Africa"; Lectures given at Universitat of Hamburg in September 1978.


  1. Rodney, Walter (1975). "Aspects of the International Class Struggle in Africa, the Caribbean and America". Pan-Africanism: Struggle Against Neo-colonialism and Imperialism - Documents of the Sixth Pan-African Congress: 18–41. Archived from the original on 16 August 2021.
  2. Michael O. West (November 2005). "Walter Rodney and Black Power: Jamaican Intelligence and US Diplomacy" (PDF). African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies. 1 (2). ISSN 1554-3897. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 July 2012. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
  3. "The Dar es Salaam years". Retrieved 28 December 2022.
  4. Harisch, Immanuel R. (1 January 2018). Walter Rodney's Dar es Salaam Years, 1966–1974: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Tanzania's ujamaa, and Student Radicalism at 'the Hill' (Thesis). University of Vienna.
  5. Ferrarini, Hélène (1 September 2020). "Guyana turns its back on its past". Le Monde diplomatique. Archived from the original on 7 May 2021. Retrieved 13 April 2021.
  6. Chukwudinma, Chinedu (12 May 2022). "The birth of the Working People's Alliance in Guyana". Review of African Political Economy. Retrieved 25 January 2023.
  7. Edward Kamau Brathwaite (June 1981). "A poem for Walter Rodney". Index on Censorship. The Caribbean. 10 (6): 26. doi:10.1080/03064228108533287. S2CID 152261408. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  8. "House of Israel was hit squad – Rodney's brother". Stabroek News. 30 April 2014. Archived from the original on 23 November 2021. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  9. "Guyana commission confirms Burnham gov't murdered Walter Rodney". Worker's World. 28 February 2016. Archived from the original on 10 May 2021. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  10. "Walter Rodney Biography rodney.html". The Grenada Revolution Online. Archived from the original on 13 February 2021. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  11. "THE GRAND BETRAYALS OF WALTER RODNEY". Kaieteur News. 16 June 2012. Archived from the original on 1 April 2019. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  12. "Gregory Smith dead". 24 November 2002. Archived from the original on 14 December 2018. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  13. "The Walter Rodney Murder Mystery in Guyana 40 Years Later". National Security Archive. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  14. "Rodney hearing takes dramatic twist. New witness tells of attempted cover up". Guyana Chronicle. 17 February 2015. Archived from the original on 25 February 2015.
  15. "Rodney was victim of state-organised killing, PM Burnham had to have known –CoI finds". 20 February 2016. Retrieved 13 April 2021.
  16. Report of the Commission of Inquiry Appointed to Enquire and Report on the Circumstances Surrounding the Death of the Late Dr. Walter Rodney on Thirteenth Day of June, One Thousand Nine Hundred and Eighty at Georgetown, 8 February 2016, p. 133, hdl:20.500.12322/coi:rodney_report, Wikidata Q106716611
  17. Stabroek News (14 April 2021). "Appeal Court sets aside Donald Rodney's conviction, sentencing".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  18. Chabrol, Dennis (14 April 2021). "BREAKING: Guyana Court of Appeal sets aside explosives conviction, sentence of Donald Rodney". Archived from the original on 9 May 2021.
  19. "RESOLUTION NO. 23" (PDF). National Assembly of Guyana. 9 August 2021. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 November 2021. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  20. Davis, Angela (24 April 2019). "Walter Rodney's legacy". Versobooks/blog. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  21. Vaught, Seneca (2015). "'Grounding' Walter Rodney in Critical Pedagogy: Toward Praxis in African History". South. 1 (1): 4–5.
  22. "WHO WE ARE". Walter Rodney Foundation. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  23. The Walter Rodney Commemorative Symposium @ York college, archived from the original on 21 December 2021, retrieved 6 April 2021
  24. W.A.R. Stories: Walter Anthony Rodney, Roots and Culture Media.
  25. "UNRAVELING THE (UNDER-) DEVELOPMENT COMPLEX". S A V V Y Contemporary. Retrieved 23 January 2023.
  26. Plys, Kristin (2021). "Theorizing Capitalist Imperialism for an Anti-Imperialist Praxis". Journal of World-Systems Research. 27: 288–313. doi:10.5195/jwsr.2021.1022. S2CID 233689871.
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