It was on June 14, 1980, when for the first time, the BBC 7.15 Caribbean report was not relayed by the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation because the powers that be did not want the public to learn of the assassination of Dr Walter Rodney, the popular and powerful historian whose life had been snuffed out the night before, Friday the 13th, by a bomb which was in the form of a walkie-talkie.
Up to this day 33 years later, the authorities have still failed to bring to light who was behind the murder of the great leader who bridged the racial gap between Indo and Afro-Guyanese.
The Forbes Burnham administration failed to hold an inquiry, but the Desmond Hoyte-led government in 1988, eight long years after the slaying, ordered an inquest, after Rodney’s widow, Patricia Rodney, wrote a letter followed by protest from a group called ‘Women in Guyana’ which sent a petition via Rodney’s mother to President Hoyte. However that inquest was “marred by grave defects,” according to the International Commission of Jurists when it visited Guyana. The finding of the Coroner “death by accident or misadventure” was said to be unsatisfactory and flawed for many reasons.
What is disturbing is that Dr Cheddi Jagan when he took office in 1992 instead of ordering the establishment of a high-powered commission of inquiry threw cold water on the idea by stating that he “wondered what the conviction and imprisonment of the suspect would do for Walter Rodney.” However he conferred Guyana’s highest award, The Order of Excellence, on Walter Rodney posthumously. The Guyana National Archives many years later were named after him.
Dr Jagan’s inaction did not find too much favour with the historian’s son, Shaka, who held a fast and vigil. Steps were subsequently taken to try and repatriate the suspect, Gregory Smith, from Cayenne in French Guiana, after he was formally charged with murder in 1996 and a warrant for his arrest was issued by then Chief Magistrate K Juman-Yassin.
Smith, a former Guyana Defence Force sergeant left for French Guiana the day after the murder and was using another name, Cyril Johnson. His extradition was delayed because the French government prohibited extradition for offences involving capital punishment ‒ the death penalty. Smith is reported to have died in 2002 from stomach cancer.
However the Rodney family and his supporters still want to know who was behind the assassination of this great man who was deemed persona non grata by Hugh Shearer, Jamaica’s Prime Minister, which led to student demonstrations at the Mona Campus of the UWI led by Ralph Gonsalves, who was at that time Head of the Students Union. Dr Gonsalves is now the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
After a period working in Tanzania, the Burnham administration denied Rodney a job at the University of Guyana which forced him to move into politics. His book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was a best-seller in the 1970s.