Rodney left Tanzania free to go and come as he pleased

Dear Editor,

Dead men, even the mightiest, tell no tales. As such it is unsurprising that someone as uncomfortable with the truth as Hamilton Green, should present the late Julius Nyerere as witness to his claim that Walter Rodney was expelled from Tanzania because of a thirst for violence. Apparently, on learning this from Nyerere himself, Green dashed back to Guyana to have Rodney’s UG appointment rescinded (Kaieteur News, 16/10/17). He must have been disappointed by Nyerere’s revelation, for it surely meant having to cancel the big homecoming party he was organizing for the famous son of the soil before the shocking news.

It is not for the first and it will not be the last time we are subjected to this propaganda of Mr. Green. The interviewer was obviously unprepared for the task at hand or he would have been able to say to ‘Hammie’, man is years now you peddling dat stuff, why you delivering it as some scoop. He might also have asked, why you leaving us to commune with the dead, with the dearly departed Mwalimu (as Nyerere is affectionately known) if in need of proof. Can’t you find a living Tanzanian, or some documentary evidence to verify your story?

Walter Rodney loved Tanzania and the love was returned in kind, as many students, colleagues and comrades still alive can testify. No government stepped in to deny the job offered by the University of Dar es Salaam and there was none of the harassment later visited upon him and his family by the Burnham state. On the contrary, Tanzanians still speak of his vibrant participation in national life, including his sterling work as a historian working with the History Teachers Association of Tanzania in revising the school curriculum, work that was recognized by the ruling party.

In 1969, very early into his service in Tanzania, Rodney came up against a newspaper critic of a commentary he had issued on the role of armed struggle in the liberation of Africa. Insiders identified the anonymous author as Nyerere but what is more revealing is that the disagreement brought no paranoia from Nyerere, a leader who was courageous enough to provide a base for the armed liberation movements of Southern Africa. Rodney, on foreign soil, had a public spat with a postcolonial President and continued for several years thereafter to have a base to develop as historian and radical thinker. It is no wonder that Dr. Patricia Rodney, Walter’s resourceful and resilient widow, has spoken publicly about the happiness her family knew in Tanzania, where she has been an honoured visitor since his passing.

Rodney left Tanzania in 1974 free to go and come as he pleased and indeed returned in December of 1975, presenting a paper on the Caribbean and support for African liberation movements. This, unlike Mr Green’s claim, is a matter of public record in Tanzania. There is no need for a séance to confirm it. Long before he left Tanzania, Rodney shared with comrades his intention to eventually return home and play his part in Caribbean transformation. Invaluable as he and others found his participation in Tanzania’s search for alternatives to Africa’s neo-colonial projects, Rodney understood the limitations to his engagement with the people of Tanzania.

There were, for example, issues of culture that placed their own restrictions on the capacity of an outsider to get fully involved, even one with Rodney’s humanity, modesty and extraordinary knowledge of Africa. Rodney knew he was no master of the Kiswahili spoken by the people, the vast majority of who could not communicate effectively in English. Guyanese and others in the Caribbean who witnessed his immersion with people and crowds would understand the attractiveness of his command of language, spoken and written, and the immense learning that informed it. There is no way the lecturer who never saw his life as cocooned in a university could have established that level of communication with ordinary Tanzanians, not with his faltering Kiswahili and expressed shortcomings in grasping the idiom of the people.

When Mr. Green abandons the séance for some truth serum, he will admit the real panic that sent him to orchestrate the withdrawal of Rodney’s UG appointment, was confirmation that heading his way was the professor who grounded with I an I in Jamaica before moving on to nourish the minds of an African generation curious about change, and there were no laws to stop him re-entering the country of his birth. That would have been cause for anxiety with any downpressor.


Yours faithfully,

Dr. David Johnson

A historian of Africa

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