June 13th 2018, represents the thirty-eighth year since the assassination of Walter Rodney, which occurred on June 13th, 1980. Thirty-eight years should be sufficient time for Guyana and its leadership at its highest level, to be able to have a dispassionate and objective discussion on the role of this great son of the soil re the contribution he made to the political life of the country. However, thirty-eight years later in Guyana we are still not yet positioned to do so, and this in spite of the fact, that the party of Rodney, the WPA, is a partner in the APNU and a party in the coalition government, which has been in office over the last three years. I believe that the failure to have this profound discussion in Guyana underscores the extent to which the political process and political leaders have failed the people and represents a serious indictment of those who claim the right to lead and to make decisions on our behalf.
It should be recalled that Guyana made a major step forward as a nation when the Corbin-led PNCR and the WPA supported an amended motion in parliament, to establish a Commission of Inquiry into the death of Walter Rodney. It is important to note that the PPP/C, which sponsored the motion, abstained when the vote was taken because of the amendment, which saw the word “death” substituted for “assassination”. The PNCR had objected to the use of the word assassination, on the grounds that its retention in the motion was prejudging the issue. WPA agreed and the motion in its amended form was passed thereby demonstrating tremendous political maturity on the part of the two historical antagonists. Importantly, their actions created the genesis of a public political detente between the two parties that led to the subsequent birth of the APNU and a decisive shift in the politics of the nation.
Rodney returned to Guyana in 1975, and the role he played in the Civil Rebellion resulted in profound changes in the politics of the country at that time. WPA and Rodney were able to exploit the existing political contradictions and the legitimacy of the rulers’ right to govern given, rigged elections. Unfolding events shattered the myth that effective unity and collective political actions by the African and Indian working people was unlikely, given the historical political and racial polarization in the country.
The effectiveness of Rodney/WPA’s activism scared the rulers who, when faced with massive multiracial street protests and demonstrations by the masses resorted to grave acts of oppression, violence, and political murders in an effort to stem the tide of change. While they were able to hold on to political power, they were unable to reverse the new political reality created by the WPA and Rodney, which subsequently led to the PNC being voted out of office in the 1992 General and Regional elections. The rejection of the PNC at those elections was made possible in no small way by the legacy of Rodney that ushered in a new chapter in the country’s politics.
Ironically, the return to free and fair elections brought with it a rebirth of the old race-based politics, which profoundly reversed the gains made by Rodney and the WPA. The rebirth of the race/political contradictions resulted in new challenges, which the nation failed to address effectively, in its best interest. Dr. Jagan and the PPP/C after having come to power, quickly lost their way and returned to the old politics of domination. In doing so they squandered the democratic dividends produced by the anti-dictatorial struggles. Things got significantly worse after the demise of President Cheddi Jagan. The rise to power of Jagdeo led to the criminalization of the state, the rise of the phantom killers, the extra-judicial killings of hundreds of young men mostly Africans, and witnessed the worst degeneration in the political culture and governance in the country.
Politically, the coming to power of the PNC was a result of support received from internal and external forces, which worked to the advantage of that party, allowing it to rule for 28 years (1964 to 1992). Similarly, the PPP/C’s return to office was the result of the shift in the balance of the social/political forces – internal and external – which facilitated that regime’s rule for 23 years ( 1992 to 2015).
The big challenge facing the nation as we remember Rodney is to understand the likely direction in which the country is heading. This is of paramount importance if we are to avoid the negative effects of internal/external influences and to take control of our destiny. In light of our known history this is no small matter, since history has demonstrated that external forces and their interests have been the dominant factor in determining the political, social and economic direction of the country. Additionally, the domestic/internal contradictions in the country and the struggle to resolve them have militated against our ability to resist the viciousness of the external forces and influences. In short “people’s power” which Rodney and the WPA invoked never matured to the point to facilitate liberation of the people and the country.
Given this reality, the obvious question is where do we go from here? Not surprisingly, the masses are, in their own way, daily asking the same question in search of an answer. I cannot and will not pretend to have the answer to this question. However, I am convinced that this country, 38 years after the passing of Rodney is once again at the crossroads. But no two historical junctures are the same. They may be similarities but also differences. Our present economic, social and political situation in significant ways is more challenging in this post-independence period. Like any historical moment, there is the possibility of success or failure.
My candid judgment is that our national political leadership both government and opposition, civil society forces and the masses are not up to the challenges we are faced with. Therefore, it is questionable whether the nation can achieve the necessary political and social cohesion needed to defeat the historical odds and avoid repeating past mistakes, for which we pay a high price of grave under development. The jury is out on this matter and we will have the answer sooner rather than later.
Political observers will not fail to comprehend the importance of the year 2020 to the future of the nation since it is an election year and, equally important, the year designated for the commencement of oil production. Added to those developments the year 2020 will be the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Walter Rodney.
In closing, it seems that at every significant juncture post-1980, Rodney stands before us reminding the nation of the need for self-examination and reflection.