The murder of Floyd has dramatised calls for reparation to Africa’s Diaspora in the Americas, Europe and Australia, writes Okello Oculi
In 1972 a book titled ‘’HOW EUROPE UNDERDEVELOPED AFRICA’’ was born. Its author was Walter Rodney, a Historian from Guyana teaching at the University of Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania. The book shattered racist Euro-American scholarship which claimed that Africa lacked industrialization; suffered from permanent poverty; high infant malnutrition and deaths, and high levels of illiteracy because the people are Black, obsessed with witchcraft, cannibalism and inter-tribal violence, etc.
Rodney did research for his doctoral degree at London University on the history of West Africa. He later made public speeches on street corners in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital; calling these sessions: “GROUNDLINGS WITH MY BROTHERS’’.
He shattered lies about Africa used to humiliate and crush self-confidence in Black-skinned peoples in the Caribbean to justify rule by European descendants of slave owners. One silly lie was that Africans lived on tops of trees.
He excited audiences with reports about African Kingdoms of Mali, Ghana, Benin, Zimbabwe, and the Oyo Empire. He announced that the University of Timbuktu had existed when Europeans were still barbarians. For Jamaica whose Black population constituted over 90 per cent of the population and a tradition of slave revolts, these speeches alarmed European immigrants who owned the most fertile land.
Rodney was deported from Jamaica. Fidel Castro asked President Julius Nyerere to employ him at the University of Dares Salaam where he met Marxist scholars from Eastern Europe, notably: Tamas Tzentes. He turned from emphasis on psychological and cultural power to Africa’s economic power.
Julius Kambarage Nyerere, however, asserted that African culture was rooted in Socialism and Karl Marx celebration of capitalism accepted its cruelties, selfishness and exploitation of Africa. Africa’s independence came with the responsibility to be intellectually self-reliant.
This position contradicted Walter Rodney who saw his intellectual responsibility as that of using Karl Marx’s insights to expose historical tunnels dug into Africa to drain away human bodies, raw materials, and financial wealth into Euro-America.
Rodney’s perspective associated him with the Soviet Union whose leaders resented Nyerere’s intellectual arrogance and friendship with Mao Zedong who himself won power in China for socialism with guerrilla armies of rural peasants. Tanzania and China lacked industrial ‘’proletariat’’. Mao also supplied military weapons to Robert Mugabe’s peasant-based guerilla war.
In 1976 my passport excited Black Immigration officials at Guyana’s airport. They rushed me into an official vehicle conveying a visiting delegation from Yugoslavia; saving me from taxi sharks, and offering me a free room at the Hilton Hotel.
The Afro-Guyanese receptionist at the Hilton proclaimed his admiration for ‘’Field Marshall Idi Amin Dada’’, the African leader who defied Britain and expelled hundreds of thousands of Asians from his country’’. That enthusiasm and free use of the telephone turned to a nightmare when he heard me ask the telephone operator for access to Professor Walter Rodney.
I had been warned about Rodney’s lack of popularity with Prime Minister Burnham’s government. The frightened receptionist smiled again when he called the boss of a paramilitary unit and heard enthusiastic welcome in his voice at the mention of my name.
Rodney had returned to Guyana and started a multi-racial political movement. Burnham had won successive elections with the help of British officials rigging votes cast in Guyana’s Embassy in London by Black Guyanese immigrants living in Britain.
In Guyana itself, Indian voters outnumbered Afro-Guyanese. Britain feared that the Marxist Indian politician who ran against Burnham was likely to allow the Soviet Union to build a naval base in Guyana, the sacred backyard of a NATO giant: the United States.
Banned from jobs in Guyana, Rodney’s income came mainly from delivering lectures at Canadian and American universities. In April 1977, he was on the Madison campus of the University of Wisconsin. I urged him to accept President Robert Mugabe’s invitation to develop new textbooks for schools and colleges in Zimbabwe. A bomb inside a radio killed him on 13th June, 1980.
His book exposes strategies used for draining Africa’s resources to Euro-American economies; urging Africa to demand REPARATIONS for a drainage which started with the European slave trade; de-industrialization under colonialism; current debt cobwebs; drainage of talent from Africa; blocking industrial growth; and use of viruses to depopulate the continent.
The murder of George Floyd has dramatized calls for reparation to Africa’s Diaspora in the Americas, Europe and Australia. Rodney’s call for blocking tunnels of exploitation must inform Cyril Ramaphosa as the current head of the African Union. The 2020 ravages by COVID-19 in South Africa underlines wastages inflicted by poverty and ‘’structural racism’’. Africa’s Civil Society; diplomats and academia must vigilantly embrace Rodney’s labour.
Rodney’s brilliant labour must flow into classrooms, lecture halls, government offices, corporate offices and civic associations to feed the ‘’African Renaissance’’ now in Cyril Ramaphosa’s charge.