Hinds’Sight By Dr. David Hinds
I am writing this column on my way from in Haiti, where I attended the 41st annual Caribbean Studies Association conference. For six days more than a thousand scholars from all parts of the world of different generations who study and teach about the Caribbean engaged in scholarly exchanges about our region. It is always uplifting to be part of any meeting of our Caribbean family, but it was especially uplifting this year because we were meeting in Haiti. Despite its persistent tribulations, there is something special and magical about that country—its people, its landscape and its rhythms. The very fact that it was the vanguard of Black and Caribbean freedom puts Haiti at the center of our survivalist and freedom trajectory. As Angela Davis, whose rich and insightful address to the conference, asserted ”whatever little freedom we enjoy today we owe it to the Haitian people.”
This was my second visit to Haiti. The first time I landed on Haitian soil, five years ago, I cried tears of thanks because I knew that my Buxtonion, Guyanese, Caribbean and Black identities, individually and together, owe a great debt to Haiti. Haiti is our living link to Mother Africa and the mother of our Caribbean. There were no tears on this visit, but I wrapped my mind around Haiti and tried to imagine what our Caribbean could be if only we could begin as a people, together and in our separate island-states, to reach for our glory and love ourselves again. As I watched the Haitian people go about their daily business of surviving the harshness of persistent neo-colonialism, I saw and felt hope for our Caribbean. I have never seen a nation of people bear their burdens, our Caribbean burdens, with such resilience. I never doubt the beauty and dignity of Black people and Caribbean peoples, but Haiti affirms this feeling.
Acclaimed scholar-activist, Angela Davis, gave a memorable address to the conference linking race, class, nation, history, oppression, survival and freedom pioneers. When she got to the point of her address that discussed underdevelopment, she asked the audience who she was thinking about and hundreds of voices responded in unison—“Walter Rodney,” followed by a generous round of applause.
It is common place to hear Rodney’s work quoted by scholars who speak about him in elevated ways; after all he belonged to the world—one of Guyana’s most precious gifts to world civilization. But when I heard that audience speak his name that evening, I felt a rush of pride as a Guyanese, as a comrade and a descendant of Rodney and the Caribbean , Black, African and Guyanese radical tradition he contributed immensely to. But I also felt a gush of pain largely because Guyanese of the post-1980 generation do not get to experience moments like those when their country is lifted to the mountaintop by the mere mention of his name. There were several Guyanese scholars at the conference to witness that moment, but shamefully, there was only one scholar from the University of Guyana—lecturer and historian, Estherene Adams—who presented a well-received paper on another outstanding Guyanese, Eusi Kwayana.
There is something wrong, very wrong, when a country which has produced intellectual titans such as Eusi Kwayana, Walter Rodney, Clem Seecharan, Alissa Trotz, Ivan Van Certima, Rupert Roopnarine, Elsa Gouveia and Clive Thomas could send only one scholar from its university to the major academic conference in and about our Caribbean. How can scholars at UG effectively teach our students when they are cut off from communion with their colleagues in the rest of the region and the world? We get so carried away and wrapped up in our political mess that we often do not realize how disconnected we are from the rest of the Caribbean and the world. In the process we have become a little, isolated and dangerous island that wallows in its disconnectedness.
As I think about Walter Rodney who we assassinated 36 years ago on a Friday night, I think about Guyana and its slow but steady march towards the edge. I think about some of the backwardness I read on Facebook and the newspaper blogs and I wonder if we can pull ourselves back. The brutal murders and our seemingly numbness to them; the national hypocrisy when it comes to our ethno-racial condition; the persistent betrayal by our political leaders replete with economic and psychological brutalization of poor people—the doom varies but it never goes away.
But in the end, we must press on. Rodney had asked that should he be cut down, his body should be used as a barricade for the revolution. The revolution which he started and for which he was murdered by the hand of the State, is still incomplete. Walter Rodney must live again in Guyana as he lives in the global space. As CLR James, another Caribbean intellectual giant, would say—there is always work to be done. Let us on this June 13, whatever our politics, say thanks to Walter Rodney for making us whole while he walked our streets and for the legacy of hope he has left us.
On this 36th anniversary of Walter Rodney’s assassination, I call on the Government to fulfil its promise to have the Walter Rodney COI report properly laid before parliament and be debated. I hope that such a debate avoids the political finger-pointing and instead focus on the big lessons, in particular the banishment of the use of the state and para state institutions as a tool of violence against political opponents and the citizenry in general.
On this Rodney anniversary I call upon the President to expand his promise to inquire into the death of former PPP Minister Satyadeyow Sawh and his family to include all politically motivated killings over the last four decades. I especially call for inquiries into the deaths of Ronald Waddell and Courtney Crum Ewing—the families of these brothers and all of Guyana need to know the circumstances surrounding their deaths
I also urge the government to honour Walter Rodney in the most non-partisan manner by re-naming the University of Guyana the Walter Rodney University of Guyana. All Guyanese regardless of political affiliation agree that Rodney was one of our most brilliant scholars. It would be a fitting symbol of the efforts to regenerate the university and a living monument to Rodney and the centrality of education to Guyana’s national development.
I also call on the Ministry of Education to introduce Rodney’s two children’s books—Kofi Badu out of Africa and Lakshmi out of India into the school curriculum. Such a move would contribute immensely to national cohesion, particularly among the youth. Rodney’s insights into our ethnic dynamics are invaluable and should not be wasted.
Finally on this anniversary, I call for a national stand against attacks on the independent media. This is an area of our politics that Rodney was most concerned about. He saw the assassination of the journalist, Father Bernard Darke in 1979 as a descent into barbarism. The recent grenade attack on the Kaieteur News is a stark reminder that there is still fear of the “Open Word”
More of Dr. Hinds ‘writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org