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How Europe underdeveloped Africa! Remembering Walter Rodney

July 3, 2013

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Walter Rodney 1973
Walter Rodney 1973
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
Published by: Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications, London and
Tanzanian Publishing House, Dar-Es-Salaam 1973, Transcript from
6th reprint, 1983;
Transcribed: by Joaquin Arriola.
Pat, Muthoni, Mashaka and
the extended family
Chapter One. Some Questions on Development
1.1 What is Development
1.2 What is Underdevelopment?
Chapter Two. How Africa Developed Before the Coming
of the Europeans up to the 15th Century (1 of 3) [8/22/05 11:01:42 AM]

Walter Rodney

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Walter Rodney (23 March 1942 – 13 June 1980) was a prominent Guyanese historian, political activist and preeminent scholar, who was assassinated in Guyana in 1980.

Dr. Walter Rodney




Pan-African topics

Born into a working-class family, Walter Anthony Rodney was a very bright student, attendingQueen’s College in the then British Guiana (now Guyana), where he became a champion debater and athlete, and then attending university on a scholarship at the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) in Jamaica, graduating in 1963 with a first-class degree in History, thereby winning the Faculty of Arts prize.

Rodney earned a PhD in African History in 1966 at the School of Oriental and African Studies inLondonEngland, at the age of 24. His dissertation, which focused on the slave trade on the Upper Guinea Coast, was published by the Oxford University Press in 1970 under the title A History of the Upper Guinea Coast 1545-1800 and was widely acclaimed for its originality in challenging the conventional wisdom on the topic.

Rodney traveled widely and became very well known internationally as an activistscholar and formidable orator. He taught at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania during the period 1966-67 and later in Jamaica at his alma mater UWI Mona. He was sharply critical of the middle class for its role in the post-independence Caribbean. He was also a strong critic of capitalismand argued for a socialist development template.[1]

On 15 October 1968 the government of Jamaica, led by prime minister Hugh Shearer, declared Rodney persona non grata. The decision to ban him from ever returning to Jamaica because of his advocacy for the working poor in that country caused riots to break out, eventually claiming the lives of several people and causing millions of dollars in damages. These riots, which started on 16 October 1968, are now known as the Rodney Riots, and they triggered an increase in political awareness across the Caribbean, especially among the Afrocentric Rastafarian sector of Jamaica, documented in his book The Groundings With My Brothers.

In 1969, Rodney returned to the University of Dar es Salaam, where he served as a Professor of History until 1974.[2]

Rodney became a prominent Pan-Africanist, and was important in the Black Power movement in the Caribbean and North America. While living in Dar es Salaam he was influential in developing a new centre of African learning and discussion.

Later years and assassination[edit]

In 1974 Rodney returned to Guyana from Tanzania. He was due to take up a position as a professor at the University of Guyana but the government prevented his appointment. He became increasingly active in politics, founding the Working People’s Alliance, a party that provided the most effective and credible opposition to the PNC government. In 1979 he was arrested and charged with arson after two government offices were burned.

On 13 June 1980, Walter Rodney at the age of thirty-eight was killed by a bomb in his car, a month after returning from the independence celebrations in Zimbabwe and during a period of intense political activism. He was survived by his wife, Pat, and three children. His brother, Donald Rodney, who was injured in the explosion, said that a sergeant in the Guyana Defence Force named Gregory Smith had given Walter the bomb that killed him. After the killing Smith fled to French Guiana, where he died in 2002.

It was, and is still widely believed – although technically hard to prove – that the assassination was a set-up by then President Linden Forbes Burnham.[3]“The grand betrayals of Walter Rodney”, Kaieteur News, 16 June 2012. Rodney’s ideas of the various ethnic groups who were all historically disenfranchised by the ruling colonial class, working together, was in conflict with Burnham’s maniacal need for control.[4]

Academic influence[edit]

“Rodney’s most influential book was his magnum opus, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, published in 1972. In it he described an Africa that had been consciously exploited by European imperialists, leading directly to the modern underdevelopment of most of the continent. The book became enormously influential as well as controversial. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was groundbreaking in that it was among the first to bring a new perspective to the question of underdevelopment in Africa. Rodney’s analysis went far beyond the heretofore accepted approach in the study of Third World underdevelopment.

“Instead of being interested primarily in the inter-relations of African trade and politics, as many of us were at that time, Walter Rodney focused his attention on the agricultural basis of African communities, on the productive forces within them and on the processes of social differentiation. As a result, his research raised a whole set of fresh questions concerning the nature of African social institutions on the Upper Guinea coast in the sixteenth century and of the impact of the Atlantic slave trade. In doing so, he helped to open up a new dimension. Almost immediately he stimulated much further writing and research on West Africa, and he initiated a debate, which still continues and now extends across the whole range of African history. When teaching at the Universities of Dar es Salaam and the West Indies, he launched and sustained a large number of discussion groups which swept up and embraced many who had had little or no formal education. As a writer, he reached out to contact thousands in The Groundings with my Brothers (1969) and in his influential How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972).” — Remarks by Professor John Richard Gray, History Today, Vol. 49, Issue 9, 1980.

“When we think of Walter Rodney as a Revolutionary Scholar we are talking about two things, Radical Scholar and his revolutionary contribution to the study of History ie. History of Africa. Walter Rodney was a pioneering scholar who provided new answers to old questions and posed new questions in relation to the study of Africa.” — Remarks by Professor Winston McGowan at the Walter Rodney Commemorative Symposium held at York College, USA, in June 2010.

“Walter Rodney was no captive intellectual playing to the gallery of local or international radicalism. He was clearly one of the most solidly ideologically situated intellectuals ever to look colonialism and its contemporary, heir black opportunism and exploitation, in the eye” — Remarks by Wole Soyinka, Oduduwa Hall, University of Ife, Nigeria, Friday, June 27, 1980.


Rodney’s death was commemorated in a poem by Martin Carter entitled “For Walter Rodney,” by the dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson in “Reggae fi Radni,” and by Kamau Brathwaite in his poem “Poem for Walter Rodney” (Elegguas, 2010).

In 1977, the African Studies Centre, Boston University, inaugurated the Walter Rodney Lecture Series.

In 1982,the American Historical Association posthumously awarded Walter Rodney the Albert J. Beveridge Award for A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881-1905.

In 1984, the Centre for Caribbean Studies of the University of Warwick established the Walter Rodney Memorial Lecture in recognition of the life and work of one of the most outstanding scholar-activists of the Black Diaspora in the post-World War II era.

In 1993, the Guyanese government posthumously awarded Walter Rodney Guyana’s highest honour, the Order of Excellence of Guyana. The Guyanese government also established the Walter Rodney Chair in History at the University of Guyana.

In 1998, the Institute of Caribbean Studies, University of the West Indies, inaugurated the Walter Rodney Lecture Series.

In 2004, Walter Rodney`s widow, Patricia, and his children donated his papers to the Robert L. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center. Since 2004, an annual Walter Rodney Symposium has been held each 23 March (Rodney’s birthday) at the Center under the sponsorship of the Library and the Political Science Department of Clark Atlanta University, and under the patronage of the Rodney family.

In 2005, the London Borough of Southwark erected a plaque in the Peckham Library Square in commemoration of Dr. Walter Rodney, the political activist, historian and global freedom fighter.

Rodney is the subject of the 2010 documentary film by Clairmont Chung, W.A.R. Stories: Walter Anthony Rodney.[5]

The Walter Rodney Close in the London Borough of Newham has been named in the memory of Dr Walter Rodney.


  • Walter Rodney Speaks: the Making of an African Intellectual (1990)
  • A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881-1905 (1981)
  • Marx in the Liberation of Africa (1981)
  • Guyanese Sugar Plantations in the Late Nineteenth Century: a Contemporary Description from the “Argosy” (1979)
  • World War II and the Tanzanian Economy (1976)
  • How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972)
  • A History of the Upper Guinea Coast (1970)
  • The Groundings with my Brothers (1969)
  • Kofi Baadu Out of Africa (children’s book) Georgetown, [Guyana]: [s.n.]
  • Lakshmi Out of India (children’s book) Georgetown, Guyana: The Guyana Book Foundation, 2000.

Further reading[edit]

  • “And finally they killed him”: speeches and poems at a memorial rally for Walter Rodney, 1942-80, Oduduwa Hall, University of Ife, Nigeria, Friday, 27 June 1980.
  • Walter Rodney: Revolutionary and Scholar: A Tribute. Los Angeles: Center for African-American Studies and African Studies Center, University of California, 1982.
  • Alpers, Edward A. and P. M. Fontaine (eds), Walter Rodney, Poetic Tributes. London: Bogle-L’Ouverture, 1985.
  • Campbell, Horace. Rasta and Resistance: From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1985.
  • Gabriehu. Dangerous Times: The Assassination of Dr. Walter Rodney. Brooklyn, NY: Gibbi Books, 2003.
  • Lewis, Rupert. Walter Rodney`s Intellectual and Political Thought, Wayne State University Press, 1998
  • Lewis, Rupert. Walter Rodney: 1968 Revisited

Chung, Clairmont: A Promise of Revolution, Monthly Review Press, 2013


External links[edit]


March 23, 1942 – June 13, 1980

Walter Rodney


Born to a working class family, Rodney was a bright student, attending Queen’s College in Guyana and then attending university on a scholarship at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, graduating in 1963.

Rodney earned his PhD in 1966 at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, England. His dissertation focused on the slave trade on the upper Guinea coast. The paper was published in 1970 under the name, A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800 and it was widely acclaimed for its originality in challenging the conventional wisdom on the area.

He travelled widely and became very well known around the world as an activist and scholar. He taught for a time in Tanzania after graduating, and later in Jamaica at his alma mater – UWI Mona. Rodney was sharply critical of the middle class for its role in the post-independence Caribbean. When the Jamaican government, led by Hugh Shearer, banned him from ever returning to the country in October 1968, because of his advocacy of the working poor in that country, riots broke out, eventually claiming the lives of several people and causing millions of dollars in damages. These riots, on October 16, 1968 are now known as the Rodney Riots, and they triggered an increase in political awareness across the Caribbean especially among the Afrocentric Rastafarian sector of Jamaica, documented in his book “The groundings with my brothers.”

Rodney became a prominent Pan-Africanist, and was important in the Black Power movement in the Caribbean and North america. While living in Dar es Salaam he was influential in developing a new centre of African learning and discussion.

His most influential book was How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, published in 1972. In it he attempted and succeeded to portray an Africa which had been consciously exploited by European imperialists, leading directly to the modern underdevelopment of most of the continent. The book became enormously influential as well as controversial. In recent years the book has become discredited by some because of its perceived idealization of pre-colonial Africa.

In 1974 Rodney returned to Guyana from Tanzania. He was supposed to take a position as a professor at the University of Guyana but the government prevented his appointment. He became increasingly active in politics, forming the Working People’s Alliance, against the PNC government. In 1979 he was arrested and charged with arson after two government offices were burned.

Rodney was killed in a bomb explosion while running for office in Guyanese elections. The bomb was disguised as a two way radio transmitter and was planted by an agent of President Forbes Burnham The perpetrator secretly fled to Suriname thus avoiding prosecution. Rodney was survived by his wife Pat and three children.

In 2004, his widow, Patricia, and children donated his papers to the Robert L. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center


Walter Rodney was born in Georgetown, Guyana on March 23, 1942. His was a working class family-his father was a tailor and his mother a seamstress. After attending primary school, he won an open exhibition scholarship to attend Queens College as one of the early working-class beneficiaries of concessions made in the filed of education by the ruling class in Guyana to the new nationalism that gripped the country in the early 1950s.

While at Queens College young Rodney excelled academically, as well as in the fields of athletics and debating. In 1960, he won an open scholarship to further his studies at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. He graduated with a first-class honors degree in history in 1963 and. he won an open scholarship to the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. In 1966, at the age of 24 he was awarded a Ph.D. with honors in African History.

His doctoral research on slavery on the Upper Guinea Coast was the result of long meticulous work on the records of Portuguese merchants both in England and in Portugal. In the process he learned Portuguese and Spanish which along with the French he had learned at Queens College made him somewhat of a linguist.

In 1970, his Ph.D dissertation was published by Oxford University Press under the title, A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800. This work was to set a trend for Rodney in both challenging the assumptions of western historians about African history and setting new standards for looking at the history of oppressed peoples. According to Horace Campbell “This work was path-breaking in the way in which it analyzed the impact of slavery on the communities and the interrelationship between societies of the region and on the ecology of the region.”

Walter took up his first teaching appointment in Tanzania before returning to his alma mater, the University of the West Indies, in 1968. This was a period of great political activity in the Caribbean as the countries begun their post colonial journey. But it was the Black Power Movement that caught Walter’s imagination.

Some new voices had begun to question the direction of the post-independence governments, in particular their attitude to the plight of the downpressed. The issue of empowerment for the black and brown poor of the region was being debated among the progressive intellectuals. Rodney, who from very early on had rejected the authoritarian role of the middle class political elite in the Caribbean, was central to this debate. He, however, did not confine his activities to the university campus. He took his message of Black Liberation to the gullies of Jamaica. In particular he shared his knowledge of African history with one of the most rejected section of the Jamaican society-the Rastafarians.

Walter had shown an interest in political activism ever since he was a student in Jamaica and England. Horace Campbell reports that while at UWI Walter “was active in student politics and campaigned extensively in 1961 in the Jamaica Referendum on the West Indian Federation.” While studying in London, Walter participated in discussion circles, spoke at the famous Hyde Park and, participated in a symposium on Guyana in 1965. It was during this period that Walter came into contact with the legendary CLR James and was one of his most devoted students.

By the summer of 1968 Rodney’s “groundings with the working poor of Jamaica had begun to attract the attention of the government. So, when he attended a Black Writers’ Conference in Montreal, Canada, in October 1968, the Hugh Shearer-led Jamaican Labor Party Government banned him from re-entering the country. This action sparked widespread riots and revolts in Kingston in which several people were killed and injured by the police and security forces, and millions of dollars worth of property destroyed.. Rodney’s encounters with the Rastafarians were published in a pamphlet entitled “Grounding with My Brothers,” that became a bible for the Caribbean Black Power Movement.

Having been expelled from Jamaica, Walter returned to Tanzania after a short stay in Cuba.. There he lectured from 1968 to 1974 and continued his groundings in Tanzania and other parts of Africa. This was the period of the African liberation struggles and Walter, who fervently believed that the intellectual should make his or her skills available for the struggles and emancipation of the people, became deeply involved.. It was from partly from these activities that his second major work, and his best known –How Europe Underdeveloped Africa – emerged. It was published by Bogle-L’Ouverture, in London, in conjunction with Tanzanian Publishing House in 1972.

This Tanzanian period was perhaps the most important in the formation of Rodney’s ideas. According to Horace Campbell “Here he was at the forefront of establishing an intellectual tradition which still today makes Dar es Salaam one of the centers of discussion of African politics and history. Out of he dialogue, discussions and study groups he deepened the Marxist tradition with respect to African politics, class struggle, the race question, African history and the role of the exploited in social change. It was within the context of these discussions that the book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was written.”

Campbell also reports that ” In he same period, he wrote the critical articles on Tanzanian Ujamaa, imperialism, on underdevelopment, and the problems of state and class formation in Africa. Many of his articles which were written in Tanzania appeared in Maji Maji, the discussion journal of the TANU Youth League at the University. He worked in the Tanzanian archives on the question of forced labor, the policing of the countryside and the colonial economy. This work– ” World War II and the Tanzanian Economy”– was later published as a monograph by Cornell University in 1976″.

Rodney also developed a reputation as a Pan-Africanist theoretician and spokes person. Campbell says that “In Tanzania he developed close political relationships with those who were struggling to change the external control of Africa He was very close to some of the leaders of liberation movements in Africa and also to political leaders of popular organizations of independent territories. Together with other Pan-Africanists he participated in discussing leading up to the Sixth Pan-African Congress, held in Tanzania, 1974. Before the Congress he wrote a piece: “Towards the Sixth Pan-African Congress: Aspects of the International Class Struggle in Africa, the Caribbean and America.”

In 1974, Walter returned to Guyana to take up an appointment as Professor of History at the University of Guyana, but the government rescinded the appointment. But Rodney remained in Guyana, joined the newly formed political group, the Working People’s Alliance. Between 1974 and his assassination in 1980, he emerged as the leading figure in the resistance movement against the increasingly authoritarian PNC government. He give public and private talks all over the country that served to engender a new political consciousness in the country. During this period he developed his ideas on the self emancipation of the working people, People’s Power, and multiracial democracy.

On July 11, 1979, Walter, together with seven others, was arrested following the burning down of two government offices. He, along with Drs Rupert Roopnarine and Omawale, was later charged with arson. From that period up to the time of his murder, he was constantly persecuted and harassed and at least on one occasion, an attempt was made to kill him. Finally, on the evening of June 13, 1980, he was assassinated by a bomb in the middle of Georgetown..

Walter was married to Dr Patricia Rodney and the union bore three children- Shaka, Kanini and Asha.


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