Remembering Walter Rodney


Walter Rodney (1942-1980) was a Guyanese political activist and historian. He was assassinated on June 13, 1980 IMAGE/Pan African Alliance

I grew up in the eastern region of Tanzania, where I did my primary school. All my secondary school I did in Dar es Salaam—actually, living in this very apartment. So I grew up here. Then in 1966 I completed my high school, and in 1967 I joined the university. At that time it was the University College, Dar es Salaam, because it was part of the University of East Africa. Nineteen Sixty-Seven was an important year because the year before there had been a student demonstration that opposed the government’s proposal to start National Service, which was mandatory for university students. You had to spend about five months in the camps, and for the next eighteen months 40 percent of your salary would be deducted. Students opposed it. The president, Julius Nyerere, “sent them down”: expelled them for a year.

That started a whole rethinking about the university, and there was a big conference on the role of the university. Then in February 1967 came the Arusha Declaration.1 The ruling party, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), issued the Arusha Declaration and a policy of socialism and self-reliance. Our word in Kiswahili, Ujamaa (translated as extended family or familyhood), became the official policy. A number of companies in the commanding heights of the national economy were nationalized by the government. That started a whole new debate at the university.

Walter Rodney had just come from SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London) and became a young lecturer here.2 In the conference on rethinking the role of the university in now socialist Tanzania, he played a very important role. So, when I joined the university in July 1967, it was a campus with lots of discussions and debates in which Rodney participated. So that’s my background. From 1967 to 1970, I did my Bachelor of Laws degree in the Faculty of Law. I went to England in 1970 to do my master’s, came back in 1971, and from ’71 to ’72 I did my National Service. Since then, I have been at the university and participated in the various debates and writings.

In 2006, I retired from the Faculty of Law because we have a statutory retirement age of sixty. But I was appointed the Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Chair in Pan-African Studies. It’s newly established and I am the first holder of that Chair. So I am back at the university.

I can’t recall if Walter came before or after the demonstrations, but he certainly participated in the discussion that followed after the 1966 expulsion and after the Arusha Declaration. After the Declaration, in ’67, ’68, there was a small group of people called the Socialist Club in which Malawians, Ugandans, Ethiopians, and many other students were involved. The Socialist Club was transformed into the University Students African Revolutionary Front (USARF). It was all the initiative of students, not the faculty. Walter was one of the few young faculty involved, but purely within a relationship of equality. There was no professor and student there.

The students were very militant, and the Revolutionary Front, in which I was a member, was led by the chairman, Yuweri Museveni, who is now the president of Uganda, and a number of other comrades were involved in the leadership. Then in 1968 we established the organ of the USARF, which was called Cheche. This was a Cyclostyled student journal containing many militant articles and analyses of not only Tanzania but the world situation and the role of young people in the African revolution. In the first issue, Rodney had an article. He wrote something on labor. I too had an article, called “Educated Barbarians.” This was our first issue. It actually became, we realized only later, a very important journal circulated as far as the United States. There were some study groups anxiously waiting for the journal to come out. The third issue was a special issue called “The Silent Class Struggle.” This was a long essay, written by me, which basically argued that we should not judge socialism simply by listening to what people say, what leaders say, but by what is actually happening in reality: What are the relations of production being created and the class interests involved? So, we worked on the whole question of the development of class and which class is the agency for building socialism. The issue that followed carried commentary on my long essay. One of the comments was by Walter Rodney, and after that the journal was banned and the organization deregistered.

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