Sat | Sep 22, 2018

Walter Rodney, the trigger of transformation

Published:Monday | September 3, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Rodney ... UWI should be both an excellent and ethical university.

The transition of the University of the West Indies (UWI) from its colonial footing to nationalist rooting took place within the context of the crisis known as the 'Rodney Affair'. The time had come for the region to find intellectual confidence in order to decolonise its academic culture.

The internal UWI dialogue was keen and deliberate.

The New World Group, as the progressives were called, saw in the classroom the fulfilment of their cause. Rodney, however, it was said, seemed more committed with the community than the classroom as the centre of gravity of the rupture.

Rodney was one of the university's best and brightest. Graduating in 1963 with first-class honours in history, he went on to London University, the ancestral home of The UWI, to pursue a PhD in African history.

At 24, he had succeeded.

His reputation as an activist scholar grew immensely on a global scale, and by the time he returned to Mona as a lecturer, his commitment to popular struggle for grass-roots justice had matured.

Taking African history to the African community in Jamaica, the Caribbean, and the wider Diaspora resulted in a political crisis within the immediate post-colonial Caribbean.

On October, 15, 1968, the Government of Jamaica declared him persona non grata.

The decision to ban him caused protest and rebellion within the student body at the Mona campus, and beyond, including large sections of the working-class inner-city communities.

Deaths resulted as people clashed with army and police.

The UWI was never to be the same.

The Rodney Rebellion constituted a watershed in the development of the university's sense of self and sensibility.

The decolonisation of its programmes and policies accelerated. The UWI was pushed away from its colonial infrastructure. The modern university, to a large extent, was forged within the bosom of the eruption. Rodney gave of his best - a legacy of brilliant scholarship and an unparalleled commitment to marginalised communities.

His vision was clear: The UWI should be both an excellent and ethical university.