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Zombie Land or Trapped on Plantation SVG!

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Last Monday, June 13 marked 36 years since the assassination of Walter Rodney, renowned Guyanese historian and political activist. His death, it is believed, was instigated by the ruling regime of that time and still remains a talking point among Guyanes Since C.L.R James, no other Caribbean intellectual and activist has had the kind of impact worldwide and in the region that Walter Rodney had. His death signalled the end of an era that for the region culminated with the 1983 invasion of Grenada by the US. Rodney challenged traditional thinking on the slave trade with his History of the Upper Guinea Coast and upset Euro-centric thinkers with How Europe underdeveloped Africa.{{more}} Their scholars battled to combat his ideas but Rodney stood his ground. Two remarks made by Rodney profoundly influenced my thinking. He drew attention to the many Caribbean young men seen liming at the street corners, regarded as useless but who in the 1950s and 60s went to Britain and took control of the British transit system. As I look at some of our unemployed and semi-employed I remember Rodney. I have come across young men and more so, women, plying their trade as hucksters or higglers who impress me as persons with entrepreneurial spirit and skills but with need for training and a more accommodating environment. Barbadians are commonly referred to as very conservative and Barbados as ‘Little England’. Rodney challenged our thinking on this as he noted that Barbadians were among the leaders of many revolts and disturbances throughout the Caribbean. This is true in SVG. To use one example, Barbadians were among the leaders of the 1862 revolt that preceded the more celebrated 1865 Montego Bay Uprising in Jamaica.

Rodney challenged the establishment in Jamaica, Guyana and in countries in Africa at whose Universities he worked. When he took up employment at UWI in Jamaica he began grounding with ordinary Jamaicans, helping them to understand the forces that were entrapping them. The Jamaican government took advantage of his attendance at a Black Writers Conference in Canada to prevent him from returning. In Guyana, the government blocked him from taking up a position as Chair of the History Department at the University of Guyana. Rodney continued to do his historical work producing another fine piece of work, History of the Guyanese Working People. But he became more heavily involved as a political activist and frightened the government by his ability to bring together the Black (African) and Indian peoples in a country where the political players benefitted from their division. Hence his ‘untimely death’!

The banning of Rodney from Jamaica was at a time when the Civil Rights Movement had transformed itself into the Black Power Movement. Of significance for us, too, was the Sir George Williams Affair in Canada in 1969 – a revolt by black students who felt that they were being discriminated against, Vincentians being among them. This along with the banning of Rodney helped to galvanise Caribbean young people. Add to this the Black Power Movement, the term ‘Black Power’ being popularised by Trinidad born Stokeley Carmichael (Kwame Ture).

The events in North America to which should be added the protest against the Vietnam War seriously impacted on Caribbean thinking and actions and motivated the young people. Different black power groups were formed here, along with groups like the Educational Forum of the People and later the United Peoples Movement. The era of the 1970s and 80s was one of immense optimism in the region. Caribbean thinkers believed that there was a Caribbean way and that we did not have to wed ourselves to the Capitalist or Communist systems. A number of leading Caribbean persons emerged out of this period. This was a period too, when the islands of the Eastern Caribbean were beginning their march to Independence. We recovered ours in 1979, a year that saw the eruption of the Soufriere in April and the uprising in Union Island following the December elections. It is good to know that Marslyn Lewis has undertaken the task of telling the story of those who were involved in the rebellion, foremost among them being Lennox ‘Bumba’ Charles now resident in England.

March 13, 1979 was a time that will long be remembered. It was the time of the Grenada Revolution and the fall of the Gairy Government. Sparrow, dubbed the Calypso King of the World, through his calypso ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ highlighted the significance of the year 1979 that saw the downfall of those he considered tyrants, among them Gairy and Amin, touching, too, on political developments in Iran and South Africa. The Grenada Revolution imploded after 4 years and provided an opportunity in 1983 for Ronald Reagan to rid himself of what he considered a threat to his backyard. This was a turning point. Caribbean people lost hope and surrendered to Reagan’s dictates. Caribbean thinking that was so optimistic about the future of the Caribbean began to suffocate. Some political activists sought refuge with the political establishment. The aspirations of the new ‘Independent’ countries became strangled. Today we still feel the effects. The Caribbean Single Market and Economy has become a nightmare and in SVG we operate like zombies or perhaps persons trapped on plantation SVG.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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