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by Dr. Kean Gibson
Posted on 2013-05-04

To: Professor J. Wardrop, Editor – H-Net SAfrica

I am a Guyanese who has lived and worked in the Caribbean – Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados – and I was very surprised by Professor Horace Campbell’s request for the Oliver Tambor award not to be given to Forbes Burnham because the latter allegedly assassinated Walter Rodney. It appears that the South African government has given credence to this allegation and the award was not given. Both sides needed to be heard on this issue. In ordinary language this is known as “fairness”.
Firstly, to say that there has never been an investigation into the death of Rodney needs to be examined. Burnham brought forensic experts to Guyana and their report concluded that Rodney died by “misadventure.” Soon after Desmond Hoyte became President in 1985, Magistrate Pratt conducted an enquiry and concluded that there was nothing specific on what killed Rodney. During the general election campaign of 1992 Cheddi Jagan’s PPP promised to hold an enquiry into the death of Rodney. Nothing happened until Rodney’s son, Shaka, held a vigil outside of the Attorney General’s office that forced the PPP into examining once again how Rodney lost his life. As I recall, experts were called in, and the French government stated that they would not extradite Gregory Smith from French Guiana if he would be subject to capital punishment. There was another hiatus and in 2005 the PPP brought a resolution to Parliament for an enquiry into the “assassination” of Rodney. The opposition PNC called for an enquiry into the “death” and not “assassination” of Rodney since the latter term makes certain assumptions. The PPP then voted against their own resolution.
A peculiar point Campbell made is that “the Burnham forces in the Caribbean have been working very hard to discredit the ideas and life of Walter Rodney…”. I think Professor Campbell will need to name these Burnham forces and times and places that the discrediting of Rodney’s ideas and life has been taking place. I do not know about them.
Professor Campbell’s made the statement that Burnham was working with French colonialism. On the contrary, in 1982 or 1983, Francois Mitterand cancelled a visit by Burnham to Paris because he believed that Burnham was assisting the anticolonial forces in French Guiana, Guadeloupe and Martinique.
I think Professor Campbell needs to move away from the belief that Rodney is innocent of any kind of illegal activity. Rupert Roopnarine, one of Rodney’s colleagues in the WPA, has gone on record as saying that the WPA was planning to overthrow the Burnham government by violent means. Is Campbell saying that governments in the Caribbean must be changed by violence and not by constitutional means?
And the irony is that the Rodney founded political party, the Working People’s Alliance joined with the Burnham founded People’s National Congress to fight the 2011 general elections in Guyana, and they are sitting together as one in Parliament. Please note that there has been no public statement by the WPA saying that they support the petition. The WPA has a matured outlook on Burnham’s legacy and his vision for Guyana.
It seems that Professor Campbell, who is a Jamaican living in the USA, has decided to (re)write Guyanese history for us and may be out of touch with what is taking place in Guyana. I paste a couple of links below on Burnham’s contribution to South Africa, and an Editorial on how some Guyanese view Professor Campbell’s assertions on Guyanese history.

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