STATEMENT BY THE HONOURABLE MOHABIR ANIL NANDLALL SC MP, ATTORNEY GENERAL AND MINISTER OF LEGAL AFFAIRS, DELIVERED TO THE 28TH SITTING OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF THE 12TH PARLIAMENT OF GUYANA, HELD ON 10TH OF JUNE, 2021
13th of June, 2021, will mark the 41st death anniversary of Dr. Walter Rodney. His wife Dr. Patricia Rodney and children, Shaka Rodney, Kanini Rodney-Phillips MD and Asha T. Rodney Esq. have requested the assistance of His Excellency, President Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali and the Government of Guyana to formally honor the life, legacy and contribution of Dr. Rodney to Guyana and to finally set the public record straight in relation to certain matters surrounding his tragic death.
Today, the privilege is mine to announce that His Excellency, the President and the Government of Guyana have acceded to this request as part of the historic step of bringing a level of closure to the Rodney family with respect to the death of Dr. Walter Rodney. This is a momentous occasion, for many reasons and it is also a personal privilege for me and indeed, all of us, to be part of a process to right this tragic wrong and to begin the process of the rectification of the historical record.
Walter Anthony Rodney, was only 38 years old, and a leader of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), when he was killed in a bomb blast on June 13, 1980. As per the Forbes Burnham PNC government, Rodney intended to blow up the Georgetown Prisons but the bomb was accidentally detonated. The Rodney family, and Donald Rodney, Walter Rodney’s brother, who was in the car at the time with Walter when the bomb exploded, have vehemently and consistently opposed this narrative for 41, long years.
The news of Dr. Rodney’s tragic death sent shock tremors to the conscience of Guyanese, West Indians, Americans, Europeans, Africans and indeed people, the world over. To say that Dr. Rodney’s death and ensuing events in relation thereto, were a horrendous miscarriage of justice, would be an appalling understatement. The self-evident truth is that when wrongs of such magnitude occur, they can never really be righted. The least that can be done in this instance is to attempt to grant the wishes of the loved ones of Dr. Rodney and to work with them in bringing these wishes to fruition, as they attempt to forge their own closure in relation to this horrific tragedy.
On the 8th day of February, 2014, a Commission of Inquiry was appointed by President Donald Ramotar, to inquire into and report on, the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr. Rodney. The Report of that Commission of Inquiry was tabled in this House under the APNU/AFC Government in 2016. A Motion was tabled in this House shortly thereafter, by the Honorable Gail Teixeira, then Opposition Member of Parliament of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic, calling upon the Government to implement the recommendations of that Report. That Motion was voted down by the then Government.
This Government hereby commits to move another Motion in this house shortly, seeking the approval of that Report by this House and a resolution that the recommendations contained therein be approved.
An Inquest was conducted 8 years after Dr. Rodney’s death and the Findings were that Dr. Rodney died by “misadventure”. This inquest was reviewed by the 2014 Commission of Inquiry and found to be incredible, flawed and dubious. Steps will be taken to invalidate or set aside the perverse findings of that inquest.
Although this son of Guyana was known and respected throughout the world for his academic accomplishments, scholarship and activism, his death certificate described him as “unemployed’’, as he was denied a job at his country’s only University after working at Universities across the globe. This historical wrong will be corrected and that death certificate will be corrected to read ‘’Professor’’ instead of “unemployed.’’
We have already begun and will continue our efforts to secure the record of the 2014 Commission of Inquiry. Those records will be digitized by our National Archives, recently renamed the Walter Rodney National Archives, in collaboration with the Walter Rodney Foundation and the Atlanta University Center – Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta, Georgia, and copies of the same will be housed at that institution as part of the Walter Rodney Papers and Special Collection.
The Rodney Gravesite & Memorial are currently being managed collaboratively between the Rodney Family and the National Trust. Today, I am proud to announce that they will be declared National Monuments and fall under the administration of The National Trust.
One of the greatest tragedies flowing from Dr. Rodney’s death, is the loss of his scholarship to the people of Guyana. His children’s books that celebrate the cultural heritage of Guyanese, Kofi Baadu: Out of Africa and Lakshmi: Out of India, shall be placed on the national syllabus by the Ministry of Education and in the hands of primary and secondary school students across this land. Additionally, his other major works, including, A History of the Guyanese Working People, Guyanese Sugar Plantations in the late Nineteenth Century, and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, shall be made available to the library of the University of Guyana.
The Walter Rodney Chair at the University of Guyana will be reestablished.
It is common knowledge that Donald Rodney was in the car with Dr. Walter Rodney on that fateful evening, and is also a victim of this tragedy. This included a perverse conviction by a Magistrate Court, the burden of which Donald Rodney carried for the past forty-one (41) years. Fortuitously, only recently, the Court of Appeal of Guyana set aside his conviction.
Every effort will be made to remove and expunge all public records that intimate any level of guilt or wrongdoing by Dr. Walter Rodney in relation to the June 13th 1980 tragedy.
For too long, Dr. Walter Rodney’s death has been the subject of an irreverent misdescription. It was not a misadventure. It was an assassination. A great stain on our Republic. This sadistic misrepresentation on Dr. Rodney’s death certificate, prevented his family from recovering not a blind cent from his life insurance policy, the only financial provision he had made for his family, his wife and three infant children. This desecration must end now. His death certificate will be amended to delete the words ‘’misadventure’’ as the cause of death and substitute therefor, the word ‘’assassination’’.
In this regard, it is apposite that I refer to the findings of the Commissioners in their Report in the 2014 Commission of Inquiry. They stated:
“We have no hesitation in holding that Gregory Smith was responsible for Dr. Walter Rodney’s death on 13 June, 1980, and that in so doing, he was acting as an agent of the State having been aided and abetted so to do, by individuals holding positions of leadership in State agencies and committed to carrying out the wishes of the PNC Administration.”
One of the key findings was stark. “Dr. Walter Rodney was a man of large and significant stature both in Guyana and beyond, at the time of his death. He could only have been killed in what we find to be a State organized assassination with the knowledge of Prime Minister Burnham in the Guyana of that period.”
In all democratic societies there are fundamental laws by which the civil rights of citizens are acknowledged, recognized and protected. Our Constitution, as it did in 1980, sets out those fundamental rights, freedoms and protection. They include, the right to life and provisions to secure the protection of law. Dr. Rodney was denied these basic, inalienable but fundamental human rights.
Expectedly, Dr. Rodney’s death has had a life-long and lasting impact on the Rodney Family, Donald Rodney, and indeed, on Guyana. As such, the Government of Guyana adopt these measures as simply the right thing to do.
As Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, and on behalf of the President, His Excellency Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali and indeed the Government of Guyana, I join with the people of Guyana in expressing sorrow to his widow Dr. Patricia Rodney, and to their three children, Shaka Rodney, Kanini Rodney-Phillips, M.D., and Asha T. Rodney, Esq., and to his brother, Donald Rodney. I have personally spoken with them to convey the Government’s position on this matter.