He’s a bit frail now and he moves slowly, which should be expected of an 87-year-old.
Despite his advanced age, however, dreadlocked Pan Africanist Eusi Kwayana is lucid and his mind very sharp, as is evident during his current visit to Toronto to reconnect with relatives and promote his Walter Rodney writings of nearly three decades ago that was published in 2010.
Walter Rodney: His Last Days and Campaigns, was published by British-based, Guyanese-born journalist, Robert Lalljie, to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the death of the scholar and political activist in June 1980 at age 38.
Historian Dr. Clem Seecharan wrote the introduction and foreword for the book that contains rare photographs and a comprehensive record of Rodney’s last days in Guyana.
“This book is built around something I wrote in the 1980s of which there were two editions in Guyana published by the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) and the Catholic Standard,” said Kwayana, who has been living in San Diego with his family for the last decade. “For some unknown reason, it just disappeared. About two years ago, Lalljie called me from England and asked if he could publish it. I gave him the go-ahead and he got Clem involved in the project which I was very happy about because I have a lot of respect for him and what he is trying to do.”
On his return to Guyana in 1974 after working as a History professor at Tanzania’s University of Dar es Salaam for five years, Rodney joined the WPA, which Kwayana had founded the same year.
The alliance – which comprised the Indian People’s Revolutionary Associates, the Working People’s Vanguard Party, the leftist radical group RATOON and the Kwayana-cofounded African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA) — became a political party in 1979.
“I did not know Walter then in the same way that people like Clive Thomas, Rupert Roopnarine and Andaiye because we are of different generations,” said Kwayana who founded County High School in Buxton.
“I did not know him in his youth, but I knew him very well politically. What is remarkable about his legacy is that his efforts in shaping political culture in a way that was sustainable for all communities in Guyana came after the country had been torn apart by ethnic violence. It’s not easy to bring a people together after such an experience but he was at the centre of that kind of healing.”
Rodney earned his doctorate at 24. His dissertation on the slave trade in the Upper Guinea Coast was widely acclaimed and he travelled extensively and became a well-known activist, scholar and orator. His book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, was ground-breaking in that it was among the first to bring a new perspective to the question of underdevelopment in Africa.
Despite his accomplishments and cutting-edge work, Rodney did not receive the same appreciation in his birthplace as he did in other parts of the world.
“In Guyana, his scholarship has never been recognized and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was never embraced,” said Kwayana. “Walter came back to teach in Guyana and that did not happen. People in Guyana view him as a controversial figure. They are either for or against him, but even those who are against him recognize his merit.”
A teacher by profession, Kwayana was a founding member of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), serving as executive committee member, assistant secretary and Minister of Labour for six months in Guyana’s first elected government. He also held the Minister of Communications & Works portfolio and wrote the lyrics for the PPP party song, “Oh Fighting Men”.
He was also a member of the executive committee, first vice-chairman and general secretary of the People’s National Congress (PNC) and the editor of the party’s newspaper, New Nation.
Even though he has been associated with the establishment of several political entities and community organizations, Kwayana said he was never interested in being the head.
“I was always elected or chosen,” he said. “My interest is in working. For me, leadership is about bringing ideas to the table that can uplift people and you don’t have to be the president or head of an organization to do that.”
Kwayana has not returned to Guyana since leaving in 2002 to be with his family in the United States. He and his wife, Tchaiko, have been married since 1971 and they have three children. His American-born spouse taught in Guyana for several years before returning to the U.S. in 1982. She’s a community activist and English teacher at Point Loma High School in California.
Kwayana maintains he left Guyana on his own terms at the height of violent criminal activity in certain parts of the country.
“I was not forced to leave Guyana because I was threatened,” he said. “The village where I lived (Buxton) had been overtaken by opportunists with weapons. I felt Buxton was chosen for the hostilities and the violence because it had a reputation and also because I lived there. Fingers were being pointed in my direction as if I had something to do with it and I had to separate myself from what was taking place even though I publicly denounced the violence and called on those responsible to put their weapons down.
“After consulting with people on the ground who I trust, I concluded there was no point in returning. There is nothing I can do there right now.”
Kwayana says his days are filled and he enjoys spending quality time with his family.
“I was away from them for so many years and they were the ones sustaining me,” he said. “I was never really the breadwinner. My wife has a lot of courage and strength and I am just happy to be with her now. These days, I help out in the house and I am involved in some local activities in my community. I also spend a lot of time in front of the computer.”
Kwayana, who last visited the Greater Toronto Area in 2001 for a family funeral, will deliver a lecture tomorrow night at the University of Toronto’s Wilson Hall, 40 Willcocks St.
The event, which starts at 6 p.m., is co-sponsored by the U of T Caribbean Studies program and the Guyana-Canada Forum.
BY RON FANFAIR