Rodney earned his Ph. D at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, England. He travelled widely and became very well known around the world as an activist and scholar. When the Jamaican government banned him from ever returning to the country, because of his advocacy of the working poor in that country, riots broke out, eventually claiming the lives of several people and causing millions of dollars in damages.
Rodney became a prominent Pan-Africanist, and was important in Black Power movement in the Caribbean.
His most influential book was How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. In it he attempted to portray an Africa which had been consciously exploited by European imperialists, leading directly to the modern underdevelopment of most of the continent. The book became enormously influential as well as controversial. In recent years the book has become partially discredited because of its perceived idealization of pre-colonial Africa.
Rodney was assassinated in 1980 while running for office in Guyanese elections.