Reparation lobby misleading West Indians and Africans

| November 13, 2015 | 0 Comments

Soufriere_and_the_Pitons_St._Lucia_West_IndiesOpinion by Michael A. Dingwall

As a person who lives in the West Indies, I was left completely embarrassed by the hostile reception that our reparations lobby gave to the British Prime Minister when he visited Jamaica recently.  I am still at a loss as to why supposedly intelligent people would try to give the world the impression that most of us West Indians and Africans support this call for reparations.

First, the reparations lobby would want us to believe that slavery in the West Indies and Africa was a crime during its time.  This is not true. That lobby continues to base this claim on a British court case in the 1700s.  While slave ownership was declared a crime in England in that famous Sumersett case, it did not do so for the colonies. Also, the institution of slavery was never declared a crime in that case.  The demand for reparations therefore breaks a fundamental legal principle, in that no-one can be convicted of a crime for an action that was not a crime at the time it was committed.

The reparations lobby has been trying to generate support for their cause by highlighting the fact that slavery is now regarded as entirely unacceptable. They are careful not to point out that most of the laws on human rights are of relatively recent origin, and that we cannot judge people who lived over two centuries ago by today’s norms.

Second, the reparation lobby is careful to focus only on the UK and other European nations. Why do they ignore the biggest African slave trade in history? This was not the Atlantic trade, but the internal trade. About 15 million people were enslaved by other Africans, and never left Africa. And, unlike the other slave trades, the internal African trade continues to this day.

So why does the reparation lobby not speak out against the active slave trade in Africa today? The act of owning slaves did not even become a crime in Mauritania until 2007, and a number of other countries, such as Chad, also had legal slavery until recently. Slavery is still widespread in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan, as well as parts of Ghana, Benin, Togo, Nigeria and the Congo. For example, there are nearly 200,000 slaves in Ghana and over 750,000 slaves in the Congo today.

Why does the reparation lobby not speak out against these countries? Is it because Africans are being enslaved – by Africans? Why is the reparation lobby so reluctant to talk about the role that Africans played in capturing slaves from the interior, and selling them to traders?

Very few European traders were involved in capturing slaves. They sailed to Africa with textiles, firearms and other goods, which they traded for slaves. It was Africans who captured and sold the slaves. Groups such as the Imbangala and the Nyamwezi organized slave raids, captured people in the interior, and marched them to the coast, and journeys that could take weeks or months, shackled to each other. When they reached the coast, they were sold to traders, such as the Asante and Yoruba, who would hold the captives in prisons until the next trading ship arrived.

As Benin’s Ambassador Cyrille Oguin said in 2003: “We believe it is easy to say that those other people did it, but we also believe that if we are not helping them, if we did not assist them, if we did not play a role in it, it would not have happened.”

So why does the reparation lobby not demand compensation from the descendants of the Africans who captured, bought and sold the slaves too?  Are they racists, hypocrites, or both?

The reparations lobby is also trying to give the impression that slavery is the same as the Jewish holocaust.  This too is entirely untrue. The holocaust was a crime at the time it happened, both in Germany and in international law, which is why Hitler built those extermination facilities in the woods and was strenuously denying exterminating the Jews, in an attempt to hide what was going on.  This is not what was happening in Africa and the West Indies, where the Africans were openly selling their slaves and the Europeans were openly buying them, in complete agreement with the then prevailing social and legal norms.

As for our current economic problems being caused by slavery, this too is not true.  Take Jamaica, for example.  The truth is that Jamaica was one of the rapidly-growing economies in the world for over two decades, including the ten years before independence and the ten years after independence. Until the early 1970s, Jamaica’s economy was as large as that of Singapore. The country was poised to become one of the world’s economic dynamos.  Of course, we all know what happened during the 1970s and 1980s, when some of this nation’s own politicians completely mismanaged the country’s affairs.  Jamaicans are still paying for that fiasco.

The same is true for many of our West Indian and African countries. So why does the reparations lobby not demand compensation from our own politicians who did appalling and irrevocable harm to us?
Do not believe the reparations lobby. Their campaign is both dishonest and selfish. It is also giving the world the very wrong impression that we West Indians and Africans are aggressive mendicants seeking more handouts. There are many of us who do not want to be associated with the lies of the reparations lobby.

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Category: A Frontpage, Africa, Opinion, West India, West Indies, World

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