The contribution of Africa’s Diaspora to development in the political, ideological, economic and cultural spheres has been spectacular. Included among the many are Edward Blyden, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, Dr. W.E.B DuBois, George Padmore, Walter Rodney, Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. Such people had their personal differences and methods of approach, but their common spirit of Pan-Africanism resulted in the independence (though not decolonization) of countries in Africa and the Caribbean.
The present generation of Diaspora owes them continuing struggle to decolonize Africa and the Caribbean through dismantling inherited colonial structures that perpetuate neo-colonialism and replacing them with structures oriented to the developmental aspirations of our people. Oprah Winfrey has made a difference and set a good example by establishing a school for girls in South Africa.
The abolition of slavery is a total myth. Contrary to popular belief, slave trade and slavery were only abolished on paper. Slave trade and slavery created wealth for the nations and institutions that legalized and participated in it. In the invasions of Africa during the slave trade and colonialism, gold, silver, diamonds, other precious materials and human resources were, plundered, looted and stolen to make others rich and Africa and its Diaspora poor. Africa and its Diaspora still need those resources for development.
The works of Fage, Ivor Wilks, Paul Lovejoy, and Eric Wolf identify certain countries in Western Europe, the United States and Muslim Arabs as those who enslaved Africans. The identified nations of Western Europe include the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Danes, the Swedes, the French and the British.
Crimes against humanity have been defined by the Nuremberg tribunal as "Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population . . . whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated." Moreover, the United Nations Convention on the Prevention of Crime and Genocide defined genocide-a crime against humanity - to include deliberately inflicting on a racial or ethnic group "conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part." Historians from the same countries that committed crimes against humanity during the slave trade and colonialism testify to the unprovoked invasion of African territories, the mass capture of Africans, the horrors of the middle passage, the chattelization of Africans in the Americas, and the extermination of the language and culture of the transported peoples. From their testimony and definition, slave trade, slavery and colonialism in Africa are crimes against humanity
Since the so called abolition of slave trade and slavery, the slave masters who benefited from that crime against humanity have been given reparations for losing their slaves, but Africa and its Diaspora who suffered and continue to suffer from the consequences have received nothing. In a twist of justice, the same nations of Europe and America that emphasize the rule of law all over the globe today granted reparations to the slave masters for losing their slaves, but nothing to the manumitted slaves. The British Parliament proudly insulted justice by approving reparation of 20 million pounds to slave owners already rich through the labour of the manumitted slaves.
Other European powers that legalized slavery emulated the British example. France, Denmark, and the Netherlands paid reparation to the slave masters, but nothing to the manumitted slaves. The United States government refused to honour its meagre promise of “40 acres of land and a mule” to the manumitted slaves. Africa, the manumitted slaves and their descendants who suffered and continue to suffer have received practically nothing. Calls by people of African descent for reparations have fallen on deaf ears. Celebrating 200 years of abolition of slavery therefore means celebrating 200 years of denying Africa and its Diaspora both apology and reparations. An apology is not reparation, though it may precede it. Africans do not eat apologies!
Generations of those who benefited continue to benefit while generations of Africa and its Diaspora continue to suffer from the consequences of the crime against humanity. Time is ripe for the Diaspora to ask the question, “abolition for whose advantage?” and rise up to demand reparations under the framework of international law and the evidence of case law. One of the most effective ways of commencing the investigation of a crime is seeking to answer the question “who benefits from the crime?” By continuing to benefit from the crime against humanity, the present generations of countries that legalized it indirectly continue to participate in the slave trade and slavery while Africa and its Diaspora continue to be captives and slaves.
The ancient fetters were visible; the modern fetters are invisible. The ancient methods were observable; the modern methods are subtle. Here lies the difference, but the results are the same: one enjoys wealth and honour; the other suffers poverty and humiliation.
Reparation is the only means of atoning for the wrongs of the past and breaking this virtuous cycle so that the perpetrators free themselves from guilt. Those who continue to benefit are as guilty as those who were directly involved centuries ago. It is not fair for them to inherit the benefits, but refuse to inherit the crime. If they accept the benefits, they must also accept the crime.
The right to reparation was confirmed in international law when the Permanent Court of International Justice defined it in 1928. Case law evidence in the international arena buttressing the right to reparation includes the following:
1. The 1952 agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel for the payment of $222 million, when Jews who fled from Nazi-controlled countries claimed reparations.
2. The 1990 Austrian payments totalling $25 million to survivors of the Jewish Holocaust.
3. Japan’s reparation payments to South Korea for acts committed during Japanese invasion and occupation of Korea in World War II.
4. The UN Security Council’s passage of a resolution, which it considered binding in international law, requiring Iraq to pay reparations for its invasion of Kuwait.
5. The United Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that provided restitution to Japanese Americans for losses resulting from their internment and ill-treatment at the hands of U.S. authorities during World War II, and subsequent payment of a total of $1.2 billion, averaging about $20,000 per Japanese American claimant.
6. The 1995 Waikato Raupatu Claims Settlement Bill over which Queen Elizabeth personally presided giving reparation for the 1863 British seizure of Maori land in New Zealand. Due apology was rendered, land was handed back and an additional $40 million (U.S.) was paid in compensation.
The case of the Maori of New Zealand confirmed that there can be no justified barrier to reparations rationalized on the basis of ‘long time.’ Once the Maori were paid reparation, the principle of case law kicked in to require that Africans be not denied the same. In addition, it is a case in which the descendants of the original victims were granted reparations for the loss of their ancestral land and cultural defoliation. Moreover, since the rule of law requires that neither the accused nor the complainant has the right to unilaterally erect any barrier to the judicial process; it is unlawful and unacceptable for the accused nations to pass their own laws setting time lines to protect themselves from being held to account. It should also not be forgotten that “might is right” is antagonistic to the rule of law.
By Daniel T. Osabu-Kle
A professor in the Department of Political Science, Carleton University
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