Podium: The abiding legacy of slavery
Thursday 13 August 1998
At the present time African countries, despite enormous mineral, agricultural and energy riches, are amongst the very poorest in the world. European enslavement and colonialism represented the largest transfer of resources from one people to another in human history. When the Portuguese established a slave colony off the coast of Guinea in the 15th century, Africa was on a par with Europe in terms of wealth and technological development. The narrow gap widened astronomically as a result of colonialism.
The position of the 150 million people of African origin currently in the diaspora is no more encouraging than that of those in Africa. Despite significant gains, many Caribbean nations are dominated by families who established their positions in the times of enslavement and colonialism. In Brazil, 60 million people of African origin are marginalised in all aspects of national existence except football and Carnival.
Data collected in the USA shows that African-Americans have double the rates of unemployment of non-African-Americans, are still hired last and fired first and receive wages of two-thirds the national average, and are heavily over-represented in prisons. The position is similar in Britain.
We dare not forget the 500 years of enslavement and colonialism - the hundreds of millions captured and transported and the unknown millions who perished in the process. Like the tragic case of the Jews who suffered genocide and lost 6 million in the concentration camps, we must remember our own Holocaust so that it may never happen again.
In the case of the enslavement and colonisation of Africa and Africans there has never been an acknowledgement of the crimes against us nor an apology. It is still the case that many believe that no apology is necessary because we gained the benefit of "civilisation". We would argue that Africa had long established scientific, artistic and cultural achievements equal to if not greater than anything provided by the Europeans. It is the cost in terms of kidnapping, mass murder, torture, rape, theft that are yet to be calculated.
The international community recognises that those who committed war crimes or who now perpetrate neo-fascist outrages must be prosecuted. There is also wide understanding when Jewish people express the view that the contemporary desecration of a grave is a continuation of the past and evokes images of Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz and Sobibor.
The Reparations Movement demands compensation for the injuries inflicted upon Africans over the last five centuries. Derived from the Latin word "reparare" - to repair or make whole again, the Movement seeks to heal the pain of the victims and to a different extent the perpetrators through the knowledge and acceptance of the crimes committed during the era of enslavement.
Healing is needed by many African people who fail to understand the nature of systematic oppression and discrimination. It is also necessary for the descendants of the perpetrators of our oppression to understand the guilt and fear they often practice towards African peoples.
Africans have sought reparations from the beginning of the slave trade. Families of the victims sought compensation from African slave traders. Victims were promised reparation in the Caribbean, and the "forty acres and a mule" in the USA. Instead, slave masters received reparations for the loss of their "chattel". The demand for reparations therefore continued in and flowered in the Garvey Movement, which attracted millions of members early in this century.
But African peoples on the Continent suffered just as much as those who were captured and transported. Many were killed in slave raids. Agricultural economies were robbed of the most productive. Africa still bears the scars of under-population from the slave era. The best of African brains are still exported.
We are now at the stage of creating a structure necessary to organise and sustain a campaign to bring about the repair of Africa and Africans. We call upon all those of African origin to join us.
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