The Prime Minister is visiting Jamaica and Grenada this week. As far as his foreign trips go, it's by no means a major one. But if you think it's going to be another sunny trade trip then you'd be mistaken. This week Jamaica has called on Britain to recognise its past role in the slave trade and consider paying reparations.
But David Cameron won't even deliver an apology – even though he and his wife Samantha both have slave-owners in their family backgrounds. His first cousin six times removed (the son of his great grand-uncle) benefited from the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act. He was one of 46,000 British slave owners who received the equivalent of £17 billion under its compensation clause. The biggest payment was to the sugar-baron John Gladstone. He received £106,769, which would be £80 million today. Yet the 800,000 slaves who suffered under the trade never saw a penny.
Slavery and then colonialism overwhelmed many Caribbean economies. This has been pointed out by Sir Hilary Beckles, who has told Cameron that Britain needs to “play its part in cleaning up this monumental mess of Empire”. This starts with an apology, followed by a recognition of the struggles that generations of slaves and their descendants have endured. The financial institutions who were involved in the slave trade need to be acknowledged, as well as the families who benefited and the cities that were built on its back.
I don't completely agree with Jamaica's request for reparations. The legacy of slavery should be reconciliation, not compensation. We can't simply pay countries off and then forget about them. It is much better to recognise the legacy of Britain's empire, and educate people about the costs of colonialism, and its long-lasting damage. If compensation is considered, let it be through trade and aid.
David Cameron is the first man in six generations of his family not to be a stockbroker. I'm the descendant of slaves who died in slavery. I don't need reparations. I just need recognition that members of the Prime Minister's ancestry got the state handout and I didn't.Reuse content