- AU member states, African and Caribbean bodies gathered in Barbados for a meeting on the impact of slavery and the need for reparations
- European governments have a duty to Africa and the African Diaspora to pay for their crimes against humanity
- The Caribbean Community proposes symbolic, financial and social steps European governments must take to ensure justice
- Some acts of restorative justice have been made, but there is a need for much larger scale and widespread restitution
Last week, a group of African and Caribbean bodies banded together to “call for reparations for historical crimes” at a Reparations and Racial Healing Study Tour in capital city Bridgetown, Barbados.
The ad hoc union comprised the University of the West Indies (UWI), the African Union Economic, Social and Cultural Council (AU-ECOSOCC), the government of Barbados, the Open Society Foundations and the Caribbean Pan African Network (CPAN),
The “ground-breaking” study tour, which ran from Monday to Friday, has marked the start of an “intercontinental campaign process advocating for reparations and healing on both the African and global stages”, as described by UWI.
The meeting included strategy sessions, knowledge-sharing dialogue, plenaries, collective advocacy, exploration of approaches for racial communal healing, and thorough reflection on addressing the lingering harmful impact of slavery within the Africa and throughout the Diaspora.
Attendees also commemorated Barbados’ Day of National Significance which takes place annually on July 26.
Among the notable attendees were ambassadors and representatives from AU member states, Pan-African academics and advocates, as well as the Caribbean Community political and economic union (CARICOM).
The meeting was born out of the need for a Common African Position and Programme of Action on Reparations as decided by the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government, in February this year.
The Assembly recognised the importance of Africa taking its place as the leading voice for reparations by joining forces with ally nations in the Caribbean region.
The tour culminated in a Thursday news conference which discussed the roadmap for a sustained partnership between the AU and CARICOM concerning the fight for reparations; issues of racial and reparative justice; and the general unprecedented alliance between the AU and CARICOM.
Some noteworthy speakers at the conference were head of the CARICOM Reparations Commission and Vice-Chancellor of UWI Hilary Beckles, Chair of the Permanent Representatives Committee of the AU Youssouf Mondoha and Colombian Vice President Francia Marquez, to name a few.
“This is a historic moment… humanity cannot go forward with all the toxic interferences of colonization,” asserted Hilary Beckles, who is internationally acclaimed as the frontrunner of the movement, at the conference. “We have to clean up this mess to allow humanity to function.”
The University of the West Indies, headquartered in Jamaica with campuses across the Caribbean, is a top-ranked university widely recognised for its activism.
The Path to Justice
The CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) established a 10-point plan for reparatory justice to highlight the horrendous actions of European governments during and after the slavery era, and to outline steps that can be taken to foster reconciliation and justice for victims and their descendants.
The plan recognises how structured the enslavement of the over 10 million Africans was, as legal, financial and fiscal policies were created to achieve total subjugation of our enslaved ancestors. Worse still, Africans were treated like animals, slaughtered in genocides as colonisers saw fit for their “national interests”.
Even after slavery was abolished, these European governments continued to wield their cruel influence by imposing a further one hundred years of racial apartheid and oppressive policies upon the emancipated slaves and survivors of genocide.
Yet, these governments have largely failed to show any concrete form of remorse, other than token apologies here and there. Some have even failed to show any form of remorse whilst still working to sustain a smaller degree of influence through neo-colonialism.
As Youssouf Mondoha rightly said at the Thursday conference, “It is crucial to recognise how slavery, colonialism and racism intersect and impact the lives of Black people around the world.”
While there may be other factors at play, the impact of slavery and colonialism on Africa and the Caribbean region’s stagnation, in comparison with the Western world, is undeniable.
“This alternative — to betray the revolution or to commit suicide as a class — constitutes the dilemma of the petty bourgeoisie in the general fr…
These European powers had over a 400-year head-start on development, standing on the backs of oppressed African slaves.
The wrongs of those centuries of torture and oppression cannot fully be righted, but there must be actions taken to achieve even a fraction of restorative justice.
CARICOM proposes the following steps for the path to justice:
- A full, sincere formal apology
- Repatriation of descendants of slaves who wish to return to their homelands
- An indigenous peoples development program to rehabilitate communities which were victims of genocide
- Investment in and development of cultural community institutions serving to reinforce within citizens a consciousness of the Crimes against Humanity committed by their governments
- Efforts to alleviate public health crises amongst Black people as a result of centuries of poor nutritional experiences, physical and emotional brutality and compounded stress associated with slavery, genocide and apartheid
- Efforts to eradicate widespread illiteracy in African and Caribbean communities
- Establishment of an African Knowledge Program to avert cultural and social alienation from identity and existential belonging faced by the Diaspora
- Establishment and support of initiatives for psychological rehabilitation
- Technology transfer and science sharing for development to reverse the effects of the forced technological stagnation of Caribbean states
- Cancellation and support of repayment of public debts owed by former colonies and enslaved territories
Progress so Far
Since CARICOM set out to advocate for reparations, and instate Beckles as the Chairman of the CRC, in 2013, the body—in partnership with UWI—has made some headway in achieving its goals.
In 2019, the UWI ushered in the inaugural Caribbean Reparatory Justice initiative in partnership with Scotland’s University of Glasgow (UoG) to establish the Glasgow-Caribbean Centre for Development Research, based on a 20-year commitment to a £20 million reparation programme.
Building upon this relationship, UWI and UoG plan to launch a joint Masters programme in Reparatory Justice, with a focus on the Caribbean and its slavery reparations movement, in September.
In 2021, British philanthropist Bridget Freeman made a $500,000 reparation payment to the UWI development fund on account of her family’s involvement in slavery—Freeman’s family married into the Barbados slave-owning class.
In February this year, former British-American correspondent Laura Trevelyan issued a formal apology, signed by 104 members of her family and descendants of the part owners of 6 slave-owning plantations in Grenada, a Caribbean country.
Trevelyan also pledged £100,000 intended for the establishment of an education fund for the UWI Open Campus.
She went on to quit the BBC after a successful 30-year career to become a full-time slavery reparations campaigner.
Subsequently, Trevelyan and other members of wealthy British families, called on King Charles and the British government to revisit the Royal Family’s historic role in slavery and make adequate reparations to their victims.
The Global Call for Reparations: A Historical Movement
While CARICOM and UWI have made some impressive strides in the reparations movement, the movement did not start with them.
In fact, it dates to as far back as the end of slavery itself. As emancipation grew during the 19th century, newly freed slaves made demands for compensation for generations of unpaid labour, albeit unattended to.
Those emancipated slaves now had their freedom, but nothing else; no land, no pensions, no education, etc. Thus, for them, emancipation alone was not enough.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Mexico, Cuba and the US, former slaves called for specific forms of reparations based on their needs.
In this century, both African countries and Caribbean countries alike have made their own demands for reparations.
In 2020, East African state Burundi demanded close to $43 million in reparations from former colonisers Germany and Belgium.
In 2021, Jamaican officials demanded for billions of British pounds in reparations from Britain.
Several of such demands have been made by former colonies and enslaved territories of European powers, and thankfully, not all of them have gone unmet.
Last year, Germany agreed to pay Namibia $1.3 billion in reparations for the genocide committed during its colonisation of the Southern African nation.
Additionally, Germany, Belgium and Finland have returned stolen artefacts to their rightful owners, while last month saw the Church of Scotland agree to draft a formal letter of apology for its role in the slave trade.
Still, for many, such grand gestures are not nearly grand enough to compensate for the damage wreaked…
Still, there is a need for much more concrete reparations, not just from select remorseful individuals, but from the whole governments. CARICOM and Africa’s demands should be met in full swing.
If the British government could compensate former slave owners over £20 million for the loss of their “property”, surely, they owe their actual victims exponentially more.
And if Germany could pay about $90 billion in reparations to victims of the Holocaust, a dreadful genocide that only lasted a dozen years, surely, they can do much more to compensate for the centuries of oppression and torture Africans faced at their hands.
Sources: UWI, BBC, Reuters, NPR, NBC News