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Cart’Afrik : “As Ghana joins the call for reparations, the West cannot play ignorant for much longer”

If we are to make any progress in this – at this point – centuries-long discussion, then we need to be intellectually honest.

By Seun Matiluko*

Last week, Accra, Ghana, was host to a Reparations and Racial Healing Summit. Co-hosted by the African Union Commission and the Africa Transitional Justice Legacy Fund, it was organised to coordinate a comprehensive global strategy and agenda to secure reparations for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and European colonialism in Africa.

It was also organised to initiate an agenda for global racial healing in the 21st century, including pilgrimages to the Cape Coast and Ada for descendants of the enslaved. Nikole Hannah-Jones, of 1619 project fame, Dr Sir Hilary Beckles, chairman of the Caricom Reparations Commission, Dr Julius Garvey, son of famed Pan-African activist Marcus Garvey, and Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo were among the featured speakers.

Although much of what happened at the summit has yet to gain traction outside of African media, parts of Nana Akufo-Addo’s keynote speech have gone viral on Twitter. The President, who has drawn criticism in the past for plagiarising parts of his speeches, was savvy enough to share key quotes from his speech calling for reparations for Africans and the African diaspora on social media.

There are many intelligent critiques one could make about Akufo-Addo’s speech. For one, you could ask how well thought out this particular call for reparations is – who exactly should receive these reparations and what form will these reparations take? You could even argue that his speech was a cynical ploy to distract from his government’s ongoing failure to secure a brighter socio-economic future for Ghanaians.

However, instead of coming back with intellectually rigorous critique, many have pushed back on Twitter with the same lazy comments we’ve come to expect in the reparations debate. Why should Africans get reparations when Africans sold other Africans into slavery? Why should the West give reparations when they were among the first in the world to abolish slavery? Why focus on the Trans-Atlantic trade and not the trans-Saharan, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean trades that came centuries before?

If we are to have an intelligent conversation about reparations for Black people, then we need to put these tired comments to bed. It cannot be that every time a Black person brings up reparations, the knee-jerk response is to say, “yeah, but Africans sold slaves!” Such responses, to quote musician and scholar Akala, “avoid facts and avoid any real discussions.”

“slavery accounts for up to 47 per cent of the income disparity between West and Central African nations and the rest of the world”

If we are to make any progress in this – at this point- centuries-long discussion, then we need to be intellectually honest.
It is true that some African rulers sold other Africans into slavery. However, it is also true that the vast majority of Africans had no role in the trade and that a number of Africans, including African rulers, pushed back against it, such as Queen Nzinga of Ndongo, who fought tooth and nail against the expansion of the Portuguese branch of the trade.

Many Africans living in Africa today are descendants of enslaved people. There are hundreds of thousands of descendants of chattel slavery in Cape Verde, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and that’s before we even start talking about the sizeable populations elsewhere on the continent, like those in Nigeria and Benin.

To suggest that no Africans should receive reparations because some Africans sold other Africans into slavery is intellectually incoherent. It pretends that all Africans supported the trade, that no Africans suffered as a result and that the African continent somehow benefitted when, in reality, the inverse is true. As Nathan Nunn found in 2008, slavery accounts for up to 47 per cent of the income disparity between West and Central African nations and the rest of the world.

Western nations may have been among the first in the world to abolish slavery, yet Black people played an instrumental role in pushing the West towards abolition. Such Black people include the members of 1780s abolitionist lobby group, Sons of Africa, based in London, and the numerous Black people who took part in slave revolts in the Caribbean and the Americans. As Bernie Grant, MP, said in a speech in 1993, “they talk about Wilberforce and other heroic people who abolished slavery… [they neglect to mention] the slaves freed themselves!”

When slavery was abolished in the British Empire, slave traders were reimbursed £20 million. When the formerly enslaved population of Haiti achieved liberation in 1825, they were forced to pay the French government up to pay $21 billion in reparations. Pointing to Western abolition of slavery as a reason why the West should not pay reparations is misguided at best; the Black people who fought to abolish slavery were left near penniless while Europeans got rich both off slavery and its abolition.

Indeed, it is worth noting that much of the subsequent Western colonisation (and abuse) of Africa and Africans was rationalised on the basis of “abolition”. This includes the brutal 1897 Benin Expedition, which saw women and children tortured by British soldiers and thousands of bronze sculptures looted. The Horniman Museum in London just yesterday agreed to return some of the stolen Benin Bronzes.

The Trans-Atlantic slave trade was an abomination which gave rise to over three centuries of harm, trauma, dehumanisation, and white supremacy. While there have been other slave trades throughout human history, no other trade has created the devastating ongoing impact that the Trans-Atlantic slave trade has had on the “population, psyche, image & character of the African the world over”, to quote Akufo-Addo. That is why Africans and members of the African diaspora have continually called for reparations since the trade began. That is why the reparations discussion is never going away.

If they want to have a real conversation, those critical of reparations should focus less on conjecture and wilful ignorance and more on philosophy, ethics, and facts. That is the only way, to invoke W.E.B. Du Bois’ speech from the first Pan-African Conference of 1900, that we will bring forward a world where everyone feels counted among the great brotherhood of mankind.

*Seun Matiluko is a freelance journalist

Source : inews.co.uk

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