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Regional News Fri, 24 Sep 2004

Africans are not guilty; the whites are ...

They must pay reparation for their act

By Christian Agubretu

Accra, Sept. 23, GNA - Eminent professors of history have rejected the argument or claim that the African was equally guilty and blameable for engaging in the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade as his white counterpart in the capturing and offering of his fellow Blackman for sale into slavery during the more than 200 years that the heinous trade lasted. They said that the claim that the Blackman did not resist the slave trade or was neither opposed to it and was thus an accomplice is a soothing moralist theory the white slave masters were developing in collaboration with their African spin "doctors" when the question of reparation was raised.

There is the overwhelming historical evidence that the African did not yield to the trade to warrant people now to say that the African himself acquiesced to the trade.

Professor Hilary Beckles of the University of West Indies in Barbados in a paper presented to the International Conference Trans Atlantic Salve Trade in Accra, Ghana on August 30 to September 3, 2004 on the topic the African Resistance to the Trade spelt out a host of historical evidences that should clear the air about the accusation being levelled against the African. The Conference, which has scholars, researchers, representatives from the West African Sub-Region, Africans in the Diaspora and participants from Europe and America was organised by the Ministry of Tourism and Modernisation of the Capital City in collaboration with UNESCO with sponsorship from the Netherlands government.

Professor Beckles said: "Rebellion effectively indicates how most Africans felt about their entrapment and enslavement. European slaves denied that Africans resisted the transatlantic trade by emphasising the collaboration of some kings and nobles; but the evidence of rebellion - from general flight to armed resistance - is compelling and speaks of the trade as existing within a context of mass opposition.

"The transatlantic slave trade was imposed upon African societies by means of military terror. The existence of the many forts and castles, European monuments to war, self defence, and plunder, forming a chain link across the West African Coast, is evidence of the reign of violent military might."

"Resistance to enslavement at the hands of Europeans took on a different dimension from traditional forms of social protest in West Africa. It was an unfamiliar system of social oppression. Eurocentric notions of black inferiority, cultural disrespect, and indiscriminate reduction to chattel property, were resisted by Africans. The evidence suggests the need to examine revolt and resistance at five stages: at the point of capture and sale, in transit to the coast, and in the barracoons, on board ships on arrival in the Americas, the legacy.

"One of the earliest accounts of community resistance relates to the killing of a Danish nobleman, Vallarte, the first Northern European to sail to West Africa. He was captured by a large group of Wolofs off the Coast of Gore Island in 1448, and killed. His mission to kidnap slaves, for sale in Portugal ended in disaster. The Spanish also experienced in 1475 a large scale African community rebellion. In this instance a Castilian vessel, with a Dutch crew, was captured off the coast of Guinea while attempting to kidnap people for enslavement. The entire crew and captain of the vessel were killed.

"Europeans were able, however, to secure alliances with many kings and nobles. Leaders, who resisted their involvement were targeted by European slavers for military destabilisation. European military intimidation, and the offering of attractive material incentives, ended with many African leaders, against the wishes of their people, participating in the trade. In some cases the decisions taken to participate related more to political survival than profiting, though this division became increasingly blurred over time.

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"Philip Curtin's research has shown that many kings and nobles restructured their systems of governance because of a new dependence on transatlantic slaving. Also, that slaving as clients of European merchants became the economic basis of some new States. Client governments raided neighbouring societies for the procurement of slaves.

Such States, described by Curtin as predatorial, increased their business efficiency over time. The restructuring of political power to support the economic dependence on slaving almost always involved the creation of large armies that unleashed violence across communities. "Scholars have also shown that increased State militarisation and politically supported violence against communities, were sponsored directly and indirectly by European slavers. Such client States sprung up within the vicinity of slave forts. The Bambara State of Segu, formed about 1712, has been described as 'an enormous machine to produce slaves.'" Slave raiding and trading were crucial to its structure and behaviour. The Europeans provided horses and guns to its leaders who supplied the slaves. In the early 17th century, one good horse could fetch up to 15 healthy slaves. This exchange was considered by Europeans as obtaining slaves on the cheap.

"African subjects, then, whether they lived within or without such client States, were exposed to the raiding forces of professional warriors. From Senegal to Angola, these new States sprung up, or were recreated from old States. One of their primary functions was to subvert and displace States and their leaders that were opposed to the slaving business.

"African communities, however, learnt how to defend themselves within this new context, and developed a culture of resistance against both the Europeans and their client political collaborators. Communities then, went beyond the pro-slaving interests of their leaders and established an opposition vanguard. Popular rebellion forced its way through the compliance of political leaders and set in train a culture of resistance that spread through communities. By so doing, they established an anti-slaving movement that was as significant politically as the client arrangements between kings, nobles, and European slavers.

With the above and other numerous evidences the African acted in supplying slaves to the trade under conditions which he or she could not have control over granted that the economic benefits the slave raiders derived from the trade superseded any human or moral consideration.

And here we are with Professor Joseph E. Inikori, a Lecturer in History at the University of Rochester, USA speaking to the Ghana News Agency at the conference ,saying the reparation the Africans and those in the Diaspora were asking for from those countries who benefited from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was purely an economic issue. The issue of reparation should not be compromised on the pacific moralist theory that the African was as guilty as the white for indulging in the heinous human trade, he said.

Prof. Inikori, a Nigerian who participated in the just ended four-day International Conference on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade: Landmarks, Legacies and Expectations in Accra said there was no doubt that the slave labour contributed greatly to the industrialisation of the Europe and the Americas.

The slaves were the producers of cotton, sugarcane, tea and other commodities, which engendered the foundation of economic developments of the west, while it destroyed and destabilised the economies of African states, especially those in the West Africa Region.

He said the white slave traders should show remorse, and seek reconciliation with the African and pay reparation for their crime. A fund could be established where African countries could benefit from and that it should just not be money doled out to African countries but that it should be managed and controlled in such a way that it could bail out the underdevelopment of the continent.

Prof. Inikori said what was happening now in the US where those in the Diaspora were individually taking legal action against some companies, which were found to be the direct beneficiaries of the slave labour would not help much.

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He said if that continued the insurance companies would destroy documents that were vital to the course of fighting for total reparation.

What Africa needed to do was to lay a firm scientific base through research like the type of conference that was held in Accra from August 30 to September 2 , 2004 to enable the continent to have one voice in the fight for reparation.

The leadership of Africans through the African Union and the UN could take on the fight.

Prof. Inikori presented a paper on, "Changing Commodity Composition of Imports into West Africa, 1650-1850: A Window into the Impact of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade on African Societies".

Professor Kofi Anyidoho, Director of African Humanities Institute Programme, University of Ghana, Legon, who also spoke to the GNA on the reparation said the issue was worth pursuing and cautioned that if that was achieved it should not divide Africa.

He said a similar thing was done to Germany with the Marshall Plan after World War II and that of Africa should not just be wished away that the Africans also actively participated in the slave trade. He said the effects of the slave trade dominated and colonialism worsened the economic development of Africa to such an extent that those from the developing countries could not say they even had a fair market for their produce now.

He asked whether it was the producer or the buyer who determined the price of commodities.

Prof Anyidoho said the leadership of Africans should be able to see through the machinations and manipulations by the continent by the developed countries that always played the game to their advantage. Western Countries must accept that their ancestors dehumanised Africans and must be prepared to pay reparations, Professor Hilary Beckles of the University of West Indies in Barbados told the Ghana News Agency in an interview in Accra.

He said the issue of Reparation would lead to the largest black movement in the 21st century as more Africans and those in Diaspora become aware of the full and true story of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade.

Most of the Western countries think that reparation would mean that Africans would be forcefully demanding financial support from them as a result of the Slave Trade but that should not be the case.

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"Reparation must be seen as the beginning of a peaceful reconciliation process, it is not just about cash, it is rather about the Western countries accepting that their involvement in the Slave Trade was a crime.

"The Whites must first admit that their engagement in the trade was a crime against humanity, which they are not ready to do. They are even yet to admit that there should be a settlement, which involved the application of the concepts of international law.

"They have to prove that the trade will not happen again. Then the repairing of the damage has to be done. From here we could have confession from the perpetrators of the trade that their action was human rights violation and it was for them to apologize, then the move for reconciliation could be put initiated and settlement procedures could be agreed on", Professor Beckles, who is a Black Activist, said. He said, "The Western World would want to resort to settlement of the Colonial damage. They do not wish to accept that it was a crime committed and do not wish to apologize.

This is where the snag is. This is where they whites beneficiaries of the trade wanted to divert attention. This is where they are saying that the Blackman was equally blameable as those who yielded to participating in the transaction.

Professor Beckles said, "It is our duty as Africans to make the Western world understand that it is not about financial support that we are demanding for when we demand reparation but that there should be the support for us to produce films, documents and slave museums and to make them available in every country that slavery took place to enable the younger generations to have more information about it and there should be funding of such research activities".

Professor Beckles revealed that in the United States many African families had already received reparation from some insurance companies, as their ancestors were insured as African property.

Professor Beckles presented a paper to the International Conference on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Accra under the theme: "Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade: Landmarks, Legacies and Expectation."

The Blacks shared tears, the Whites grew purple red and some of those from the Carribeans walked out of the conference room as Emeritus Professor of History, J.F. Ade Ajayi said in his paper; Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade bred a kind of racism that the world had never known and it remains till today the burden of all black peoples whether in Africa or in the Diaspora."

The slave trade was no trade, but a form of exchange that was so un-equal as to be tantamount to worse than robbery.

Emeritus Professor Ade Ajayi, quoted a famous Nigeria writer who wrote: "That there is a spiritual dimension to the problem and that 'my child is dead is infinitely more bearable than my child is missing.'" He explained: "When a child dies, we conduct rites; bury the child and account to the ancestors. When millions of our children were missing and we tried to avoid the subject no rites are performed and the ghosts continue to haunt us. We need special purification rites if we are to be able to move forward."

Emeritus Prof. Ade Ajayi, whose topic was: "Remembering the Slave Trade", said: "Let those who think that the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade is only one of many history of slavery and slave trade in the world be informed that it was unique and unlike any other.

"It was the only one where, because of the operation of capital and competition, the slave was denuded of all humanity. Horses or dogs would not be allowed to be packed today as the slaves were packed" on the journey from Africa to the Americas and Caribbean.

"Slaves were treated purely as cargo for insurance purposes. Slaves were not allowed to educate themselves. They were not allowed to own any property. Ransom or manumission was rare. Even their children belonged to their masters and not themselves. Families and ethnic groups were deliberately split apart to limit the possibility of conspiracy and insurrection..."

He said: "Its most important characteristic was that this peculiar form of slavery was reserved for Black peoples alone from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. With the result that slavery became synonymous with Black peoples and Black peoples with slavery."

On the teaching of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in schools, Emeritus Prof. Ade Ajayi said there should be no compromise as to how the subject should be handled without telling the truth.

He said the holocaust of the Jews; horror of the world wars were historical facts, which had been told without endangering anyone and called on the Conference not to have any compromise as to how the story was told and to whom.

Participants at the Conference were divided on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade as to how the subject could be taught in the curriculum of both the White and the Black children without offending the sensibilities of any of them.

The conference was worried as to how the emotionalism of both the Black and the White on the role each played in the trade could be told truthfully either by a Black or White teacher to both Black and White students in the same class.

Some contributors said Black Americans accused Africans for selling their ancestors into slavery and charged the Whites for dehumanising them after witnessing the legacies and relics of the enterprise.

Source: GNA