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12.02.2009 Feature Article


The lack of development in Africa and the poverty of millions of African Americans have been blamed on a number of factors but the most serious of all are the evils of slavery and colonialism. There has been a number of voices in America, Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, Australia and Africa that the US and European nations should pay reparations to Africa Americans, Africa and the Caribbean Islands for the sufferings they endured under slavery and colonialism.

Very few will disagree on the negative impacts that slavery and colonialism have had on Africa, African Americans and the Caribbean Islands. Centuries of slavery and colonialism deprived the continent of her able human and economic resources. These able men and women who were carried away to work in the plantations of the Americas (in all about 30 - 40 million people) helped to make America and Europe what they are today. Millions of young Africans were forced to abandon the continent of their birth and were shipped several thousands of miles away to lands where they had no historical attachment with. They travelled in very deplorable conditions, often without adequate food, water and air. While in the New World they were made to work for centuries without pay. They were denied every right enjoyed by humans on the planet. Some even worked till they dropped dead. The slave trade did not only affect the Africans who were sent to the the journey of return but it also deprived the continent of her energetic men and women a vital resource in any development process and sunk the continent into intellectual wilderness.

About the same time that slavery was being vigorously pursued, plans were hatched by the European powers made up of Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and others to carve Africa for themselves without consulting the Africans an act that can only be described as robbery. The Scramble for Africa as it is sometimes called gave the Europeans the legal power to do as they pleased in Africa. As a result, the natural resources including timber, gold, diamond, tin ore, ivory, bauxite, rubber and many more were systematically looted in large quantities from the countries they colonised. The irony is that virtually all the incomes from these resources were used to finance the economic, social and the infrastructural development of the European countries with little or nothing at all being used to develop the various countries where these resources came from.

A clear example is the case of Democratic Republic of Congo where King Leopold II of Belgium enslaved the Africans, forced them to work without pay, killed about 10 million and looted the country of her resources and virtually nothing was used to invest in the country except guns which the Belgium army used to terrorise and kill the Africans. Africans who could not meet their daily target of rubber supply had their wives seized and their hands chopped off by Leopold's army officers. Leopold even went to the extreme to exhibit Africans in Belgium Zoos. When the DRC was transferred from Leopold II to the Belgium state, the looting and killing continued till DRC gained her 'independence' in the 1960s. In fact DRC (Congo Free State) was the main supplier of rubber a vital raw material for the tyre industry and all the money from the sale of the rubber went to Belgium. King Leopold II was able to transform Belgium as one of the poorest countries in Europe into one of the wealthiest, courtesy the enslavement and looting of Africans and their resources.

Belgium was not alone in what she did to the continent. Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Italy all looted Africa of her gold, diamond, ivory, timber, cobalt, coltan, tin ore, bauxite, manganese and all the minerals you can think of. The Africans who resisted the illegal activities were killed in their millions as happened in South West Africa (now Namibia) where the Germans in 1904 to 1907 committed the first genocide of the 20th Century by killing the Herero and the Namaqua people. While Europe became richer Africa became poorer and the trend continued till the 1950s when the African countries started gaining their 'independence' beginning with Libya in 1951, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia all in 1956 and Ghana in 1957.

With little or no investment in the continent the various post colonial governments inherited countries with practically no infrastructure: roads, rails, harbours, airports, telecommunications, education, health and sanitation. The only areas which saw some few infrastructure investments during the colonial days were those where raw materials were heavily extracted. The attainment of independence did not come on silver Plata. Algeria, Zimbabwe, Angola, Kenya, Namibia and to some extent South Africa all attained their independence from their colonial masters through arm struggles.

This is why the call is growing for America and Europe to pay reparations to these countries for what they did to them.

However there are many who argue that such reparations are not necessary. They contend that African leaders wilfully cooperated with Europeans and also benefited in cash and kind from the slave trade. They argue that the slave trade was a mutual agreement between the buyers and sellers. On colonialism the argument is the same, that the European nations brought civilisation and development to Africa while they also benefited from the exploitation of the rich resources in Africa. So it was as they call it a mutual agreement. They further argue that countries such as Britain, America and Australia have already issued apologies to the victims of slavery and that should be enough to pacify the situation.

I do not agree in any form or shape that slavery and colonialism were based on mutual benefit or agreement. What is so sad is that Africans never invited Europeans to Africa in the first place. Secondly, the artificial boundaries erected by Europeans without any input from Africans have divided tribes, destroyed cultures as well as social and economic cohesions that have existed for centuries. Such partition which was based on greed is partly to blame for the internal conflicts currently ongoing in Africa. Thirdly, the wars, the ethnic divisions, and destructions that accompanied Europeans when they came were foreign to Africa. Africa is still suffering from their contacts with Europeans today. Besides, the abolishment of the slave trade itself is a proof that it was an evil trade perpetrated by Europeans for their own selfish gains. Furthermore, the fact that Europeans reluctantly gave up their political hold on power without relinquishing their economic interests is another proof that they only sought to enrich themselves at the expense of Africans.

If the slave trade and colonialism were based on mutual benefit then why did Europeans decide to abolish it? If the trade was based on mutual agreement between the buyers and sellers then how about those who worked for centuries in the plantations without pay was that a mutual agreement too? What civilisation and development did Europeans bring to Africa? Is it the millions of people who could not read or write when Britain left Ghana or the complete lack of infrastructure in Congo when Belgium gave them 'independence'?

Are apologies alone enough to pacify the forceful deportation of millions against their will? How about the millions who died on the way to the journey of no return? How about the victims of slavery who endured humiliations, rape, torture and death on their way to the New World? Or the humiliations, rape, torture, death and the inhuman treatment of victims of slavery who were 'lucky' to get to the New World? How about the millions of children who lost their parents as a result of the forceful deportations and had to endure loneliness and neglect was that a mutual benefit too? How about the single mothers and fathers who were left to bear the hardship of caring for the children when their husbands and wives were taken away? Was that a mutual agreement too?

Evidence of exploitation, racism and extreme discrimination in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Algeria, Congo Free State (former Zaire) and now DR Congo point to the fact that colonialism was not based on mutual benefit but were rather an attempt by Europe and America to enrich themselves at the expense of Africans and people of colour.

The humiliations, torture, lynching, racism, Jim Crow segregation laws, economic and social discrimination and marginalisation meted out to African Americans even centuries after slavery was abolished is another evidence that Africa and people of African descent were victims of slavery and not beneficiaries. And therefore as victims they must be fully compensated for the unpaid labour as well as all the wrongs meted out to them. Apologies alone are not enough and cannot correct centuries of inhumane treatment of people who were also made in the image of God.

The huge benefits that slavery and colonialism brought to America and Europe, and the denial of such benefits to the very people who worked to bring the wealth is not only against natural law but is also against anything human.

There is no excuse for the inexcusable crime of slavery and colonialism. It is time for America and Europe to own their wrongful treatment of a section of the earth's citizens and pay reparations to the victims and their families and the countries who suffered directly or indirectly from such evils.

By Lord Aikins Adusei

Lord Aikins Adusei
Lord Aikins Adusei, © 2009

The author has 133 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: LordAikinsAdusei

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