Reparations and globalisation
By Courtenay Barnett
Monday, January 01, 2007
The bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade provides an opportunity for reflection both on the slaving colonial past and the globalised present.
The year 1492 records the commencement point of conquest of lands, genocide, the expansive Atlantic African slave trade system of plantation societies under European colonialist globalisation. Ireland was a backwater European country complete with a plantation economy and serfdom, poor education and inadequate levels of investment and technology. Decisive EU support and massive investments in education have made a huge difference.
An appropriate apology by Prime Minister Tony Blair for Britain's policies that contributed to the deaths of about one million people in the Irish famine ought not, in this context, to be forgotten. The then Irish prime minister John Burton, appreciatively said, "While the statement confronts the past honestly, it does so in a way that heals the future." Africans and their descendants would likewise appreciate being placed in similar mind to that of Burton.
Simply stated, Africa is a resource-rich continent, sadly with some kleptomaniacs and kleptocracies requiring mechanisms for its resources to be applied for enrichment of its peoples. As Malachy Postlethwayt, a political economist, frankly and honestly wrote in 1745, "British trade is a magnificent superstructure of American commerce and naval power on an African foundation."
Haitian slaves freed themselves by revolution. A European blockade and French demand for reparations followed. In 1914 America bought the debt from France.The Haitians continued to pay that debt until the 1950s. President Aristide demanded reparations payments from France. France assisted by America replied by removing him by coup d'etat. Africans sold their own into slavery, how can they therefore be deserving of reparations? But oppressed collaborating with oppressor is not an exclusive
One Hermann J Abhs, a German Jew (director of the Deutsche Bank Abhs) financed Auschwitz, the concentration camp in which thousands of Jews were slaughtered. While Jews resisted Nazi barbarism in struggles against their oppressors, some collaborated. Similarly, Africans resisted European barbarism in struggles against their oppressors, yet some collaborated. But Jewish restorative payments, we must assume, fall then in some special category.
How many of the Jews killed in Auschwitz received reparations? Not one, for it was the descendants who were paid. But they sold their own into slavery and so Africans and their descendants in the diaspora ought not to receive reparations.
Legal precedents exist in abundance for reparations (in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the Native Americans in America to mention some instances). Africa and its African descendants likewise must logically, legally and rightfully lay claim at the nation state level for reparations. In an era of Western-led support for global advancement of individual human rights, the concepts of "group rights" and "global justice" are logical extensions for the empowerment of individuals from historically disadvantaged groupings.
Formula and solutions
The reparations formula can be simple: . An acceptable apology as acknowledgement for the crime against humanity. . Debt cancellation. . A 50-year educational trust appropriately established, adequately funded and credibly managed to address the training, education and advancement of Africans on the continent and for those of African descent in the diaspora.
It is assured that the global cost of this peaceful restorative process for the 21st century will be substantially less than a year's expenditure by America on its war in Iraq at current costs. Reparations addressed in this way would indeed heal the future.
The world does have choices to pursue restorative healing processes for the advancement and benefit of those living on the margins of the global village. The world also has choices to pursue illegal wars and other destructive processes such as deliberately provoking conflicts for resource domination. Reparations fall humanely and decisively in the former moral category. History indeed in one sense is past, yet in a contemporary sense we all live the histories that remain as conscious reality in every human being once we ask, why? Why not justice? Why not equality? Why not fairness on a global scale? Why not hope that reparations will assist the necessary global healing process?
Reparations, globalisation as a moral and humane choice and not its alternative of a destructive amoral process, it seems, can couple hope with justice. Reparations must be addressed globally and resolved in a just manner as shall assist all humanity in our quest for improvement. The real debate is an aspect of a broader global debate for justice. A retreat from the reparations debate is likewise an avoidance of urgent issues of global justice. (www.globaljusticeonline.com).
My July 4, 2000 letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair raises at length the need for reparations.
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