These days it has become fashionable for some African-Americans, Africans and their sympathizers to ask the West, notably America and Europe, to pay reparation to Africa and people of African descent for the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Should reparation be paid and what should be the justification for it? There is need to interrogate this seemingly “popular” demand. Slavery of any type, kind or degree is abhorrent, ungodly and evil. Man was made in the image of God and as such God did not make a person to be enslaved by another person. By extension slave trade, wherever it exists or practiced, is equally evil and ungodly and must be denounced and condemned by all and sundry
Strangely and paradoxically, slavery and slave trade are tolerated, practiced and sustained by man either by design or by default. Slavery and slave trade, like prostitution, are allowed and practiced by man from time immemorial. They are socio-economic and cultural institutions instituted by man to serve his needs, desires and vanity, unpleasant and detestable as they may be. They operate on the principles of need, survival of the fittest and demand and supply. Pardon me to say that even Father Abraham, the man of God in the Bible, had slaves. The ancient Greek practiced slavery. The mythical and mystical Pyramids of Egypt were built mainly through slave labour. The Great Roman Empire thrived to some extent on slave labour.
Slavery is a socio-economic necessity “invented” through social engineering by man. Interestingly, man condemns and bemoans the evils of slavery but ironically continues to practice it in its different and subtle forms, up to these modern times. It seems irresistible. The dreadful Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and its predecessor the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade involved the forcible and violent transportation of unwilling Africans from Africa to America. But in the main Africans have allowed themselves to be enslaved even in their own land by Europeans, Asians and Arabs through colonialism, neo-colonialism and cultural assimilation.
Look at the way we have been brainwashed and assimilated to parrot and ape the white man without thinking; how we worship, pander to, adore and swoon over Europeans and Arabs in Africa. We have come to accept that everything European or white is good whilst everything African or black is bad! We have willfully desecrated and jettison our culture and shamefully replace it with Arab and Western ways of life, Christianity and Islam. The pity of it all is that Africans have internalized and are even prepared defend these foreign cultures with their lives. The cultural and psychological stranglehold of the white man on the African seems absolute and immutable. Africans are aware and conscious of their predicament, inferior status and sorry state but they behave as if they were in a deep trance; they are incapable, powerless or unwilling to redeem themselves.
As if that was not bad enough, now, Africans have been, willingly and voluntarily, transporting themselves, at great risk and cost, across the Atlantic, the Sahara and the Mediterranean Sea to Europe and America. Force, violence and intimidation were employed by the slave traders in transporting the African from the interior to the coast and across the Atlantic sea and the Sahara. The same violence is being employed in modern times but the remarkable difference is that the violence is now self-inflicted. Look at the number of Africans that has lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean and the Sahara. Look at the number of Africans living in poverty and misery in Africa under Neo-colonialism in the midst of abundant natural and human resources. Africans forced themselves to enter Europe, America and Arabia only to be looked down upon, treated as objects, denied their human rights and dignity and paid slave wages. Some of them work for almost free because they are blackmailed in the sense that they cannot demand payment since they do not have the appropriate travel documents or visas. Despite this degradation, humiliation, loss of dignity and rights almost every African would want to migrate to Europe or America in search of security, economic salvation and in obedience to the lure of the tantalizing but elusive perception that “the grass is greener on the other side.” There is an expensive joke in Ghana that if a ship, say the size of the Titanic, should dock at Tema harbor for a free passage to America every Ghanaian, including H. E. the President, would join it! Clearly, the African is his own enemy and so who should avenge the man who committed suicide?
Both historical and modern slavery/slave trade are the same albeit differing in execution, scope and degree. I do not think any of them was or is practiced out of malice and, indeed, no evil is actually intended. Both are instituted by man and meant to serve the needs of man. Economic and social factors determine the need and acceptance of slavery. So long as these economic and social factors exist slavery/slave trade, in its different forms, shape and nature will persist. You may say that slavery is dehumanizing and promotes loss of human dignity. You are absolutely right but wait a minute; some people endure it out of necessity while others really do enjoy their state of slavery and servitude. That is why the Ewe proverb says “the fat slave (well fed slave) says his new home (servitude) is good” I dare say that in the unlikely event Africans, the black man, had the opportunity and power they will not hesitate to enslave the white man. It is instructive to note that slavery existed and was practiced in Africa long before the advent of the Trans-Saharan/Atlantic Slave Trades. This is true albeit not as deadly, brutal and dehumanizing as the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
I can safely predict that slavery/slave trade and the need for it will outlive every generation and all mortal beings. Indeed, it is a human creation that cannot be detached or decoupled from human existence or nature. Since slavery/slave trade is part and parcel of man’s culture; since it is a necessary socio-economic evil we may just learn to live with it albeit in its varied, subtle and disguised form. With this in mind, should we insist that reparation be paid by the perpetrators of slavery to the victims of the slavery? What do we make of the demand that reparation should be paid to African States and people of African descent in America and the Caribbean? Should America and Europe pay reparation? If yes, then what about the Arabs who carried out the equally vicious Trans-Saharan Slave Trade?
I have said earlier that the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was evil but I have also pointed out that it was not carried out with any evil intentions or malice? You may disagree with me but look at it this way. The Europeans legitimately traded in gin, guns, gun powder, tobacco, sugar, beads, mirror and cloths in exchange for gold, oil palm, rubber and ivory, etc. Their trade was driven by the principle of need, demand and supply. It came to a time that Europeans wanted to diversify and expand their trade by requesting for human commodity. The Africans did not object to this demand. They still collected goods from Europeans and, in turn, accepted to sell their fellow Africans to them. I cannot see any compulsion or hard feelings here. To cap it all the trade was mutually beneficial and was transacted according to time honoured method of dumb barter.
To my understanding, there seemed to be total agreement between the white man and the black African as to how trade should be transacted. I repeat, there was no compulsion whatsoever in the game. As a matter of fact, those who captured the slaves from the bush and interior of Africa and sold them to the Europeans on the coast were Africans led by their chiefs. The most guilty of these slave raider/sellers were the powerful African kingdoms like Dahomey, Ashanti and Benin (Nigeria). To augment their efforts were dare devil individuals like Samori, Babatu, Nwaubani Ogogo and Kondo. Admittedly, occasionally but in rare cases, some tribes or families or even parents sold their own people as a form of punishment. So in those days to say that a person (especially a criminal or disrespectful stubborn person) was sent to the seas to be advised meant he was sold into slavery.
I am not sure but history is yet to mention a single European or group of Europeans who went to the interior or the bush of Africa to capture any slaves. Admittedly, they supplied the guns and gun powder alright. They were also noted for tricking and luring Africans into the slave ships, got them over-drunk and sailed away with them. To their credit, the Europeans who later sent soldiers to the interior of Africa were rather trying to stop the slave trade or enforce the ban on it. Interestingly and unbelievably, the Africans and powerful African kingdoms like Ashanti, Dahomey and Benin wanted to continue with the slave trade after it was abolished!
So who should pay reparation to Africa; is it the African and his chief who, with open eyes and with all their faculties intact, used war and violence to capture and sell their fellow Africans and wanted to continue with the trade after it was abolished? Or should it be the Europeans who were just obeying the economic dictates of need, demand and supply? But assuming that the Europeans and Americans agree to pay reparation should slave capturers and sellers like Ashanti, Dahomey and Benin enjoy part of it? On the contrary they should also be made to also pay reparation.
We can safely conclude that in the case of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the African was as guilty as the European; in some cases the African was more guilty. It is disgusting and I totally and unreservedly condemn the role that the African played in the slave trade. However, for moral, compassionate and humanitarian reasons let us concede to the demand for reparation. I admit the truth that the slave trade was disproportionate as it over-exploited, dehumanized the Africans and disorganized the African society. It was extremely immoral, unfair and inhumane to exchange human beings for tobacco, guns, gin, mirror and sugar. Certainly, the Europeans got far more than they deserved or were entitled to out of the slave trade. Strangely, the African has refused to learn any lessons from this exploitation and he continues to sell his cash crops, minerals and natural resources to Europeans cheaply instead of processing or adding value to them. Let us agree that on moral, compassionate and humanitarian grounds the Europeans should show repentance and remorse and agree to pay some compensation, call it reparation, to the descendants of the victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
But to whom should this compensation be paid and how will it be managed? That is the crux of the matter. There are varied opinions on this but let me advance my own position thus: I will straight away rule out the chiefs of Africa. They were too implicated and involved in capturing and selling Africans for sale using violence to make them benefit from any compensation. I equally rule out any individual or group of individuals because it will be very difficult to produce a meaningful criteria for sharing the ”booty.” I also completely rule out the African governments and leaders. They are regarded as scavengers, too corrupt, greedy and self-serving and any compensation given to them will be misappropriated or stolen. The common man in the street will get nothing.
This leaves me with only one option. I will suggest that Africans and descendants of Africa should not insist on reparation. They should rather request for an African Economic Development Plan (AEDP) similar to the post Second World War Marshall Plan to be funded by America and Europe. They should insist that the perpetrators of the trans-Saharan slave trade, the Arabs, should also contribute funds to the Plan. This “African Marshall Plan” should be executed by an independent “African Economic Development Plan Commission (AEDPC)” to be made up of representatives of Africa or AU, America, Europe and Arabia. The Commission will identify suitable pan-African projects to be executed and these will be spread across Africa in an acceptable equitable formula. Anything short of this will not work and will not benefit Africa and African people.
We rightly seek compensation or reparation for the victims of the slave trade but we must be considerate and conciliatory. What, for instance, do we do or say about the slave owner who lived in constant fear of slave revolt, rebellion and mischief? He too was a victim of economic circumstances and trending social expectations. Do not forget that the slave owner was equally dehumanized by the trade. Under slavery it was not only the slave who suffered; the owner also had his challenges. He was perceived as cruel, inhuman, inconsiderate, insensitive and evil and some of them exhibited those traits. The psychological, physical and emotional stress and challenges the slave owners suffered defied description. Do you think the white man abolished the slave trade for nothing? Today, who speaks for them and their descendants? Do we sympathize with the chicken and not sympathize with the hawk?
By the way, let me appeal to our brothers and sisters, the African-Americans, to stop blaming only the Europeans for the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade; stop wasting their time and energy to look for their ancestral roots in areas like Dahomey, Benin and Ashanti. They should rather invest their time and energy to urge and encourage Africans to be wiser, more judicious and prudent in harnessing and utilizing their human and natural resources to the ultimate benefit of Africans. African-Americans must realize that the powerful kingdoms mentioned above scarcely sold their own people and children to the Atlantic Slave Trade. Rather they were the ones who used deceit, war and violence to capture people from weaker tribes and ethnic groups for sale to the white man. African-Americans are advised to seek their ancestral roots in the ”weaker tribes” and, definitely, not in Dahomey, Benin and Ashanti. Of course, I concede that there may be exceptions.
BY KOSI KEDEM