REPARATION, or compensation for the wrong done to Africa and Africans has emerged as one of the most debated topics in the last one century, especially by Historians and others engaged in championing the case and rights of Africa and its Diaspora. Innumerable conferences have been staged that puts the topic at the front burner of debates. Stakeholders are arguing their cases with increasing fervour. For instance, the government of the Caribbean has reportedly formally written to the governments of Europe, calling for a summit to discuss the crimes that have been committed against the African people in the Caribbean and Africa. Reparation is such an important subject to some societies such that Brazil has now established a Reparation Commission. The United States has in place a National Reparation Commission.
Addressing a conference: The J.F. Ade Ajayi Memorial Lecture at the University of Lagos, themed: ‘History and the Pan Africa Nation’ in August, 2016; the Vice Chancellor of the University of West Indies, Prof. Hilary Beckles accused African nations of being timid of acting in the interests of their people because of the fear of being denied foreign loans and international assistance by Western nations that may view the issue as confrontational. Beckles asserted, through in unsubstantiated terms that: “It was clear to us that many of the African countries were being intimidated by the IMF and the World Bank. ‘’The important thing is for us to recognize that many of the governments of African countries were being intimidated by the IMF and the World Bank.’’ Apparently feeling very concerned, the West Indian said: “Since Durban, we have been able to move the matter unto the agenda of the AU. We have urged the AU that they must reverse their position on the issue, because what was done to the people of Africa and the Caribbean was wrong.
‘’We have told them that they need to reverse their position. The matter has come to the AU and they have given us their support. The AU has stated that they will treat the Diaspora as the zone of Africa and in principle they are in support of reparation. ‘’I am involved in negotiations across Africa to persuade many African countries to take a stronger position and to use the AU as a platform to strengthen the case. ”Also, move towards the United Nations General Assembly. “We already have the platform in the UN General Assembly, because they have endorsed the two things; slavery and slave trade which were crimes against humanity. ‘’The UN has also endorsed the next decade to look at the damages done to African people as a result of these crimes. ”Therefore, the United Nations has done what it can do, it is left for us to do the rest’’
ANOTHER ERA OF COLONIZATION?
But it is interesting to note that front pages of some Nigerian newspapers publish boldly, legitimately and professionally too; and with ‘’with automatic alacrity’’ photographs and selfies notable Nigerians at meetings organized by Bretton Woods institutions in the United States. Those photographs, and poses therein that show top officials of IMF/World Bank sandwiched between Nigerian officials seem to suggest that such is the best thing that happens at those meetings. The way they pose with those IMF/World Bank officials and send the photographs to us instantly to hit front pages of newspapers tell some stories. If in doubt, do a content analysis of our publications on IMF/World Bank meetings over a period of time. Do foreign newspapers publish such photographs that are sent for us to see faces of our officials pose with Bretton Woods institutions’ officials? No. Because their interests differ. Our interests must be to promote the interests of Nigeria and Nigerians.
As an observation/suggestion, the Phillip Emeagwalis, the Adebayo Ogunlesis, Kase Lawals, Ngozi Okonjo Iwealas and others; who could be invited to lunch or dinner meetings, briefed and cultivated to contribute to moves designed to move Nigeria forward as part of such outings by Nigerian officials on trips abroad are never recorded for us to view. Such photographs under reference could inspire other Nigerians abroad; and at home. We could benefit more with posing for photographs with such great Nigerians. They would surely convey positive signals and encouragement to our people in Nigeria and patriots abroad. Perhaps those images would contribute meaningfully to any attempt to ask them to write off our debts one more time. A top official of the Nigerian government reportedly stated, over one decade ago, on getting into the White House that: ‘’this is the happiest day in my life!’’
THE NIGERIAN FACTOR – THE MKO ABIOLA PATRIOTIC STRUGGLE
The name of MKO Abiola has been recorded on the positive pages of history as a patriot who rose to sensitize and push for reparations to the African race on an international scale. Abiola used huge resources, connections and intellect to engage in a worldwide campaign for compensation to victims of slavery and slave trade. He was of the view that slave trade was an evil practice that was condemnable; and called for reparations for the indignity to which people were subjected through slave trade. He was such a strong factor that the United States Congressional Black Caucus issued the following tribute in his memory: ‘’Because of this man, there is both cause for hope and certainty that the agony and protests of those who suffer injustice shall give way to peace and human dignity. ‘’The children of the world shall know the great work of this extraordinary leader and his fervent mission to right wrong, to do justice, and to serve mankind. ‘’The enemies which imperil the future of generations to come: poverty, ignorance, disease, hunger, and racism have each seen effects of the valiant work of Chief Abiola. ‘’Through him and others like him, never again will freedom rest in the domain of the few. We, the members of the Congressional Black Caucus salute him this day as a hero in the global pursuit to preserve the history and the legacy of the African diaspora.’’
WHY AFRICA IS BACKWARD
Some factors account from the backwardness of Africa. The most prominent factor is slavery and slavery trade. The transatlantic slave trade was responsible for the forced migration of several millions of Africans to the Western world. The slave trade not only led to the violent transportation overseas of millions of Africans but also to the deaths of several millions more. Writing in the Nigerian Guardian newspaper of June 24, 2014, a celebrated columnist and Nigeria’s former ambassador to Brazil, Patrick Dele Cole asserts that the sweats of black people that were massively shipped to the Western world grew the economies of those nations to the detriment of Africa; noting that rapid industrialization and development of the West would not have been possible without slave trade and the physical transfer of slaves, accounting for the largest in history. According to Cole, ‘’Nobody knows the total number of people who died during slave raiding and wars in Africa, during transportation and imprisonment, or in horrendous conditions during the so-called Middle Passage, the voyage from Africa to the Americas.’’
THE POLITICAL ANGLE
But one strong factor that aided this horrible practice was the role of Africans themselves during the slave trade era. It was a period of oligarchic and tyrannical institutions whose words were law that could not be challenged as a result of cultures and traditions that permitted a few fellow Africans to trample on the rights of others. There was nothing like democratic institutions. A powerful man could go out and seize the wife of another person without being questioned. They could even take lives of fellow human beings without being questioned! Africa was in this terrible state when the colonialists came to rape the continent. Taking a dispassionate look at the matter, it seems that without the intervention of the colonialists, Western civilization would have come late; that is if Western civilization ever came; because of the abysmal rape of the rights of others be fellow privileged Africans who could never be questioned. However, this does not prevent Africa and its Diaspora from asking for compensation for their sweats used to develop the West, particularly, considering the submission of Dr. Patrick Dele Cole that:
OVER 40 MILLION AFRICANS DIRECTLY AFFECTED
‘’Forty million people were shipped from Africa to the New World, including South and North America and the Caribbean Islands” at huge cost to Africa. Cole, in the publication cited above, noted that: ”The Cash from the results of Slave Trade was the bedrock of investment for the Industrial Revolution of trams, steamships, steam engines, automobiles and aircraft, thus giving a start to Europe that has never been breached. Without this cash, the development of Europe great industrial cities, especially Liverpool, Glasgow, Manchester in the UK would never have happened. Cole further argued that ”It seems ironic if Manchester United and other teams grew from the proceeds of slaves before are now maintained by the most expensive Black players who are often the descendants of slaves or their forebears.’’
Cole also pointed out that ”A Legal complaint against slavery is being filed by the Caribbean countries as a step towards the West acknowledging their role in the nefarious trade and their benefits therefrom. The complaint is being spearheaded by the Caribbean Anti- slavery Commission.” Such was the gains of slave trade that even ”The abolitionists made a great deal of money – Prime Minister Gladstone was paid the equivalent of 23 million pounds sterling for giving up his slaves.” According to Cole, ”The case for reparation is justifiable on the grounds that ”For a period spanning over 100 years, the ablest, youngest, strongest males and females were shipped across the seas. This was bound to affect what is left in Africa, their genes and their demographic development. ”There are examples of poor hereditary standards in South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, even Kenya: ”Beyond this, Cole points out that ”The effect on the African continent of the loss of 40 million people has no parallel in history. True, the Jews lost six million people in the World War II (for which reparations are still being paid), Asia lost 24 million, USSR 20 million but for a number of different reasons these places have now developed beyond those losses. ”A migration that moved 40 million souls over 150 years based on a belief in the racial superiority of one group over another. It is true that there was slavery everywhere in the world but not that it was so clearly identified with racism, until the African slave trade. ‘’This was a new phenomenon and on an unprecedented scale.”
THE ECONOMIC ANGLE
The contributions of African slaves to the development of the West could be gauged by a research carried out by Jeffrey Sachs, who, writing under the caption: ‘The True Drivers of Economic Development’ stated that the real story of development over the past two centuries indicates that ”The Industrial Revolution gained steam first in Great Britain with aggressive policies to overtake Indian textile manufacturing, and for many other reasons as well, including accessible coal deposits. By the early nineteenth century, the technologies that were first developed in Great Britain began to spread globally. The pattern of diffusion was determined by a complex combination of politics, history, and geography. In Europe, technology generally moved eastward and southward to the rest of Europe and northward to Scandinavia. Even authoritarian governments in Europe did not stand in the way for long, since fierce interstate competition meant that each country sought to keep up with its rivals. Reforms were rife, and where they were delayed, laggards often succumbed to military defeat at the hands of more industrialized foes.
The Report as compiled: ”tended to avoid places that were disease-ridden, far from ports, mountainous, or inhospitable to farming. Imperialism mattered, too. ”Sub-Saharan Africa tended to lose out. ”The long era of brutal colonial rule left the region bereft of skilled labor and physical infrastructure compared with the rest of the world. The Report added that: Development remained difficult in view of the many geographic obstacles that constrained domestic energy production, made farming difficult, sapped the health of the work force, and raised the costs of transportation both within sub-Saharan Africa and between sub-Saharan Africa and major world markets.
Today, however, Africa is overcoming these problems one by one; thanks to new energy discoveries, long-awaited agricultural advances, breakthroughs in public health, better infrastructure, and greatly improved information, communications, and transportation technologies. Jeffrey Sachs asserts further that ”Outside Europe, in the nineteenth century, industrialization spread most successfully to places with good geography: countries that happened to have local coal deposits or other low-cost energy sources, industrial inputs such as iron ore or cotton, or easy access to international transport and world markets.’’
But how far can we go with this campaign for compensation?
May the good Lord bless Africa and its Diaspora.