REPARATIONS & DEBT ABOLITION: AN AUSPICIOUS TIME TO FURTHER THE ISSUE
Africa is the second largest continent (after Asia) with 1.2 billion people, speaking over 800 languages. Africa is regarded as a land of opportunities, in view of its vast and limitless potentials. It harbours innumerable mineral resources including aluminum ore, bauxite, chromium, cobalt, copper, diamonds, gold, iron ore, manganese, petroleum, platinum, and zinc. The invasion of Africa by the West left in its trail, tales of woes and mixed feelings about the effects of colonization. Africa was balkanized by Western countries and became colonies of Western nations.The struggle for the colonization of Africa by the West was so feverish that such nations as Britain, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain engaged in tussles in order to control various parts of Africa, in moves that have been described as the ‘’partitioning’’ of the region. Indeed, the advent of colonialists brought along with it, stories of modernization; as well as massive exploitation of human and material resources. The continent suffered heavy deprivations and enormous assault of the rights of the populace by colonialists, who shipped Africans in large numbers to the West to work for the development of the economies of advanced nations.
This regrettable occurrence is believed to have drawn Africa backwards by several decades.For about 500 years, Africa was violated and abused by slave dealers and traders. Africans who could not find their ways home stayed in the developed nations in which they suffered huge deprivations, discrimination and prejudice. Trinidad & Tobago, Cuba, Argentina, Brazil, Papua New Guinea, Haiti, South-America, Barbados, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Uruguay.Haiti, founded by Africans,is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It is a known fact that Africa houses most the poorest countries of the world.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 vicious and inhuman transportation overseas of millions of Africans, but also the deaths of several millions more. Nobody knows the total number of people who died during slave raiding and wars in Africa, during transportation and imprisonment, or in horrendous conditions.
Nigeria’s former ambassador to the Federative Republic of Brazil, Dr. Patrick Dele Cole has pointed out that the sweats of black people who were subjected to hard labourin 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. In the publication contained in the Guardian Newspaper, Cole stated that: ”without slave trade and the physical transfer of slaves, accounting for the largest in history, the West would not be as developed as it is today. 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 football players, who are often the descendants of slaves, or their forebears.(Nigerian Guardian newspaper of June 24, 2014.
AFRICAN UNION TO THE RESCUE
Nobody really gave serious thought to the effects of this callous deprivation suffered by Africans and Africans in the Diaspora, 1991 when the AU saw the need to pursue reparations for the acts ofinjustice meted to Africans and African descendants. The Organization of African Unity (now African Union) by Resolution 1339, approved the recommendation that created a body known as: ‘Eminent African and Africans to the Diaspora’. Its task was to determine ‘’The extent of Africa’s exploitation, the liability of the perpetrators, and the strategies for achieving reparation. Before then, one of the greatest Africans that ever lived, lateBashorun MKO Abiola had taken it upon himself to campaign vigorously around the world for Western nations to compensate Africa for violating the continent and drawing it back by acts of commission and omission. AU’s Resolution 1373 adopted by the Council of Ministers in1992, mandated the Secretary-General to take further necessary steps concerning the matter and expressed appreciation toChief MKO Abiola of Nigeria: ‘’for his commitment and its shares in favor of reparations.’’ It is to be noted that: ‘’The first pan-African conference on reparations for the enslavement, the colonization and the African neo-colonization headed by MKO Abiola was held in Abuja, Nigeria in1993, and it was sponsored by the Committee of Eminent Personalities and by the Reparations Commission of the Organization of African Unity.
With the prison and the mysterious death of MKO Abiola the issue of reparations has a setback, but ten years later and more precisely in 2004, the African Renaissance Party submits to the federal Parliament a bill called African Reparation Act, which provides for the establishment of the African Reparation Commission with the task of chairing the process of reparations at Nigerian level.The ABUJA PROCLAMATION, in part, ‘’calls upon the international community to recognize that there is a unique and unprecedented moral debt owed to the African peoples which has Yet to be paid – the debt of compensation to the Africans as the most humiliated and exploited people of the last four centuries of modern history….Further urges the Organization of African Unity to call for full monetary payment of repayments through capital transfer and debt cancellation.’’ The document further: ‘’Served notice on all States in Europe and the Americas which had participated in the enslavement and colonization of the African peoples, and which may still be engaged in racism and neo-colonialism, to desist from any further damage and start building bridges of conciliation, co-operation, and through reparation.’’
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 US$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 US$24 million, USSR US$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.’’
A research carried out by Jeffrey Sachs, which supports the notion above indicates that: ‘’The long era of brutal colonial rule left the region bereft of skilled labor and physical infrastructure compared to the rest of the world. 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.The foregoing clearly justifies the stand of the AU that reparations be paid to African nations, alongside debt forgiveness. MKO Abiola’s death in 1997, caused a serious set back for the move to actualize this patriotic objective; but some pressure groups emerged following the brilliant outings of Abiola’s committee. One of these is ‘Africa Reparations Movement, that has sensitized the world about the need to demand for the return of African artifacts looted from Africa during the colonial period. The death of the prime mover of the Movement, Congressman Bernie Grant in 2000 has left the pressure group comatose.
Given global economic and political developments, and the recent description of Africa as a ‘shithole’,there might be the need to pursue this issue further. In September 2016, the United Nations’ Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent published a report that concluded the United States needed to take urgent action in terms of slavery reparations. The report noted that ‘’there still exists a legacy of racial inequality in the United States, explaining that, “Despite substantial changes since the end of the enforcement of Jim Crow and the fight for civil rights, ideology ensuring the domination of one group over another, continues to negatively impact the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of African Americans today.” The report goes on to explain that a “…dangerous ideology of white supremacy inhibits social cohesion among the US population”Anotherdanger lies in hunger.The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 233 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were hungry/undernourished in 2014-2016. 795 million people were hungry worldwide.Poverty in Africa is caused by a number of factors.A publication on ‘HUNGER NOTES’ ascribes the leading causes of hunger in Africa to:‘’corruption and poor governance, limited employment opportunities, poor infrastructure, poor resource usage, wars and unending conflicts, poor World Bank and IMF policies, among others’’.
A publication titled: ‘’Why should we drop the debt?’’ published in ‘Jubilee Debt Campaign’ makes a strong case for the abolition of the debts of foreign nations and asserts that: ‘’’Firstly, several governments want to spend more money on poverty reduction but they lose that money in paying off their debts. Economist Jeff Rubin agrees with this stance on the basis that the money could have been used for basic human needs and says it is Odious Debt’’.Also, many of the debts were signed with unfair terms, several of the loan takers have to pay the debts in foreign currency such as dollars, which make them vulnerable to world market changes. ‘’The unfair terms can make a loan extremely expensive, many of the loan takers have already paid the sum they loaned several times, but the debt grows faster than they can repay it. ‘’Finally, many of the loans were contracted illegally, not following proper processes.‘’Rich world governments must accept that debt isn’t just a cause of poverty – it is also a result of their reckless, negligent or self-interested lending. ‘’They lent in order to buy support in the Cold War, or to secure contracts for their companies – they should not now demand this money back from the poor.’’
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