In the first of a three part article, Ligali addresses the arguments used to justify the on-going Maafa (enslavement of Mama Africa) and simultaneously perpetuate myths and historical inaccuracies at the expense of the truthful retelling of Our history.
Blair’s personal statement of sorrow published in the New Nation newspaper, has been rightly criticised for what he did say as much as what he didn’t. And of course, few failed to note the convenient timing of the this-is-not-an-apology statement, apparently crafted to coincide with his last few months as Prime Minister and therefore a means to ‘enhance his legacy’ if Valerie Amos’ recently exposed written notes are to be taken seriously.
It was also timed to coincide with the hastily approaching 2007 bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act for which the government have planned a complete whitewash and revisionist version of history to promote the national resurgence in cultural arrogance and imperialistic ambitions.
During a trip to Africa in January 2005, Gordon Brown said that Britain should stop apologising for the brutally exploitative, oppressive and culturally assimilative nature of colonialism and Empire. To the applause of British racists everywhere, he announced that Britain should be proud of its imperial history.
Dianne Abbott, the African British Labour MP for Hackney disagreed with this viewpoint, and in a rare display of political integrity for an African politician in Britain said; “[Britain continues] to airbrush the truth of our recent colonial history… What the Chancellor fails to recognise is that such an apology has not yet been made. I am proud of many parts of British history but colonialism is certainly not amongst them”.
Nevertheless, despite some people claiming that they want to have an honest debate about the Maafa, more often than not, such discussions are met with predictable and uneducated defensive statements not to mention anger, sarcasm, hatred, vengefulness and an inherent disrespectful flippancy from Britain’s ethnic majority. All of this simply serves to highlight the culturally and emotionally immaturity of those who profess to know all, but in reality know little or nothing about the ongoing, 1,300 year Maafa waged against Africa and her people.
Below is a list of the most common arguments used to justify the enslavement of Mama Africa and deny the horrors of the Maafa. It is important that we also recognise that these Maafa deniers and slavery apologists emanate not only from non African communities but also from the compromised or ignorant people in our own community who seek to dilute and dismiss our pain and sufferance and feel no need to facilitate justice for our ancestors.
“12 million Africans were transported. Some three million died.” – Tony Blair, New Nation newspaper, Monday 27th November 2006
The citation of ‘three million died’ is an insult to all African people and a legal attempt to place the human cost of African life at less than the estimated six million Jews who died during the Shoah/Holocaust. Scholars across the world have repeatedly and extensively disputed these under-estimated european statistics on the Maafa. The massive underdevelopment of Africa, which was caused by the forced depopulation of its human workforce is estimated by most historians to be in the region of twenty to one hundred million. This is discounting the millions of African lives lost during British colonisation and neo-colonisation exploitation.
“Thankfully Britain was the first country to abolish the trade.” – Tony Blair, 2006
African freedom fighters involved in a relentless number of uprisings leading to the deaths of thousands of slavers were the first to form ‘abolitionist’ movements that fought to eradicate enslavement and stop the trafficking of Africans throughout their sphere of influence. In 1791, as a direct result of African insurrections against european slavers, Haiti was the first country in the Caribbean to end African enslavement. Meanwhile Denmark, as Lord Gifford highlighted in the House of Lords in 1996, was the first european nation to instigate the abolition of trafficking of African people although this was limited to the Madeira. In 1794, the French National Convention abolished slavery in all its territories although this law was repealed by Napoleon in 1802. Up until this date the British had rejected all calls for abolition.
“As we approach the commemoration for the 200th anniversary of that abolition, it is only right we also recognise the active role Britain played until then in the slave trade.” – Tony Blair, 2006
Britain continued to play an active role in the Maafa after 1807. After the passing of the 1807 act the attacks against enslaved Africans by British slavers increased in their ferocity. It was not until 1833 that Britain passed the Abolition of Slavery Act and 1838 when it abolished the patronising and dehumanising “apprenticeship” scheme for formerly enslaved Africans and replaced it with colonisation; the process of enslaving whole nations of people in their own land rather than kidnapping people from their land and enslaving them in foreign territory.
“[We should] express our deep sorrow that it ever happened and... rejoice at the different and better times we live in today.” – Tony Blair, 2006
This is a very tainted opinion based only on the reality of europeans in Europe and not on the quality of life for Africans on the Continent and in the Diaspora. The so-called ‘debt’ being repaid to non-African nations continues to cripple the development of some African countries whilst in Britain, recent studies have revealed that race hate crimes have increased by a third in the past year.
“It is hard to believe what would now be a crime against humanity was legal at the time.” – Tony Blair, 2006
Blair’s statement asserts that the act of kidnapping, murdering, raping and enslaving human beings was not illegal in the seventeenth century. This is untrue. These criminal acts were unlawful by both African and european legal standards. The real issue is that the British judiciary believed Africans were sub-human and therefore the legal property of those europeans whom they held captive. Blair’s statement arrogantly chooses to ignore the existence and legitimacy of the African criminal justice system prior to contact with europeans during the Maafa for which the acts of kidnapping, murder and rape were certainly not ‘legal’.
His morally abhorrent claim that British slavery was legal at the time could also be used to justify apartheid in Azania (South Africa). Yet although the western world publicly condemned the latter, then just as during African enslavement, it was African freedom fighters who risked their lives to abolish the evil perpetrated against them by europeans. It was not until the system was crumbling and it had become economically unprofitable that european nations chose to join the fight for the abolition of apartheid. Up until then Britain and many other european nations actually provided weapons to the evil regime.
“Personally I believe the bicentenary offers us a chance not just to say how profoundly shameful the slave trade was – how we condemn its existence utterly and praise those who fought for its abolition” – Tony Blair, 2006
It is important to recognise the distinction between european abolitionists and African freedom fighters. Some abolitionists were anti-slavery, but almost all were pro-colonialism. In contrast African freedom fighters fought for the immediate emancipation from european tyranny, total and absolute freedom from oppression and indigenous self rule. Whilst the leading abolitionist movement of europeans campaigned for a gradual end to the enslavement of African people, those led by British women and those in France were following the lead of true revolutionary movements such as that in Haiti which fought for total abolition. Until the names of the many African freedom fighters who risked and lost their lives fighting for freedom, are ingrained into the British psyche to the extent of such compromised individuals as William Wilberforce, no prominent focus should be placed on the actions or dubious moral credentials of abolitionists for gradual change.
“I think there are all sorts of problems about how far you go in readdressing all the problems posed by what happened in the past” - Trevor Macdonald, 2006
In 1988, the US government through The Civil Liberties Act apologised on behalf of the people of the U.S. for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The Act also authorised $1.2 billion for payments of $20,000 to each of the roughly 60,000 internees still alive and for the establishment of a $50 million foundation to promote the cultural and historical concerns of Japanese Americans.
In 2004, Germany apologised for murdering over 65,000 Herero to suppress the Nama uprising. The Germans drew the line at offering compensation but promised to continued paying reparations in the form of economic aid for Namibia which currently amounts to a lowly £7.5 million a year.
“… slavery was where it all started. I think we should understand that, realise that, and, ironically, be proud of that... What should be said to children is, do not be ashamed of slavery… It has made us who we are and made the whole west what it is… Black children can have some pride in this. We should be teaching about empire, but only in its full glory." – Tony Sewell, 2003
African history does not begin with slavery and end at abolition. This is one of the most fundamental flaws in the governmental and institutional approach to the Maafa, which seeks to compartmentalise an on-going process of exploitation and trim it down to 400 years. Reaffirming the history of ‘slavery’ in isolation will ultimately portray African people as having been nothing more than ‘victims’ and ‘slaves’ is incredibly dangerous to the mental, psychological and academic development of our children particularly if, as Sewell disingenuously claims in his quote, they will be asserting that African history ‘started’ with slavery. The enslavement of Africa is certainly not a story we should be teaching our children to take “pride” in. There was no “glory” for Africa in the odious and brutal acts of the British Empire which decimated and continues to abuse the human and natural resources of Mama Africa.
“At an estimated count of 27 million, there are more enslaved people in the world today than the number of Africans involved at the height of the Transatlantic ‘slave trade’”. - The Christian Science Monitor, 2004
Statements from organisations which deliberately compare the historic enslavement of African people with that of modern day trafficking and bonded labour are quite simply offensive and insulting as it is a cynical attempt to downplay the wide spread and extensive nature of the enslavement of Africa and is demeaning to the memory of our ancestors and those who continue to suffer as a result of the Maafa. For the record however, these childish comparisons often come from a european assessment of enslavement which not only purposefully underestimates the number of Africans exploited but fails to incorporate the millions of African people enslaved by other foreign forces such as the arabs. African people do not claim to have a monopoly on suffering but the constant undermining of our right to express our feelings about that suffering should never be belittled or dismissed by attempting to compare it to the suffering of others
Fundamentally, there is no moral justification for conflating the two distinct issues.. The chattel enslavement of African people was not separate from a unique anti-African process which systematically dehumanised and forcibly stripped both cultural and spiritual identity from those who were enslaved. It is the legacy of this process and the global scale of the crime which involved all european nations which invalidates any legitimate comparison with trafficking and bonded labour. It is of course an abhorrent reality that people are forced to work for shamefully low pay to fuel globalisation and the demands of consumers in western nations or exploited for the ever expanding sex industry.
“A once lawful and prosperous trade that if it existed now would be a crime against humanity. As the Prime Minister is making clear, the abolition happened in Britain before anywhere else…” – Ruth Kelly MP, November 2006
The kidnap, rape, murder and forced servitude of humans was always an illegal act. It is only the morally insincere who continue to imply that the enslavement of African people was not a crime against humanity. The abolition of slavery begun in Africa, the Caribbean and certain regions of the Americas long before western nations considered abolishing their immoral and barbaric practices.
“The slave industry shaped the Britain we know, for better and for worse.” – Trevor Philips, December 2006
This statement is highly offensive. It is no different from claiming that there are “good” and bad “benefits” for those who commit kidnap, murder, rape, oppression and exploit the forced labour of other humans. Ultimately, this is a very eurocentric evaluation of history and one which consciously shows little understating of or empathy with the African experience.
“At least Britain recognises slavery as a crime against humanity”
In 2001, at the UN World Conference against Racism held in the South African city of Durban almost all western nations rejected calls from African people to recognise the Maafa as a crime against humanity. The US delegation, led by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, actually boycotted the conference on this and other related issues.
Valerie Amos, the head of the UK delegation said Britain is prepared to use "strong words" like "abhorrence" to describe its assessment of the British role in the enslavement of Africans but argued that Britain could not refer to slavery as a crime against humanity because such an acknowledgement has legal implications before international courts that could force them to pay reparations.
Eleven european countries, led by Belgium which held the EU presidency at the time, were prepared to offer an outright apology for slavery, but they were blocked by Britain, led by Valerie Amos and the former foreign secretary, Jack Straw.
It took the tireless work of the African Guyanese member of French parliament, Christiane Taubira, to force the French government to become the first european country to legally recognise slavery as a crime against humanity. As a result, in 2006 the French president, Jacques Chirac, institutionalised an annual [slavery] Remembrance Day unsurprisingly focused around the actions of european politicians in parliament and not African activists and freedom fighters during the Maafa.
The enslavement and subsequent colonisation of African people by the British was not just a crime against humanity, it was a crime specifically against Africans. The numerous revolts against slaver raids across the Continent highlight the fact that this heinous practice was undoubtedly viewed as unjust and illegal by African nations. This was a crime committed against Africa and instigated in Africa by european, arab and other foreign nations. Slaving europeans justified this through Christianity by labelling Africans as a soulless people whom they placed outside of humanity.
In April, 1963, civil rights activist Martin Luther King said; “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers.”
The refusal of politicians and their legal advisors to admit that slavery was a crime against Africa remains a deliberate attempt to hinder the identification of the injured party in case of future litigation.
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