African remembrance during Wilberfest at Westminster Abbey

By The Ligali Organisation | Sat 7 April 2007

Africans objections against Wilberfarce (left to right): Operation Truth 2007 protest outside Bristol Cathedral (25 March 2007) and Toyin Agbetu takes a stand inside Westminister Abbey (27 March 2007)

On March 2007, Toyin Agbetu stood up for African dignity during a ritual celebrating the British role in slavery at Westminster Abbey. The British church, monarchy and government were all present during the ritual designed to insult our Ancestors.

“This is an insult to the millions of African freedom fighters and those lost during the middle passage.... by not apologising... you shame yourself and your nation” was the accusation levelled at the Queen, Prime Minister, Archbishop of Canterbury and those African people who colluded with the unrepentant descendants of slavers in attending and arranging a ceremony which focused on the British act of so-called abolition whilst apportioning blame upon African people. As part of the commemorative events, the Queen laid a wreath at the foot of a giant statue to William Wilberforce, the Hull MP who advocated the gradual abolition of the British ‘slave trade’ and who also proclaimed that “it makes no sense to whip the slaves until after they have done a hard days work”.

Toyin had been invited to the event as a member of the press but, overwhelmed by the hypocrisy of the proceedings, resolved to make a stand against the marginalisation of the millions of African Ancestors who resisted enslavement and those who suffered under the inhumane regime of the British. In doing so, he vocalised the concerns of many African people nationally and internationally. During the ritual, a reverend instructed the congregation, which included thousands of African people, to kneel before God and beg forgiveness for British slavery whilst the Queen and Prime Minister remained seated. It was at this point that Toyin rose from his chair and calmly walked into the aisle and said “Not in our name”.

As he stood within metres of the heads of the Church, Government and Monarchy, the three British institutions which lead and sanctioned the enslavement of Mama Africa during the Maafa, he condemned the Wilberfest abolition celebration and told the Queen that in the history of the Maafa the British are the Nazis. Turning to Blair he told him of the deep shame he had brought upon himself by refusing to apologise on behalf of the British institution which enslaved, oppressed, colonised and continues to exploit the human and natural resources of Africa.

Addressing the thousands of African people in the abbey Toyin told them that the event and their submissive presence leant an air of moral legitimacy to the proceedings and was a disgrace. He announced that there was ‘no mention of Sam Sharpe, no mention of Nanny, Yaa Asantewaa, Boukman Dutty or African women... all Africans and Christians should get up and walk out with me now’.

Toyin was eventually man-handled by a group of security men and after a struggle, he walked out of the Abbey where he was interviewed by the press. A concerned Henry Bonsu, presenter on the African owned radio station, Colourful Radio, accompanied Toyin out of the church and remained with him whilst he was interviewed by the press and questioned by police. He later said “Toyin is one of the best people I know. He was not, in any sense, a real [physical] threat to the Queen. He is well known in the [African] community as an ardent campaigner…”

The global African outrage at the Wilberfest abolition themed service at Westminster Abbey follows the demonstration of African campaigners outside an earlier commemorative service at Bristol Cathedral on Sunday 25th March, where Operation Truth 2007, led by Jendayi Serwah, made their objection to the service and Wilberfarce 200 clear. The protest hit the headlines as crowds of people carried placards stating “not in our name” in direct reference to the government’s abolition propaganda drive. Jendayi said; “We feel this ceremony is totally inappropriate - 1807 did not bring anything for enslaved Africans”. Operation Truth 2007 has been campaigning tirelessly for months to promote the African position on the government’s plans and make known the community’s objection to the promotion of the British government’s inaccurate revisionist version of history.

In Jamaica, events to mark the bicentenary ignored the Wilberfest agenda and focused on honouring the numerous African freedom fighters that fought and died to be free from an oppressive european regime of exploitation and brutality and ultimately, exercise their human right to self-determine. This starkly contrasts with the British agenda which prefers to declare a pride in a British abolitionist who, whilst being opposed to slavery, was supportive of equally exploitative european colonial regimes.

Presenter and friend, Henry Bonsu interviews Toyin Agbetu on Colourful Radio

Overwhelming support

Immediately after the ceremony at the Abbey, Henry Bonsu later covered the incident on his popular Drive time show on Colourful Radio where an overwhelming number of callers supported the articulation of their frustration. Orin Lewis from the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust said “This [protest] is so historical… This [the commemorative service] is totally wrong. The whole context is wrong.” Bro. Olatunji from the Alkebu-Lan Revivalist Movement and Dr Sandra Richards, a fellow presenter on Colourful Radio, also called in to the station to voice their support. Kofi Klu, executive member of the set all free organisation who organised the ceremony at the Abbey, boldly declared “he did it in my name”. Renowned activist and educator, Dr William Lez Henry from Nu Beyond made the following statement of support for the principles of the protest:

“I witnessed Toyin’s uncompromising stance today on BBC and applaud our brother for having the courage, will and dignity to stand firm and ‘bun dem out’ from the inside. If you saw how his lone action dominated BBC news for the whole afternoon it more than anything shows you that unity is strength and that is what they fear. It is a pity that many who were there did not get up and walk out as this would have demonstrated how we cannot continue to be complicit in our own destruction. They can lay flowers for their people whilst many of us seem to be content to lay down and take whatever they ‘give’ us to commemorate ours.”

National and international emails of support continue to flood in. Both the Ligali and Blacknet online forums have been flooded with messages of support for the concerns voiced during the objection with many reiterating that Toyin’s actions and words helped reassert the need for Pan African unity to deliver human rights and justice across the world. Djehutis Wisdom, a poster on the Ligali online forum stated;

“How can an African stand in a celebration led by the same church who profited and was involved in our enslavement, sat a stones throw away from the queen who still lives quite comfortably on the legacy of our enslavement…? How in the world did anyone think there wasn’t going to be an African who would speak our voice in a celebration of Britain’s non existent philanthropy and morality. The queen should not only feel ashamed, she should feel like the barbarian she is and the figurehead of a barbarian, morally destitute and intellectually circumcised nation that she is.”

However, not everyone was as supportive. Speaking on Colourful Radio, Simon Woolley from the heavily government funded organisation, Operation Black Vote said; “It doesn’t make us look professional and dignified... I know the individual. He stands up at many meetings making gestures. It’s got to be more than gesture politics. It’s very easy to find 15 minutes of fame. Is it about him or is it about the issue?” Woolley is then said to have taken it upon himself to call Toyin’s family when they were concerned about his welfare in police custody, and distress them further by describing his actions as a bid for “fifteen minutes of fame”. His disapproval of Ligali’s protest was shared by Mike Chadwick, one of the handful of people who emailed the organisation to object to the democratic and peaceful declaration at the Abbey. He said “as a Brit living abroad I was horrified by the behaviour of someone claiming to represent your organisation in Westminster Abbey this afternoon”.

Following his release from police custody at approximately 9.30pm on Tuesday 27th March, Toyin participated in a two hour interview with activists and presenters Kwaku and Nii Kodjo on PowerJam radio and appeared on Colourful Radio the following evening.

(Left) Shamed and smiling: Tony Blair, John Prescott and Barbadian Prime Minister, Owen Arthur emerge from the commemorative service laughing; (right) The Queen lays a floral tribute to William Wilberforce

External Links
BBC – Operation Truth at Bristol Cathedral
BBC – Support for Abbey slavery protest
BBC - Discontent voiced over slavery events
Counterpunch - The Queen
Guardian – You, the Queen, should be ashamed!

Ligali is not responsible for the content of third party sites

Blessings to the Brother who had his say at the Abbey

Speak Out!

Was Toyin Agbetu wrong for refusing to kneel down before the British Church, Government and Monarchy and beg God’s forgiveness for British slavery?
Click here to speak out or read (1) comments about this article
I witnessed Toyin’s uncompromising stance today on BBC and applaud our brother for having the courage, will and dignity to stand firm and ‘bun dem out’ from the inside

Dr Lez Henry

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The African community have watched in dismay as this year, popularly known to us as Wilberfarce 2007, the British government have promoted a feel good revisionist history of centuries of British slavery. William Wilberforce, we have been told, freed millions of African people from enslavement. We have witnessed the political circus around the question of whether Britain should apologise for its violation of African human rights. The British celebrations have even gone as far as to create a ‘slavery beer’ named after the Brookes ship, a place of torture, death and suffering for many African people.

The culmination of this gross cultural orgy organised by the set all free organisation was the service in Westminster Abbey on Tuesday 27th March. Attended by the Queen, Prince Philip, Tony and Cherie Blair, Trevor Philips and a number of other African Christians, the ceremony involved “the singing of hymns, readings from the Bible and an air of inviolable solemnity” according to David Smith from the Guardian newspaper. Unfortunately, ‘inviolable solemnity’ is not something that will provide justice for the millions of African people for whom the Atlantic Ocean remains a burial ground. It will also fail to pacify the many African people in Britain and throughout the world who know that the 1807 Act did not end the forced transportation of African people, nor did it end the enslavement of African people. In fact, the Maafa continues to this very day in Africa and the Diaspora.

What this Act and the subsequent 1833 Act to abolish British slavery did was provide a very convenient smokescreen for the transformation of individual enslavement to colonial enslavement which facilitated British and european human rights abuses of African people that were equally as barbaric and unjust. Ultimately, rather than enslaving people in lands foreign to them, they decided to enslave the entire Continent of Africa. The popular tabloid myth that continues to be bandied around is that ‘slavery happened two hundred years ago, it’s over’. This is patently untrue. Even by european standards, British Slavery was only finally abolished in Sierra Leone on January 1 1928, nearly a century after the Abolition of Slavery Act. In academic, circles it is said that in marking the end of British slavery, this is the date which should be used. However even if 1807 is used as a legitimate parliamentary marker, physical enslavement facilitated through the Transatlantic kidnap of African people merely transformed itself into colonial enslavement, which was sanctioned by europeans at the 1883 Berlin Conference at which non-African nations carved up Africa for their commercial interest and benefits. Under their regimes, African people continued to be enslaved and their human rights denied. The British atrocities initiated against the people of Kenya are amongst the most horrific and unprovoked criminal acts in history. The period of colonial enslavement continued into the 20th century and the formative actions of europeans remain integral to the current situation of Africa whereby the Continent’s resources and people continue to be exploited. To state that ‘slavery ended 200 years ago’ is therefore inaccurate, disingenuous and indicates a flawed and uninformed logic on the part of those who continuously regurgitate this tabloid myth.

This defence also prevents people from making the very necessary connection between the past and the present. Britain has thousands of monuments to their history and historical figures and a myriad of historical anniversaries that they continue to celebrate. For a country that is allegedly so proud of its history and determined to ensure their forthcoming generation are reminded of the apparent ‘greatness of empire’ amongst other things, it is utterly hypocritical for this same country to then tell African people to forget about their history and ‘move on’. We in the African Diaspora and in the Motherland continue to suffer because of the unprecedented oppression of the Maafa.

The British conscience has a dilemma. It is a dilemma that presented itself to Germany on reflection of the Holocaust. Unlike Germany however, the barbaric nature of British slavery is not something any British institution wants to confront. With the usual hoo haa about ‘slavery happening a long time ago’, ‘Africans sold each other’ and ‘Wilberforce is the great saving grace’, the British public, encouraged by their national institutions manage to completely ignore the centuries of barbarity inflicted on African people, much of which has had a direct impact on the descendants of those enslaved African people.

Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, in what many interpret as a ploy to protect his job, publicly attacked Toyin and African nations in order to defend his churches role in the Maafa. He has initiated new calls upon African governments to apologise for “growing fat of the profits of slavery” and attacked African chiefs for what he described as “the capture and sale of their kith and kin for trinkets”. What Sentamu refuses to acknowledge is that Africa continues to grow impoverished whilst Britain and other european slaving nations gain an unnatural economic enrichment based on forced African labour past and present.

Likewise, Reverend John Hall claims to have delivered an “inclusive and moving” service at the Wilberfest abolition celebration and asserted that mentioning “the courage of abolitionists, black and white” who were at liberty to live in relative opulence compares with the millions of African freedom fighters who often paid for the liberty of their families with their own lives. There is no comparison to be made between Boukman Dutty and William Wilberforce, there is no equality in a comparison of Queen Nzinga and Queen Victoria and there is no equality of comparison between the Haitian revolution and the passing of the 1807 Act.

If church leaders will not provide honest moral leadership for their people then perhaps it is time for honest people to provide moral leadership for their church.

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