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.
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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
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.