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Reparations must be paid

by Alleyne George, Wednesday JULY 17, Newsday T&T

African slavery was perhaps the worst form of terrorism of the last 500 years, with the physical subjugation and economic hobbling of countries running a close second. Sometimes it was difficult to differentiate between the two groups, the horror of it all. Western European nations have been the greatest colonisers and enslavers in world history.

Yet, ironically, they have been able to do a mental sleight of hand with respect to the enslavement and colonising of Africa and similar positions vis a vis the African Diasporas, as against their being overrun and their economic and industrial growth crippled by the Germans during World Wars 1 and 11.

The Allies, having defeated Germany at the end of World War 1, established a Reparations Commission, which just under two and a half years later in April of 1921 required reparation payments from Germany to the tune of US$33 billion! The British, who were part of the Allied Forces, which defeated Germany, had paid at the abolition of slavery 20 million pounds sterling, not to the slaves, but to those who had enslaved them. I write this without bitterness, without rancour, but merely to demonstrate why any seeking of the redressing of the imbalance of history, with particular reference to reparations to the descendants of African slaves, as well as to former colonised Africans, has validity.

The position of Allied Europe, immediately following on World Wars 1 and 11, clearly approximated that of colonised Africa, not merely after slavery, but during the long depressing night of colonialism.

Let us begin with World War 1. Germany, which had declared war on and had fought the Allied nations had crushed France for the second time in a little over 40 years. At the end of the war, France, had demanded and received reparations from Germany, not only in the form of money, but raw materials. France, whose economic and industrial growth had been set back by the war, sought and won the ceding for a period of 15 years the extensive Saar coal mines of Germany, as well as the return of Alsace and Lorraine, with its vast coal mines, which Germany had seized from it years earlier in 1871.

Germany's rapid industrial development had been made possible by the vast mineral resources in the Saar, the Ruhr and Alsace and Lorraine. The reparations received by the European countries, which had been occupied and ravaged by Germany had set a precedent for the manoeuvre to help similarly affected countries back on their feet.

It had been Europe's colonies in Africa and India which had forged the industrial growth and economic expansion of Western Europe. Industrialisation of European occupied Africa was deliberately discouraged, even to the extent, at once ludicrous and sad, of a Governor rejecting a proposal to establish a factory in Uganda to produce blankets! "The estimated levels of per capita industrialisation around 1750" in what is today called the developed world and the now so-called developing world, saw the developing world responsible for 73 percent of the world's manufactured goods, while the developed world produced 27 per cent: Paul Bairoch, "Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes".

By 1860, after more than a century of cruel exploitation and deliberate underdevelopment by Europe, the situation had been reversed. The developing countries now produced 36.6 percent of the world's manufactured goods, and the developed nations 63.4 percent.

By 1900 the developing world, with the colonies largely restricted to being primary producers, turned out 11 per cent of the world's manufactured goods, and the developed world 89 per cent.

This was not due to hurricanes, earthquakes and pestilence, but part of an almost diabolical policy of Western Europe. But even these sad differences in production levels slipped yet further in 1953 to 7.2 percent and 93 percent respectively, rising a bit to 16.7 percent developing world and sliding back a mere whisper to 83.3 percent for the developed world.

Germany's policy, as it sought to colonise Tanganyika, about 1880, instituted a scorched earth policy to subjugate the area. There was "the systematic destruction of houses, crops and storages, as well as the capture of available stock....The military command found that famine was its most useful weapon....Troops were stationed in a strategic food production location to prevent any farm activity during the main seeding periods. The local people were faced with the cruel choice of surrendering or facing death by starvation": Helge Kjekshus, "Ecology Control and Economic Development in East African History: The Case of Tanganyika 1850-1950".

As a result of this, the man made famine, Kjekshus would note in Pages 143 to 146, became the strategy relied on almost entirely by the German Army as it sought to overcome resistance. Indeed, so proud were the Germans of this strategy that they went so far as to incorporate it in their standard military handbook at the time. It was, the handbook cynically described it, a cruel but useful ally which the Army should not refrain from putting to use.

When German military operations ended in August of 1907, one estimate, put 75,000 Africans as having died during the war. In another estimate, 120,000 were supposed to have died mainly from famine.

If it was all right for the European Allies to demand and obtain reparations from the Germans after World War 11, is it not in order for East Africa to demand reparations from Germany. And for Africa and the African Diaspora in the Caribbean and the Americas to demand and expect reparations as well for, where relevant, slavery and colonisation and all that went with it?

Following the end of World War 11, total reparations demanded of Germany and Italy by principally Russia, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia totalled US$1.27 billion, plus raw materials and what have you. At the end of World War 1 the sum of US$33 billion had been demanded and agreed to for the restoration of Belgium, France.

If Europe (the Allies) could demand and receive reparations from Germany, then why canít Africa and the African Diaspora not be able to demand and receive reparations from their former colonisers who had suffered far worse. Reparations, Africa and its Diaspora should insist, must be paid.

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