Why Britain Should Apologise and Pay Reparations to African Peoples
By Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, nigeriaworld.com
December 6, 2006
British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently told The Nation (the London-based weekly publication that focuses mainly on African peoples' readership) that his country was "sorrowful" over its central role in the European World's enslavement of African peoples. This declaration is surely not good enough as Britain is the leading beneficiary of this holocaust. Blair should have apologised unreservedly to Africans across the world for Britain's role in a holocaust that remains humanity's most gruesome, most expansive, and most enduring. Blair should also have announced a comprehensive package of reparations paid to all surviving Africans in Africa, Europe, the Americas and elsewhere in the world for this crime.
It must be emphasised that within 300 years of achieving the strategic control of Africa's human and material resources, namely at the apogee of the African enslavement, Europe laid the foundation for the West's political and economic hegemony of the world as we know it presently. This is a fact - "though largely erased and ignored in Western thought," as Michel Beaud, the influential French economist, is keen to remind the European World. Britain, the first truly effective Western global power, used the gargantuan wealth it acquired during the course of its late 17th century/18th century pre-eminent role in the enslavement and mass exportation of millions of Africans to the Americas to consolidate its conquest of the Americas (especially the north and the Caribbean basin), embark on its conquest of India and other regions of Asia, embark on the subsequent pan-European (Britain, France, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, Germany and Italy) conquest and occupation of a (subsequently) weakened Africa, and lastly, but surely not least in importance, finance its 19th century industrial revolution which was the turning point in the development of Western capitalism.
Britain's success on this score cannot be over-stressed. This was a country which, prior to the mid-17th century, was still a "cultural and scientific backwater," to borrow the graphic description made by Christopher Hill, the eminent British historian who is an authority on this period of British history. By the beginning of the 18th century, Britain had established virtual world monopoly in the seizure and transportation of millions of Africans from their homelands to the Americas after displacing the Iberian states of Portugal and Spain. It used the enormous resources that accrued to it as a result to finance its burgeoning scientific and technological enterprises. Soon, as Hill further notes, Britain became the "centre of world science." And to underline the sheer size of the wealth Britain was accumulating during the period, Charles Davenant, a late 17th century economist who studied the comparative worth of an enslaved African in the Caribbean and a worker in England concluded: "[The labour of this enslaved African] is worth six times as much as the labour of an Englishman at home."
Whilst studying the work of African labour force in the Guyanese sugar industry in the 1870s, it did not come as a shock to Joseph Beaumont, the British chief justice of Guyana, that it took two to three days of work by the "best English laborer" (in England) of the day to complete a day's work done by a typically enslaved African plantation worker. "We have [in England] no excavating work so heavy as trench digging in Demerara [Guyana]," recalled Beaumont, "and if the reader were to see a stalwart negro ... sweltering under the blazing sun throughout the day ... standing up to his knees and often to his hips in water, not only lifting (or more properly wrenching) 4000 to 5000 spits of dense clay ... throwing these twelve or sixteen feet clear on each side - not with a pleasant hammer throwing swing, but delivered straight from the loins at the end of a seven foot shovel ... I venture to think he would not only wonder at but admire ... the 'lazy nigger'" (emphasis in the original).
During the 300 years of Britain's ascendancy as the world's principal slaver-power in Africa and the Americas, leading members of its state establishment (especially in royalty, clergy, parliament, industry, academia, science and the arts) personally and collectively profited enormously from this unprecedented holocaust in human history. Cities such as London, Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow became extremely rich, showcasing the spectacular transformation that each had undergone from being key destinations of prime investment of profits accruing to the British treasury from the enslavement of the African humanity. Thereafter, Britain became the epicentre of the intellectual activity of an ever-expanding collective of European World genocidist scholars, scientists and writers who offered the "requisite" cultural/scientific/literary rationalisation for the African holocaust. Influential members of this collective would include Spencer, Petty, Darwin, Lyell, Prichard, Reade, Locke, White, Knox, Marx, Hume, Lee, Farrar, Coupland, Egerton, Trevor-Roper, Conrad, Kipling, Carey, Haggard, Burroughs, Buchan, Mitford, Monsarrat, Ballantyne, Huxley and Blixen. These practitioners, in a sentence, turned Britain into the creator, cardinal codifier, and pivotal publicist of pan-European racism as an ideology - to desperately effectuate that strategic goal of erasure that Michel Beaud referred to.
The stupendous fortune Britain earned from this holocaust and the accompanying gullies of socio-economic devastation it unleashed across Africa and African survivors in Africa itself, the Americas and elsewhere in the world, ensured that a triumphant Prime Minister Salisbury confidently insisted in a speech in London in 1898: "One can roughly divide the nations of the world into the living and the dying ... [T]he living nations will fraudulently encroach on the territory of the dying." Less than 50 years after these remarks were made, the dire consequences of pogroms and holocausts would be felt much closer home to the heart of Europe rather than just the targeted lands further afield in Africa and elsewhere. On this, Sven Lindqvist has observed solemnly:
I am fairly sure the nine-year-old Adolf Hitler was not in Albert Hall when Lord Salisbury was speaking. He had no need to. He knew it already. The air he and all other Western people in his childhood breathed was soaked in the conviction that imperialism is a biologically necessary process, which, according to the laws of nature, leads to the inevitable destruction of the lower races. It was a conviction which already cost millions of human lives before Hitler provided his highly personal application.
As should be expected, the effects on Africans and their homeland of this earlier holocaust, have been grave indeed: the active human power of millions of future African generations were uprooted and shipped off to the Americas by European slavers to work the cotton, sugar and tobacco plantations, excavate the gold and silver mines, and build new towns and cities in territories being conquered by rampaging European conqueror forces. In the process, as Cheikh Anta Diop has shown, Africa lost about 150 million of its peoples as enslaved, including those who died during the overland journey to conveyor-ships and the voyage to the Americas. Soon, Britain and the rest of the European powers (France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Belgium, Spain), who eventually occupied Africa, turned the continent into a reservoir of cheap labour for intensive and extensive agricultural and mineralogical exploitation. The African farmer was converted overnight into a "cash crop farmer", a term that at face value has a dubious meaning as it is aimed to describe a farmer who cultivates assorted crops such as cotton, cocoa, palm produce, groundnut, cloves and sisal solely for export to European markets. The farmer who cultivates other crops, but for the home market, which he or she still sells for cash, is not a "cash crop farmer"! Instead, goes the conquest-economics jargon, the latter farmer is involved in "subsistent farming". Considering that the overwhelming majority of Africans were, and are still farmers, these millions of people were, as a result of the European conquest and occupation, being culturally alienated at the crucial site of their economic activity with obvious far-reaching implications, which are still at the core of Africa's current tragedy. If the African labour was not bound for agricultural activity, "cash crop", or not, he or she was instead deployed by the occupation-state to the European mining corporations dotted all over the continent to extract various types of minerals including diamonds, gold, tin, bauxite, coal, copper, iron ore and petroleum products - again for export to the European World. All forms of taxes were imposed to expedite this European take-over of Africa, and the strategic spheres of the continent's independent pre-conquest cultural, industrial and other forms of technological creativity therein were curtailed or suppressed.
In effect, African land and property relations were abolished by the occupation to make way for the seizure of land for both plantation agriculture and mining enterprises already referred to, or for the construction of new communication infrastructure, or for the direct population settlement by European immigrants as exemplified in east Africa (Kenya), southern Africa (Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Angola, Namibia), west Africa (Sao Tome and Principe, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde) and north Africa (Algeria). Again, Britain was the leading conqueror-state beneficiary during this phase of the direct occupation of Africa, having particularly seized lands with major population centres and vast and multiple natural resource emplacements: South Africa, Namibia (proxy control, post-1918), Zimbabwe, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania (post-1918), Sudan, Nigeria, South Cameroons (post-1918), Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia. In each of these conquered lands as well as others, now arbitrarily carved out from hitherto existing African states, the European regime imposed its monetary system on society and also ensured that the terms for the exchange of goods and services, fundamental for the logical development of any socio-economic activity or relation, was inextricably tailored to the needs and expectations of the home market back home (in Europe). No doubt, the economies that emerged subsequently in Africa, particularly on the eve of the so-called re-establishment of the peoples' independence from the mid-1950s, were structurally bereft of local needs and priorities. Instead, these were mineralogical and agricultural redoubts to service a European home market, and, at the same time, conduits for European emigration.
In summary, three distinct consequences on the African humanity can be discerned from the British-led (i.e. post-mid 17th century) enslavement of Africans or the African holocaust. First, the seizure and exportation of 150 million Africans from Africa to the Americas and elsewhere. Second, the destruction/near destruction of local populations and the dispatch of survivors/others into labour reserves/"townships" to make way for direct European occupation (particularly east/southern Africa) as from the 19th century, and, finally, the overall control of subjugated populations and the conversion of human and material resources to serve pan-European interests (rest of Africa), which has continued virtually uninterrupted to this day.
Kakistocracy and Genocide
The concerted African drive, beginning soon after the Second World War, to free the continent of European control has yet to achieve its strategic objective: unfettered restoration-of-independence. Britain and France and Belgium and Portugal and Spain just won't let go of Africa; for these countries, the phenomenal bounties of the African conquest are yet to be fully expropriated, despite the holocaust, despite the hundreds of years of occupation, and, more importantly, despite the insistence of the post-1945 African liberating mission. Starting from 1956 in Sudan, Britain (once again!) embarked on the construction of a constellation of kakistocratic states across the continent to precisely neutralise the emergence of this new, free Africa. Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia and others, as well as the Belgian and French derivatives of these monstrous constructs (Congo Democratic Republic, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo Republic, Chad, Central African Republic, Cameroon, etc., etc.) soon followed suit. In Nigeria, in 1966, Britain perfected, even further, the catastrophic tentacles of kakistocracy in Africa as I demonstrate in my new book, Biafra Revisited (African Renaissance, 2006). In concert with the Nigerian state (religious, military, police, academic, bureaucracy, media) and the leaderships of key constituent nations in the country, Britain inaugurated the quintessential genocidal state in Africa: Nigeria. Britain and its Nigerian allies murdered 3.1 million Igbo people during the course of 1966-1970 in the most horrendous genocide of Africans not seen on the continent since the mid-19th century. The mass murder of the Igbo set a grotesque precedence that would chart and characterise the central features of African politics during the subsequent 30 years: Sierra Leone, Liberia, Chad, Congo Democratic Republic, Congo Republic, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, Sudan. A total of 12 million Africans have been murdered in these countries since the Igbo genocide.
As Britain (and France and Belgium particularly) would surely attest, the African kakistocratic state, especially its genocidal variety in Nigeria and the Sudan for instance, pays handsomely. An examination of any index of statistical data on Anglo-Nigeria relations, or indeed Anglo-Sudan interactions, won't shock for the very obvious. As the Africans in Nigeria and the Sudan languish in perpetuity in these perditions of "homeland" of British creation, the British continue to enjoy unprecedented levels of profits from these countries, day in, day out, receive net capital inflows from these territories, including those looted by thieving leaderships and officials, and appropriate critical resources from there at will ... Britain, and the rest of the European World, couldn't ask for a more enabling environment to expropriate and expropriate the vast riches of Africa indefinitely. For Africans, the next move in the much-sought-after liberation, couldn't be clearer: (1) dismantle the extant genocide state or quickly abandon your membership therein and (2) create new state forms of civilisation that expressly serve your interests and aspirations - not those of others, including especially the notorious overlords of persons, groups and "ascribed" nations who carry out the day-to-day policing of what Peter Opara has aptly tagged "the cage".
Reprinted with the permission of the author from: