The British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, paid a whirlwind visit to Grenada recently. He toured the nutmeg processing facilities at Gouyave, and was taken on an excursion that included the viewing of the remains of the recently collapsed Hubble bridge.
Prior to his visit to the Spice Island, Mr. Cameron stopped off in Jamaica where he offered that country’s Government funding to build a prison that would facilitate the housing of Jamaican nationals who are presently incarcerated in England.
Why not the construction of some schools or business enterprises to train and or provide jobs for young people, instead? This would have been a forward thinking intervention that may very well have contributed, albeit indirectly, over time, towards reducing the Jamaican prison population in the UK.
But the subject that caught my attention vis-a-vis Mr. Cameron’s showing up in our region, was his remarks concerning the reparation matter relevant to the Atlantic slave trade. When questioned by a reporter in Jamaica as to his Government’s official position concerning the subject of reparations for the crime of slave trafficking, that was carried out by his country, Great Britain, Mr. Cameron replied that the act of enslavement, although admittedly cruel and inhumane, took place a long time ago, and that we the descendants of the maltreated slaves should move on.
He actually said, that we should move on with our lives, and not focus on being compensated for the wrongful act of human enslavement that was carried out on our ancestors by citizens of his country, and other European nations.
Mr. Cameron, a guest in our region, was brazen, and in my opinion, displayed a degree of insensitivity when he attempted to deflect the call for discussions about the egregious act of inhumanity that was perpetrated by his ancestors against our ancestors.
His reasoning was especially onerous, as history has revealed how insult was added to injury, when in 1838 the British government paid monetary compensations of 20 million pounds (the equivalent of 20 billion pounds in today’s currency) to the English “slave owners” for the loss of their PROPERTY.. our ancestors.
Contemporary man must be reminded that during the years of the Atlantic slave trade, the enslaved African’s personal lives were literally stolen from them. They were forcefully taken, and transported like fettered animals in stocks to a distant land, far away from the comforts of their homes.
Whole families were separated, women were sexually abused, and the enslaved human cargoes were shackled and made to labour in open fields in the broiling sun for long hours without any form of compensation. The ulterior motive for the abusive overworking of the slaves, was the enrichment of the people who had enslaved them. A group, I must point out, that may have included Mr. Cameron’s ancestors.
Sir Hilary Beckles book “Britain’s Black Debt – Reparations for Caribbean slavery and native genocide” should be read by every Caribbean adult.
Sir Hilary’s research, written in a clear and unemotional style, used unimpeachable recorded evidence to expose the sanctioned collusion that existed between the highest organisations of authority in Britain, at the time of the slave trade. The list of the culpable is extensive.
The book details the mutually beneficial working arrangements that were forged between the British Government, Anglican church, Houses of Parliament, Merchant class, Banking establishment (precursor banks to what we know today as Barclays and the Bank of Scotland, to name a few), along with major shipping companies like the prestigious Lloyds, to establish, perpetuate, and ultimately profit enormously from the Atlantic slave trade.
Plantation records, ships manifests, official government papers, record and lay bare the extent of the deliberately orchestrated crime against humanity that the Atlantic slave trade was.
The Jewish people were compensated for Adolph Hitler’s crimes against them during the two world wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. The descendants of the Mau Mau people of Kenya were recently compensated and apologised to by Britain for their Government’s mistreatment to them during the so-called “Mau Mau uprising” of 1952-60. So why no compensation for the descendants of the enslaved Africans?
The monies from the British treasury that was used to compensate the planters for their “ loss of property” was reinvested in building roads, bridges, and other major infrastructure that paved the way for the sustained growth of the nation called Great Britain.
An advanced and developed nation whose representatives sit on the Security Council at the United Nations, and a country that enjoys full membership in the G7 group, an organisation comprising some of the world’s most powerful influence peddling nations.
These same profits that contributed towards building the U.K, were sucked from the blood, sweat and tears of African slaves who as descendants reside today in similarly plucked and looted nations of the Caribbean, that are categorised as lesser developed, and or Third World countries by the more fortunate developed countries, like guess who?
Incredibly, the British Government’s official excuse for their participation in the African slave trade is that this trade in human suffering was legal (under British law) at the time that it occurred. This is both a lame excuse and a ploy to justify their decision to avoid facing up to their responsibility to at least sit down and address the recurring question of reparations. Their stance will eventually collapse under the weight of international persuasion.
The reparations conversation is not a dramatic posturing of descendants of African slaves going to the UK Government with a begging bowl pleading for alms. It is a heartfelt request to make right a terrible wrong.
The argument for reparations is also logic based, and it is a sound one that will not go away, but only gather momentum over time. Reparations can come in different forms, and does not have to be only monetary specific.
I do believe that the day will come when the British Government will be forced to reconsider its position on reparations, and come to terms with the descendants of the victims of the Atlantic slave trade, to address the matter of settling the outstanding “Black Debt” that is owed to them by Great Britain.