As the calls for Africa reparations have been gathering momentum in recent years, a select group of reactionary leaders in Africa and their G 8 masters have worked behind the scenes to conceive a neo-liberal economic blueprint for Africa called: “The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)”. Its proponents claim that this initiative would create a new contractual relationship between Africa and its development partners and further promote democratic governance, peace-building, economic growth and sustainable development in the African continent.
This elite-driven process, which deliberately excluded popular participation, is being spearheaded by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and his West and North African counterparts- Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal and AbdelAzziz Bouteflika of Algeria. But as it turns out, Nepad is nothing more than the continuation of the same neo-liberal policies under the IMF and World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programmes that have contributed to economic collapse and mass impoverishment throughout the African continent. A close scrutiny would reveal that Nepad is a continent-wide Structural Adjusment Programme (SAP) that would lead to further trade liberalization, more privatization of public utilities, public sector cutbacks and further reduction of access to essential services like health care, clean and safe water and education.
Long before the final Nepad document made its way to the 2002 G8 summit in Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada (June 26-27), progressive forces in Africa and elsewhere had rejected it and called upon Africans to pursue an alternative people-oriented development based on Pan-African principles. The African Social Forum, which convened on January 2002 in Bamako Mali, passed the Bamako Declaration signed by participants from 200 social movements, organizations and institutions from 45 African countries. The relevant paragraph reads as follows: “The Forum rejected neo-liberal globalization and further integration of Africa into unjust system as basis for its growth and development. In this context, there was a strong consensus against initiatives such as Nepad that are inspired by the IMF-WB strategies of Structural Adjustment Programmes, trade liberalization and continues to subject Africa to unequal exchange between its exports and imports, and strictures on governance borrowed from the western countries and not rooted in the culture and history of the peoples of Africa.”
In his speech during the African Social Forum’s African Seminar at the World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, Brazil, in February 2002, Trevor Ngwane, a prominent global justice activist delivered a scathing critique of Nepad: ” The relationship between Africa and Western Europe has been one between colonizer and colonized, exploiter and exploited. While exact terms of this predatory relationship have evolved over time, it seems foolhardy for Mbeki and company to ask for partnership with people who still benefit from Africa’s wealth at the expense of the African people. Imperialism is the problem, a partnership with it cannot be a solution.”
What the African leaders present at the Kananaskis summit got from the G8 leaders, was not a new ” partnership” but a KNEEPAD – a cushion to kneel down on while asking for more handouts. Simply put, Kananaskis was nothing but a neo-liberal process to “Kneepadize” Africa into prolonged cycles of dependency. It is time to discard Nepad and embark on the real struggle to “de-globalize” and “de-nepadize” Africa. What Africa and the African Diaspora needs is reparations, not another imperialist initiative. Down with NEPAD!!! REPARATIONS NOW!!!
Since enslavement, people of African descent have been victims of systemic terror inflicted by the brutal systems of slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, police brutality and global apartheid. In building a Nepad-free Africa, Reparations should be the banner through which Africans and the international solidarity movement unite in an ever-expanding struggle against the forces of neo-liberal globalization.
Most Historians agree that Africa was the cradle of civilization centuries before the birth of the Westphalian state in Europe. Africans in the Kemetic Egyptian era produced the architectural wonders of the Pyramids, the Sphinx, and the Luxor Palace etc. Africa advanced in medicine, agriculture, literature and the arts. The ancient African kingdoms of Songhai, Ashanti and Benin were highly organized and supported by intricate trans-Saharan trade and commercial activities. In Timbuktu, Africa became home to one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in human history. This at a time when Europe was undeveloped and America not yet “discovered”.
The advent of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade at around the 14th century interrupted development in Africa for over 400 years. The cumulative impact of the exploitative and dehumanizing processes of the slave trade not only destroyed the early African civilization but led to centuries of underdevelopment and continued oppression under the current imperialist forces driven by neo-liberal globalization.
Slavery, and later colonialism, neo-colonialism, and imperialism, was and continues to be the source of American and Western European wealth. To redress the damage caused by the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, people of African descent and progressive forces around the world must continue the fight for reparations.
According to the London-UK based Africa Reparations Movement (ARM) the campaign for reparations is as old as enslavement itself. In Africa, the first international Conference on Reparations was held in Lagos, Nigeria, in December 1990. This was followed by the 1993 Abuja Conference in Nigeria, attended by representatives from throughout the Diaspora. That Conference issued a Declaration, called the Abuja Proclamation, which called for a national reparations committee to be set up throughout Africa and the Diaspora. The Africa Reparations Movement (UK) was formed in 1993, as a result of this Proclamation. The momentum for reparations increased with mobilization before and during the World Conference Against Racism, which was held in Durban South Africa, from August 31, 2001 -September 08, 2001. The Reparations movement was strengthened with the establishment of the “African and African Descendants Caucus” whose mandate includes the follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, maintain the quest for Africa Reparations on the international agenda and ensure that reparations are due to people of African descent.
The call for reparations goes beyond monetary compensation. Chinweisu, a renowned reparations expert, defines the term:
“Reparation is not just about money: it is not even mostly about money; in fact, money is not even one percent of what reparation is about. Reparation is mostly about making repairs. Self-made repairs, on ourselves: mental repairs, psychological repairs, cultural repairs, organizational repairs, social repairs, institutional repairs, technological repairs, economic repairs, political repairs, educational repairs, repairs of every type that we need in order to recreate sustainable black societies.”
Making these repairs requires the elimination of centuries of exploitation and oppression of people of African descent and other oppressed peoples of the world. In the African context, this would entail the creation of Pan-African socialist institutions at the structural level and the reinforcement of the African personality (identity) at the individual level. For this to happen, people of African descent, both continental and diasporic, need to emerge from neo-colonial bondage and de-link from imperialist structures that continue to exert systems of oppression, exploitation, and dehumanization. To pave way for a new global order in which Africa takes its rightful place in world affairs as equals to industrialized nations, all those countries who engaged in and benefited from the slave trade and colonialism will be asked to make reparations for past crimes. These countries will include the United States, Britain and other European countries.
Brother Malcolm X raised the question of reparations in a speech on Nov. 23, 1964: “If you are the son of a man who had a wealthy estate and you inherit your father’s estate,” he said, “you have to pay off the debts that your father incurred before he died. The only reason that the present generation of white Americans are in a position of economic strength … is because their fathers worked our fathers for over 400 years with no pay.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., leader of the civil rights movement, made a plea for reparations in his 1964 book, “Why We Can’t Wait.” He wrote, “No amount of gold could provide an adequate compensation for the exploitation and humiliation of the Negro in America (or the Caribbean, or Brazil) down through the centuries. Not all the wealth of this affluent (American) society could meet the bill. Yet a price can be placed upon unpaid wages. The ancient common law has always provided a remedy for the appropriation of one human being by another”.
The detractors of the reparations movement would point out that slavery was abolished 150 years ago and that it is too late to claim now. But ARM and others in the reparations movement firmly state that there is no statute of limitations under international law, for capital crimes like murder, rape, kidnapping and genocide and adds that ” People of African origin are still suffering today from racism as a result of enslavement and that “enslavement was followed by colonialism and neo-colonialism”. It should also be noted that most African countries and Black countries in the Diaspora only emerged out of colonialism some 40 years ago or so while some countries like Angola, Mozambique and Djibouti attained their national independence only in the mid seventies. Apart from monetary compensation and apology for crimes of slavery and colonialism, reparations in Africa would entail the cancellation of debts that have led to economic strangulation, technological transfer by the west, industrial development, investment in the social infrastructure and a global campaign to reduce or eradicate the ravages of HIV/AIDS.
To undo and repair historical and ongoing damage done by the west, political reparations would also entail the elimination of the instrument of state terror perpetrated by reactionary, despotic regimes propped up by western powers. Millions of Africans continue to suffer from brutal acts of state terror committed by tyrannical regimes that protect western interests. These regimes are forced by western powers to crack down on legitimate dissidence and to curtail civil and political liberties by employing terror tactics that include torture, imprisonment and mass murder.
Blacks in America still suffer from the ravages of slavery, evident in America’s racist institutions and policies and the systemic segregation and ghettoization of African American communities. It is also manifested in US state terror that takes the form of police brutality, state-sanctioned murder of African-American activists and the lynching of wrongly convicted African American inmates placed on death row.
American corporations continue to profit from the Prison-Industrial-Complex, sustained by the racist US criminal justice system, which systemically has one in three young African American and Latino men, either in prison, probation or parole.
Reparations in America would entail the elimination of racism and racist institutions and practices and restoration of civil liberties for blacks. It would mean the dismantling of the prison-industrial complex, the abolition of the racist death penalty, and the release of political prisoners who include members of the Black Panthers, the Black Liberation Army and the Republic of New Afrika.
Further on state terror, the 13th annual convention of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (NCOBRA) observed that ” the fight against terrorist oppression that began with enslavement continues to this day in the targeting of African peoples for police stops and subsequent police brutality, torture, and even murder; the continued denial of equal access to housing, education, health care, and the use of punishment and unequal justice.” NCOBRA adds that reparations means “acknowledgement of these acts of terror against our communities; ending these acts of terrorism; and obtaining the resources necessary to repair and rebuild our African American communities. The United States and its government must pay the debt, our reparations are past due.” In sum, reparations in America is about building vibrant black civil society, elimination of poverty, racism, state terror and the transformation of inner city ghettoes.
Central to the ongoing debate on Africa reparations is whether legal precedents exist for reparations claims. There are many instances of reparations paid to countries and individuals for crimes against them. ARM for example, lists among others, the state of Israel, which receives millions every year from Germany as reparations for the suffering of Jewish people under the Nazi oppression during the Holocaust. Also on the reparations list are the Koreans, who received reparations from the Japanese for the cruelties perpetrated upon them during the Second World War. Others include the Maoris of New Zealand compensated for colonial crimes during British rule, Native Americans who were compensated by the US, as did Japanese Americans who were imprisoned during the Second World War by the Roosevelt government. The United Nations has ordered the state of Iraq to pay reparations to Kuwait for its excesses during the Gulf war. Even the United Kingdom received reparations from Japan for the mistreatment of British prisoners in WWII. In Canada, reparations were paid not to the victims of slavery, but slave owners who suffered from loss of human property (freed slaves) and slave labour following the abolition of slavery.
In the US, activists have taken legal recourse to address the issue of reparations. In 2002, lawsuits were filed in New York and New Jersey targeting corporations that profited from the slave trade. One class action lawsuit filed in Brooklyn, N.Y., names three companies: Fleet Boston Financial, Aetna and CSX. Fleet Boston grew out of a bank established by a merchant whose ships transported African slaves. Aetna is an insurance company that encouraged slave owners to insure human property–not to protect their slaves, but to protect their investment in case of the slaves’ deaths. CSX emerged from another company that used slave labor to build railroad lines”. There are many other examples of corporations and institutions in America that have benefited from slavery.
Political activist and attorney Roger Wareham who filed the lawsuit on behalf of all African Americans said: “the lawsuit is not about demanding monetary compensation for the descendants of African slaves in the U.S. Any money won from the lawsuit would go to a collective fund to help improve the housing, health care and education of African Americans’.
“Our strength is that the reparations lawsuit is part of a movement. The stronger the movement, the greater the possibility of the success of the suit. The most important thing is the success of the movement. The suit is just another part of that river of struggle that we are involved in”, said Wareham.
Although a Federal judge dismissed the class action suit in January 28, 2004, the ruling leaves the door open for plaintiffs to file an amended complaint.
MILLIONS FOR REPARATIONS.
While supporting and rallying behind reparations lawsuits is one way of building the movement, public rallies send a stronger message. The “Millions for Reparations” national rally called by the December 12th Movement and the National Black United Front that took place in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 17, 2002 to coincide with the 115th anniversary of Black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey’s birth , is an indication that the movement is manifesting itself into a variety of action plans and strategies. Other actions should include intense mobilizing, lobbying, agitating and negotiating. Another luadable effort in the fight for reparations is the call in October 2002, by the Congress Against Racim Batbados Inc, of the African and African Descendants World Conference Against Racism(AAD-WCAR), a follow-up to the Durban WCAR conference.
The global justice movement must take up the demand for Africa reparations until those who have benefited from the crimes of slavery, colonialism and global apartheid are finally held accountable and made to pay reparations that are long overdue.