The word reparation means making amends, or compensating for damages. It was the name given to a movement that started in the 1990s. It grew from the feeling that Africa and people of African descent had a legitimate claim for compensation for the exploitation suffered under slavery and colonialism. A conference on reparations in Nigeria, West Africa, in 1993 led to the Abuja Declaration, a call for national committees to be set up to campaign for reparations. In Britain, there is the Africa Reparations Movement (UK).
The reparations movement asks for reparations, or compensation, from all those countries which benefited from the slave trade and colonialism. The reparations are asked for the loss of human life in the slave trade (at least 12 million people are estimated to have died in Africa as a direct result of the slave trade � some people put the number much higher at 100 million). They are also asked for wages for the millions of slaves who worked for no payment over a period of 400 years. Reparations are also asked for the value of goods (like copper) taken from Africa in the colonial period, and for the harm done to Africa through racism.
However, the reparations movement is not just about money. It is also about an acknowledgement of guilt and involvement in the slave trade and in colonial exploitation. It is also about an apology for slavery and exploitation, and the return of artefacts stolen from Africa. The movement is also about educating African children about their heritage, accurately portraying African history and acknowledging Africa�s contribution to world history and civilisation. Pictured here is a brass cast from Benin, West Africa. Many such items from Benin are in European museums and are considered to have been removed illegally from Benin City (now in Nigeria) during a period of (unequal) war between Britain and Benin.
The reparations movement is one led by black people. There are however, black people who are opposed to the idea of reparations. Some argue that it is disrespectful and dishonourable to reduce the horrors of the slave trade to financial compensation. Others feel that accepting compensation for past wrongs will mean that the developed world will feel that it has done its duty by Africa. Africa will lose a position from which it can argue for future help and improvements.
European countries and America are, at government level, opposed to reparations. In 2001 there was an international conference on racism in South Africa. The African countries demanded an ‘apology’ for the slave trade, but European countries would only state that they ‘regret’ it. America and the European countries fear that an apology, an admission of guilt, would bring legal consequences and force the payment of reparations in some form. The final wording of the conference’s declaration on slavery was agreed as follows: �We acknowledge that slavery and slave trading, including the trans-Atlantic slave trade, were appalling tragedies in the history of humanity, not only because of their inherent barbarism, but also in terms of their magnitude, organised nature and especially their negation of the essence of victims.� The United States had walked out of the conference before this declaration was agreed, over criticism of Israel.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, an American leader and former Presidential candidate, was interviewed during the South Africa conference. He asked Britain to apologise for its role in the slave trade. He suggested that compensation or reparation should be paid to African countries in the form of reducing debts they owe to the West. Thus the reparation movement was linked to the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which sought to reduce or write off the debts of developing countries to developed ones.
Jesse Jackson said, �If you feel proud of [slavery and colonialism] then say that. But if one has a sincere desire to overcome the ravages of the past it doesn’t take much to apologise and move towards some plan for restoration.�
Dr Stephen Small of the University of Leicester has written of the reparations movement, �The descendants of Africans and of Europeans view the legacy of the slave trade from different vantage points � Africans and their descendants realise that there is nothing that the West can ever do to make right the wrongs committed during slavery and colonialism. But they also insist that the West can begin to loosen the shackles of poverty and economic distress which continue to hold back Africans and Africa � Only by tackling the unfairness of these systems can we begin together to create a more morally acceptable economic and political system within which the world’s entire population can prosper.�