186 years later... The focus should be reparation

186 years later... The focus should be reparation

RALPH GONSALVES

Sunday, August 02, 2020

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The following is written on the occasion of the 186th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the Caricom member countries which had been colonised by Britain:

On August 1, 2020 the Caribbean Community (Caricom) commemorated the 186th anniversary of the abolition of the enslavement of Africans in the Caricom member countries which were colonised by Britain. In 1833, in the British Parliament, an Act for the Abolition of Slavery in the British Empire proclaimed Emancipation Day to be August 1, 1834. A so-called apprenticeship period followed, and on August 1, 1838 the enslaved Africans were, finally, legally freed.

Today, all but two of the 14 member countries of Caricom commemorate and celebrate Emancipation Day on August 1 annually. So, too, the associate member countries. These mentioned two member countries of Caricom — Haiti and Suriname — had slavery abolished in 1801 and 1863, respectively.

The overwhelming majority of the population of Caricom member countries are of African descent. Joyously, people of all ethnicities in Caricom join in commemorating and celebrating Emancipation Day — all, rightfully, claim this historic day as their own.

This year, Emancipation Day takes on a greater international significance for the following reasons:

1) The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has gone global in a massive way consequent upon the popular resistance in the United States of America to racism, racial inequality, racial injustice and oppression, and the uplifting fight for liberty, justice, and equality in every material respect.

2) The world is halfway through the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024), which was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in a Resolution (68/237), adopted on December 23, 2013, and focused on the theme 'People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice, and Development'.

3) The gathering pace of the international movement for Reparation for Native Genocide and the Enslavement of Africans in the Caribbean, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and North America to provide appropriate recompense for the legacy of underdevelopment consequent upon native genocide and enslavement of Africans perpetrated by several states in Europe and North America.

4) The joinder of the struggle for reparation with the quest for the sustainable development goals (SDGs), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, and designed as a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all” by 2030.

5) The current pandemic of the novel coronavirus which has adversely affected, disproportionately, poor communities and countries, especially those already ravaged by developmental inequities and distortions traced substantially to the legacy of underdevelopment to native genocide and the enslavement of Africans.

Focus on reparation

I urge all in Caricom to focus on reparation for the enslavement of Africans on Emancipation Day 2020. In our region, and elsewhere, we need to have a more thorough-going public education programme on the meaning and significance of reparatory justice for the Caribbean.

Further, our governments must ramp up the political, diplomatic, and international legal struggle for reparation. All hands are required on deck as a matter of urgency.

Caricom has established a Prime Ministerial Subcommittee on Reparatory Justice headed by Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley.

Caricom has set up, too, a Caricom Reparation Commission, chaired by Sir Hilary Beckles, vice-chancellor of The University of the West Indies. This commission has advanced a 10-point Caricom Reparation Agenda which has been adopted by the Caricom Heads of Government Conference. In each country, a National Reparation Commission has been established with broad-based representation.

Solid groundwork has been done thus far, but we must not lose any momentum or be sidetracked. The circumstances are now propitious for escalating a coordinated push for reparatory justice. And Caricom must engage the African Union fully on this.

Recently, several Caricom member-states have been strengthening their links with Africa in profound ways; so, too, Caricom and the African Union. Much more is required to be done, and urgently, too. At the United Nations Security Council, a new institutional linkage of much consequence has been forged known as the A3 Plus One (the African 3: Niger, South Africa, and Tunisia, Plus St Vincent and the Grenadines). This represents a collaboration between the regions of continental Africa and a representative country (St Vincent and the Grenadines) of the sixth region of the African Union, namely the African Diaspora.

A high quality of abundant research has been done and published on Reparations for Native Genocide and the Enslavement of Africans. More is still required to be done, but there is more than enough for us to proceed upon in our many-sided struggle. So, let us highlight reparatory justice on Emancipation Day 2020, even as the individual countries in Caricom engage in commemorative and celebratory activities of a cultural, social, political, and religious nature.

I end with an apt poem by Ellsworth “Shake” Keane of St Vincent and the Grenadines (1927-1997), entitled Private Prayer (for Walter Rodney), and written in April 1973 on the occasion of the publication of Walter's How Europe Underdeveloped Africa:

“To understand

How the whole thing run

I have to ask my parents

And even my daughter and son

“To understand the form

Of compromise I am

I must in my own voice ask

How the whole thing run

“To ask

Why I don't dream

In the same language I live in

I must rise up

Among syllables of my parents

In the land which I am

And form

A whole daughter a whole son

Out of the compromise

Which I am

“To understand history

I have to come home”

Please remember, too, on Emancipation Day 2020, that June 13, 2020, was the 40th anniversary of Walter Rodney's assassination. No one has yet been brought to court for this killing. The next Government of Guyana must address this matter fully; it is a gaping wound in our collective consciousness which must be healed.


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