Vaccines, debt forgiveness, scholarships as reparation for slaveryTuesday, August 03, 2021
Last week's shipment of 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the British Government — which came just in time to respond to the sharp rise in the COVID-19 cases — could help point the way to an approach to the issue of reparation.
Let us, from the outset, state unequivocally that we have no doubt that Jamaicans are owed compensation by Britain for its role in the transatlantic slave trade which brought some 600,000 Africans to the island in the 17th/18th centuries, according to National Library of Jamaica estimates.
The Jamaican Government is preparing a claim for billions of pounds in compensation from Britain to make up for the fact that “our African ancestors were forcibly removed from their home and suffered unparalleled atrocities in Africa to carry out forced labour to the benefit of the British Empire”.
Member of Parliament Mike Henry, a local hero of the reparation movement, put the sum owed at £7.6 billion in compensation, the equivalent of that paid to the former slave owners for their losses after slavery was abolished in 1834.
We also wish to acknowledge that the issue of reparation is an emotive one and extremely difficult to navigate politically. Those who are for or against compensation are so stuck in their positions that it is hard to see light at the end of the tunnel.
As cost of living rises and standard of living drops in the United Kingdom, positions are hardening because people there fear that paying out untold billions of pounds for reparation will mean even greater hardships and deprivation for them for perceived crimes they had nothing to do with.
Yet, they need not look farther than Germany to see the precedent in the compensations paid to Israel for the atrocities suffered by the Jews at the hands of the Nazis during the Second World War.
Israeli authorities calculated that they were owed US$15 billion by Germany to resettle the Jews and another $6 billion worth of Jewish property pillaged by the Germans. In 1952, agreement was reached that then West Germany would pay three billion Marks over the next 14 years and 450 million Marks to the World Jewish Congress.
The money was pumped into the country's infrastructure and helped to transform Israel into an economically viable State by, among others things, purchasing equipment and raw material for about 1,300 industrial plants; tripling electrical capacity; building railways; buying machinery for developing water supply, oil drilling, and mining; as well as to finance ships for the Israeli merchant fleet and port development.
The Bank of Israel credited the reparation for about 15 per cent of Israel's gross national product (GNP) growth and the creation of 45,000 jobs during the 14-year period they had been in effect.
Perhaps, instead of trying to negotiate billions of dollars in claims, Britain and the Jamaican authorities can agree to some low-hanging fruits, such as providing all the vaccines Jamaica needs, writing off all the island's debt to the UK, building up our hospital capacity, reviving the offer of a state-of-the-art prison, and increasing scholarships to UK universities and the like.
This approach is not unreasonable and might just achieve something tangible, instead of unending years of hot air.