Editor’s note: Claudine Boothe is a PHD candidate at the University of Bristol. She holds MA (distinction) and postgraduate diploma (distinction) in Fine Art (film/video) from Saint Martin’s School of Art, (now Central Saint Martin’s School of Art); diploma in film making techniques from London International Film School, diploma (distinction) in mass communication from the University of West Indies (CARIMAC Mona) and certificate (credit) in ‘teaching media’ from Birkbeck College University of London.
She is a journalist film maker by profession, who began working life at the Jamaica Daily Gleaner and has made several film and radio documentaries for mainstream British Media (Channel Four and BBC Radio 4). She has also published several publications including ‘Blaqsport’ and ‘Black Media’ Journals; and is founder of the Institute of Black Culture, Media and Sport, Mary Seacole Supplementary School, Roots of Sports Partnership Project funded by Heritage Lottery and the Diabetes Tap Campaign.
Miss Boothe’s achievements are underpinned by her engagement with Black/African public affairs, in particular her inspirational role in the campaign for reparations for transatlantic slavery. She spent the last thirty-five years campaigning for socio-economic justice for Black Britain, generally for the African Diaspora and regards reparation for transatlantic slavery as the ultimate goal of her life’s work. She can be reached directly by email on claboju[a]aol.com.
The Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) is suing Western Europe for reparations for transatlantic slavery. The suit cannot easily be dismissed, since it’s represented by Leigh Day, the firm which recently won a ‘very controversial’ compensation from the British Government for atrocities Britain committed against the Kenyan Mau-Mau-Kikuyu freedom fighters of the 50s. However, public discourse in at least three European nations targeted by the suit (UK, France, and the Netherlands) has not adequately prepared these societies for informed reparations discussions; consequently, the sort of arguments that might be advanced in favour of the case for reparations, have not been publicly aired. In fact, both public opinion and political representatives in these nations have long declared themselves against payment of such reparations on grounds that transatlantic slavery was legal. It is arguments from this side of the debate that enjoy ‘limited’ public airing in these nations.
There are four major components of this Reparations debate; first is the kind of reparations CARICOM should seek; second, who’s deserving of what type of reparations; third, whether Caribbean and African countries should file their claim together as one suit; and finally, whether there can really be any kind of reconciliation, without reparations from all parties involved in transatlantic slavery, including reparations/restitution/reclamation from some African states (e.g. Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, Congo, Angola) and descendants of individual agents and or middlemen, who collaborated with Europeans, in the enslavement of other Africans.
My insight on these matters is that (i) CARICOM is qualified to seek reparations for colonialism but not for slavery, because reparations in perpetuity for transatlantic slavery belong exclusively to descendants of transatlantic enslaved Africans and to the indigenous peoples of the Americas who were genocided and enslaved. Such reparations should not be used to pay national or regional debts, as CARICOM seemingly envisages. National debts incurred by colonial and neo-colonial government should be ‘repudiated’ by CARICOM (Third World) countries or ‘forgiven’ by Europe for lumbering the region with colonial and neo-colonial debt burdens, which have already been paid multiple times; not only in terms of compound interest; but also by centuries of exploitation of labour and national resources. Therefore, forgiving neo-colonial debt burdens belong on the list of reparations for colonialism. It is certainly not the same and should not be confused with reparations for the African holocaust (Maagamizi) which set the continent back by at least one millennium. Any attempt by CARICOM to claim or use transatlantic slavery-reparations for Caribbean debt repayment, should be met with a Caribbean rebellion of sorts; at least strong non-violent protests; written, verbal and otherwise.
Secondly (ii), descendants of Europeans, who are not also descendants of enslaved Africans, are not entitled to reparations for transatlantic slavery (RAS); but are entitled to reparations for colonialism-since they were exploited and abused under colonialism–rather than slavery. The fact is that descendants of enslaved Africans and Caribbean indigenous peoples are entitled to two types of reparations,–for slavery and for colonialism,–while the region’s descendants of Europeans are entitled to just reparations for colonialism. Both types of reparations (for colonialism and slavery) should be put as different cases, rather than as a composite case. Furthermore, the case for RAS should not be argued by governments, but by non-governmental organisations or NGOs, because outside of Africa, there are few countries with exclusively Black interests and reparations for transatlantic slavery is not for nations, but for peoples of African/indigenous descent only. Governments should not therefore be trusted to manage and or spend such funds and or resources. For example, it would be catastrophic if reparations money is spent on ‘national’ projects.
Third (iii) African countries, maybe even the African Union (AU) should file similar reparation suits against Europeans for both slavery and colonialism. Ideally, these cases should be filed with Caribbean ones; not as composites; but as parallel cases; which would not only be symbolically powerful but would strengthen such cases. However, this seems unfeasible because some African countries foresee conflict of interests with both European benefactors/creditors/masters as well as with their own ‘powerful’ citizens who have deep ancestral roots in slave trading/dealing and enduring neo-colonial relationships. Some African countries even continue to enslave fellow citizens or ‘other’ Africans. Whilst it may be unfeasible for African and Caribbean countries to pursue joint RAS, African states could pursue cases jointly–or separately and could then be supported by Caribbean/Diaspora opinion. However, it is imperative that the campaign for reparations be a global one, even if cases or suits are pursued separately.
It is important to note that potential conflict of interest may arise between Islamic African countries and their former ‘prey’ countries; that is—African countries or former ethnic groups (now states) preyed upon by Islamic groups, cantons or states; e.g. the Sokoto Caliphate in northern Nigeria would find itself unable to support any case for reparations brought against Europeans, since the Caliphate is itself based on enslavement and colonization of Africans. Countries like Niger, Chad, Mauritania and Sudan would (potentially) not be able to support reparation cases brought against Europeans, since they themselves continue to enslave Africans from ethnic groups not their own.
Finally, (iv.) the descendants of transatlantic enslaved Africans, should bring cases for reparations against descendants of continental African kings, chiefs and agents who made agreements with Europeans to ‘trade’ Africans from other ethnic groups. Such cases would be complex granted that Europeans forced some to collaborate by pain of death or enslavement. However, some collaborators were motivated by power and greed and needed little or no coercion at all; examples of whom are the Efiks, Oros and the Ashanti and Fante leadership. These treacherous fellow Africans reaped rich rewards, which should be returned to the descendants of ethnic groups whose peoples and communities were devastated. Europeans can be made to pay, but they cannot return stolen lands, artefacts, cultural traditions and so on, to the transatlantic diaspora. These can only be restored by Africans who now ‘hold’ these resources illegally; or by African states who hold them in trust and should now provide ‘knowledge based access ‘to seekers. Land and mineral wealth belonging to the descendants of enslaved Africans, are now being given away to Americans, Chinese and new European settlers, for small so-called gains.
Caribbean countries should each be given a seat(s) in the African Union, as part of reparations from the African Continent. The transatlantic slavery diaspora should not need to obtain visas for travel to any part of Africa, especially not West African countries from which most were so cruelly ejected. The popularly held notion by continental Africans that those who were sold into transatlantic enslavement were criminals and other types of undesirables, should be ‘corrected’ by curricula,– to say that crimes were committed against the vast majority of Africans sold to, or exiled by transatlantic slavery. Revising African curricula is not only significant for allaying such prejudices held by continental Africans against descendants of transatlantic slaves, but for Africans at home who were themselves enslaved and deprived by the same system, and who are now reviled and victimized by fellow Africans– some of whom are descendants of those who committed Maagamizi crimes. Reparation is for them too. It is in the interest of all Africans to join the reparations for transatlantic slavery and colonialism campaign.