Africa: Bloggers Differ on Reparations and Apology for Slavery

The Slave Trade Act was passed in England 200 years ago. The act ended slave trade in the British empire. A number of events such as art exhibits, lectures, church services, and parades have been taking place all over the world to mark this day.

In England, Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed deep sorrow, Mayor Kevin Livingstone made a formal apology. In cyberspace, the Archibishops Dr Rowan Williams and Dr John Sentamu used YouTube to share their reflections on slave trade.

The African blogosphere has marked the anniversary with discussions centred around issues of apology, reparations, and Africa's role in the trade.

Amir Ibrahim, writing at Kenya Imagine, deals with the issue of Africa's role in the trade:

Such scholars point out that few slaves were captured directly by the slavers and that the majority were sold on to them by prominent African states like the Ashanti kingdom. These scholars also maintain that slavery was a social construct already existent in Africa and that European slavers merely took the slaves into new markets. The historical record proves that whereas this may be correct strictly speaking, traditionally African slaves were indentured labourers whose lives and station in society was much higher than was permitted in the New World. The phenomenon of European slaving and the horrors of the slave experience in the new world are unprecedented in documented human history.

Did African empires benefit economically from the slave trade? Amir continues:

While it is true that there were African states Dahomey, Kongo and Ashanti, that profited handsomely from this trade, history indicates that even the wealth that slave-raider chiefs accrued from the trade quickly reverted to the slavers as it was used to buy alcohol and firearms both of which only served to further fuel the trade. In the end the economic benefits of slavery flowed only one way, out of Africa.

Who Should Aplogize for the Roman Empire?

“Brothers sold Brothers,” writes Refined One:

…Slaves from
Africa were sold by there own brothers( Africans)… No matter how hard that maybe for us to accept it is the truth!
This has caused division between Africans and West Indians to date…some feel resentful towards Africans for what was done to there ancestors.
We should not let division in our lives, for the perfect will of God is still to be unfolded…Our dreams will still be fulfilled.

In another post, Refined One had suggested an apology for slavery. She changes her mind:

Why I decided to write this post was because in the post before this I said something about an apology….which I would like to take back.

She prefers forgiveness to an apology:

Brothers on different continents, of different shades, we are all still brothers, as I said before FORGIVNESS is the only way forwarded.

There has been a renewed call for an apology for slavery following the Virginia State legislature's apology for the state's role in the trade.

Khanya finds this idea disturbing. Why should people apologize for other people's sins?:

It seems to me that this shows an inversion of moral values. Tony Blair ought not to apologise for the slave trade, because there is no way he can be held responsible for it. But he can be held responsible for the bombing of Belgrade and Basra, and if he symbolically went and washed the feet of the widows and orphans of those cities, and the stumps of the maimed and the lame who were crippled by British bombs dropped at his orders, then he would be doing something far more significant. The demand that he should apologise for the slave trade is simply grotesque.

Who should apologize for the Roman Empire? He asks:

My wife (and children) are descendants of slaves. I haven’t yet discovered any slaves in my own ancestry, but for all I know there could have been, say under the Roman Empire. Should I therefore demand that the Italian government officially apologise?

Dismissing arguments made against an apology, Amir Ibrahim writes:

It is strange and offensive then that the British Government should hold the descendants of the slave victims of this the greatest crime against humanity in such contempt as not to issue a symbolic apology for the crimes committed against them. The arguments they advance against such an apology are truly specious and offensive. Firstly they claim that these events were committed such a long time ago that apologies are now irrelevant. The Catholic Church's apology for its crimes against Galileo certainly dismisses this idea. The second is the silly notion that an apology would be an act of national self-hatred. The Germans, the Japanese and the French could have taken this childish route, but were more assured of their place in history. Neither does this explain why Tony Blair apologised to the Irish, or how religious organisations like the Vatican and the Church of England have managed to survive their apologies.

Roots, Kunta Kinte, and Snoop Dogg

In a post that is likely to touch some raw nerves, Chxta questions the logic behind the call for an apology:

Slavery (at least the non-covert form) ended in 1865, and I don't think that there is anyone walking the planet now who was around back then, so Chxta doesn't understand this call for an apology, the call for reparations, and more recently, this idea of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.

What is this mad demand for an apology? And how do events that ended well before any of us walking around now have a direct bearing on what we do today?

According to Chxta, African slaves were captured by Africans. Therefore, Africans are the ones who need to apologize:

……If you watch the movie Roots, Kunta Kinte was not kidnapped by white guys, he was kidnapped by niggers…..

If there is anyone who should apologise, it is those of us that come from Africa now. We should apologise to those that can't trace their roots, and have no ‘true sense’ of identity, afterall we sold them.

Chxta opposes the idea of reparations for slavery arguing that there is no direct link between the state of African people today and slavery:

Anyway, the main object of this write up is to voice Chxta's opinion that all the calls for reparations, for apologies and the attempt to link the failings of African nations (and African American peoples) today to slavery is utter bollocks, and an exercise in something worse than colonial mentality, slave mentality.

Chxta is yet to fully understand how Kunta Kinte being made to accept Toby as his name at the back end of a lash is responsible for Snoop Dogg claiming to be a gansta. Chxta doesn't understand how the fact that their great great great great great great grandmother was the bed wench of some plantation owner
in Nashville is responsible for the moral laxity we see among African American youths (and their cousins of Caribbean descent on this side of the pond). Chxta doesn't understand how slavery prevents today's African American youth from going to school, instead preferring to rap and do sports in the name of ‘keeping it real’. Chxta doesn't understand how payment of reparations would help African economies to get on their feet when there is almost definitely a cabal in one corner of the room waiting to pocket the reparation money and tell boys that ‘dem no give us shinshin’.

Slave Trade and the Church of England

In “Reparations for slavery?,Black Looks posts a link to a BBC article about the Church of England considering reparations. The Church of England owned African slaves in the West Indies.

Riviersonderend would like the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to extend his notion of justice for slavery to gay, lesbian, and transgendered people:

Yesterday, people from all walks of life marched in London in commemoration of the slave trade’s abolition. Our collective “moral conscience” was there as well: the church. The procession was blessed by the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Just a bit ironic, I would say.

As Williams is marching for justice, he is preparing to deny justice to the world’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people and sanction their persecution in Nigeria. Why? Because the Bible says so.

Let us not forget the Bible’s position on slavery, as we celebrate this momentous landmark. Let us not forget the church’s role in the slave trade – the Church of England had slaves on its plantations in the Caribbean. Let us not forget that the Southern Baptist Convention was formed in an effort to preserve the Christian basis for slavery before the American Civil War. Let us not forget that the Bible does not condemn the practice of slavery.

Indeed, in 1856 Reverend Thomas Stringfellow, a Baptist minister, wrote A Scriptural View of Slavery, in which he claimed: “… Jesus Christ recognized this institution as one that was lawful among men, and regulated its relative duties… I affirm then, first (and no man denies) that Jesus Christ has not abolished slavery by a prohibitory command; and second, I affirm, he has introduced no new moral principle which can work its destruction…”

Do You Remember?

Lastly, Jikomboe posts a link to a video of Burning Spear singing his 1975 song, Slavery Days. Wailing: do you remember the days of slavery?


  • This article, “From Apology . . . to Moral Action,” published by Ekklesia in February 2006, when the Church of England debated whether to apologize for slavery, was republished on March 28, 2007, as “From Apology . . . to Moral Action on Slavery,” now that the Church of England’s leaders voted 238 to 0 to apologize, and is now pondering reparations.

  • Thanks for the mention and the trackback. Interesting range of views.

  • I challenge anyone to show me any part of the U.S./European economy that is not tied to the slave trade or direct colonialism. Follow the money trail. Prior to the trade in African people Europe was poor, backwards, diseased, oppressed by feudalism, warlike and scary. African nations, the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Arabs and the Asians were prosperous and healthy. They call it the “dark” ages but this was only in Europe, most others were doing fine–Mali,Songhai, Persia, China, India, the Aztecs, Mayans, Iroquois…

    The slave trade and the theft of Africa’s resources, along with genocide against the indigenous peoples and the theft of their land and colonialism around the world: This is what made Europe and the white world rich. Now white people are rich and everybody else is poor and oppressed.

    Africa is poor today because of this! Why should anyone in diamond, gold, bauxite, coltan, uranium, oil-rich Africa be living on a dollar a day when the European and American companies are making billions of dollars–taking everything out of Africa!

    Africa and all its resources belong to African people everywhere–African working people, not the puppets who front for America and Europe.–people like Kwame Nkrumah and Patrice Lumumba who were overthrown and assassinated for their stand to unite and liberate Africa.

  • Blair

    In 700, African armies crossed the Mediterrean and invaded Europe, driving all the way to the outskirts of Paris. Their of the Iberian Penisula (Spain and Portugal) last 400 years. During this time, millions of white slaves were transported for Europe to Africa and Arabia. The formation of European nation states and military forces were a reaction to this invasion and other invasion out of Asia and Arabia.

    The Europeans never raided African villages to kidnap and enslave Africans. They purchased slaves from powerful African tribes that ran the slave market.

    European military forces did not enter Africa until the late 1800s, after slavery had been abolished in the United States and Europe. Some merchants got rich, but the African colonies proved to be a drain on European treasuries. That’s why the rush to get out of Africa was as urgent as the rush to get in.

    The European colonization of Africa virtually ended slavery in Africas, but it is making a strong comeback now that the Europeans have abandoned their colonies. Today, more human beings, many of them children, are trafficked in African each year than at the height of the Atlantic slave trade. Meanwhile, the infrastructure that the Europeans left behind them in Africa (schools, roads, hospitals and industries) is rapidly disappearing through most of Africa. Europeans continue support Africa with foreign air and debt forgiveness, and occasionally sends troops to stop famines and genocidal warfare.

    The Europeans did not introduce slavery to the Americas. Both the Aztec and Inca empires, for example, were slave-based societies. The largest slave market that every existed in the Americas was the Aztec slave market outside Mexico City in pre-Colombian times. The minor Native American tribes also had slaves.

    In the United States, about 6 percent of whites and 1/6 percent of free blacks owned slaves. (Some of the South’s biggest landowners and slave owners were free blacks.) The other 94 percent of whites worked. U.S. industries not related to slavery, to name a few, include mining, railroading, tool making, light manufacturing, heavy manufacturing, livestock, auto manufacturing, mining, aerodynamics, electronics, radio, television, space exploration, and computer hardware and software. The development of farm machinery and improved horticulture not slavery made the United States an agricultural powerhouse.

  • this editorial questions the validity of this bicentenary commemoration…
    may the ancestors be pleased

  • Efforts of our predecessors must never be underestimated. dialogue is of the sincerest opinion that the struggles of our ancestors can never be trivialised.

    Provocative pronouncements recently suggesting modern day human trafficking is worst than Chattel Slavery is but a confirmation of culpability. In fact such insensitive conjecture, (without an apology for this transgression) further compounds complicity for a flagrant abuse of human rights. It is also a direct assault/insult on the integrity of surviving generations across the Afrikan Diaspora.

    The world, as we know it today is still reeling from the effects of that human calamity. While many remain unaware that painstaking research- has revealed this so called ”Gentleman’s Trade” was not abolished because perpetrators felt remorse for their victims (of whatever hue or origin) but conveniently abandoned some conduits of this heinous system because of economic expediency.

    As indicated in our previous issue, this auspicious anniversary offers all an opportunity to debate, RE-visit and RE-examine the factors that contributed to this sad saga that haunts the present. It is necessary to redress the balance acknowledging the diverse struggles against this grave injustice.

    Abolition as legislated (two hundred years ago) resonates hollow as the fate of those who were rescued by British ships were immediately conscripted into the military service (First West India Regiment) to serve in colonial conflicts during the period. The American War of Independence, Boer, Ashanti and Zulu wars are clear examples of this maltreatment. Descendants across the globe still bear the traumatic burdens and anguish of this tragedy.

    Need it be reiterated, that the Planters and Slave proprietors in the British Colonies were compensated with Twenty Million pounds while the Afrikan slaves got zilch and were retained in servitude for decades under an ill-conceived Apprenticeship scheme.

    dialogue does not condone the insensitive celebration of hailed individuals as Abolitionists when they were oppressors of their own country men/women by way of unjust class partitions, servitude, social deprivation and economic apartheid.

    Our Winter/Spring edition is consciously dedicated to our predecessors who relentlessly resisted enslavement via rebellions on the slaver vessels to the first factories (Gold Mines, Cotton, Sugar, Tobacco & Cocoa plantations).

    We give formal thanks with libations for the prescience and pains of Ancestors Jacques Dessalines, Harriet Tubman, Henri Christophe, Paul Bogle, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Leonard Parkinson, Julien Fedon, Nat Turner, Cudjoe, Simon Bolivar, Cinquez, Bussa, Kofi, Sam Sharp, Nanny of the Maroons, Chatouer, Zumbi dos Palmares, Daaga and Carlota among many other nameless Herus and Ausets (Horus & Isis).

  • […] Hat-tip to Ndesanjo for the blog round-up on slavery and reparations. What the round-up left out are the conversations on Naijablog and Modal Minority (and other blogs) that discussed the interruption of the commemorative service marking the 200th anniversary of end of slavery in London by Toyin Agbetu, a human rights activist and founder of Ligali – an “African Human Rights Organisation that challenge the misrepresentation of African people and culture in the British media”. […]

  • laini mataka

    It is cruel to ask the most destructive species on the planet to apologize for being who and what they are?

  • martin oberholzer

    please stop and think a bit, although african people have been treated badly in the past and still are, what have they done to eradicate the indigenous khoisan peoples of south africa, otherwise known as bushmen and hottentots

    today african rulers are destroying their own people through corruption, incompetence, mismangement and clinging to outmoded ideologies, while at the same time expecting the western nations whom they so readily criticize, to come to their aid at the same time

    the world does not work like that, you cannot be friends with china, iran, russia and spew forth communist propaganda, while wondering why the west do not come to your aid and help with aiding in the civil wars, AIDS, hunger and ethnic violence

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