The greatest crime against humanity!
Slavery Memorial Day
By Baffour Ankomah
The United Nations is holding a major ?World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance? in Durban, South Africa,
from 31 August to 7 September. New African dedicates articles to the African people's struggle to get slavery and reparations on the Conference's agenda.
The Jewish people call theirs the ?Holocaust Memorial Day?. It is observed every year by Jews all over the world, and it has many advantages. First, it helps them not to forget where they have come from, especially the horrendous suffering at the hands of the Nazis and the six million people they lost.
Second, it strengthens their determination never to undergo that experience again or allow themselves to be pushed into it ever again.
Third, it acts as a guide and a constant reminder of how they got there, which, in turn, helps them to prepare themselves to fight any encroachments that might threaten their existence and well-being. In short, it sharpens their state of alertness.
Fourth, it is a lesson for their future generations.
Fifth, it keeps their suffering in the public eye, the world learns from it and measures are put in place to avoid a repetition; the spin-off is that nobody is allowed to deny or belittle their suffering.
Sixth, it acts as a warning to any future enemy a kind of saying, ?hey, don’t even think about it, because we won’t allow you to do it!?
So, where is Africa’s Slavery Memorial Day? The newly born African Union that has replaced the OAU should take advantage of the forthcoming UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance to consult widely with the African people (both at home and in the Diaspora), and come out with a mutually agreed Slavery Memorial Day that we can call our own, to be observed each year by every person of African descent everywhere in the world. The advantages of such a day have already been listed above.
Because we don’t have such a memorial day, it is easy for people to deny or belittle our suffering and its enduring consequences. Today, they say we ?sold? ourselves; they only stayed on the coast. So what were they doing on the coast? Building holiday castles and forts and having a picnic? On the West African coast?
They forget that translantic slavery started with a ?kidnapping phase? where slavers like Nina Tristan, and Anton Goncalves (both Portuguese), and the Britons John Hawkins and Francis Drake (both later knighted for their endeavours) just kidnapped the Africans and brought them home as slaves.
They say, additionally, that throughout the whole 400 years of transatlantic slavery, only 13 million Africans were shipped out, and 11 million actually landed safely on the other side. Which means only 2 million died on the way through disease, torture or deliberately thrown into the sea to lighten the load or for insurance purposes, or jumped into the sea by themselves in protest.
But their own records show that between 1655 and 1737, of the 676,276 Africans forcibly shipped to the British sugar plantations in Jamaica, 31,181 died while still in the harbour. And this is only one of the multitude of harbours that they used.
In fact, UNESCO estimates that the 400 years of Atlantic slavery claimed a whopping 100 million African lives including those who landed safely and those who died in transit, either before they reached the coast or on the high seas. 100 million Africans!, which is a much fairer estimate considering how long the despicable ?trade? went on 400 years.
The UNESCO estimate, however, does not include the scores of millions of Africans shipped out or died during the years of Arab slavery that preceded the European slavery.
This is one suffering that Africa and its people around the world must not forget. We can forgive, yes; but we mustn’t forget, because he who forgets history is bound to repeat it! For half a millennium, Africa was used as a breeding factory we just produced people to be carted away as ?cargo? to create the wealth of foreign lands. A human breeding farm!
Today we still live with the consequences that the 500 years of slavery and colonialism wrought on Africa the social instability, the depopulation, the destruction of African institutions, the underdevelopment, the mental slavery, the looting of African resources to build foreign lands, the dehumanisation of the African person leading to the current lack of self confidence in Africans and people of African descent, and the deliberate fostering of dependence on the West.
A Slavery Memorial Day will sharpen the focus on the job in hand, and also on the ?uncomfortable? truth that no race of people in this world can undergo 500 years of slavery and colonialism and come out smiling and looking as beautiful as we look. It shows strength and steel and spine in our people! It shows a spirit that cannot be broken, not even by the constant barrage of negative images and depressing portrayal, in the Western media, of Africa and its people as ?hopeless? a ?hopeless continent?, snorted The Economist last May. We have to celebrate that strength, that steel, that spine!
The worst thing that can ever happen to Africa and its people scattered all over the world is to accept the pessimism so often thrown in our face, especially the kind we see in the Western media.
Yes, our ancestors played a role in both the Arab and European slavery. Yes, the current condition of Africa and its people is unsatisfactory. And nobody is going to lift us from the bottom of that pie but ourselves. We can only dream, and dream it is, about Marshall Plans and the $3 billion annual grants given to certain countries. Nobody is going to give us that, so we had better stop the dream and start rolling our sleeves and helping our own very good selves. But we cannot do that if we allow the pessimism (so fashionable in The Economist these days) to pull us further down.
We must learn lessons from our failures, weaknesses and strengths. We must learn lessons from how our ancestors allowed themselves to be taken advantage of how on earth they thought they were ?selling? (as we are now told) whole human beings sometimes for two bottles of rum each, or as happened in Benin in 1500, five African human beings ?sold? for a horse offered by a Portuguese slaver.
Today, even as I write, Africa and its people are still being taken advantage of through all sorts of ... sustainable development, liberalisation, structural adjustment programmes, privatisation, globalisation, HIPC, the list is endless. Interestingly, the more we meekly accept these prescriptions, the poorer our people become (or are becoming). Five human beings for a horse. Nothing has changed except the name. The richest natural-resources-endowed continent in the world, is yet the poorest! And yet our resources power the world!
Thank God, the United Nations, in its infinite mercy, is holding the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance for the first time on African soil. This is the time the people of Africa everywhere should close ranks and march as one, and let the world understand that we are also human beings and deserve to be treated as such. We have been taken for granted for far too long. And that must stop and now!
The skewed world economic system which demands that the prices of our resources are determined, not by us, but by the buyers; the system which puts up high tariffs, trade barriers and ridiculous travel restrictions against our goods, produce and people, while demanding that our markets are globalised, liberalised and privatised, is an ?intolerance? that the Durban conference should tackle. We must tell them we cannot ?tolerate? that system any more.
And how better to start saying it than a Slavery Memorial Day to act as a reminder and a lesson for ourselves, our future generations and the world. New African recommends it for consideration and adoption by the African Union and the people of Africa everywhere.
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