The microscope have been focused on the black man over the last few months, as the reparations debate has taken on a feverish momentum at the government and people level across the Caribbean. Since Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves started his [personal] concerted campaign, CARICOM has also moved apace on this issue, retaining UK law firm Leigh Day & Co. Other nations including Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda and Barbados have also earlier at a country level been laying preparatory works to advance a case seeking reparations for slavery and genocide of native peoples from European countries.
The drive to correct these historic wrongs perpetuated by mainly white colonialists has also been the focus of international attention for many years with varying degrees of success. The complexity of the matter can be seen by the many organizations carrying some form of a ‘reparation’ themed sobriquet. A closer look at the international level would reveal the enormity of the challenge in developing a consensus about the form of reparations that would placate the differing groups. Since the failure of the Durbanites at the 2001 World Conference against Racism, efforts have been disjointed and the international pressure has been too dispersed to be effective.
On this issue, the timely warning by Ester Stanford-Xosei on behalf of The Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe (PARCOE) is important, advising:
Whilst we see the actions being taken to secure and effect reparations for Caribbean slavery and Native genocide as being a positive step, we are also concerned that the top down approach being taken to this issue will end up not achieving the reparations aspirations of the masses of Afrikan descendant and indigenous citizens in the Caribbean. In our humble opinion this may happen unless concerted efforts are made to enable the facilitation of constructive engagement, dialogue, debate and deliberation within and between civil society, non-governmental organizations and social movements across the respective Caribbean nations in the region to allow for the negotiation of the best reparations common interest.
If all the different players do not heed the call to unite and to exorcise the demons of Durban 2001 then it is not difficult to envision that we would not be able to shake a compensatory compunction from the Europeans. Further, while our cries are largely directed to the immorality of the acts by the British, French and for others Danish empires, success will depend not only on legal or moral suasion but an international diplomatic thrust that would involve the United States who have been reluctant to move beyond superficiality in their own backyard. Among those lukewarm about reparations in its most popular form is President Barack Obama arguing in 2008 before being elected, “I have said in the past and I’ll repeat again that the best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed.”
In another view, Howard-Hoffman in outlining the position of former President of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade surmises his view as “if reparations were to be paid for slavery, then he himself might be liable to pay them, as his ancestors had owned thousands of slaves. He found the proposal for monetary compensation for slavery insulting: “It is absurd… that you could pay up a certain number of dollars and then slavery ceases to exist, is cancelled out and there is the receipt to prove it” (http://etudesafricaines.revues.org/4543).
Black man to remain poor after reparations
In a contradictory twist of sorts, it is difficult understanding from the chatter what form of reparations is justified. Often, proponents argue that the reparations movement is not about divvying up money, while some understandably decry the 20 million British pounds sterling ‘bail out’ slave owners received as compensation following the abolition of slavery. The monetary compensation being sought is proffered as ‘morally just’, arguing that the sweat and blood of the black man built the economic pillars for the UK economy. This is undeniable. However, many take umbrage when asked how any future compensatory package will be shared. This cannot be considered as mischief making but remains a legitimate concern.
For, in the usual slap in the face of the black man, any fruits from their ancestors will be micromanaged by the elite politicians, new colonial masters and treasury officials. The Trinidad Guardian reported in an interview with Dr Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, “Any money received is not going to be handed to individuals, Gonsalves said on Tuesday, but is more likely to go towards economic, social and cultural programmes.”
Forgive me for being wary of the failure of governments with their ‘trickle-down economics theories’. The black man will have better roads but lack the ability to purchase a good vehicle to drive from point A to B. The black man will have more schools yet he will still struggle to pack a balanced diet meal for his children. The black woman will have better maternal care at spanking new hospitals but bends under the pressure of rising food prices. The black woman will have more marbled buildings to access but she would still lack the economic power to say no to bosses who ask to do ‘what their wives never do.’
The pattern across the Caribbean for so-called ‘economic, social and cultural programmes’ is clear. They are abbreviated with cost over runs, mismanagement of funds, political corruption, brief case companies and the like. And, even where there are tender boards, ombudsman or contractors general, then the recent case in Jamaica involving the Office of Contractor General referring Jamaica’s cabinet for criminal prosecution for failing to comply with statutory requisitions dealing with several major investment projects is a good example of the extent of our leaders refusal to ‘walk the talk.’
This is why the reparations movement must grow from the grassroots level, with political support. The Caribbean must not work in isolation of what is being done across the globe. How dare we talk reparations, going at it on our own without the West African and other nations whose sons and daughters bore our ancestors? Moreover, the abolition movement was successful because it involved men and women willing to sacrifice to secure the gains for others.
In all this movement for reparations, where is the church? How have we brought the church on board as the oracles of ‘morality’ in this debate and in recognition of the work that they did during the pre- abolition years?
In the meantime, even before law firm Leigh and Day & Co. presents our case against the British crown, what is already certain at CARICOM’s round table: ‘Black man not getting any money at all!’ If in 2013, black man still cannot be trusted with a proper redistribution of wealth then its only Bob Marley who got this right, ‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our mind.’
Finally, to us in CARICOM, ‘It’s not always what you do, but how you do it.’