EDITORIAL: Must put an end to the struggle

This Saturday Barbados will commemorate the August 1, 1834 abolition of slavery in the British colonies. Indeed it is a day to celebrate, as it brought an end to the horrific enslavement of the descendants of the millions of Africans who were uprooted from their homes and shipped to the Caribbean like nothing more than cargo.

Estimates suggest that close to 12 million Africans made the trip across the Atlantic Ocean in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and even though countless died along the way, still many survived and it was on their backs, at the expense of their lives and freedom that the planter class made their fortunes – fortunes that many of their descendants continue to enjoy to this day. On the other hand, African slaves endured an injustice of the highest proportion - an injustice that must never be forgotten nor excused.

Sadly, however, there have been concerted efforts here in the region and further afield to encourage persons to disregard the atrocities of the past, but those of African descendants have a duty to ensure that such is never the case. As a country and a region we cannot afford to forget, and it is equally important that we do not allow the past to haunt us. Instead, we must see the past as stepping stones to help us in the construction of a better future for all our people. We must take the lessons of slavery and oppression and use them to make our countries better places to live, work and recreate.

It is equally important that we share the stories of the struggles endured by the African slaves with our young people, and instil in them how their ancestors used resistance and struggle to overcome challenges not of their making. The onus is on us to tap into their strength, and use that to become more innovative, so we can devise new services and products to offer to the world.

What is also important now is that the Caribbean in general seek to further advance its call for reparations. Indeed the call by the Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission and Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, for a reparations summit between Caribbean countries and the former colonisers of the region must be supported. Such a conversation is necessary, and is now definitely overdue.

The fact is that the Slave Compensation Act of 1837 in England for example, paved the way for approximately £20 million to be paid to slave owners for the loss of their free labour, but absolutely no compensation was paid to the slaves. The fact is that when the slaves were liberated, to their former owners they were still considered chattel and the idea of compensation for the centuries of inhumane treatment they endured was not even contemplated. A shame!

But as Sir Hilary has said, Britain and wider Europe owe a debt to this region – a debt to development that must be repaid. He has insisted that in much the same way as the region met with European governments to discuss independence, the discussion on reparations is phase two of the independence process. And, if those who make up the government and private sector in European countries are honest, then they must take responsibility for the sins of their forefathers and seek to make things right.

Certainly they must seek to put financial and technical resources at the disposal of countries in the Caribbean. Our countries were put at a disadvantage following slavery and even more since independence, with international bodies and countries failing to see our inherent vulnerabilities as the reason why we should be given a helping hand to aid in our progress and long term sustainability. So it is hoped that the efforts being made by the Reparations Committee bear fruit in the not too distant future, and that it does not take another 186 years before we gain tangible traction in this area.

Barbados Advocate

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