Slav­ery’s shame a royal dis­grace

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Verene A. Shep­herd is a so­cial his­to­rian and chair­per­son of the Na­tional Com­mis­sion on Repa­ra­tions. Email feed­back to columns@glean­ and repa­ra­­search@uwi­ Verene A. Shep­herd

IREAD with some level of dis­quiet the re­port in the Guardian news­pa­per of Novem­ber 5, 2018, of the visit of a mem­ber of the Bri­tish royal fam­ily, Prince Charles, and his wife Camilla, to Ghana, a coun­try from which mil­lions of Africans were cap­tured and force­fully re­lo­cated to the Amer­i­cas in Euro­pean slavers, in­clud­ing many from the UK, to en­dure a life of ter­ror on plan­ta­tions and other en­ter­prises.

In his speech de­liv­ered at the Ac­cra In­ter­na­tional Con­ven­tion Cen­tre, the prince touched on top­ics like Ghana’s role in the Euro­pean Civil Wars (called World Wars 1 & 2), the Com­mon­wealth and its fu­ture, the con­tri­bu­tions that an es­ti­mated 250,000 Ghana­ians are mak­ing to UK so­ci­ety, cli­mate change and the benev­o­lence of the United King­dom, which “has been help­ing to make a dif­fer­ence in Ghana, whether through the pri­vate, govern­ment or NGO sec­tors”.

At Chris­tians­borg Cas­tle in Osu, which orig­i­nally op­er­ated as a Dan­ish ‘slave trade fort’ (but not at sites where Bri­tish atroc­i­ties were car­ried out), as well as at the Con­ven­tion Cen­tre, the prince con­fronted Bri­tain’s role in the transat­lantic trade in enslaved Africans.

My dis­quiet was re­lated to the fact that while the heir to the Bri­tish throne ac­knowl­edged that Bri­tain’s in­volve­ment in the transat­lantic trade in enslaved Africans was an ap­palling atroc­ity that has left an “in­deli­ble stain” on the world, like all other Bri­tish of­fi­cials who have is­sued com­ments on Bri­tain’s cul­pa­bil­ity in the Ma’angamizi (African holo­caust), he stopped short of is­su­ing an apol­ogy to the peo­ple of Ghana and the sites of Bri­tain’s plan­ta­tion slav­ery in the Amer­i­cas.

An apol­ogy would have demon­strated to the world that a pen­i­tent na­tion ad­mits to this crime against hu­man­ity, com­mits to re­pair­ing the dam­age done by the crime and to non-rep­e­ti­tion. Fur­ther­more, and like oth­ers be­fore him, he failed to ac­knowl­edge that Haiti and the Danes were ahead of Bri­tain in tak­ing steps to end the his­toric traf­fick­ing in Africans (and in Haiti’s case, slav­ery), in­stead er­ro­neously claim­ing that “Bri­tain ... later led the way in the abo­li­tion of this shame­ful trade”.

That no apol­ogy was prof­fered or repa­ra­tion dis­cussed by a mem­ber of the Bri­tish royal fam­ily is even more trou­bling, given the fact that royal fam­i­lies through­out Europe de­vel­oped fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests in the trade, and mon­archs from King Louis XVI of France, King Ge­orge I of Eng­land, King Chris­tian IV of Den­mark, and King Gus­tavus Adol­phus of Swe­den had mu­tual in­ter­est in the trade’s pros­per­ity.


State-spon­sored com­pa­nies, from Por­tu­gal’s Cacheu, Maran­hoa, and Per­nam­buco Com­pa­nies to Hol­land’s West In­dia Com­pany, and Bri­tain’s Royal Ad­ven­tur­ers, Royal African Com­pany and South Sea Com­pany, were granted ex­clu­sive li­cences to op­er­ate in the trans­ship­ment of mil­lions of Africans. With royal pa­tron­age, and the need to en­sure a re­turn on in­vest­ment, the level of or­gan­i­sa­tion that went into the cap­ture and sub­se­quent en­slave­ment of Africans was un­matched.

It is high time that the UK move be­yond plat­i­tudes in the tra­di­tion of sim­i­lar state­ments by their for­mer prime min­is­ters, Tony Blair and David Cameron, and their min­is­ter of state for the Com­mon­wealth and United Na­tions, Tariq Ah­mad, live up to its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and pay repa­ra­tion to those dis­fig­ured by its in­volve­ment in the transat­lantic trade in enslaved Africans and plan­ta­tion slav­ery.

By Prince Charles’ own ad­mis­sion, “the ap­palling atroc­ity of the slave trade, and the unimag­in­able suf­fer­ing it caused, left an in­deli­ble stain on the his­tory of our world”. It is time to re­move that stain.

As Sir El­lis Clarke, the Trinidad and Tobago’s govern­ment UN rep­re­sen­ta­tive to a sub­com­mit­tee of the Com­mit­tee on Colo­nial­ism said in 1964, “An ad­min­is­ter­ing power ... is not en­ti­tled to ex­tract for cen­turies all that can be got out of a colony, and when that has been done, to re­lieve it­self of its obli­ga­tions ... . Jus­tice re­quires that repa­ra­tion be made to the coun­try that has suf­fered the rav­ages of colo­nial­ism be­fore that coun­try is ex­pected to face up to the prob­lems and dif­fi­cul­ties that will in­evitably be­set it upon in­de­pen­dence.”

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