THE EDITOR: As much as I am a staunch advocate for the observation of Emancipation Day, August 1, each year, TT pays little attention to August 23, the UN-declared International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.
The date commemorates the events of August 22-23, 1791, in Santo Domingo (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) which saw the beginning of the uprising that would play the most crucial role in the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. The leader of the revolution was Toussaint L’Ouverture.
UNESCO has been inviting the Ministers of Culture of all UN member States to organise events every year on that date, involving their entire populations and in particular young people, educators, artists and intellectuals. I have witnessed no efforts to do so in TT.
According to the UNESCO web page, “the day is intended to inscribe the tragedy of the slave trade in the memory of all peoples. In accordance with the goals of the intercultural project, The Slave Route, it should offer an opportunity for collective consideration of the historic causes, the methods and the consequences of this tragedy, and for an analysis of the interactions to which it has given rise between Africa, Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean.”
My contribution to the day has been twofold. First I want to urge TT to do its part in the commemoration of this event, which was the only successful slave uprising in human history. Secondly, I wish to recall a part of my tribute to L’Ouverture which I narrated on radio during African History Month, 2015. I wrote:
“When Toussaint L’Ouverture joined the Haitian revolution, he was already in his mid-forties. This was an advanced age for an enslaved person because slavery aged the Africans prematurely.
“Toussaint’s early life had prepared him very well for the task which he had to undertake. He soon recognised the military and political deficiency among the enslaved. In the early months of the revolution, L’Ouverture built an army strong enough to safeguard the freedom of the Africans in Haiti.
“He also had to govern a land, which was caught up in three-way fighting between Africans, whites and persons of mixed heritage.
“In quick time, Toussaint was able to drive the Spanish out of the French-speaking part of the island. And later, he forced the British to leave Haiti. In fact, the expulsion of the British by the Haitians was the worst defeat of a British expeditionary force between the reign of Elizabeth the First (1533–1603) and the First World War (1914-1919).
“After Toussaint L’Ouverture had defeated the English, who wanted to restore slavery in Haiti, the great emancipator began to develop the liberated island for a new era. Once the army of liberation had achieved its early objectives, Toussaint believed that the economy of Haiti should be returned to its former strength.
“Toussaint issued regulations that the free Haitians should go back to work, 24 hours after they had assumed control of any district. He also ordered his commanders to take all measures to ensure that the plantations were kept running.
“Toussaint told the formerly enslaved Africans: ‘Work is necessary. It is a virtue. It is for the general good of the State.’ Toussaint began a massive road-building programme. He built schools and improved the agricultural output of Haiti.
“In less than two years, he put Haiti on a better financial foundation than it had ever been. But, most importantly of all, Toussaint strengthened the defences of the island against any further attempts to enslave the population.
“The Haitian leader reinforced the forts and reorganised the army. Although his iron discipline did not find favour with many Haitians, he persevered until he was able to build a military force without equal in the New World.
“Toussaint was justified in maintaining a strong hand in governing Haiti, because the greatest threat to Haiti’s freedom was Napoleon Bonaparte, the French dictator. Bonaparte had conquered large parts of Europe and he was furious with Toussaint, whom he called ‘a rebellious slave.’ He said that a mere servant had stained the honour of France.
“In certain quarters, Toussaint was placed on the same pedestal as the European general. Some persons were calling Toussaint L’Ouverture the black Bonaparte and others went so far as to say that ‘of the two Bonapartes, the black one is greater.’”