Emancipation Day puzzlements

Reginald Dumas
Reginald Dumas


Part I

THE JULY 2013 Caricom Heads of Government meeting agreed “to set up national committees on reparations to establish the moral, ethical and legal case for the payment of reparations by the former colonial European countries to the nations and people of the Caribbean Community for native genocide, the transatlantic slave trade and a racialised system of chattel slavery. (The meeting) also agreed to establish a Caricom Reparations Commission comprising the chairs of the national committees and a representative of (UWI)…”

A TT National Committee was duly set up, chaired by Aiyegoro Ome, who later heard he had been replaced. I understand that the committee has not been meeting – indeed, that it has been disbanded. Could the Government please indicate whether or not this is true, and, if true, give the reasons for the dissolution? I wouldn’t want to think we might be flouting a Caricom decision we supported.

In March 2014 the heads endorsed a Ten-Point Action Plan for Reparatory Justice as a basis for discussions on reparations. To my mind, the very first point raises a problem. It calls for “a full, formal apology as opposed to ‘statements of regrets’ that some nations have issued.” But governments everywhere do their damnedest
not to apologise for their errors or misdeeds, and European governments today generally take the position that African slavery and Amerindian decimation (in fact, it was genocide) were regrettable, but not their fault (even if their countries have considerably benefitted therefrom). Why therefore should they apologise?

There are of course examples of public governmental admission of guilt. In May 2021, for instance, the German government “ask(ed) Namibia and the victims (of German genocide in the then German South West Africa between 1904 and 1908) for forgiveness.” So far as I’m aware, the word “apology” was avoided. The Namibian president, however, took the statement as an apology.

The descendants of the victims were far less impressed than he. The Paramount Chief of the Herero (about 65,000 of whom the Germans had slaughtered) called instead for reparations to his people. He rejected the German offer of funding support for infrastructural and other projects over 30 years: “No self-respecting African,” he sniffed, “will accept such an insult in this day and age from a so-called civilised European nation.”

And a Nama spokesperson (the Germans had killed about 10,000 of her people) was equally dismissive: “Germany must come to the Nama…and Herero (peoples) and ask for forgiveness…This is not about money, it’s about the restoration of human dignity.”

Then in February this year the Dutch PM, Mark Rutte, offered “a deep apology” (he actually used the word) “to the people of Indonesia…for the systematic and widespread extreme violence by the Dutch (during the Indonesian war of independence from 1945 to 1949) and” – this admission was remarkable – “the constant looking away by previous (Dutch) Cabinets.” (The Dutch had killed about 100,000 Indonesians).

But in June, only a few months after Rutte’s apology, all King Philippe of Belgium, speaking to the Congolese Parliament, could manage to do was “reaffirm (his) deepest regrets for (the) wounds of the past.” The wounds of the past! Yet Leopold II, one of Philippe’s predecessors in office, began the savagery which is said to have directly or indirectly caused the deaths of about ten million black Congolese!

“Regrets.” It’s what we heard recently from Prince William. Now I hear that our PM has written William and his father Charles on the matter of reparations, and that the THA Chief Secretary is also persuaded that royals can help. For the life of me, I cannot think why. Do Charles and William make British policy, or in any way influence it? Do they have access to the public purse? Even if they agree with Caricom, what can they do?

Other questions arise. Is Caricom insisting on acceptance of the first point of its plan – a full, formal apology – before dealing with its other points? Has the Reparations Commission, established nine years ago, been consulting with, and reporting publicly to, the people of Caricom? (How, incidentally, do the people interpret the word “reparations?”) Has the commission been working with other parts of the world – Southern Africa and Canada, for instance – where the subject of reparations has become a rallying cry? Or has it been operating in its own area of intellectual isolation? When we say we must “demand” reparations, of whom will we be making that “demand?” What happens if – I shan’t say “when” – the “demand” is ignored?

And what about the traditional Christian churches, all of them infamous owners and abusers of slaves, both African and, in the case of the Catholics, indigenous as well? Has Caricom approached them?


"Emancipation Day puzzlements"

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