Wednesday 12 March 2014

Why suing Europe for slavery is a bad idea

The issue of slavery and its impact on Africa, The Caribbean and other people groups affected by it has been discussed for a while now . The discussions range from how much slavery really affected communities to whether or not its effects are still in place today.

Anyone that has ever been involved in this discussion will testify that it is often a colourful one and rightly so. There is no shortage of drama and ideas on what needs to be done to right the wrongs of slavery.

The suggestion of an outlandish solution to the problem is not peculiar but I think the recent suggestion from the leaders of the Caribbean Community – to sue Britain, France and The Netherlands for the lingering harms from slave trade – is the most counterproductive suggestion I have heard in a long time.

Reports claim that the leaders of the Caribbean Community have adopted a 10-point plan that would seek an official apology, a cancellation of debts and assistance for cultural and educational institutions.

While the desire for an official apology is understandable and cancellation of debts might help stabilize and strengthen some ailing economies, the idea of assistance for cultural and educational institutions is a bit of an insult to the people and the cultures of The Caribbean.

As an African living in Europe, one of the things that strikes me the most is how unaware of African cultures and traditions most Europeans are. The good intentions of many are very obvious but beyond that, there is very little knowledge of nuances of Africa, its people, its history and, still in some cases, the basic fact that there are a lot of different people groups in Africa just as you would find on any other continent.

To most people (not just Europeans), the Caribbean is the land of warm weather, beautiful beaches and reggae music. Beyond these things, many would struggle to tell you much else. This is perfectly understandable as it is generally not expected for people to have full understanding of a culture and its context unless they are part of it. Most people are aware of this and will relate according to their knowledge, experience and acquaintance with the culture. If this is the case, why then do the leaders of the Caribbean Community want help from outside their culture to progress it? Is it not in the best interest of The Caribbean that its people are the main drivers of any change that must come to it?

The origin of the problem (illiteracy and psychological trauma), in the first place, was that a people that did not understand the context of another people’s culture tried to doctor it to their own advantage. The result has been decades of infighting and economic stagnation. Why then would anyone wilfully wish to in effect repeat such a scenario?

I am not trying to underplay the ill-effects of slavery and colonisation but I strongly believe that to truly correct any wrongs that arose as a result, the discussions have to be forward facing and not centred on what has already happened. It is better to be pulled by your future than to be propelled by your past. Nothing can be done to erase the wrongs of the past but so much can be done to lay the foundations that ensure a better tomorrow.

Slavery and colonisation will always be contentious topics but I believe the people most affected by it are in the best position to bring about the necessary change. Not the people that caused the problem in the first place.

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