African News

Diaspora and Development

22 May 2007 at 09:39 | 681 views

By Daniel T. Osabu-Kle, Ottawa, Canada
200th Anniversary of Abolition Act.

Your Excellency, moderator, invited guests, members of the Kilimanjaro Students Association, students, ladies and gentlemen.

I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war. Those who are for war know themselves and why.My book, Compatible Cultural Democracy: The Key to Development in Africa which argued and explained that democracy is nothing new to Africa being part of its indigenous culture was the source of much discussion.

An article I wrote in the Jounal of Black Studies, “The African Reparation Cry”, which estimated the amount of reparation to be at least US100 trillion dollars and called for its payment to provide Africa and its Diaspora with the resources necessary for development was not comfortable to those nations with guilty mind. Why do I as a member of the Diaspora care so much? It is because the Atlantic Ocean does not have the power to convert an African into an Amerindian or a European. This must be the guiding principle of the Diaspora! We are all Africans even if we deny so!

Historically the contribution of the Diaspora to development in the political ideological, economic and cultural spheres have been spectacular. Included among the many are Edward Blyden, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, Dr. W.E.B DuBois, George Padmore, Walter Rodney, Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. The contributions of these personalities are available on the internet and those interested may easily access them. Surely they had their personal differences and different methods of approach, but their common spirit of Pan-Africanism resulted in the independence, though not decolonization, of countries in Africa and the Caribbean.

The present generation of Diaspora owes them the duty of continuing the struggle to decolonize Africa and the Caribbean through the breaking down of the inherited colonial structures that perpetuate neo-colonialism and replacing them with structures oriented to the developmental aspirations of our people. More recently Oprah Winfrey has made a difference and set a good example by establishing a school for girls in South Africa. That was a step in the right direct worth emulation.

Today when the 200 anniversary of the nominal abolition of slavery is being celebrated, I seize the opportunity to emphasize that the abolition of slavery is a total myth, that the Diaspora can do more to contribute to development by seeking to complete the good works that those before us began concerning the struggle for reparations estimated to be over US$100 trillion, draw attention to positive contributions the Diaspora can still make to development, and also explain the effects of the brain drain.
Out of nothing, God created the universe. Unfortunately we, being human cannot do that. We need resources for our accomplishments. In the invasions of Africa during the slave trade and colonialism, gold, silver, diamonds, other precious materials and human resources were, plundered, looted and stolen to make others rich and Africa and its Diaspora poor. Africa and its Diaspora still need those resources for development.

The Slave Trade and Slavery Have not Been Abolished Yet
Contrary to popular belief, and the celebration of 200 years of abolition, the slave trade and slavery were only abolished on paper but, in reality, have not been abolished. Many may be shocked to hear this from me, but I can explain why the abolition is a myth at best. The slave trade and slavery both created income generating wealth with a multiplying effect for the nations and institutions that legalized and participated in it. The works of Fage, Ivor Wilks, Paul Lovejoy, and Eric Wolf all identify certain countries in Western Europe, the United States and Muslim Arabs as those who enslaved Africans through the captive form of slavery.

The identified nations of Western Europe include the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Danes, the Swedes, the French and the British. Since the so called abolition of the slave trade and slavery, the slave masters who benefited from that crime against humanity have rather been given reparations for losing their slaves, but Africa and its Diaspora who suffered and continue to suffer from the consequences have received nothing. In a twist of justice, the same nations of Europe and America that emphasize the rule of law all over the globe today granted reparations to the slave masters for losing their slaves, but nothing to the manumitted slaves. The British Parliament proudly insulted justice by approving reparation of 20 million pounds to slave owners already rich through the labour of the manumitted slaves.

Other European powers that legalized slavery emulated the British example. France, Denmark, and the Netherlands paid reparation to the slave masters, but nothing to the manumitted slaves, and United States government refused to honour its meagre promise of “40 acres of land and a mule” to the manumitted slaves. Africa, the manumitted slaves and their descendants who suffered and continue to suffer have received practically nothing. So far, the calls by people of African descent for reparations have fallen upon deaf ears. Celebrating 200 years of abolition of slavery therefore means celebrating 200 years of denying Africa and its Diaspora both apology and reparations. I emphasize that an apology is not reparation though it may precede it. Africans do not eat apologies!

Generations of those who benefited continue to benefit while generations of Africa and its Diaspora continue to suffer from the consequences of that crime against humanity. The time is ripe for the Diaspora to ask the question, “abolition for whose advantage?” and rise up to fight for its right by demanding reparations under the framework of international law and the evidence of case law that buttresses it.

One of the most effective ways of commencing the investigation of a crime is seeking to answer the question “who benefits from the crime?” By continuing to benefit from the crime against humanity, the present generations of those countries that legalized the crime indirectly continue to participate in the slave trade and slavery while Africa and its Diaspora continue to be the captives and the slaves. The ancient fetters were visible; the modern fetters are invisible. The ancient methods were observable; the modern methods are subtle. Here lies the difference, but the results are the same: one enjoys wealth and honour; the other suffers poverty and humiliation.

Reparation is the only means of atoning for the wrongs of the past and breaking this virtuous cycle so that the perpetrators free themselves from guilt, but that is precisely what the perpetrators continue to refuse to do. Until an adequate amount of reparation is paid to enable Africa and its Diaspora to build income generating wealth and catch up with those who continue to benefit, the invisible fetters will continue to exist and the slave trade and slavery cannot be said to have been really abolished. Those who continue to benefit are as guilty as those who were directly involved centuries ago. It is not fair for them to inherit the benefits, but refuse to inherit the crime. If they accept the benefits, they must also accept the crime.

Crimes against humanity have been defined through the Nuremberg tribunal as "Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population . . . whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated." Moreover, the United Nations Convention on the Prevention of Crime and Genocide defined genocide- a crime against humanity - to include deliberately inflicting on a racial or ethnic group "conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part." Historians from the same countries that committed crimes against humanity during the slave trade and colonialism testify to the unprovoked invasion of African territories, the mass capture of Africans, the horrors of the middle passage, the chattelization of Africans in the Americas, and the extermination of the language and culture of the transported peoples. From their testimony and the definition of crime against humanity under the Nuremberg tribunal and the United Nations Convention on genocide, the slave trade, slavery and colonialism in Africa are crimes against humanity.

The right to reparation was confirmed in international law when the Permanent Court of International Justice defined it in 1928. Case law evidence in the international arena buttressing the right to reparation includes the following:

1. The 1952 agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel for the payment of $222 million, when Jews who fled from Nazi-controlled countries claimed reparations.

2. The 1990 Austrian payments totalling $25 million to survivors of the Jewish Holocaust.

3. Japan’s reparation payments to South Korea for acts committed during Japanese invasion and occupation of Korea in World War II.

4. The UN Security Council’s passage of a resolution, which it considered binding in international law, requiring Iraq to pay reparations for its invasion of Kuwait.

5. The United Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that provided restitution to Japanese Americans for losses resulting from their internment and ill-treatment at the hands of U.S. authorities during World War II, and subsequent payment of a total of $1.2 billion, averaging about $20,000 per Japanese American claimant.

6. The 1995 Waikato Raupatu Claims Settlement Bill over which Queen Elizabeth personally presided giving reparation for the 1863 British seizure of Maori land in New Zealand. Due apology was rendered, land was handed back and an additional $40 million (U.S.) was paid in compensation.

The particular case of the Maori of New Zealand confirmed that there can be no justified barrier to reparations rationalized on the basis of ‘long time’. Once the Maori were paid reparation, the principle of case law kicked in to require that Africans be not denied the same. In addition, it is a case in which the descendants of the original victims were granted reparations for the loss of their ancestral land and cultural defoliation. Moreover, since the rule of law requires that neither the accused nor the complainant has the right to unilaterally erect any barrier to the judicial process, it is unlawful and unacceptable for the accused nations to pass their own laws setting time lines to protect themselves from being held to account.

It should also not be forgotten that “might is right” is antagonistic to the rule of law. It seems, in the mind of the perpetrator nations, the notion “might is right” is like Johnny Walker, born 1820, still going strong. The Diaspora should challenge that notion through negotiations failing which a properly constituted court excluding representation from the perpetrator nations, but acceptable to both parties, should adjudicate.
The reparation should be paid to Africa and its Diaspora as a whole. Africa and its Diaspora do not lack trained bankers. A Bank of Africa and Diaspora can be established into which the reparation amounts can be paid and disbursed for development purposes. Instead of borrowing money from the IMF and the Word Bank under harsh conditionalities, African governments, businesses and institutions within the Diaspora can then borrow from this bank with dignity and respect. However, though reparation is justified and the major potential resource for development, it is not the only avenue!

The Transferable Skills and Resources of the Diaspora
Transferable skills and resources exist within the Diaspora which can be tapped for development. Awareness, organization, training and mobilization may be required to harness these resources. Following the good example of Oprah Winfrey, contributions from the Diaspora to establish training schools where necessary may be required. While it is true that some in the Diaspora, including myself, are already making progress in this respect there is room for more commitment and broadening of the base. Contributions and mobilization should not be limited to establishing schools and training programs. Some of the contributions may be directed to establishing scholarship schemes for needy students and to encourage and reward excellence.Job creation should not be overlooked.

After completing schools or training programs many in the Diaspora relatively find it hard to get jobs. This is partly due to the vertical mosaic of racism constructed during the era of slavery and colonialism that relegated people of African descent to the bottom of its ladder and partly due to the type of education or training. However, the Diaspora can overcome or circumvent the ladder of prejudice and discrimination through contributions to establish black businesses managed by qualified members of the Diaspora that can create jobs for its members. It requires commitment and trust which seem lacking at the moment. The Diaspora should not forget that unemployment leads to poverty and there is a relationship between poverty and crime which has landed many members of the Diaspora in jail. While failure to pay reparation is at the roots of this poverty, the Diaspora can still make a difference through self-reliance.

There is, however, the danger of ‘black capitalists’ using their wealth and skills to not for the purpose of aiding the development process, but for exploitation and profit maximization purposes. While making some profit is reasonable within some limits, it should not be forgotten that Truman’s Point Four, which invented transitive development after World War II, asserts that exploitation for profit should not be part of the plan. Care should be taken to ensure that members of the Diaspora working in any of the established black business are adequately paid and rewarded.

The Diaspora and the Brain Drain Problem.
The growth of the Diaspora while contributing to alleviate the unemployment problem in the countries of origin simultaneously creates a brain drain problem resulting in shortage of much needed skills there. It contributes to shortage of doctors, nurses, engineers, administrators and labour. Political instability and political repression within the countries of origin are contributing factors and so is the colonial legacy of weak economies vulnerable to fluctuations in the world market. Remittances to relations and friends while tending to provide some relief as well as benefiting the economy as a whole do not eliminate these shortages. Return to the country of origin after acquiring much experience is one way of solving the problem. Unfortunately, those who return are relatively few and may be too old to be productive. Some return to their countries of origin only when they are about to die or are dead. Indeed, the countries of origin have become the graveyards of the Diaspora. This practice must stop!

Those who visit or return sometimes carry along with them certain cultural practices and some feeling of pomposity which are not welcome. This is due to blind cultural emulation and the notion that practices in the developed North are necessarily appropriate for the South. Such cultural insensitivity leads to unnecessary and avoidable negative development. Cultural awareness and self discipline on the part of members of the Diaspora returning to their countries of origin cannot therefore be overemphasized. Cultural insensitivity on the part of those who return is only one side of the story. The countries of origin also create problems for Diaspora members willing to help. Because of their own colonial mentality of white superiority, envy, and feelings of being threatened, they prefer white advisers to Diaspora advisers. Negative comments about Diaspora members who return include: Is he coming to dictate to us, what does s/he think of herself/himself? This is very frustrating! The countries of origin must address this problem through re-education and confidence building.

In conclusion, I emphasize that the slave trade and slavery might have been abolished on paper, but in reality they still continue. Celebrating 200 years of abolition means celebrating 200 years of denying Africa and its Diaspora due apology followed by reparation. So long as adequate reparation has not been paid to Africa and its Diaspora to enable them create the same income generating wealth and catch up with those benefiting from the crimes, slavery and the slave trade still continue unabated. The generations who continue to benefit from it, indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly continue to participate in it, for the descendants of those who suffered continue to suffer. Once they accept the benefits they automatically accept the crime. The Diaspora must continue to fight against this injustice till the slave trade and slavery are truly abolished through reparations.

Successfully fighting for reparation is not the only means available to the Diaspora to contribute to development. It can harness a combination of acquired skills and generous contributions to provide education and training, establish businesses and create jobs for its members. Such self-reliance requires commitment and dedication.
The brain drain continues to be a problem that militates against development in the countries of origin as the Diaspora expands. Part of the problem may be attributed to the political and economic conditions within the countries of origin themselves and may be associated with the colonial legacy. While return of some may ameliorate the problem, very few do return and cultural sensitivity on return has to be taken seriously. Because the colonial mentality of superiority of the white man has not been eradicated, coupled with narrow self-interest and envy, it is very frustrating that the countries of origin prefer white advisers to better qualified members of the Diaspora. This behaviour must be addressed to enable the Diaspora contribute effectively to the development process.

*Dr. Daniel Osabu-Kle (photo), a former Greater Accra Regional Secretary under the Jerry Rawlings’ PNDC regime is a political science professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.