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Unrepentant reparationist

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Fri Aug 23, 2013

Editor: Mr Paul Lewis has written an interesting article in THE NEWS of 16th August, 2013, on the subject of “REPARATIONS” for colonial slavery and massacre in the Caribbean.{{more}}

It is a transparent invitation to an informed conversation on the subject. He raises many of the issues that we need to consider, and he provides a discussion which is, at times, provocative and unbalanced. For example, when he makes the general point that many West African leaders were complicit in and responsible for capturing, conveying and selling other Africans to European traders, he is on solid ground. When he declares further, that these African leaders (however designated today), must pay reparations to us, his conclusion is premature. He should examine more closely the disturbed, uneven, and invasive power environment in West Africa, especially in the earlier period of demand for captives. Walter Rodney and Philip Curtin, among others, provide useful insights into that transition from European raiding of African peoples to African dependence on European goods, especially arms. That led to the unequal power relations between the African rulers and the European traders, who accepted captives as the prime commodity, even currency, for trade transactions. When we grasp the balance of political and value adding forces in that context, we may then identify and reckon who is accountable for the African sector of the trade in captives.

I do agree with Mr Lewis, though, that the interest of our regional state system CARICOM, should not dominate the reparations claims process. Civil society, its working people, youth, women and other regional economic actors have deep objective aspirations in relation to reparations, which the state system will misrepresent. I resist also, with Paul Lewis, what seems to be a crass monetization of the relative loss of our history-making capabilities and moral community. Now, I am an unrepentant reparationist, but I resist any statements about whole continents bearing blame and paying debts. History is more “class” sensible and dialectical than that. That is why we must engender from the representatives of social forces in our region a new, innovative and inclusive leadership bloc for our reparations movement. A “partysan” elite in office, laundering its legitimacy through intellectuals who are resolute reparationists, and soliciting fellow travellers is a proven shaky foundation. Can you reflect with me how our regional integration movement of 50 years ago, in the hands of a similar coalition, disintegrated?

Today, our history approaches a turning point. I have suggested in earlier writing that a new history of the Caribbean hemisphere begins in this century. We must enter it well, intelligently and consciously. A reparations movement for repairing our history is the way to go and it has got to become your movement and mine, so historian Paul, farmer Jeff, nurse Anne, unemployed Shantelle and diabetic Moriba, let us make our history our business. We not jumping on anybody’s bandwagon, we repairing our own lives together. Let us move to achieve our compounded reparations and lead the world to sing redemption songs.

Oscar Allen

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