From the December 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
There is a serious debate doing the rounds along the length and breath of Africa. From the sidewalks to the living rooms, and now it is gaining stature along the corridors of European intellectual halls.
Suffice it to say, much lip service is being paid to this issue of reparation. Most of the time, those who advocate reparation for Africans have used as their platform the New African and West Africa magazines respectively . It is perhaps no accident that both magazines are based in London, England.
England holds a special place in the recollection of most pre-independence generation Africans. If not as a colonial giant, or for her naval superiority, then, as a sovereign that handed out medals to its subject. My late grandfather had one such medal. Before his death, he often recounted his services with the royal navy, especially during the second world war. After the war—in which his brother lost his life—and until his death, my grandfather religiously polished his medal which graced our living room, believing that his services were worthwhile.
If he and his brother and all other Africans who lost there lives in protecting the British Empire had lived today, like present-day Africans they would have confronted the realities by recognizing that these medals were nothing but a token of the British Empire in exchange of their person.
The medals do have a place in present-day capitalism. For availing its land and water facilities to the British during the Falkland war, England presented Sierra Leone with medals after her victory over Argentina. After the Gulf War, the then US Joint Chief of Staff, Colin Powell, went to Sierra Leone to present medals to soldiers who took part in operation Desert Storm. Modern day Africa is littered with forts erected by colonial masters. Each of these forts has a sad story to tell. Africa as a people and as a continent has nothing but medals to show for the scars of these forts.
Concerning the facets of history, whether you read it from the adjacent views of Christopher Columbus, the diagonal glimpses of Mongo Park, the parallel glance of Pedro De Centre or the opposite panorama of Basil Davidson, the conclusions are unanimous: colonialists are selfish. There is no line of history, not even the distorted version compiled by the colonialist, that found Africa was wanting in food or shelter, prior to their arrival.
The common ground agreed upon by history is that no sooner the Europeans arrived in Africa, out of weakness using firearms, they drew up a diabolic strategy that shifted Africa’s priorities from agriculture and self-reliance to that of mining and dependence. The arrival of the Europeans ushered in a new era. One of slave and master. One that saw an entire race being reduced to beggars. Like their government, Africans had to beg for the air they breathed. African Chiefs that were deemed helpful were presented medals as a token of their loyalty.
The argument put forward by reparationists hubs around the thesis presented by both the Germans and the Swiss. The Jews accepted reparation from institutions in both countries because sufficient and ample effort has been demonstrated by both countries to eradicate nazism. The question begs an answer, has slavery ended for Africa?
In the just-ended UN General Assembly World leaders, as have always, pretended to articulate the world’s problem, with a solution in sight. What continues to baffle the mental engineering of every sober being is that no other capitalist solution can shrive where the IMF and the World Bank with their contingent agencies like the Paris Club have failed. The ever-increasing problems of the world’s poor contrasts and contests capitalism’s much acclaimed successes this century.
The pictures beamed into our living rooms by TV stations of war across the face of the globe, coupled with the inhumane treatment meted out to blacks across Europe, plus the increasing cases of malnutrition in a world of plenty, lapped by the unfriendly conditions under which workers sell their trade, reflect a world gone amok.
The answer to our present predicament underlie that aspect of human endeavour where our capitalist masters have registered their greatest failure. Their inability to understand that we are all equal irrespective of race and that the resources of the world are to be equally apportioned for the benefit of all, has brought mankind to our present transfixed position of moral and social disequilibrum.
Never before has mankind been left so destitute, so as to be robbed of all its wit, thus failing to realize that the doctor is the angel of death in disguise. Capitalism kills, it doesn’t heal. Data speak for themselves. There are more hungry, poor, homeless and sick people in the world today than any other point in history.
Hope is not and should not be allowed to dim on us, socialism presents the only practical alternative to our present disorder. It ensures all a safe and peaceful environment. It does not operate on profit, goods are produced for the common good of all, including medical services. But , like capitalism, socialism has its drawback: there will be no medals given as a token, because they are no masters nor slaves, only companions.
Daniel Wah (Sierra Leone)