Should former colonial powers such as Britain, France, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands pay reparations to its former colonies?

Dauda from the QM Pan-African Society was cordially invited to Warwick University on January 27th 2016 to debate in favour of the motion that former colonial powers such as Britain, France, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands must take responsibility for the crimes of its colonial past and pay long overdue reparations to its former colonies.

The following piece is the case for reparations as put forward by brother Dauda on the day of the debate.


Should former colonial powers such as Britain, France, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands pay reparations to its former colonies?

For many the answer for this question is a simple yes or no. But it’s more complex than that. Many times when people hear the word ‘Reparations’, somehow they translate that to money; more specifically Black people asking, or begging, for money.


So please allow me to make this very clear: reparations isn’t just about money. Yes, it’s true that it has a monetary component, but it’s not solely about money.

Reparations, as the word itself entails, is about repairing the damage of the double tragedy of slavery and colonialism.

The dictionary definition of reparation is defined as follows:

“the action of making amends for a wrong one has done, by providing payment or other assistance to those who have been wronged”.

If one isn’t a colonial or imperial apologist, then one must recognise and admit the horrible and perverted legacy of violence, genocide, oppression, and cultural and religious erasure that Black people have had to endure for a period of 400 years.

Esther Stanford-Xosei, a historian and scholar, defines Reparations along five key strands: “restitution, rehabilitation, compensation, satisfaction, and most importantly, guarantees of non-repetition.”

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Reparations isn’t about victimhood or white guilt. Reparations is about reparatory justice and the end of a falsification of history.

We need to take into account that although slavery was abolished about 200 years ago, and colonialism ended about 50 years ago, Black people are still dealing with the intergenerational transmission of trauma and post-traumatic slave syndrome.

Africa was robbed of its natural and human resources for 4 centuries.

A human holocaust was caused.

The African continent and Black communities in the West are presently dysfunctional and face many problems.

The roots of those problems can be traced directly to those times; its time to amend those wrongs.

Present day banks and corporations that so many are so eager and happy to work for were constructed and funded upon the vast profits of slavery and colonialism.

Banks and financial institutions benefited by making loans or investments in the plantations, enslaved Africans and by insuring human cargo, which did in turn spur more business and more money for the banks and plantation owners, as well as billions of taxes paid on slave transactions.

In the words of Frantz Fanon:

“From all these continents, under whose eyes Europe today raises up her tower of opulence, there has flowed out for centuries toward that same Eu- rope diamonds and oil, silk and cotton, wood and exotic products.

Europe is literally the creation of the third world. The wealth which smothers her is that which was stolen from the under-developed peoples.

So when we hear the head of a European state declare with his hand on his heart that he must come to the aid of the poor under-developed peoples, we do not tremble with gratitude. Quite the contrary; we say to ourselves: ‘It’s a just reparation which will be paid to us.”


Walter Rodney in his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, and Eric Williams in his well-known book Capitalism and Slavery document the various contributions of slavery and colonial exploitation to European economic growth: mainly in shipping, insurance, agriculture, the formation of companies such as Barclays Bank, Lloyds Bank, JP Morgan and AIG Insurance, technology and the manufacture of machinery: for instance James Watt expressed eternal gratitude to the West Indian slave owners who directly financed his famous steam engine, and took it from the drawing-board to the factory.

The most spectacular feature in Europe was the rise of sea-port towns: most notably Bristol, Liverpool, Nantes, Bordeaux, Lisbon and Seville. These manufacturing centres eventually gave rise to what is commonly known as the ‘industrial revolution’.

After the abolishment of slavery, slave owners got compensated an estimated £17 million in today’s money for the loss of their property.

The enslaved received nothing.

In fact, they were forced to pay for their own emancipation in the order of £27 million through forced internships of 4 or 6 years.

The demand for reparations isn’t something new: £8 billions of Reparations were paid to the US and the UK by Germany after the second world war, and Germany paid Israel £3 billions in Holocaust reparations.

The United States officially apologised for the Japanese American internment during World War II and paid reparations to former internees and their descendants, and the US also paid reparations to American Indians.


Isn’t Black life and suffering just as relevant as Jewish and American Indians lives and suffering?

Jean Paul Sartre, a scholar and French man once argued:

“You know well enough that we are exploiters. You know too that we have laid hands on first the gold and metals, then the petroleum of the “new con- tinents,” and that we have brought them back to the old countries.

This was not without excellent results, as witness our palaces, our cathe- drals, and our great industrial cities; and then when there was the threat of a slump, the colonial markets were there to soften the blow or to divert it.”

Now I ask you, should former colonial powers take action in order to amend the wrongs which they caused in the past by providing payment or other as- sistance to those they have wronged?
My answer to that question is a definite: Yes. Not just because I’m African or of African descent, but because I’m a humanist and I believe in justice.


What can you do to support the Afrikan Reparations Movement?

  1. Attend the 1st of August Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March (starting from Windrush Square in Brixton to 10 Downing street) and encourage others to do the same.
  2. Donate to the cost of the Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March
  3. Sign the “Stop the Maangamizi: We charge Genocide/Ecocide” petition and share it with your networks and colleagues.
  4. Bring the Reparations movement to your university’s Pan-African Society by inviting sister Esther Stanford-Xosei and other Pan-African community leaders onto campus.

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