The World Today for May 24, 2024


Bills Coming Due


Ghana is pressing the African Union (AU) to leverage the worldwide African diaspora to bolster the case for reparations for the trans-Atlantic trade in slaves, reported Yen, a Ghanaian news outlet. It is “important for the self-worth and self-confidence of descendants of enslaved people,” it added.

Late last year, the AU hosted a reparations summit where attendees from around the world agreed to establish a Global Reparation Fund to push for compensation for the descendants of the millions of Africans enslaved centuries ago during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

They aren’t the only people around the world who are talking seriously about reparations for slavery.

Portuguese lawmakers recently defeated a proposal by right-wing parties to charge President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa with treason for entertaining the idea of paying back the descendants of people torn from their homes, shackled in the dark holds of ships, and carried to plantations across the Atlantic Ocean. Much to the chagrin of those right-wing politicians, Sousa recently said he believed his country should address the “wrongs of the past,” wrote Reuters. Portuguese critics of such a plan say, however, it would be impossible to administer.

Portugal still doesn’t have an official reparations policy, however, according to the BBC.

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has resisted apologizing for the country’s role in the slave trade, added Al Jazeera, even though King Charles III has agreed to a study of the monarchy’s already documented ties to the slave trade. Also, the Church of England has admitted that it had profited from enslavement and set aside a £100 million ($127.63 million) fund to address racial inequality. Meanwhile, activists have been working through civil society groups to change Sunak’s mind.

“It was important to me because I had to know who I was and how their barbaric trade of enslaved Africans shaped my life,” said Malik Al Nasir, a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge who researched his own ties to slavery in Guyana in South America. “(They) also shaped the lives of many others across the Caribbean and in the UK, in the Americas and also in Africa.”

Sometimes, the arguments in favor of reparations can be about entire modern societies. For example, Haiti, where the first successful slave rebellion occurred in the early 19th century, had to repay France for more than a century to compensate slave owners for their losses, noted World Politics Review. These payments arguably robbed Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, of $21 billion that could have helped it enormously over that long period.

At other times, the target for reparations is outside of Europe or the United States. For example, in Brazil, the executive manager for institutional relations at the country’s national bank apologized in January at a forum on slavery’s legacy in his country, the Associated Press reported.

Brazil enslaved more people from Africa than any other country – nearly 5 million Africans were taken there, more than 12 times the number forcibly relocated to North America.

“Today’s Bank of Brazil asks Black people for forgiveness,” André Machado said to the mostly Black audience in Rio de Janeiro. “Directly or indirectly, all of Brazilian society should apologize to Black people for that sad moment in our history.”

Brazil – where more than half the population self-identifies as Black or biracial – has long resisted reckoning with its past. That reluctance has started loosening – for example, prosecutors have begun probing the Bank of Brazil, Latin America’s second-largest financial institution by assets, with $380 billion, for its historical links to the slave trade. Their investigation could yield a recommendation, an agreement or filing of legal action.

Meanwhile, in the Caribbean, Barbados has been leading efforts for reparations through the regional bloc CARICOM’s committee on reparations. It’s pushing for negotiations with 10 European countries on reparations that would resemble a Marshall Plan, Time magazine wrote.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, is convinced reparations are necessary, recently calling for such payments to help address systemic racism and other issues dating back to the slavery era. “We call for reparatory justice frameworks to help overcome generations of exclusion and discrimination,” Guterres said.

Writing on a reparations proposal in California, the Wall Street Journal criticized the idea of such payments, saying the government agencies created by such a proposal would waste money and meddle in markets in ways that would likely backfire.

Proponents of reparations say, however, that it wouldn’t backfire for them.

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