By Michael A. Dingwall
I don’t think that I have seen a comprehensive challenge to the ten-point reparations plan that our Caribbean governments are using as the blue print to press Europe for reparations. However, I think this plan can (and will) be successfully challenged.
To start, we want Europe to apologise. The Europeans can successfully refuse this demand on several good grounds. Firstly, both the supposed perpetrators and the supposed victims are long dead. Secondly, those alive in Europe didn’t commit the “crime”. Thirdly, and this is the most powerful reason, slavery was both morally and legally acceptable at the time – both to the Europeans and the Africans. Far from apologising, I think the Europeans should be proud of their great imperial past.
We also want repatriation. This most impractical aspect of this plan is quite laughable. What guarantees do we have that those in Africa will be glad to see us returning? If those thought that life was hard in the West, they should wait until they reach Africa! Also, it is interesting to note that many of those calling for this pipe dream actually have the means to go back, but refuse to do so.
We also want an “Indigenous People’s Development Programme”. As the ten-point plan itself says, the scholarship programme that the University offers to members of the indigenous community is woefully inadequate. This is an admission that our own governments care very little about these peoples. The Europeans have been doing much more. For example, directly, they funded the upgrade of the water supply system in Dominica’s indigenous Carib territory. Indirectly, they have pumped tens of millions of Euros into Dominica – for both the native and non-native populations.
We also want “Cultural Institutions”. The first point I would like to make is that if we cannot come up with the intellectual means to create our own cultural institutions, then no amount of reparations can help us. However, the Europeans have been helping us in this regard. The Institute of Jamaica was started in 1879 by the then British governor. That organisation is mainly responsible for the preservation of Jamaica’s culture. It has oversight responsibility for the African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica, the National Gallery and other cultural organisations. What more do we want from the Europeans?
Then the European must help us solve our “public health crisis”. Again, this can be successfully challenged from many angles. Among others, firstly, no one two hundred years ago would have been able to foreseen the effect of the slave diet today, if there is any. Secondly, we today still continue to feed ourselves with this “poison” diet. Thirdly, the evidence for this claim is very unsound. Fourthly, our “modern” diet of fast food has done much to contribute to the health problems we have today and fifthly, this fast food diet would have done much to “dilute” the link to two hundred years ago.
As for our Illiteracy problem, the advances that we have had since independence have been due in large part to the assistance given to us by Europe. The ministry of education itself was created during British rule, in 1953. The University of the West Indies was started by the British in 1948 as a college of the University of London and given to us as a gift. Many of Jamaica’s popular schools were built during British rule. It may be true that at the time of independence we had a high illiteracy rate, however, it is through the same education system that the British bequeathed to us that we have been able to reduce this problem.
We also want an “African Knowledge Programme”. We want the Europeans to help us Africans in the West to know our history in Africa. In fact, it is largely because of the Europeans why we know what we do about Africa’s past. Napoleon’s discovery of the famous Rosetta stone and its translation in Europe enabled us to better understand the greatness of ancient Egypt. Many European universities and other organizations have done much to open up Africa’s hidden past. Of course, I wouldn’t want to discount what African universities are doing. But to claim that Europe isn’t helping us to know our past is very disingenuous. Also, with modern means of communication, we don’t need to be physically present in Africa to know its history.
This “Psychological Rehabilitation” demand is a strange one. I have a feeling that the “reparatory justice approach to truth and educational exposure” that is being demanded may cause more harm than good, especially if the truth about our own involvement in the export of slaves and the millions that died in Africa at our own hands are told to us.
I am still not sure how much more technology transfers we can get. From modern communication systems, to the internet, to modern transportation systems and the like, all of these have been transferred to us. Technology transfers also involve know-how, though education. As mentioned before, we have the University of the West Indies and the University of Technology, both started by the British. If we can’t use institutions like those to create a culture of science and technology, after over half a century of independence, then I can’t see how the Europeans will be able to do it for us.
Finally, we want debt cancellation. For some strange reason, our high debts are high because we were slaves! Why should the Europeans reward us after we voluntarily entered into these loan agreements with these creditors and then refuse to be prudent with these loans? However, we have received some debt write-offs. Guyana received some from Bulgaria in 2012. Haiti got some from the Paris Club in 2009. Jamaica has received four billion dollars worth of debt forgiveness from Britain between 1997 and 2004. It is utter nonsense if we think that all of our debts will be forgotten!
When one looks at this ten-point plan, the only impression that anybody can get of us is that we are a people determined to get more handouts. This ten-point plan is not an accomplishment – it’s an embarrassment. We need to ditch it and grow up.