African Reparations

We Charge Genocide

Excerpt from Learn Our History | Vol. 24

The movement for African reparations has seen many different iterations over time.

As early as the eighteenth century, individual demands for reparations were made for the damage caused by enslavement, as seen in the case of Belinda Royal or the writings of prominent abolitionist Ottobah Cugoano.

Over time, colonialism and the systematic racism experienced by Africans, both on the continent and in the diaspora, led to a surge in demands for restitution.

A claim for reparations is implicit in the demands made by W. E. B. Du Bois during his first and subsequent Pan-African congresses.

In the United States, the Nation of Islam presented demands from the 1940s, while in 1951, the Civil Rights Congress petitioned the United Nations with a report titled: We Charge Genocide: Relief From a Crime of the United States Government Against the Negro People.

Much of the theoretical foundation of the current reparations movement was provided in Guyanese scholar Walter Rodney’s seminal book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, published in 1972.

The last two decades of the twentieth century saw the question of African reparations discussed by international governments and grassroots activists - the question of how to repair the damage inflicted upon groups of people as a result of historical and contemporary injustices.

Reparation activists looked to adopt a Pan-African approach to this question, discussing reparations in relation to Africans in general, both on the continent and in the diaspora, as opposed to focusing on citizens of a particular country - this Pan-African approach spawned the term ‘Global Africa’.

In 1993, The First Pan-African Conference on Reparations for Slavery, Colonisation and Neo-Colonisation took place in Abuja, Nigeria.

The Abuja Conference, as it is often known, included delegates from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) as well as members of the diaspora, such as Jamaican lawyer and diplomat Dudley Thompson and United States Congressman Ron Dellums.

The view of the Abuja Conference committee was that reparations should be as legally binding as Africa’s debt burden.

As Nigerian businessman and politician Chief M. K. O. Abiola, a prominent figure in the reparation movement, expressed:

"It is international law that compels Nigeria to pay her debts to western banks and financial institutions: it is international law which must now demand that the western nations pay us what they have owed us for nearly six centuries."

The Abuja Proclamation, which emerged from the 1993 conference, declared that:

"The damage sustained by the African peoples is not a ‘thing of the past’ but is painfully manifest in the damaged lives of contemporary Africans from Harlem to Harare, in the damaged economies of the Black World from Guinea to Guyana, from Somalia to Suriname."

The proclamation went on to express how Africans were:

"Respectfully aware of historic precedents in reparations, ranging from German payment of restitution to the Jews for the enormous tragedy of the Nazi Holocaust to the question of compensating Japanese-Americans for the injustice of internment by the Roosevelt Administration in the United States during World War II."

However, it also clarified that reparations should not just include ‘capital transfer’, but also ‘other forms of restitution’ as well as ‘readjustment of the relationship agreeable to both parties’.

In addition, the proclamation demanded the return of ‘stolen goods, artefacts and other traditional treasures’.

The Accra Declaration drafted by the Afrikan World Reparations and Repatriation Truth Commission in 1999 estimated that Africans were owed $777 trillion in compensation for slavery and colonialism.

In 2001, African governments jointly declared that enslavement, colonialism and apartheid were all violations of human rights that merited an apology from the governments of former colonial powers and reparations to both states and individuals.

The African government expressed that these demands were made not just on behalf of the African continent but also the African diaspora.

However, these demands were contested by the governments of the former colonial powers and no apologies or reparations were offered. Some countries, such as Britain, even denied that enslavement was a crime against humanity, while the United States offered no recognition of such assertions at all.