“It is time for Africa — whose sons and daughters had their freedoms controlled and were sold into slavery — to also receive ,” said ‘s President Nana Addo Akufo-Addo at a recent reparations conference held in Ghana’s capital, Accra.
Akufo-Addo’s demand for compensation for the millions of African people sold into slavery and for other colonial-era injustices inflicted on the continent, are part of a growing world-wide push for compensation.
In the latest sign of the movement’s increasing momentum, delegates at the Accra Reparation Conference last week agreed to establish a global reparation fund.
The (AU) and the 20-member Caribbean Community, known as CARICOM, are partnering to form what AU Commission vice chair Monique Nsanzabaganwa called “a united front” to right historical injustices and ensure the payment of reparations.
Speaking at the conference, Nsanzabaganwa stressed that Africa had “borne the brunt of history’s injustices, and endured the ramifications of a past marked by slavery, colonization and exploitation.”
“We must acknowledge that these injustices have had a long-term impact, the consequences of which are still felt today,” she said.
“The demand for reparations is not an attempt to rewrite history or to continue the cycle of victimization. It’s a call to recognize the undeniable truth and right the wrongs that have gone unpunished for far too long and continue to thrive presently,” Nsanzabaganwa added.
12,5 million kidnapped Africans
Details on how the global fund would operate are still fuzzy.
At least 12.5 million Africans were kidnapped and forcibly transported by European ships and sold into slavery from the 15th to the 19th century, although some estimates put that number at 20 or 30 million. Those who survived the brutal voyage ended up toiling under inhumane conditions in the Americas, mostly in Brazil and the Caribbean, ensuring huge profits for their owners.
The slave trade was dominated by Britain and Portugal, although the US, Netherlands, Spain, France, Denmark and Sweden were also heavily involved.
Anna Hankings-Evans, a German-Ghanaian lawyer with a focus on international economic laws, said it was “enriching” to work together with descendants of enslaved Africans from Caribbean and American nations on the quest for reparations.
“I think it is so crucial for us to come together and benefit from each other’s thought processes,” she told DW on the margins of the conference. “While our experiences are very unique, nevertheless our power lies in togetherness.”
Reparation demands grow across Africa
Earlier this month, South African politician Julius Malema joined the debate, after King Charles III’s visit to Kenya in October. “The British … have got no business putting their foot here [in Kenya], except they should pay reparations to Kenyans,” he said.
In Kenya, King Charles spoke of “abhorrent and unjustifiable acts of violence” under British rule, without saying the word “sorry”. But on social media, Kenyans were aless interested in an apology than in tangible reparations.
The month before, the Dutch king and queen protesting their visit to South Africa.
As the royal couple toured Cape Town’s Slave Lodge, which once held slaves belonging to the Dutch East India Company, a group of Khoi and San leaders shouted slogans about Dutch colonizers stealing land from their ancestors. They held up signs saying, “We want compensation.”
Dutch colonizers in South Africa took away Khoi and San land and forced many indigenous South Africans into servitude.
Trillions owed in compensations
Many studies have attempted to estimate the costof the slave trade to Africa.
The recent Report on Reparation for Transatlantic Chattel Slavery in the Americas and the Caribbeanconcluded that under international law slaving nations owe staggering sums.
The analysis, known as the Battle Report, estimates that the global cost of the slave trade could be as high as $131 trillion (€120 trillion), both for harm perpetrated during the slave era and damages caused post-enslavement.
According to the report, the United States of America owe nearly $27 trillion, Great Britain $24 trillion and Portugal $21 trillion in reparations.
The United Nations recently released a reportoutlining concrete steps to address the harm suffered by people of African descent.
The document acknowledges that the assessment of the economic damage can “be extremely difficult owing to the length of time passed and the difficulty of identifying the perpetrators and victims.”
However, it emphasized that “such difficulties cannot be the basis for nullifying the existence of underlying legal obligations.”
In an illustration of how politically fraught compensation payments can be, in 2021 Germany recognized the of Herero and Nama people during German colonial rule in what is now and pledged to pay $1.9 billion to the Namibian government.
The funds are to be spent over 30 years in regions populated by descendants of victims of the Herero and Nama genocide.
Germany was strongly criticized for failing to negotiate directly with Herero and Nama community groups. The declaration, given out jointly with the Namibian government, also didn’t include the words “reparations” or “compensation”.
Germany that there is no legal basis for individual or collective reparation claims by individual descendants of victim groups such as the Herero and Nama or their associations against the German government.
Rights organizations, including the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rightsand Human Rights Watch, disagree. They say that Germany does have legal obligations under human rights laws, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
For AU’s Monique Nsanzabaganwa, reparations are more than financial transactions.
“They are a moral and ethical obligation. They represent our acknowledgment of past wrongs, and, more importantly, the resolve to make amends.”
Edited by: Cristina Krippahl