by Cato Rand
Historically, slavery was not illegal and even more than that, it was a culturally accepted practice in many societies. Certainly in wide swathes of Africa slavery was widely accepted. As a matter of fact slavery continued as official law in Ethiopia up to early to mid 20th century and continues to be the way of life in some African countries today. And I am not talking about the occasional isolated person being forced into involuntary servitude. I mean permanent slave classes; classes of people born into and remain permanently as slaves.
I am certain that in the most freedom loving countries in the world-Canada, USA, Nordic countries, or for my Progressive friends, Cuba and Venezuela, or even here in Jamaica- there is the possibility that an individual could be held against their will and forced to labour for another indivdual. However, in these places not only is it illegal but the full brunt of the legal process would be brought to bear against the perpetrator. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Niger and Mauritania. Some years ago I read an article where an American group was raising funds to buy slaves in that region to then set them free.
Justice as I understand implies that those who perpetrate an illegal act, usually of force against another should be held responsible, and it is those who suffered who should be compensated. Slave trading by the British ended over 200 years ago in 1807, Slave ownership was then banned 27 years later in 1834. That was 180 years ago! There is no person alive today who was either a slave, slave-owner/trader; and none in these our Caribbean countries were victims.
On what basis can we expect descendants of slave owners (or all white people, apparently) to be held responsible for the sins of their forefathers? How can we explain the descendants of slave being compensated for the horrific experiences of their ancestors?
Recently the British government compensated individuals from Kenya who were tortured during the Mau Mau Uprising of 1952-1960, that led to Kenya’s independence. Note, it was the survivors who were paid; not the sons, daughters, cousins, spouses, etc of those whose rights were breached during the torture. If the court had decided otherwise to compensate relatives, in principle, I would not have supported that judgement.
Now let us for argument sake say that reparations were to be paid out to the Caribbean. Who would be entitled to this money as compensation? Should individuals of African genealogy be entitled to more compensation that say Vincentian PM, Ralph Gonsalves, whose appearance and surname suggest he is of significant European descent? My colleague asked similar questions a few months ago.
I guess our venerable Caribbean leaders would get around this by wanting monies to be paid directly to the country, rather that individuals. That would be appropriate I guess, but then how could we have say the Kerr-Jarretts in Jamaica, whose ancestry can be directly traced to slave owners, be beneficiaries of the reparations pay out. If they were to receive any money that would be a ‘double-dip’, as their ancestors were compensated for loss of property by the Crown when slavery was abolished.
As both I and Kavon have stated before if reparations are paid out, we want our ‘little much’ in our hands. I want to spend/invest it as I deem fit. Given the historical financial profligacy of our Caribbean leaders since independence, I object strongly to any reparations settlement being paid into government coffers.
Another few questions. What of the slave descendants in the diaspora? How much money should they be compensated? And why aren’t we asking African countries for money?
Cato Rand is a Black Jamaican of Libertarian and Conservative persuasion. He is a fervent believer in Capitalism, Freedom and the principles outlined by the US Constitution and it being applicable to all peoples, including Jamaicans. He is a strong advocate for the limited role that a government should play in the lives of people.