Amid the razzmatazz of Jamaica’s 50th independence anniversary celebrations one inconvenient issue appears to have been swept under the carpet. In Kingston, an MP is piloting a Bill through parliament calling for reparations for enslavement.
Mike Henry (pictured above), MP for Central Clarendon, is demanding that Britain cough up financial redress for the horrors committed during ‘chattel slavery’. Regrettably, the MP’s call has already been rejected by prime minister Portia Simpson Miller’s government which is also accused of denying cash to a special committee set up to look at the issue of compensation for enslavement.
When Henry launched his Private Members Bill in April, he told the Jamaican parliament:
“The claims against the slave traders are far more heinous, as any act against humanity carried out by anyone else and the horror and the atrocities are known.
“I am not asking for the death penalty. I am asking for reparation to the country in cold, hard cash and debt relief.
“Our ancestors cry from their graves for justice, and we could readily deny that our own recent upsurge in blood-letting may not be the cry from the grave.”
That this call should be made by a white member of parliament, and rejected by black ministers, illustrates the depth of internalised shame and embarrassment that still haunts ancestors of the Maafa (African Holocaust).
Lisa Hanna, the culture minister and former beauty queen, has said that Jamaica is “not in a position to make the kind of decisions being recommended”, which is rather like telling Nelson Mandela that the fact he was in prison meant he was not in a position to campaign for freedom.
In a classic Catch-22 situation, Hanna said Henry’s reparations bill was premature as the reparations committee had not yet reported. Yet that committee has not met since February 2010 precisely because it is denied cash to carry out its’ work. It’s a farcical impasse.
While Simpson Miller has said that Jamaica would accept an apology for the “brutal and wicked” slave trade, she would neither be demanding it nor seeking any compensation, leading Henry to tell the Jamaican Gleaner in March of this year:
“I am very saddened that in this, our 50th year of anniversary, because of the visit of a Prince Harry, who may be coming here to show that we should not run faster than them, the prime minister has taken this stance.
“Great Britain paid the slave owners of the Caribbean and Jamaica £200 million. I am saying, ‘Pay the same amount now, compounded over the period of slavery and if, indeed, you say you have granted to us any issue that you think is of value – whether it be jurisprudence or education – deduct that’, but reparation is a demand that I intend to pursue.”
While there is a grassroots debate about what nature and form reparations should come in – some favour dismantling trade tariffs and making the world economy genuinely fair as opposed to direct financial compensation to descendants of enslaved Africans – it is shameful that Jamaica has chosen to kick the whole issue into the long grass.
As the graphic (left) illustrates, no-one questions reparations and the repatriation of wealth stolen by Hitler’s Nazis, nor the compensation demanded by the Allied victors from Germany’s First World War defeat. And after 9/11, America and its’ allies were not willing to let bygones be bygones but instead attacked Afghanistan and Iraq and launched a ‘war’ against those accused of terrorism.
Sidelining the issue of enslavement and the question of reparations is tantamount to dismissing the reality of legacy affecting a peoples cut off from their roots, language, traditions and knowledge of self.
From the historical disadvantage and ingrained societal racism against those of African ancestry to the generational ill-health and disfunctionality we see manifested today in disproportionate criminalisation, to the underachievement and youths killing their brethren, the modern day consequences of enslavement are undeniable. Just as the comparative advantage of the nations that perpetrated the horrors are clear for all to see.
No wonder Jamaica’s reparations committee are being prevented from carrying out their work; there is only one conclusion they can come to: that the legacy of enslavement is clearly evident in white advantage and black disadvantage today, and that addressing this requires more than words. It requires action, whether affirmative, trade-based or cash compensation-based – or a combination of all three.
Perhaps the impasse on this issue in Jamaica is a signal for the African Union to join together with the nations of the Caribbean and South and Central America - perhaps under the auspices of the UN – to launch a joint investigation into the kind of compensation required from the perpetrators of the Maafa to deal with the legacy of enslavement as it is today.