R. Rose
December 1, 2006

2007, even more than Cricket World Cup

What can one make of reports that British Prime Minister Tony Blair is to publicly condemn Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade and to express ‘deep sorrow’ for his country’s slaving actions? The report was carried in Britain’s “Sunday Observer” weekly newspaper which stated that Blair’s regrets are to be published in the Black community paper the “New Nation” and that a statement was expected to be made in Parliament on Monday of this week.

According to the report, Blair said that it is hard to believe that what would be a crime against humanity now was legal at the time. He is reported as saying that ‘the bicentenary (of the abolition of the slave trade) offers us a chance not just to say how profoundly shameful the slave trade was-how we condemn its existence utterly and praise those who fought for its abolition, but also to express our deep sorrow that it ever happened, that it ever could have happened and to rejoice at the different and better times we live in today”.{{more}}

However it is significant that Blair stopped short of a full apology even though promising Britain’s support for a Caribbean-backed resolution to be put before the United Nations General Assembly to honour those who died at the hands of international slave traders. Estimates are that between 10 million and 28 million Africans were sent to the Americas as slaves with Britain being the dominant slave trading nation, transporting some 300,000 slaves a year up to the abolition of the slave trade in 1807.

Many informed analysts believe that the reluctance (or refusal) of Blair, and many of his western counterparts, to make an explicit apology for the reprehensible actions of their forebears has to do with its implications for reparations for Black People who have suffered as a consequence of the slave trade. For it is not just those who were transported in inhuman conditions during the slave trade, it is also the huge economic transactions which resulted, the complete disruption of African civilization and development and the resultant underdevelopment which today leaves many of those plundered states among the world’s poorest countries. And this is only economic cost, the social and psychological costs are incalculable.

Reparation is a key issue, even if unfortunately the majority of us as Black people still do not yet think it is important. Those who have benefited from slavery are much more perceptive than us, they are acutely aware of their responsibilities in this regard but go out of the way to avoid shouldering them, preferring to pacify us with smug pats of ‘sorry chaps”. These people know what reparation is all about for they were the ones who gave Palestine to the European Jews to atone for the holocaust. So what of the Black genocide? Who is to pay?

The matter must be brought sharply into focus next year, 2007, the bicentenary (200th anniversary) of the abolition of the slave trade. It was in 1807 that the Abolition Act that legally ended the tans-Atlantic slave trade was passed by the British Parliament ending the practice of transporting slaves throughout the British Empire. It is estimated that by 1808 the enslaved population in St Vincent and the Grenadines stood at 25,000, about 50 percent of whom were females. Another three decades passed before chattel slavery itself was outlawed.

The Emancipation of 1838 is much better known and remembered in these parts than the 1807 Act which helped to spur a greater drive to completely wipe out that scourge against humanity. But it is an equally important milestone in our history which we must not let slip past. It is an occasion for us to reflect on the horrors of the “Middle Passage” and the inhumanity of a trade in human flesh. To end this barbaric practice took great sacrifice and deep commitment which we must applaud. Those who were prepared to struggle for the abolition must be remembered and lauded.

Thus it is incumbent on us all, in St Vincent and the Grenadines and throughout the Caribbean, to commemorate this occasion with all the seriousness it deserves. National committees to spearhead activities should already have been established in all Caribbean countries, if not, we must do so. Caribbean governments must devote substantial resources toward ensuring those activities are a success and the CARICOM Heads of Government Inter-Sessional, to be hosted by St. Vincent and the Grenadines in February next, must have this Bicentenary high on its agenda.

For the Caribbean 2007 is not just the year of the cricket World Cup. Even as British cricketers were developing their game on Hambledon in the late 18th and early 19th century their slavers were transporting the ancestors of Viv Richards and Brian Lara to these shores. The same enthusiasm that we display for the adopted “Massa’s” game must be put into our Bicentenary commemorations.