Western countries that were involved in the slave trade should pay reparations to African countries for the crimes of slavery and colonialism, according to experts.
“Africa will never reconcile with the West on the issue of slavery until we receive an official apology from slave buying Western nations, and a fair compensation paid to Africa,” Mustafa Mheta, a senior research fellow and head of the Africa Desk at the Johannesburg-based Media Review Network think tank, told Anadolu Agency.
Experts made comments to the Turkish news agency during the anniversary of former US President Abraham Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation that ended slavery on Jan. 1, 1863.
“Nations that perpetrated slavery, are still reaping the benefit of slavery to this day,” said Mheta, referring to wealthy nations where slaves worked on plantations, factories, and construction sites.
Millions were taken from the continent to work in the 17th to mid-19th centuries across four main routes: Indian Ocean ports, the Sahara, Red Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Many died while in transport to Europe and the US but their nations have never been compensated.
Slavery was so damaging to Africa
“To be honest, slavery was single-handedly the most damaging thing on Africans,” said Mheta. “There is nothing positive that came with it except the psychological damage that it did on the African mind.”
“The African was humiliated to the core. Slavery convinced the African that he was not worthy of anything and that he was not human enough like other races,” he said. “Up to this day, the African is still suffering from that. He has not recovered from it.”
Saber Ahmed Jazbhay, a leading South African lawyer and political commentator, praised Lincoln’s “radical” decision to end slavery.
“He abolished slavery and the liberated Africans were given the option of returning to Africa, particularly Liberia, meaning freedom was established in West Africa,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Jazbhay, agrees that former slave buying countries should compensate Africa for the decades of suffering and dehumanization inflicted on African people.
“You can’t have reconciliation without economic justice,” he said.
Jazbhay said Africans lost human resources, wealth and many people were killed, while citing German atrocities in Namibia during the start of the 20th century and crimes committed by Belgium in the Congo, among others.
Last year, Germany officially acknowledged it committed "genocide" against the Herero and Nama people at the start of the 20th century in what is today’s Namibia.
"We will now also officially refer to these events as what they were from today's perspective: a genocide," Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in May.
About 60,000 Hereros and 10,000 Namas were murdered by German colonial troops in southwestern Africa between 1904 and 1908.
Berlin’s move to recognize the crimes as a "genocide" came after more than five years of negotiations to address the difficult history.
As part of reconciliation, Germany offered €1.1 billion ($1.35 billion) in development aid to Namibia but ruled out legally binding reparations for the victims' descendants.
Maas said that the fund should be seen as a "gesture" by Germany and its recognition of its political and moral responsibility.
"Communities affected by the genocide will have a crucial role in shaping and implementing this fund. No legal claims to compensation can be derived from this," he said.
Slavery impoverished Africa
“Slavery brought about a negative impact on African societies and led to the long-term impoverishment of Africa as a whole (even today),’’ said Jazbhay.
He said slavery remains a very emotive topic on the continent because whites treated Africans as subhuman, making them look inferior and having the rights of conquering them as they deemed them to be a lesser people.
Regardless of the West’s idea at the time, Africa was leading in civilization and other forms of cultural advancement, he said.
Jazbhay noted that several rich literature and knowledge hubs in Africa such as Timbuktu were destroyed as a result of the slave trade and resulted in a long-term deterioration of effective legal and political institutions on the continent.
Mheta said that Africa, unfortunately, faces modern-day slavery, which is different from the past form of slavery.
“The difference is modern slavery is kind of not forced but works through the already damaged African psyche,” he said. “Today our youth are voluntarily going into slavery themselves.”
The academic said thousands of Africans die every year as they attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea in an attempt to work in Europe only to discover that it is not what they thought.
He said Arabs countries should be condemned for participating in the slave trade and for continuing to participate in modern-day slavery.
Mheta said thousands of African men and women go to the Middle East every year to work but they are mistreated and enslaved.
Many women who have gone to work in Arab countries often complain that their employers confiscate their passports.
A lot of the domestic workers are forced to work long hours for little pay, some are physically or sexually abused by their employers yet they are not allowed to leave the home.
“They have one of the worst and most humiliating forms of slavery. Africans must condemn this vehemently,” Mheta said, adding, this must be put to a stop.