Advocacy for a shared human history

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- It was a tough battle at the end of July in Geneva, where the organisers of the UN conference on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and inteolerance, to be held from 31 August to 7 September in Durban had their work cut out trying to agree on a comprise text reconciling the positions of all parties.
The compromise consisted in taking into account the US refusal to include in the agenda the issue of compensation for the crimes of slave trade and colonialism as suggested by some African countries, and America's rejection of the condemnation of Israel's colonisation and occupation of Palestinian land, as proposed by Arab countries.
The Americans, who have threatened to boycott the meeting if the issues were kept on the agenda, reviewed their position on the slave trade, of which they were the largest beneficiaries.
As was the case in the previous conferences held in 1978 and 1983 in Geneva, Switzerland, the US are still refusing that zionism be equated to racism, and that Irael's policy in the Arab territories be put on trial.
This stance has shocked several people, including in the US itself, notably in the vast African-American community.
However, Washington is not the only party opposed to the idea that the West (Europe and North America) should compensate Africa for the slave trade, colonisation and slavery.
For completely different reasons to those cited by officials at the State Department, part of the intelligentsia in the African-American community and in African universities are also opposed to the idea of compensation.
These intellectuals, who share the idea that the pharaonic civilisation of Ancient Egypt was black, are calling on Africans to stop being miserable and claim their history, since they have not always been victims.
According to them, the stakes of a forum such as the Durban Conference have to do with "the right to remember" and a "shared human history".
They also contend that, contrary to what African peoples have been made to believe and to what has been taught across the world, indigenours African aristocrats engaged in healthy trading with the rest of the world well before the slave trade, in which humans were used as merchandise.
With supporting documents and maps, they contend that an African explorer, Emperor Abou Bakari II of Mali, sailed from the West African coast and landed in America in 1312, nearly two centuries before Christopher Colombus "discovered" America in 1492.
This pre-Colombian transatlantic African expedition is supported by Arab historians El Omari and Kittaab Al Mamaluk, as well as by Catalan maps, the anonymous Atlas of 1375 and the map by jewish geographer Mecia de Villadestes in 1417.
To immortalize this history, the International Association of the Pan-African Arts and Culture Festival (AIFESPAC) planned in 1986 to erect the Goree-Almadies Memorial and the Bakari II Corridor of Freedoms in the Almadies area of Dakar, the westernmost tip of Africa.
The monument was to be erected in the aftermath of the Pan- African Arts and Culture Festival which was to be held in the Senegalese capital.
Presented to the UN in 1988 in presence of the UN secretary- general and the OAU chairman, the Memorial project, which was to be Africa's Statue of Liberty, aroused keen interest.
It even registered promises of funding, and according to Senegales linguist Pathe Diagne, one of the initiators, Gen.
Ibrahim Babangida, then Nigerian president, contributed one million US dollars.
However, for financial, scientific, ideological and political reasons, neither FESPAC nor the Memorial materialised.
The monument was aimed to "de-construct, without any passion or hatred, the complex and feeling of revenge, the political, ideological and racist image given to physically colonised elites, who were psychologically, intellectually and spiritually victimised", said Diagne, one of those who strongly oppose the idea of compensation.
"The fight against racism, xenophobia and intolerance should not be a bargaining tool to settle the debts of bad governance", he said last January at the African regional conference held to prepare the Durban forum.
According to Diagne, who heads the AIFESPAC in Dakar, and according to the advocates of non-compensation, this is not a time for moaning, but a time for endeavouring to dismantle the ideological mechanism through which the contribution of Africans in building a globalised world was reduced to that of mere slaves.
They stressed that such efforts were initiated long ago by prestigious pioneers such as Ghana's Kwame N'Krumah at political level and, at scientific and ideological level, by Egyptologists Cheikh Anta Diop of Senegal and Theophile Obenga of Congo, among other figures of the African Renaissance.

18 august 2001 20:10:00

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