Compensation for the sake of fairness

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- The issue of compensation for the slave trade and slavery will no doubt be one of the controversial topics at the World Conference against racism, to be held from 31 August to 7 September in Durban, South Africa.
The preparatory meetings for the conference have already set the tone, and the polemic has become so heated that the US has threatened to boycott Durban if the agenda included a suggestion that zionism was racism.
The US position is far from denting the resolve of several African human rights NGOs currently campaigning for compensation for slavery, as a matter of fairness and justice.
According to the NGOs, carrying on the efforts initiated by the late Nigerian politician and business tycoon Moshood Abiola, slavery and colonisation are "at the heart of Africa's present and future", and caused a considerable drain which requires fair compensation from its perpetrators.
They also contend that for four centuries, Africa was hampered and barred from the march of humanity.
As a result, the NGOs said the continent suffered unfathomable harm at demographic, economic, political, social and cultural levels, and the effects of such harm must be alleviated somehow.
"No tragedy compares with the slave trade, which was humanity's first holocaust, and compensation should start with its recognition as a crime against humanity", said Senegal's Alioune Tine, executive secretary of the African Human Rights Rally (RADDHO).
For his part, Burkinabe Halidou Ouedraogo, president of the International Human Rights Union, said "Africa was made a martyr continent by the ferocious nature of the slave trade".
Meanwhile, Burkinabe historian Joseph Ki-Zerbo, also an advocate of compensation, said that any crime against humanity calls for compensation.
"That is the very definition of justice.
It is significant that scales represent justice: This means fairness.
To balance the scale, something must be put on the other plate", he noted.
According to him, African victims of the slave trade need the same recognition as the victims of Nazism and genocide.
In that regard, Ki-Zerbo commended the decision by French and European parliamentarians to recognise the slave trade as a crime against humanity.
"Once the crime is acknowledged, there must be a guilty party.
We need to identify those who are guilty.
They need to be sanctioned and the nature of the sanction should lead to compensation," the renowned historian emphasised.
However, the advocates of compensation reject any idea of shared responsibility of African kings in slavery, as suggested by the advocates of non-compensation to justify the idea that "we should forget about slavery and turn to the future".
Many advocates of compensation argue that one cannot say that the slave traders and their collaborators on the continent had the same degree of responsibility.
This is only an attempt to escape any form of compensation for the trade, which boosted the prosperity of the US economy and port cities in Atlantic Europe.
"There is no African responsibility in the slave trade.
All African society was forced into slavery because slaves became a currency," says African intellectual Kivin Logossah.
Ki-Zerbo noted that "slave traders and African collaborators cannot be put on the same footing.
The difference is huge between European slave traders and the sub-contractors or middlemen they used.
There are the main culprit--the mastermind--and the collaborators, as in Europe under Nazism", he noted, rejecting any idea of a shared responsibility.
However, the practical modalities of compensation would still have to be worked out if the NGOs and African intellectuals were to prevail.

18 august 2001 19:22:00

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