Kenyan scholar downplays Arab role in slave trade

Nairobi- Kenya (PANA) -- Kenyan historian, Ali Mazrui, has reiterated the view that Africans cannot make a strong case against their enslavement by Arabs in the past centuries because it was not a commercial venture.
"You cannot compare the magnitude of the Trans-Saharan trade that involved Arabs with the Atlantic slave trade," Mazrui said in a comment reproduced by Kenyan media ahead of the World Conference Against Racism in the South African port city of Durban.
"The latter (Atlantic slave trade) was motivated by capitalism as opposed to the former (Arab slave trade) that was for domestic purposes," he added.
Africa is pushing for compensation for colonialism and slavery at the 28 August-7 September Durban World Conference, from countries that benefited from the practices.
Mazrui is known for his controversial views on a range of issues including calling for "benign colonisation" of weak and unwieldy African countries and for the introduction of the Islamic Sharia code in Nigeria.
His recent book and documentary, "The Africans: A Triple Heritage," have been severely attacked by critics who felt they were overtly apologetic on the issue of Arab slave trade.
But in an interview published by the East African Standard Saturday, the academic, who currently lives in the United States, insists that "Arabs in fact treated the (African) slaves well compared to the Europeans".
Mazrui had defended these views as a member of the erstwhile Organisation of African Unity Eminent Persons Group mandated to seek compensation from the West over the slave trade and the colonisation of the continent.
The group failed to make a strong case for reparations, a situation which was largely attributed to the influence of the historian.
The "OAU could have been split in the middle as people of Arab descent have a strong presence in the union who could have nipped in the bud our mission," Mazrui added.
He also says African countries are yet to become nation-States due to their inability to maintain law and order, prudently collect taxes and put their human and natural resources to good use.
Citing England, Italy and Germany as examples, he said a nation-State has tribal homogeneity, similarity and values.
"(A) true nation-State does not stretch its hands perennially for handouts from other States the way African countries are doing," the paper quoted him as saying.
According to the scholar, a nation-State should also have a monopoly of legitimate violence only exercised in the best interest of the State, citing tribal clashes in Kenya and other parts of Africa as indications of lack of nation-Statehood.
Mazrui further commented on the recent transformation of the OAU into the African Union at the July Summit of the continental body in Lusaka, Zambia.
Without a strong political will and enough resources, not much is expected from the African Union, he said, and criticised African leaders for doing little to uplift the continent.
"Our leaders have made the continent a laughing stock before the world community by modelling the AU on the European Union structure.
Does it mean we can't do anything in our own style?" he queried.

19 august 2001 16:02:00

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