Slavery and the slave trade were some of the most heinous atrocities committed against the people of Africa by the Western world – profits were made through the sale of human beings for cheap labour in plantations around the Americas and the Caribbean. For a period stretching more than 200 years, Britain was at the helm of an immensely profitable Atlantic slave trade. And now, Jamaica is demanding billions in reparations from the United Kingdom via a petition over its role in the transatlantic slave trade, where Jamaica was a major centre of the trade.
It was reported via Reuters that Jamaica’s lawmakers are pushing for compensation from Britain over slavery and the slave trade. Jamaica, a former British colony from 1655 to 1962, has had to come to terms with the “shameful” history of the slave trade. Roughly 12.5 million people from Africa were forcibly removed from their continent as they were transported to work in Caribbean plantations and those in the Americas – the National Library of Jamaica estimates that 600,000 Africans were shipped to work in Jamaica’s plantations, marked by unimaginable, horrendous conditions of existence.
Olivia Grange, who is Jamaica’s Minister of Sports, Youth, and Culture, was quoted by Reuters saying, “We are hoping for reparatory justice in all forms that one would expect if they are to really ensure that we get justice from injustices to repair the damages that our ancestors experienced. Our African ancestors were forcibly removed from their home and suffered unparalleled atrocities in Africa to carry out forced labour to the benefit of the British Empire.”
Her words reveal a resurgent conscious effort to honestly tackle painful historical atrocities committed by imperial colonizers in a bid to create togetherness among different people of the human race. It shows the fearless willingness to have conversations with former colonial powers so that they are held accountable for the atrocities they committed against African people. Conveying the hopes of her nation, Olivia Grange remarked, “Redress is well overdue.”
Mike Henry, who is a member of the incumbent Jamaica Labour Party, says that the total worth encompassed by the compensation claim (the petition for compensation is based on his private motion) is somewhere around £7.6 billion, “a sum he estimated is roughly equivalent in today's terms to what Britain paid to the slaveholders.” Olivia Grange did not disclose any figure.
Reuters reports that the petition, “with approval from Jamaica's National Council on Reparations, will be filed pending advice from the attorney general and three legal teams … and the attorney general will then send it to Britain's Queen Elizabeth.” The British monarchy is still Jamaica’s head of state, and there are clamours for the Caribbean country to cut all ties with its former colonial power.
Britain outlawed the trade of slaves in its Empire in 1807, but it was not until 1833 that it moved to formally abolish the practice of slavery in its entirety. When slavery was absolutely outlawed, Britain sourced the equivalent of around £17 billion as compensation money to be paid to “46,000 of Britain's slave-owners for ‘loss of human property.’”
Here was Britain still hungover from such an evil practice of slavery and the slave trade. Even though one may be tempted to think the abolitions in 1807 and 1833 were motivated by pure, altruistic British benevolence, the fact that they regarded the freed slaves as “human property” speaks volumes of how rabid imperialism never viewed the African as a human being.
In this vein, Mike Henry was quoted by Reuters emphasizing his nationalist drive for Jamaica’s dignity, “I am asking for the same amount of money to be paid to the slaves that were paid to the slave owners. I am doing this because I have fought against this all my life, against chattel slavery which has dehumanized human life.”
In 2015, the then British Prime Minister David Cameron arrogantly proclaimed that Britain would not provide reparations over its role in the transatlantic slave trade, saying that Caribbean countries were supposed to “move on.” And that Britain’s role in eradicating slavery “off the face our planet” should be remembered. Cameron made these disparaging comments, masked in an unending false dominance of racial superiority the British still cling to when he officially visited Jamaica in that year.
Instead, what he proposed was an aid package for a new Jamaican prison, as well as development aid – perpetuating the West’s neocolonial dominance over the Caribbean via foreign aid. It is still what obtains, and what derails former colonies from true economic emancipation; in what is rightly termed the “monumental mess of the Empire.”
Jamaica’s insistence on reparations is a bold statement in the 21st century as the conversation around reparations is gaining momentum. Namibia keeps pressing Germany over its genocidal role in the African country, Burundi has followed suit, and Jamaica’s voice to this ineluctable discourse of paramount importance. Claims for compensation are vindicated although this statement on the site Each Other which reads, “In the UK, West Indian sugar plantations brought billions of pounds in today’s money to the British economy. It helped build the British Empire’s wealth, strength, and might – using Black people as tools, and draining the Caribbean of its natural resources.” All the wealth the colonial powers got – which they still use today to oppress African peoples all over – was obtained via the free labour of Africans, as well as looting their resources.
It is time Britain, and other European colonial powers, are held accountable for their wrongs over the African people. They should “make amends” for the pain inflicted to African populations in all corners of the globe – pain still felt today under the nuances of neocolonial domination. And Britain should, in a genuinely contrite manner, apologize to Jamaica over its role in slavery to foster oneness in the world. This would be a victory for all African people in the world.