Obi Egbuna Jnr Simunye
While discussing the impact of chattel slavery on the Caribbean during the 68th UN General Assembly in 2013, the Prime Minister of St Vincent and Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, stated: “The awful legacy of these crimes against humanity, a legacy which exists today in our Caribbean ought to be repaired for the developmental benefits of our Caribbean societies and all our people.”
The next point of note by Prime Minister Gonsalves was: “The European nations must partner in a focused especial way with us to execute the repairing.”
These sentiments were echoed by the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Mr Baldwin Spencer, when he said: “The legacy of slavery and colonialism in the Caribbean has severely impaired our development options.” These speeches came on the heels of CARICOM’s historic lawsuit, targeting Britain for its role in slavery in the English-speaking Caribbean, France for slavery in Haiti and the Netherlands for its role in slavery in Suriname.
During this same session US Congresswoman and Congressional Black Caucus member Barbara Lee rudely walked out on President Mugabe’s speech, when he summarised the US-EU alliance’s meddling in Zimbabwe’s elections that same year in three words, “Shame, shame, shame”.
If CARICOM fails to realise that this platform must be used to strengthen ties with Zimbabwe and Cuba, they could very easily find themselves not only boxed in, but vulnerable to tactics by EU imperialism rooted in stagnation and deceit. It was good to hear Prime Minister Gonsalves in an elated tone state the governments of Ghana, Ethiopia and South Africa guaranteed they will give this effort their unconditional support. The one obvious question the African world should have is when is Prime Minister Gonsalves coming to Zimbabwe to pay a courtesy visit on President Mugabe and ZANU-PF?
It makes both historical and political sense for Prime Minister Gonsalves not only to come home to Zimbabwe and engage his older comrade and brother, but send an emphatic statement to daughters and sons of Africa worldwide that CARICOM won’t wage this fight without the unconditional support of SADC and the AU.
This also sends a message to Africans inside US borders that supporting CARICOM’S lawsuit for reparations, but also supporting US-EU sanctions on Zimbabwe and continuing to procrastinate on fighting to lift the US blockade on Cuba, is not only grossly opportunist but has run its course.
Another prominent activist based in the US who lent his voice to the struggle for reparations is Randall Robinson, who wrote a book entitled “The Debt: What America owes to Blacks”. Mr Robinson is the former director of Trans Africa Forum (TAF) along with Africa Action and the Priority for Africa network which were funnelling National Endowment for Democracy money to 14 civil society groups in Zimbabwe.
The main grassroots organisation inside US borders to champion the cause for reparations is NCOBRA, which was founded in 1987. In 1988 a member of their Detroit advisory board, Ray Jenkins, persuaded Congressman John Conyers to introduce a Reparations Bill in the halls of the US Congress. This resulted in Congressman Conyers introducing HR 40 which highlights four areas of concentration
It acknowledges the fundamental injustice and inhumanity of slavery.
It establishes a commission to study slavery, subsequent racial and economic discrimination against freed slaves.
It studies the impact of those forces on today’s living African Americans
The commission would then make recommendations to Congress on appropriate remedies to redress the harm inflicted on living African Americans.
At the age of 86, Congressman Conyers is the Dean of the House of Representatives and the oldest member of the US Congress. This is his 50th year as a member of Congress. Like many of his CBC colleagues Congressman Conyers not only voted in favour of ZDERA but was tricked in calling for the extradition of Assata Shakur from Cuba.
Some of the constructive criticisms of the movement for reparations in the US has always been it ignored the enslavement of 150 million Africans in the rest of the Americas, and did not aggressively seek to merge its efforts with the struggle against colonialism in mother Africa.
In 2004 the founder of the Black Panther Party in Illinois and director of the Kwame Ture Institute and Library, Bob Brown, filed a class action seeking restitution from 71 defendants including the King of Spain, Queen of England, presidents George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac of France.
The lawsuit also demanded the Vatican open its library and disclose its files, and apologise for its role in slavery. Among the several sugar, gum and tobacco companies named in the lawsuit were Barcadi Rum, whose role in attempting to extort the government of Cuba is a matter of public record.
The lawsuit also targeted the states of Illinois, Virginia, Louisiana and Texas. That same year Mr Brown paid a courtesy visit to the former Zimbabwe Ambassador to the US, Dr Simbi Mubako, seeking audience with President Mugabe to discuss the US-based corporations financing the regime change agenda of MDC.
In 2001 Africans in the US at the grassroots level invested a lot of time, energy and labour in pushing the issue of reparations. At the UN Conference on Racism, Xenophobia and other related in tolerances in Durban, South Africa, they failed to see the connections between fighting for reparations and lifting the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 or the US blockade on Cuba.
The irony of this was based on the account and consensus of those in attendance. The most lucid and heart-wrenching remarks on slavery and reparations were made by none other than Commandante Fidel Castro when he addressed the entire body.The African world should shower Commandante Raul Castro with praise for stating the US should pay Cuba reparations for the damages caused by the racist and monstrous blockade it has caused the island which is 70 percent African.
If any discussion between Prime Minister Gonsalves and President Mugabe pertaining to this lawsuit takes place in the near future, it would be crucial that the Prime Minister shows that he does not toe the line of reactionary trade unions on the Zimbabwe question.
Because the prime minister is the leader of the Unity Labour Party in St Vincent and the Grenadines, it doesn’t mean he supports MDC and ZCTU in Zimbabwe. However, the role of trade unions in advancing the role of neo-colonialism and neo-liberalism in Africa and the Caribbean would have to be part of that conversation.
The next question Prime Minister Gonsalves would have to address is why CARICOM stood by and did nothing when Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth in 2002?
The Africans in the US have to confront President Obama on both reparations and US-EU sanctions on Zimbabwe. When justifying his opposition to reparations in 2008 President Obama stated: “I have said in the past and will repeat it again, the best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people unemployed.”
In 2008 the Obama administration boycotted the follow-up meeting to the UN Conference in Durban because of reparations, slavery and Palestine were agenda items. This shows that President Obama and Mr Bush have more in common than mocking funerals in Africa and showboating in Selma.
The most significant aspect of a meeting between Prime Minister Gonsalves and President Mugabe would be that, in a world polluted by greed and materialism, the struggle for reparations always was and still is about land that has been stolen, raped and plundered.
Obi Egbuna Jnr is the US correspondent to The Herald and a US-based member of the Zimbabwe Cuba Friendship Association. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org