Demands for reparations for historic slave trade and ownership have been timed to coincide with the coronation of King Charles III.
This article from the Australian version of Spectator magazine is worth reading in full. It is behind a paywall. I have copied it below, but a digital subscription to Spectator is well worth the investment.
I would add to the article that the Christian West is the only civilisation in history voluntarily to have given up slave ownership and slave trade. It did so at great financial cost. Slave ownership continues in some Islamic nations, and in some countries in Asia and Africa.
I agree that slaves everywhere should be freed, and their owners obliged to pay compensation. But none of those claiming reparations in the current bout of demands have ever been slaves, and none of those from whom reparations are being claimed have ever owned slaves. Nor have their parents or grandparents. Now read on …
The calls for slavery reparations seem to be growing louder every day. This week, indigenous representatives from 12 Commonwealth countries called on King Charles to begin the process of paying reparations. The King has personally expressed sorrow for the suffering of slaves and Buckingham Palace has said that it is taking the issue of reparations ‘profoundly seriously’. Earlier this year, a former BBC journalist committed to sending £100,000 in aid to the Caribbean to atone for her own family’s historical links to the slave trade.
The voluntary role that many Africans played in the transatlantic slave trade is ignored
The central thesis of slavery reparations is that white majority countries owe money to ethnic minorities as their ancestors may have enslaved others or benefited from a slave-system economy.
There is a problem with this though: ultimately, the great evil of slavery was practised by all inhabited continents and all races. And there will be almost no one alive today in the world who doesn’t have an ancestral link to the slave trade. This fact collapses the modern-day reparations argument.
Take the Afro-Omani slave trader Tippu Tip, who in 1895 was reported to have seven plantations and own 10,000 slaves. He was one of the largest slavers in all of East Africa.
Tip, alongside countless fellow indigenous Africans, would capture slaves in village raids or as prisoners of war, and they would be sold at the African coast to outside traders or fellow Africans within the subcontinent. Tip’s own home country Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania) was, although small in size, a large trading empire. In 1859 alone, 19,000 slaves were imported there from the East African Coast.
Long before the transatlantic slave trade began, slavery was commonplace in many parts of the globe. As Al-Tabari, the Muslim scholar, showed in the mid-ninth century, the Basra port at al-Ahwaz alone had about 15,000 enslaved workers. Even in New Zealand, Maori chiefs enslaved prisoners of war – occasionally going as far as eating them in tribal feasts. The further you go back in history the longer the list of slavers grows, including everyone from the Ancient Egyptians to the Shang dynasty in China.
Given that many of the nations now calling for reparations also enslaved and sold others, the reparations argument when brought to its logical conclusion would have to demand that descendants of African slavers owe reparations to those who may have been the victims of slavery.
This argument could even be applied to the white descendants of the victims of the Barbary slave trade. Though undoubtedly far smaller than the transatlantic slave trade, the Barbary trade still saw over one million Europeans captured by North African pirates in slave raids between the 16th and 18th centuries.
So why is this devastating blow to the reparations argument often ignored? Politically, it seems that although we generally accept that slavery was universal in ancient history, we often pretend that only European powers practised slavery from the 16th century onwards, when this is clearly not the case. Meanwhile, the voluntary role that many Africans played in the transatlantic slave trade is also ignored.
Generally the European powers, with the exception of Portugal, lacked the resources to delve deep into the African continent for slaves. They were instead met at the coast by willing traders looking to make a profit by selling their fellow man. Though it is undoubtedly true that the rise of the transatlantic trade encouraged the growth of African slavers, this does not excuse those who took part in the trade.
Nor did slavery end in Africa when European colonialists were removed from the continent. When the Portuguese were forced off the East African Coast in 1699 by the Imam of the Omani Empire, he himself owned about 1,700 slaves.
The same is true for colonies outside Africa. In the early 1820s, Brazil broke away from the Portuguese Empire. Despite its later anti-slavery treaties with the UK, Brazil would continue importing about 750,000 slaves between 1831-1850. In 1844 it refused to renew the Anglo-Brazilian anti-slave trade agreement. Brazil’s slave trade only effectively stopped after 1850 when the UK formed a naval blockade in its coastal waters.
During the age of abolition led by Britain, the King of Dahomey (a West African Kingdom in modern day Benin) reportedly protested to a British officer that:
‘The slave trade has been the ruling principle of my people. It is the source of their glory and wealth. Their songs celebrate their victories and the mother lulls the child to sleep with notes of triumph over an enemy reduced to slavery.’
Some independent African nations and empires continued to allow slavery well after abolitionism in Europe. This was especially true in the eastern side of Africa where it was more difficult for the British to influence local politics and for the Royal Navy to enforce abolition.
From the 1860s onwards, Bemba chiefs in North-Eastern Zambia traded ivory and slaves for guns. As the supply of elephants for ivory depleted, the chiefs moved to selling even more slaves. In Barotseland, the monarch Lewanika was considered king of the Barotses, a South African ethnic group. From the beginning of his reign in 1878 until the region became a British protectorate, oral sources claim that up to a third of his subjects were slaves.
There is no question that the Euro-American trade in slaves – which began with Portugal and later included other colonial powers like France and Britain – was huge in size. This evil should never be forgotten.
But neither should we forget that people from all parts of the world, races and religions took part in what was one of the most horrid systems in human history.
In many parts of the world today, slavery is still rife. Rather than trying to create division by blaming people for the sins of their ancestors, we should instead come together to try and solve the problems we face today.
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