12 Years A Slave and The Case For Reparations
March 26, 2014
By Femi Fani-Kayode*
I have just finished watching the film titled ”12 Years A Slave”. I couldn’t stop weeping from the beginning to the end of it and frankly I am at a loss for words. This was a masterpiece. It was nothing short of a powerful rendition of a true and heroic story.
I cannot help asking the following question: what did the black man ever do to deserve such wickedness and suffering? What did our forefathers do to deserve such barbarity and mindless torture in the hands of those that held them captive in a distant land?
May God forgive those that brutalised and enslaved us for all that they did to us. I cannot hate them. I can only love and forgive them because only love and forgiveness can drive out hate and heal the wounds that they inflicted on the souls of our people.
What they did to us was far greater, far more damaging and far more devastating than the Germans ever did to the Jews. Though we are compelled to forgive by scripture and the strictures of our God yet we must never forget what they did to us.
And never must such a thing be allowed to happen again. No minority, whether he or she be black, brown, yellow, red, white, gay, straight or in any other way ”different” should be allowed to suffer like that or to feel the pain of humiliation, indignity, servitude, persecution and the denial of the most basic and fundamental rights because we are all God’s children.
It is incumbent on us all to stand up for the weak, the vulnerable, the terrorised, the despised, the enslaved, the voiceless, the ”different” and the persecuted wherever and whoever they are because to love others as we love ourselves is God’s primary and most important law.
They must never be allowed to walk alone because it was that spirit of standing up for others and fighting for the weak and helpless and the display of such love and selflessness that eventually freed the so-called ”slave” from his hideous captivity in the film titled ”12 Years A Slave”.
It was the goodness, love, kindness courage and inherent power of those who refused to remain silent and who were ready to take a risk and stand up for truth and justice that caused the man to regain his freedom and to be returned to his family in Washington after being enslaved for twelve long years. What a man.
What a film. What a great and powerful rendition of truth and what a testimony of man’s inhumanity to man.
What compelling evidence and confirmation of the eternal truth that tells us that no matter how dark the night may be, ”joy comes in the morning”. What an affirmation of the undeniable fact that ultimately good always triumphs over evil. What a magnificent example of God’s power, grace, manifold blessings and great mercy.
I urge as many as possible to find the time to watch ”12 Years A Slave”. You will never be the same again.
Having watched this film I believe that the case for reparartions for the slave trade must continue to be made. God Himself will not forgive us if we refuse to do so.
If the world can give the State of Israel back to the Jews as compensation for persecuting them for thousands of years and killing 6 million of them during the Second World war alone why can’t that same world pay reparations to the African for enslaving him for thousands of years and for killing at least 30 million of our people over the ages.
Why can’t the western powers be made to pay reparations to Africa for what they subjected our people to even after the institution of slavery and the slave trade was formally abolished and particularly during the colonial era?
As a glaring example of the sheer cruelty of the Europeans during that period, King Leopold 11, who ruled Belgium from 1865 to 1909, actually owned the Congo and all that was in it as part of his personal estate.
By virtue of his supposedly blue blood, one man owned millions of Africans and all their land and chattels even though he resided thousands of miles away in a distant Europe.
Such was this man’s inate brutality and monstrous power that he orchestrated and directed the slaughter of no less than 15 million Congolese Africans whilst he ruled from Brussels. This was so even though he never set his foot in Africa throughout his long reign.
Yet the world sat by silently and did nothing. As a matter of fact many of his fellow Europeans actually applauded his actions and described him as a good example and indeed the epitomy of all that was noble and all that ought to be expected from the very best of European royalty. I ask again, what did the black man do to deserve this?
What about Cecil Rhodes, the englishman man who, according to European historians, ”literally and lawfully bought” a large part of southern Africa and all that was in it for the British Crown and who named that new frontier after himself by calling it ”Rhodesia”?
It took over 100 years and a bitter and prolonged 15 year civil war (from 1964 to 1979) for the black Africans of that sad and beleagured land to secure their rights, to be recognised and acknowledged as being human beings, to win the right to vote and to install democracy and majority rule.
It was only after all this was achieved, in 1979, that the name ”Rhodesia” was dropped like a hot potato and was changed to ”Zimbabwe”. I ask again, what did the black man do to deserve this?
We need not go into the sufferings of our black brothers and sisters in apartheid South Africa at the hands of the white Boers from the day that the Dutchman, Jan Van Riebeek, arrived on the South African coast with his wife and two children on 5th April, 1652 and saw what he graphically described as ”stinking black dogs”. We need not talk about the humiliation and enslavement of our fellow black Africans at the hands of the Arabs of the Sudan, whether it be in Darfur or Southern Sudan for over 500 years.
We need not go into the sheer barbarity and inhuman suffering that our brothers and sisters were subjected to in the sugar cane fields and the coffee and bannana plantations of the West Indies and South America for many centuries.
Everywhere we look throughout world history the story is the same: Africa and Africans have been pillaged, raped, tortured, humiliated, enslaved, butchered, wrenched from their families, scattered, bought and sold, considered as chattel and treated with the most explicit and extreme forms of brutality and violence by those who have a different skin colour to us and those from outside our shores.
Yet still there have been no reparations and no formal apology. Instead what they have given us today is the the ”second slavery” of foreign debt and humiliating servitude by every single African country to the western monetry agencies such as the IMF, the Paris Club, the Bretton Woods Institutions and the World Bank.
Those evil and opaque bodies and their paymasters and agents are today’s slave masters and they have turned successive African governments into little more than desperate pimps, shameless prostitutes and indebted and pliant little beggars.
They have squeezed the very life out of our people, destroyed the future of our respective nations and blighted our collective destinies. This is neo-colonialism in it’s most primitive and raw form. I ask again, what did the black man do to deserve this?
Yet thankfully there is still hope and God’s power still remains sure and ever present. He is ever faithful and His promises are ever sure.
Nothing drives that point home more than the fact that despite all we have suffered over the centuries in the hands of those that enslaved us and that viewed us as nothing more than worthless chattel, today it is a black man of free African descent, whose forefathers were never slaves and whose proud ancestry can be traced to modern-day Kenya on the east African coast, that is the most powerful man in the world.
That man’s name is Barack Obama, President of the United States of America. The fact that such a man with such a heritage can be President of a nation that once prided itself on slavery and that once regarded the black man as nothing more than a glorified chimpanzee is a testimony to the power of God. Yet the African is not alone in this respect.
Apart from the Jews, the Red Indians of North America, the Armenians of Asia and the Aborigines of Australia there is only one other group of people that have suffered almost as much as the African in the hands of other races in human history.
Those people are those that were once known as the ”serfs”- the slave under-class of slavic Russia. Like the African, the serfs and peasants of Russia were also treated with disdain, regarded as chattel and viewed as being sub-human by the Tsars and ruling class of the Russian Empire.
They also suffered immeasurably in their millions for thousands of years under successive Russian governments and rulers. Like the African, they were also ”owned” by their rulers and they lived or died at the pleasure of the nobility.
It is yet another irony of fate and another testimony to the awesome power of God that today the second most powerful man on the planet (and some would argue that he is actually the most powerful) is a proud, confident and strong-willed Russian whose ancestry can be traced directly to the serfs of mother Russia and who comes from equally humble origins. His name is Vladimer Putin, the President of the Russian Federation.
The world has indeed been handed over by God to the seed and lineage of those that were once oppressed and that were once treated as sub-human by others but that is not good enough.
The case for reparations can and must still be made for Africa and Africans in particular and we must begin to make that case without fear or favour.
We must pick up the gauntlet and take over the baton from where others like the late Chief MKO Abiola left off. More than any other African leader, both living and dead, MKO Abiola championed the cause of reparations and he put the case so well. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that he had to be stopped and that he was ultimately martyred.
Permit me to end this contribution with two other curious and interesting observations about Putin and Obama. The historic supression of their forefathers and ethnic stock are not the only things that they have in common. Permit me to explain and let us marvel together at the power of God.
President Barack Obama’s paternal grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was a cook to a British army officer. President Vladimer Putin’s paternal grandfather, Spiridon Ivanovitch Putin, was a cook in Lenin’s country home and later became a cook to Josef Stalin.
Who would have ever thought that the grandson’s of two mere cooks and men from such a humble lineage could ever become the Presidents of the two most powerful countries on the planet at more or less the same time. As the bible says, ”the Lord exalts the humble and resists the proud”.
The morale of the tale? Never look down on anyone and treat all men and women, regardless of their station in life, with the respect that they deserve because only God knows tomorrow. The son or grandson of your servant today may well be the leader of your nation tomorrow.
It is also interesting to note that both Putin and Obama have two young daughters but no sons. Obama’s predecessor in office, President George W. Bush, also had two daughters and no sons whilst President Bill Clinton, Bush’s predecessor in office, also had one daughter and no sons.
The morale of the tale? The test of a man is not in having a son but in achieving his life’s ambitionand getting to the top. Whether sons or daughters, all children are a blessing from God. As the bible says, they are all ”arrows in our quiver”. We in Africa particularly must cherish, appreciate and give thanks to God for our daughters as much as we do for our sons.
And whilst we do so we must also bear in mind that the case for reparations must be argued and we must never forget that if we, as Africans, do not do it ourselves no-one will do it for us.
May the souls of all those that perished as slaves continue to rest in peace. God bless Africa and God bless the producers and facilitators of ”12 Years A Slave”
*Source Modern Ghana.
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