It is ethical and purgative for “wealthy” governments of West African states to pay reparations to the descendants of African slaves in the Americas. It will also serve as an incentive to secure reparations from the West.
In classical antiquity, ancient Libya was the name that described Africa and blacks living in all areas south of the Sahara Desert were called Aethiopians (Ethiopians). When the Greek described as the father of history, Herodotus, first encountered black people he described them as a strong and healthy people, whose men are “taller, handsomer, and longer lived than anywhere else.” How did this European view extoling blacks in classical antiquity change drastically over time to the slurred misrepresentation of blacks we are now too familiar with?
It can be argued that the stigmatisation of blacks as we know it today as inferior in all things, especially in intellectual accomplishment, reflects apologists’ ad hoc justification for the odious institution of slavery. Being difficult to rationalise how an enlightened era of humanists could conduct wholesale slavery, victims of industrial scale bondage and exploitation, had to be dehumanised in new paradigms that depicted blacks as sub-human and inferior to the oppressive group.
Even in the 18th century, a West African (born in present day Ghana) named Anton Wilhelm Amo, who became a professor of philosophy at the University of Halle and the University of Jena (both in modern Germany) was praised by the rector of the University of Wittenberg, Johannes Gottfried Kraus, for demonstrating “the natural genius” of Africa, its “appreciation for learning,” and its “inestimable contribution to the knowledge of human affairs” and of “divine things.” Before the West African Amo was broadsided for his alleged scandalous affections for a white woman of higher station, Kraus had compared him to North African Latin authors of antiquity like St. Augustine of Hippo, the Berbers — Tertullian and the playwright Publius Terentius Afer.
Thus, we do not have to go far into history to find that blacks were not always pilloried as inferior and without achievement or civilisation. Even Jewish and Christian scriptures record in Numbers 12:1 that the great law giver himself, Moses, married an Ethiopian woman — who was black. Egyptian hieroglyphs, paintings and sculpture tell us there were black pharaohs that ruled Egypt. Today, ancient sub-Saharan artefacts of the Nok culture said to have evolved into the Yoruba and later Benin empires in West Africa rich in artworks and sculpture plundered by Europeans and now celebrated residents of Western museums, tell the story of ancient complex African civilisations that contradict the obscured, hidden and distorted Western literature about Africans.
While ancient philosophers had once taken it for granted that the African was human and brilliant, by the time the transatlantic slave trade and the slavery delineated by race reached its apogee, enlightenment era philosophers such as Kant and Hume had crafted a new paradigm that took it for granted that the African was sub-human and intellectually inferior. This paradigm shift denigrating Africans is manifested by what is said to be the greatest non-sequitur in the history of philosophy, ironically perpetrated by a man considered to be arguably the greatest modern Western philosopher, Immanuel Kant. Kant dismissed a seemingly intelligent proposition by an African, by claiming: “this fellow was quite black from head to toe, a clear proof that what he said was stupid.”
Traits once hailed as desirable by Western intellectuals and civilisation were soon stigmatised once evidently possessed by blacks. Consequently, a rigid dichotomy developed bifurcating physical ability from intellectual ability. In contrast, in classical antiquity we find the Greeks extolled the virtues of men possessing both athletic and intellectual abilities as demonstrated by the greatest of the Greek philosophers, Plato who was known to have also been athletically prodigious. He is even said to have wrestled at the Isthmian games. The racist Nazis had not limited their white supremacist dogma to intellectual superiority but prized athletic prowess in tandem with intellectual primacy as well.
However, with the 21st century ascendancy of black athletes, another paradigm shift necessitated the devaluing of physical ability: athletic ability and intellectual precociousness became mutually exclusive. And in true racist trope it became a given that since there was a preponderance of evidence showing the athleticism of blacks, then a corollary argument of stigmatisation complex was that athletic ability was inferior and the contrapositive of athletic ability was intellectual ability, supposedly mutually exclusive with athleticism. Of course, in the dichotomy whites occupied the intellectual space and enjoyed the superior advantage.
These specious dogmatic racist paradigms were all instigated by the odious transatlantic slave trade which African monarchs and middle-men facilitated on an industrial scale. To be clear, the transatlantic slave trade could never have occurred on the scale it did, for as long as it did without African complicity (between 1525 and 1866, about 12.5 million Africans are said to have been transported to the New World, with over 10 million Africans surviving the Middle Passage).
Without a doubt Africans and descendants of African slaves in the Americas and the Caribbean justifiably often demand reparations for 400 years of dehumanisation and European subjugation via the slave trade, slavery and colonialism. If Haitians were made to pay reparations in full to the French government for the revolution of African slaves uprooting the oppression of French slavers, and Holocaust survivors rightly receive reparations from Germany for a decade of Nazi terror, indeed there is hardly an ethical argument against reparations for 400 years of the dehumanisation, exploitation and abuse of people of African descent.
That is why I make the case that considering that it is irrefutable that many West African monarchs and kingdoms actively participated in the slave trade and consequent dehumanisation of fellow Africans, the legatees of the old kingdoms should pay reparations too. Modern West African, central and some southern African states (Angola and the Congo areas also participated in the slave trade), should bear some responsibility for paying reparations. Especially natural resource rich areas, such as Nigeria. To be sure the old African slave trading houses and empires are effete, penurious and moribund, if not defunct. But the old kingdoms have been absorbed into post-colonial African states many of which are resource rich and have great potential.
Acknowledging that a financial debt is to be paid, would arguably force these African governments to shape up, and exercise fiscal responsibility and accountability in developing their economies. There is a moral imperative for focused development to repay a certified debt long overdue. This will also benefit indigenous West African populations, whose ancestors were not unceremoniously evicted like their African cousins were during the transatlantic slave trade.
The payment of reparations by legacy governments of historical racist offenders absolves new generations via the acknowledgement and atonement of past abuses. The situation in Germany is an example of this absolution. I have met a Holocaust survivor who receives reparations from Germany, and she indicated that modern Germans are not blamed by Jews for the reprehensible actions of the Nazi regime. However, it is discernible that many African Americans remain bitter towards whites for slavery. As an African living in America, I have had numerous experiences in which some African Americans have bitterly accused me of being culpable for an alleged role my African ancestors played in the slave trade. (To my knowledge, none of my ancestors ever participated in the slave trade.) Thus, there appears to be more extant acrimony where the descendants of African slaves are concerned in contrast to the position of the descendants of the Jewish Holocaust.
The difference? Blacks have never received reparations for their victimisation. Arguably, du jour racism and the prevalence of discrimination against blacks is also responsible for black mistrust of whites. Perhaps, a “white America” arguably remains offending because of a lack of a purgative atonement which reparations engenders.
Underscoring the religious ethos of Western civilization is an aphorism concerning the conduct of the penitent: that one who has atoned for past wrongs can “go and sin no more.” It is even the basic philosophy of the United States criminal justice system — that a criminal can only live freely in society after rehabilitation, subsequent to absolution and following atonement. Paying reparations is purgative.
Furthermore, the actions of modern African leaders will give currency to the universal African appeal for reparations for historic abuses perpetrated by Western civilisations against Africans. Once resource rich African nations led by responsible visionary leaders start to pay reparations for our ancestors’ betrayal of our cousins — those descendants of African slaves in the Americas and the Caribbean — then a more cogent and concerted appeal can be made by blacks for reparations from the West for the slave trade, slavery and colonialism.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari whose anti-corruption crusade against Nigerian public servants is yielding dividends, will do well to consider including descendants of African slaves in an elaborate long-term debt repayment scheme. The anti-corruption crusader has successfully recovered over 322 million dollars stolen by late military dictator, General Sani Abacha. The scale of the graft charges being prosecuted against ex-soldiers and public servants is indicative that oil rich Nigeria, with greater potential with a transparent and efficient fiscal and resource management regime, is capable of paying reparations. Former National Security Advisor, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, remains under arrest for misappropriation in a $2.1 billion arms procurement deal. Similarly, former Air Force chief, Adesola Amosu was arrested and detained for his corrupt acts in a billion-dollar arms procurement deal. Many members of the Nigerian national legislative branch of the government and former governors and public servants are also facing prosecution for embezzling astronomical amounts of public funds.
Despite the egregious mismanagement due to ineptitude, corruption, religious conflict, militant action and separatist wars — in the Niger-Delta and in the northeast — Nigeria’s gross domestic product is 1.1 trillion dollars, while crude oil contributes about 70 percent of its state revenues. Nigeria’s other resources in steel production and consumer power with approximately 200 million people remain untapped. It is forecasted that Nigeria’s GDP will experience the highest average growth in the world between 2010 and 2050 and it is one of the 11 Global Growth Generators — nations expected to experience the best opportunities for economic growth and investments.
Unfortunately, one thing that has plagued Africa in modern times is the dearth of capable, patriotic and selfless leaders. Africa’s modern history of leaders is replete with a retinue of subalterns willing to be used by foreigners to exploit Africa, its resources and its people. In addition to paying reparations, Africa’s future leaders should actively engage in a reconfiguration of the African psyche, orientation and culture emphasising black equality and excellence. There is the need to overthrow the stigmatisation of melanin, which is scientifically of benefit to those who possess it. Chemistry and biology students know that melanin protects blacks from the harmful effects and premature aging caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Lay men and women know that because of melanin, “black don’t crack.”
Modern science should be able to aid blacks in reconstructing an edifying story of their identity. Presently, nuclear DNA analysis of Cheddar Man, Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, first excavated in 1903, indicates that earlier inhabitants of western Europe had dark skin and are ancestors of modern western Europeans. Cheddar Man, like most West Africans, was lactose intolerant.
Today, we know through DNA studies and research that about 4 percent of European-Americans have African ancestry. American stars who look white like, Eva Longoria have discovered that they have some ancestors from sub-Saharan Africa. The culture of American hypodescent rule stigmatising sub-Saharan Africans because of slavery, meant people like Jacqueline Kennedy, former first lady of the United States, and actor Humphrey Bogart hid knowledge of their African ancestry. Both Jacqueline Kennedy and Humphrey Bogart are descendants of the first African American formally educated to be a medical doctor, John van Salee de Grasse, who was born in 1825. He is also an ancestor of the billionaire family, the Vanderbilts, who are relatives of CNN anchorman, Anderson Cooper. Mixed martial artist star Ronda Rousey also has an accomplished maternal black great-grandfather from Trinidad, Alfred E. Waddell, who became one of the first black physicians in North America.
Although breakthroughs in modern science and the spread of education in dismantling obscurantism and consequently ending racism, should make us optimistic about the future of race relations, I would not hold my breath. For a clever species, human beings are remarkably ridiculous, and you never know what rara avis (oddity) they’ll pull out of their futuristic hat.