Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Slavery's bitter past: accounting for the future

I found this poem again on the net today titled "Afica my Africa" written by Senegalese poet David Diop. It used to be one of my favourites while in secondary school as I knew it by heart and used to hum it like a song. It made such a huge impression on my teenage heart during the years of Sani Abacha's rule.

Africa of proud warriors in ancestral savannahs
Africa of whom my grandmother sings
On the banks of the distant river
I have never known you
But your blood flows in my veins
Your beautiful black blood that
irrigates the fields
The blood of your sweat
The sweat of your work
The work of your slavery
The slavery of your children
Africa tell me Africa
Is this your back that is bent
This back that breaks under the
weight of humilation
This back trembling with red scars
And saying yes to whip under the midday sun
But a grave voice answers me
Impetuous child that tree young and strong
That tree over there
Splendidly alone amidst white and faded flowers
That is your Africa springing up anew
Springing up patiently obstinately
Whose fruits bit by bit acquire
The bitter taste of liberty

I would hum the song and its words made the suffering my family and so many others experienced during the evil junta make so much more meaning. It felt like we were slaves even though we were actually free people but living under a dictatorship.

Finding this poem again at this time when the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery is being celebrated the world over makes greater meaning to me. And having recently visited one of the relics left by the slave traders (Cape Coast Castle), I feel much closer to the situation.

Picture above is the Cape Coast Castle, Cape Coast, Ghana.

There are calls for the European countries that benefitted from slavery to pay reparations to Africa. And like I wrote in my earlier post, I feel as a mainland African, we need to apologise to our brethren in the diaspora for the role we played in the outsourcing and provision of men, women and children for the trips across the Atlantic.

While not saying Europe and America should not pay reparations, I believe it would do much good for all the countries of West Africa (the most affected by the Trans-Atlantic trade) to offer apologies to the peoples of African descent who were taken to Brazil, Cuba, USA, Haiti, West Indies, Britain, South America, etc and whose ancestors suffered untold hardships during the voyage to foreign lands.

While the West is apologising, it would be of great service if we could look our brothers and sisters from across the ocean in the eye and say "We're very sorry for assisting the white man in your suffering". That will go a long way in making things work better.

Imagine the curses which would have been put on African villages and villagers while victims were being freighted away in hot, steamy cartons? Imagine the bad blood which could have been sown in hearts over the centuries?

Only an atonement by Africa and Africans would bring about the change in Africa's fortunes.

On behalf of my family and my ancestors, I apologise for any role in which any one of them might have played in sending anybody into slavery. I sure do know what it feels like sitting in those thick-walled rooms awaiting transportation to the New World. But I'm ignorant of what the pains of arriving in a foreign land felt like. But I apologise.

We need to work towards Africa's emancipation in the 21st Century. Though slavery has been abolished now over 200 years, but Africa still suffers. The ones who rule her countries have not grasped the ideals of true freedom. They still cause untold suffering to her peoples (see Zimbabwe, Darfur, Somalia).

Africans now more than ever are running away to these same foreign lands because of the suffering being experienced at home. We need to look inside ourselves to find a way out of this quagmire. Africa needs a rediscovering of the values that made for great societies in the past.

I believe that we can do it.

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