Why we still need holistic reparations for slavery

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In this month of Black history remembrance, it is important to explore the history of African reparations organising in Britain, as well as the understanding African reparationists have of the term – particularly those in the International Social Movement for Afrikan Reparations (ISMAR) in the UK.

For reparations scholars such as Professor Kimani Nehusi, the meaning of the term reparations “transcends repayment for past and continuing wrong, to embrace self-rehabilitation through education, organisation and mobilisation”.

International law specifies that holistic reparations should include five key components: cessation and guarantees of non-repetition, restitution, compensation, satisfaction and rehabilitation.

In Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term “genocide” and initiated the 1948 Genocide Convention, wrote: “Genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor.”

It is this dispossession of the land, wealth and power of people of African origin – as well as the denial of our rights to self-determination and sovereignty – that gives rise to alternative reparations visions of holistic transformations known as “planet repairs”; the nexus of reparatory justice, environmental justice and cognitive justice.

Planet repairs are necessary because the harms of African enslavement and colonisation include not only the land dispossessions and extractivist plunder of our planet, but also the marginalisation and killing of indigenous knowledge systems. This resulted in the dehumanisation of both the “plunderers” and the “plundered”, with the latter referred to as “dignity-takings” in a study by Professor Bernadette Atuahene – all of which holistic reparations must redress.

Since 2013, the attention of the media and universities such as Glasgow and Cambridge have erroneously focused exclusively on the Caricom Reparations Commission (CRC)’s 10-point plan in their own reparative justice programmes. However, such a focus not only marginalises Africa, the source of people of African origin’s case for reparations, as well as continental African reparations formations such as Maatubuntimitawo-Gafric, but also downplays the existence of the long-standing, grassroots ISMAR and its own glocal reparations plans.

There is a long history of grassroots reparations activism in Britain, dating back to the 18th century. The earliest known calls for reparations in Britain trace back to the Sons of Africa, co-founded by Ottobah Cugoano, an African abolitionist, who had formerly been enslaved in the country known as Ghana today.

In 1787, Cugoano published Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, one of the most radical abolitionist texts of the era. In the postscript to the 1791 edition, Cugoano raised the issue of adequate reparation and “restitution for the injuries” enslaved persons suffered.

In every generation since, people of African origin in the UK have continued to demand reparations. At the founding conference of the African Reparations Movement (ARM), co-founded by the late Bernie Grant MP, Dorothy Kuya and others in 1993, its declaration called on the British government to “make reparations”, give full compensation to “peoples of African origin” and highlighted the community self-repairs tasks that African people needed to do for ourselves – such as ensuring that “African identity was proclaimed, maintained and developed”, and that “Africa is restored to the centre of world politics”.

All people of African origin were called upon to “form a strong united front capable of exposing, confronting and overcoming the psychological, economic and cultural harm inflicted upon us”.

This glocal, pan-African trajectory of seeking to secure full repair has been continued by African reparationists and their organisations, including the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe, the Stop the Maangamizi campaign, the Global Afrikan People’s Parliament, the Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March Committee and the International Network of Scholars and Activists for Afrikan Reparations.

All of these organisations have contributed to the historic establishment of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Afrikan Reparations, chaired by Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP, which will establish the All-Party Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry for Truth & Reparatory Justice, also supported by the Green Party.

These reparationists advocate for a model of holistic repairs that restores African people’s sovereignty, epitomised as Maatubuntuman: a self-repairing Africa, without colonial borders, which transforms itself into a super-powerful pan-African Union of Communities. It also catalyses the reparations movements of other colonised peoples to co-create the post-reparations world order of Ubuntudunia, a multipolar, pluriversal world of global justice for all.

The building blocks to establishing Maatubuntuman include the “rememberment” of fractured communities of African heritage on the continent of Africa, and across the African diaspora, known as Sankofahomes and Maatubuntujamaas respectively, or African Heritage Communities for National Self-Determination, where people of African origin restore our people’s agency and power to be the reparatory justice change that we seek.

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As Professor Robin Kelley reminds us: “Progressive social movements do not simply produce statistics and narratives of oppression; rather, the best ones… transport us to another place, compel us to relive horrors and, more importantly, enable us to imagine a new society.”

This new society is already being prefigured here in the UK through the institutionalisation of the annual 1 August Pan-Afrikan Reparations Rebellion Groundings, which has been supported by the change-making forces in Extinction Rebellion for the past two years.

In taking practical steps towards this “new society”, with their own initiatives of the reparatory justice transformation of institutions of learning, within and beyond Britain, young pan-African reparationists have led the recent launch of Praler, the Planet Repairs Action Learning Educational Revolution at SOAS, University of London.

Their call for “all peoples to power” points to the Ubuntudunia that the ISMAR is catalysing to ensure that the pursuit of African reparations wins planet repairs for all.

Esther Stanford-Xosei is a legal specialist in jurisprudence, a reparations activist and community advocate