As a young boy growing up in elementary school, my favorite subject was first English (because I never failed it…not at any time) and secondly history. I loved history because it provided a mental escape for me who liked to fantasize and dream a lot. Imagine a ten or eleven year old sitting in a class and learning about greek philosophers such as Socrates,plato,arostotle etc and religious leaders such as Mohammed,Jesus Christ,Buddha etc outstanding explorers such as David Livingstone, Mungo Park,Ferdinand Mangelan,Sir Francis Drake etc Pan Africanists Kwame Nkrumah,Jomo Kenyatta,Omar Muktar,Haile Sellasie, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe etc.Yes, that’s where I was and who I was.
An interesting topic which was taught us is the TRANSANTLANTIC SLAVE TRADE.Consistent with the curriculum of study,we were taught that there was a dark moment in our ancestral story when the ‘white’ man would leave Europe and the Americas to come and grab and steal our people to go work and farm his platations. I was told that our people were rich,happy and settled in their own place, but the greedy white man would travel down and grab them and steal them away for his own end and means.I developed a picture in my head of saintly white robbed black men and women who were here and attacked by not so saintly dark robbed white men who did them all the wrong.In otherword we were the victim and they were the villain.That was what I was told and I believed because I had no alternative view to the subject matter (In those days there was no world wide web…at least not in my growing environment…and that was 26 years ago).
Ten years from that point and two before my dad died I got into a conversation with him. It was concerning something In my home town (where he spent his last years on earth) where the graves of two chiefs who had been deposed from their domains further up north and had died in exile. The epitaph read ‘Here Lies the remains of Chief XXXXXX, The Paramount Ruler of YYYYYY, who was deposed in the year bla….bla…bla.. and died here in exile’.
Since he had been born in that same town and grown up there.I took the liberty to ask him why the graves were there.It was a simple inquiry as to “Why dad were these chiefs deposed from their throne and sent here on exile”?
“It was the British son”He answered.
“After the Parliament in England passed the act outlawing slavery in the british empire there was a need to enforce since it was still going on and many who were benefiting from it refused not stop.
“The realized after many years that scrouging the waters for slave ships carrying captives to the Americas and the carribeans was not doing the job enough….because the marchants were still been supplied by the traders in the hintherland.
“Those two chiefs were notorious for breaking that law and stubbornly allowing the trade to continue thriving in their domains.They even promoted it and prospered by that as well.
“It was realized at some point that the trade could not and could not stop in that part of the empire as long as they ruled.
“As such, they had to be deposed and sent out on exile….to stop them and their agents from continueing to suffer their subjects,victims as well as prisoners of war by selling them away into slavery….supplying the illicit chain”
It was a mild surprise for me….that the british in far away England made laws to abolish slavery and had to fight to enforce the laws to protect the locals from suffering?But how could an all white Parliement in a white man’s country make laws to salvage black people in Africa from their own kind…and even expend resources to enforce those laws against local resistance? This was not a book read….I saw the graves and the information written on it personally (they still are there as we speak)…although they excluded of course the wrong they commited to merit such punishment.The contradiction between what I had been taught and what I was seeing tinkered a little with that image I had carried in my head for the previous ten years into adulthood.
That aside. Do you know why I believe my father’s explanation? I am yet to know of any ‘African’ Abolitionists. Yes I have read or heard about European and American ecclesiastic and political entities (individual and institutional) giving time money and effort to abolition efforts, but not a single local one. If there is one or more, I’d be interested to know.
It was not until 2002, ten years counting from now when I heard a teaching on TRANSFORMATION by Dr Mensah Otabil that the true picture of the events fell in. I still remember that conference was organized Leaders (Ecclesiastic, Corporate, Civil & Political) and it held courtesy of House on The Rock, Lagos, Nigeria.He said a few things, some of which I remember…(Quote)
“You know a lot of Africans when they hear the phrase slave trade, think slave……
“The operative word in that phrase is the word trade.Which tells that it was actually a trade.The slave only speaks of the commodity that was being traded.
“The british came, the portugese came bringing sugar,tobacco rum…and we took whole humans beings and gave them in exchange…..
“Some chiefs took their subjects and say “give me a little sugar”…some fathers took their children and said “give me a little salt…some others took their brother saying “give me a little rum to drink”.
(Shouting)“THAT MENTALITY WHICH MAKES YOU THINK THAT A MAN IS WORTH SUGAR…….
“If someone comes to meet you to ask that you sell him your brother, why would you even negotiate with him in the first place…….
“My question is have we changed.No wonder our leaders go and sit in board rooms in Switzerland and sell all of us….
(End of Quote)
It was that which the conneced of the various dots.Whilst it’s true that the trans antlantic slave trade was initiated by the western capitalist establishment (which of a truth was dominated by white men), the other side to the story is that Africans contributed to the flourish of that evil commerce in an almost if not equal measure.The whole thing happened because their was a local support or co-operation to sustain it.In the words of Dr Otabil “Had we not sold, they would not have bougth”.
That some Africans contributed and even benefited from the trade is not what make it painful to me. Nor is that we have rewritten the history of the event in our generation and handed out the half truth across generations to western discredit. But, rather that we blame the Europeans for the folly of our own indescretions.It is amongst the people of my race that one would go to a phone shop and with his wide open buy a phone braded and nokia and go home to insult the shop keeper for selling him such an equipment…because it refuses to work like his brothers black berry.That if he does not muster the ‘bold-face’ to go back to the same shop and demand for ‘ compensation ’ for being allowed to keep the same phone he complained about!
Everything I have mentioned thus far is looking at the one same issue from the broad scope. To bring a little practicality to the entire subject in terms of proof. I’d narrow it down on the foremost geo political entire on our continent….in some respects; Nigeria. Out of the same country emanated a prominent reparation champion Chief M.K.O. Abiola’s (R.I.P.)His efforts was geared towards a compensation for Africans and Africa for the effects of slave trade (Though it still remains hazy as to who should pay and who would receive the payment) in the late 80’s into the early 90’s.Due to his demise the project has seen a graveyard, but the effort has been commended as a noble attempt.
In a manner that is stranger than fiction this same country of his,just 20 years or so down the line, generations of fathers (who were educated using the same history curriculum I began my discourse with) are giving away their daughters to join the human traffic to Italy to work in the commercial sex industry (yes you heard me right….industry).Mind you this young ladies are being introduced to such by other brothers, sisters ,cousins ,nephews or someone within the same community.Oh….I forgot to mention this time around, the term Slave Trade has been abandoned to history as being too archaic and negative and a more positive rebrand has been adopted using “Italiano”, “Jandoo” or better still “Huzzling”!
(For those of your who wish to spy my inspiration please find/buy and read ‘Buy The Future’ By Dr Mensah Otabil)