Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Piece from Ugandan Television about Heritage Centre Celebrating Emin Pasha, Fighter Against the Slave Trade

January 20, 2023

I came across this piece yesterday from the Ugandan broadcaster UBC. It’s a short video about the restoration of buildings donated by local people to the Ugandan government to be used as a heritage centre commemorating the stay in the area of the Emin Pasha. Pasha, real name Edward Schnitzer, was born in Poland but briefly settled in this part of Uganda in 1891-2 to combat the slavers in the area. He then left for what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he died a couple of years later. The heritage centre will be also be an information centre, and has been visited by students from Uganda’s university and primary schools. Although the speaker states that there has been no serious incidents, he does describe some friction between the restoration team and local people. From the context it seems that this may be over the gift of the land and buildings to the government, but relations have been soothed by the fact that the government is actually restoring the buildings.

East Africa was prey to Arab, Portuguese and Indian slavers and the African tribes who allied with them to do the actual slave raiding. During the ‘scramble for Africa’ of the late 19th century, Britain fought against these slavers. There were also military expeditions launched by the Egyptian pashas in the 1870s to stamp out slaving in the Sudan and Uganda. I wonder if Pasha was part of these operations, as shown by his taking a Muslim name.

I’m putting up this video, because it shows a different aspect to the memorialisation of the slave trade in Africa, one in which the men, who fought against it are celebrated. In the case of Emin Pasha, this is a White European, whose efforts on behalf of and with Black Ugandans is clearly appreciated and celebrated.

Open Britain on the Tory Attack on Democracy

January 17, 2023

I got this email from the pro-democracy organisation, Open Britain, on the Tories’ continued campaign against democracy in our fair country. It runs

Dear David,

Over the last four years, we have witnessed a rapid reduction in the fairness and inclusivity of UK politics. Rishi Sunak seems determined to continue Boris Johnson’s all-out assault on the rights, institutions, and norms designed to hold the government to account. Academics have a term for this process: “democratic backsliding”.

It’s worth reflecting on recent years through the lens of backsliding to understand where Johnson, Truss, and Sunak are taking us – and how low we’ve already sunk. Researchers at University College London have identified the following critical elements of backsliding:

  1. Breakdown in the norms and standards of political behaviour
  2. Disempowerment of the legislature, the courts, and independent regulators
  3. The reduction of civil liberties and press freedoms; and/or
  4. Harm to the integrity of the electoral system 

On the first element, it’d be nearly impossible to deny that norms and standards in UK politics have become warped beyond recognition, largely thanks to Boris Johnson.

The sheer quantity of Johnson’s absurd lies to the public. The blatant PPE contract corruption. The unlawful attempt to prorogue Parliament. The repeated partying throughout the pandemic. Truss’ appointment of Mark Fullbrook as chief of staff. Rishi Sunak’s refusal to sack Suella Braverman amid egregious security violations. Take your pick.

But norms have also been eroded at a deeper level. The government now appears comfortable with breaking international law whenever it suits their needs.

The Internal Markets Bill (2020), the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill (2022), the planned Bill of Rights Bill, and the plans to offshore asylum seekers to Rwanda all undermine the UK’s long-held reputation for upholding international agreements on human rights and trade agreements (many of which UK ministers and officials helped to draft). Our government is clearly quite comfortable ignoring its citizens and the international community. It’s safe to say that the first box on that list is checked.

On the second element, backsliding may not be as apparent, but close inspection reveals some seriously concerning changes here too.

The government has attracted robust criticism from the Hansard Society for rushing bills through Parliament and abusing the ‘statutory instruments’ mechanism to limit Parliament’s ability to scrutinise bills properly.

They have also drawn widespread criticism for taking steps that inevitably undermined the powers and independence of the Electoral Commission. Boris Johnson removed the Commission’s powers to prosecute and attempted to give a (then) Tory-dominated committee control over its operations, and a number of Conservative MPs even called for its abolition.

It’s not just the Electoral Commission either. Former Commissioner for Public Appointments Peter Riddell also accused the government of “packing” appointment panels to blatantly place political allies in the House of Lords.

On the third element, we’ve also seen that this government is willing to toss aside fundamental rights and freedoms when they become politically inconvenient. The Policing Act (2022) was a significant affront to our right to protest, including giving police the right to shut down “noisy” protests.

That is now followed by the Public Order Bill (2023), currently in the Lords, which seeks to expand these measures further, giving police the right to pre-emptively crackdown on protests before they happen and keep registers of known activists based on facial recognition data. If that’s not an infringement of civil liberties, then nothing is.

And let’s not forget Dominic Raab’s grubby plans to overturn the Human Rights Act. 

We’ve also recently seen the press and the labour movement under fire from the government. Several journalists were arrested while covering climate protests last November, despite showing valid press IDs. And the government’s plans to privatise Channel 4 last year – finally abandoned under public pressure this January – and their continued hostility towards the BBC betray an instinct for threatening vital public news services when they are perceived to be getting in the way.

The Sunak government’s latest priority is to crack down on the right to strike by introducing government-set minimum service standards, once again choosing authoritarian mandates over dialogue or compromise. It’s hard to deny backsliding is also occurring in this area.

On the final element, it has been clear for some time that the integrity of the voting system used for general elections is in jeopardy. The Elections Act (2022) now requires voters to show ID at polling stations, something that creates a barrier to legitimate electors being able to exercise their democratic right to vote. Worse, the government’s choice of valid ID seems to disadvantage people from demographics less likely to vote Conservative. That bill also mandated the use of FPTP for Mayoral and Police Commissioner elections, entrenching a broken system that does not accurately reflect the true will of the electorate. 

It’s clear that the UK is indeed in a phase of democratic backsliding. But that doesn’t mean we have to continue on this path. 

As we move forward in 2023, OB will continue to work, alone and with partners who share our ambitions and values, to ensure UK democracy is striding forwards, not sliding backwards.

The Open Britain team

P.S. We and a number of partners in the democracy sector are working to put pressure on Labour to commit to making the changes we need to renew our political system. You can help right now by signing our joint petition here to get Keir Starmer to support proportional representation.

Add to this the secret courts that Dodgy Dave Cameron pushed through, in which you can be tried in secret, without you or your defence knowing the identity of your accusers and evidence withheld from you if the authorities deem it necessary for reasons of national security, and we really are heading towards what some commenters call ‘a democratic deficit’.

I didn’t realise this, but the tribune was the Roman magistrate charged with defending the rights of the plebs and the army. Hence the phrase, ‘a tribune of the people’. The late 18th century French revolutionary communist, Gracchus Babeuf, also recommended a panel of officials charged with making sure local politicos performed their duties. If they didn’t, their constituents had the right of recall and out they would go. I like this idea, and the fact that the Romans knew that you needed officials to protect democratic rights and freedoms shows, in my opinion, just how wise they were. Not wise enough not to be ruled by a bunch of raving psychopaths, but you can’t expect too much from past ages.

Boris claims to be a great admirer of ancient Rome. It’s a pity the tribunes aren’t one of them. Instead from the Tories we get a lot of bluster about democracy and free speech right when they trying to undermine all of it.

Peter Hitchens on Tony Blair’s Stupidity

January 16, 2023

Yeah, I know this ad hominem, but it is funny. Novara Media’s Aaron Bastani interviewed Tory iconoclast Peter Hitchens the other day. The two don’t really have much in common, but Bastani justified the interview saying that if you want to be certain in your political views, you should test them by talking to people who hold the opposite. Hitchen’s is very much a man of the right, and some of his views are odd, if not barking. He believes, for example, that we shouldn’t have gone to war with Germany as it was not in our interests. Perhaps it wasn’t, but we had signed the defence pacts with France and Poland, And if we hadn’t gone to war, I think we would have still lost the empire sooner or later. Plus we would have been excluded from a continent under Nazi domination. And this is not to mention the carnage that would have been perpetrated by the Nazis, with the Jews and Gypsies becoming extinct in Europe, followed by the Czechs and the Slav populations enslaved as peasant farmers supplying produce to their German overlords.

On the other hand, Hitchens has said that he never supported Thatcher’s sale of the council houses or the privatisation of the prison system, because justice, as a principle, should be in the hands of the state. He also states in one of his books that he was shocked into an awareness of how fragile civilisation was after visiting one of the failed African countries as a journalist in the 1980s. The country had descended into vicious gang violence, but walking through its capital Hitchens saw everywhere grand architecture and all the signs of modern corporate development. I think this gives an insight into the basis of his own Tory views. I remember reading in the Spectator years ago that the right-wing philosopher Roger Scruton abandoned the left when he witnessed the rioting in Paris during the 1968 student and workers’ protests. He was alarmed by their ‘anti-civilisational rage’.

Back to the interview, Hitchens described Blair’s spin doctor, Alistair Campbell, as being frightening intelligent. He mentioned people, who really thought for the first few months of Blair’s regime that it was Campbell running the country. He joked that it was probably because of Campbell’s mighty intellect that he was kept away from voters, as he would probably frighten them all away.

But Blair, on the other hand, wasn’t terribly bright and Hitchens doubted that he could have run the country without Campbell. To illustrate his point, he told the story of how he briefly met Blair just before the 1997 election. Blair was in Oxford, travelling in his motorcade. Hitchens was following him by bike, but as the traffic was bad, he got to Blair’s destination before him. After Blair had arrived, he was immediately surrounded by a crowd taking pictures. Hitchens wanted to talk to Blair, and so, after the crowd had finished and dispersed, he walked up to the future Prime Minister. He decided to open the conversation by asking who the crowd were. Blair replied, ‘They’re Brazilians. I’m very popular down there.’

‘Oh, you should learn Portuguese then,’ replied Hitch.

‘What?’

It turned out that Blair thought they spoke Brazilian in Brazil. Hitchens concluded that what Blair really wanted to be was a pop star, and you didn’t need to ascribe any deep ideological motives to him.

There was, nevertheless, an ideological basis to his policies. He was a product of BAP, the British-American Project for the Successor Generation, which was set up by Reagan to influence the rising generation of British politicians from both the Conservatives and Labour. Blair had started out as a supporter of nuclear disarmament, but after going on a BAP-sponsored trip to America and hearing the views of various right-wing think tanks, he came back as an opponent. He was fervently Thatcherite, believing in the superiority of private industry and strongly influenced by the American political system. Private Eye ran several pieces about the American private healthcare and prison companies lining up to donate to New Labour in the hope of getting some of that nationalised action. He took over advisers and staff from private healthcare companies as well as other businesses, and pushed the privatisation of the NHS further than the Tories would have dared. As stupid as he may have been, he set the course for right-wing Labour, and Starmer shows every indication of returning to it.

The Far Right Really Do Think the Channel Migrants Are An Invading Army

January 15, 2023

Just had a small insight into the paranoia behind some of the right-wing activists protesting against the Channel migrants. I’d had suspicions about this for sometime, as one of their arguments for looking critically on them was that most were military age men. That’s probably correct, though not necessarily sinister. A few months ago the right-wing channels and media were publicising a statement from one migrant, who said that he and many of his fellows were coming to Britain to avoid doing their national service in their countries of origin, and hoped to bring their families over later. I also suspect that many migrants are coming to Europe for economic reasons, because it is impossible to get a proper job or obtain the social or professional opportunities they desire in their home countries. A woman, who was one of the many immigrants who turned up on Europe’s border after being invited in by Belarus’ Lukashenko, was reported as saying that she was desperate to come to Europe as she hadn’t been paid in three months and could no longer feed her family. I’ve also seen respectable reports that the lower, mostly Sunni Muslim, orders in Syria are locked in poverty through the domination of the Alawi sect, and were unable to obtain many staple foodstuffs. And one anthropological study of a Moroccan immigrant to Germany in the 90s reported that he came here because there was no work for him in Morocco, and the landowners, who owned the fig or olive groves, rigorously excluded outsiders. There was excitement a while ago, when some of the Channel migrants were reported as turning up with guns, but I think they handed them over to cops soon after.

The right-wing YouTuber Clownworld YT put up a piece on his blog this morning stating that he had made a Freedom of Information request about the migrants, inquiring how many of them had military training. This goes beyond the ordinary concerns that Britain and its local authorities are unable to cope with such an influx due to its sheer number, or that this is leading to huge demographic changes that will eventually see White Brits as a minority in their own country. This shows that the far right really do see them as an invading army.

I see no evidence for this. Instead I think the reasons behind the mass migration is war, oppression and political instability in too many countries in Africa and the Middle East, coupled with stagnating economic conditions denying people job opportunities and decent living and working conditions. But the far-right’s own prejudices and paranoia make them view the immigrants as a hostile, military threat, a genuine invasion. It’s a dangerous attitude, that could easily end in violence.

False! Woke Swedish Green MEP Does Not Want Viking Artefacts Destroyed in Name of International Friendship

January 10, 2023

Right-wing YouTuber Paz49 put up a piece this morning claiming that Alice Bah-Kuhnke, a Swedish Green MP, had called for the country’s Viking artefacts to be turned into scrap metal in order to show other countries that Sweden is friendly. Bah-Kuhnke’s mixed race, the daughter of an African father and Swedish mother. She was also a member, possibly the head, of an all-female government, whose members all wore pink hats, presumably as a feminist statement. Paz also reports that there are claims she wants the artefacts replaced with Islamic and African objects, but he thinks this may be just a rumour. He does, however, believe that this is a woke assault on White identity, and that it ignores the fact that other nations throughout the globe are also responsible for war and imperialism.

The story’s false, however. It’s several years old, dating from c. 2017, and comes from the American Alt-Right distorting reports of a perfectly reasonable law passed by the Swedish government to clear out artefacts of low scientific value in order to clear space in their national museum. I found this video below from the Archaeosource channel on YouTube, in which two professional archaeologists discuss what was really going on. They point out that archaeologists can’t keep everything they find, otherwise museums would be full of old Roman tiles. They rebury material that they can’t retain and conserve. The Swedish law is about throwing away poorly preserved Iron Age and Viking artefacts that don’t have much scientific value. It is not about destroying Sweden’s heritage. One of the speakers says he worked as a Viking for four years, six-hours a day, and has a profound respect for the ancient Norsemen. He takes issue with the way the Alt-Right and other extreme right-wing groups have appropriated them, especially regarding issues of masculinity, being a warrior and so on. The Vikings were open to other cultures, they had words for Blacks, Blamenn, and extensive trade contacts extending down to Africa and India. They were hired by other nations, and were hospitable to them. I think here he’s probably talking about Ibn Fadlan, the Arab traveller, and his observations of the Vikings on the Volga. They were hired by the Byzantines to serve as the emperor’s bodyguard. They also had bards and weren’t homophobic.

So, as commenters like Gillyflower suspected, this is a bogus non-story, an example of Alt-Right fearmongering.

John Bird and John Fortune Skewer the Iraq Invasion: Yes, It Was All About Oil

January 10, 2023

The satirist and actor John Bird passed away just a week or so ago over Christmas. As well as appearing in the short-lived BBC comedy series Chambers and Absolute Power, he and John Fortune appeared on Bremner, Bird and Fortune on Channel 4 as ‘The Long Johns’, whose satirical dialogues expertly lampooned the rich and powerful. This had the same view Private Eye’s Ian Hislop stated on a radio 4 show some time ago, that satire should also have a serious intent and show what was really going on underneath the surface. It was incisive, witty stuff that revealed the reality behind the fine words uttered by politicians, businessmen and elite bankers to show the greed, double-standards and predatory exploitation underneath. Many of the dialogues had a simple formula. They took turns playing George Parr, who changed his profession to match the topic of the day. One week he could be a general, another an admiral, or a senior civil servant. Other characters included Washington diplomats and the dictator of an anonymous African country, who was happy to see his people mired in starvation and poverty so long as he could take the money from the Chinese building his nation’s infrastructure. The other John would play a journalist interviewing him. The questions would result in bizarre denials from the official, which would show the contradictions in the official’s story or decision and lead to them actually revealing the real reasons for the decision or policy in spite of themselves.

In this piece from 2007, posted on theDossier’s YouTube Channel, the two discuss the-then recent admission by Alan Greenspan, the head of the Federal Reserve in America, that it was embarrassing to have to admit it, but yes, the Iraq invasion really was all about oil. As everyone knew. The official denies that this was the case, pointing out that before the war Blair had passed a resolution stipulating that the oil reserves should stay in Iraqi hands. This was revoked a year later after the war, when Blair passed another resolution saying that the allies should have it for safekeeping or something. As a measure of generosity, the allies allowed the Iraqis to keep 17 oil wells out of a total of 80, and promised to give 20 per cent of the profits from their oil fields to the Iraqi government. Iraq nevertheless contains an extremely large proportion of the world’s oil, whose worth is in the trillions.

The former Guardian journo Greg Palast amply demonstrated in his book, Armed Madhouse, that the Iraq war was an attempt by the American and Saudi oil industries to seize the Iraqi oil fields and their wealth, as well as the Neo-Cons attempting to seize the country’s state industries for America and create the kind of low tax state founded on free trade they wished to see in America. The result was the absolute collapse of the Iraqi economy with soaring bankruptcies and unemployment. Not to mention the chaos and bloodshed caused by the war and the sectarian violence that followed it, and the unrestrained, murderous, Nazi criminality of the private military contractors – read: mercenaries – who were hired by the Americans as part of the peace-keeping forces.

This is political satire at it’s best, and some of the commenters on YouTube have compared Bird and Fortune with the superb BBC comedy, Yes, Minister, which is also still relevant even after all these decades. John Fortune died some years ago, and was much missed, as John Bird will be, for his part in these dialogues. You wonder what they’d have to say about Sunak and the present government. It, and it’s equally incompetent and corrupt predecessors, would have been excellent material for them to send up.

Book on Pioneering Victorian Explorer of Abyssinia, Sudan and Egypt Manfield Parkyns

January 6, 2023

Duncan Cumming, The Gentleman Savage: The Life of Mansfield Parkyns 1823-1894 (London: Century Hutchinson 1987).

I’ve been meaning to put up something about this book for a little while now, as I thought it might be of interest to any readers with an interest in Victorian travellers and explorers and their accounts of east Africa. I bought it from one of the remaindered bookshops decades ago now, and can’t remember much about it except that Parkyns was a member of the British gentry, who left Britain to explore the Middle East. He travelled from Egypt down to Ethiopia, where he learned the indigenous people’s languages and adopted their dress and culture, becoming a warrior in the Ethiopian army. He married a local woman and had a son by her, Johannes, before returning to England. Later on the son travelled to Europe in search of his father.

The blurb for the book runs

‘Mansfield Parkyns came from a landed gentry background in the East Midlands. As a young man he was sent down from Cambridge and decided to leave England for the excitement of travel in Egypt and Abyssinia, where he intended to discover the source of the White Nile.

His especially gift as a traveller was his ability to immerse himself in local life, which left him to abandon his western clothes and outlook, and to make, as Lady Palmerston put it, ‘the most successful attempt by a man to reduce himself to the savage state on record.’ Unlike many other Victorians he did not believe in the innate superiority of the white man and he therefore took a refreshing view of his surroundings which led to many fascinating observations. He became part of a village community, married a local girl and took part in raids on other villages. He travelled by a route no European had previously taken to Khartoum and then tried to cross Africa to the Atlantic, but was thwarted by civil war.’

Parkyns’ Ethiopian son, Johannes.

His respect for Ethiopian culture did not mean that he was entirely uncritical. He was shocked by what he saw as the abysmal state of the Ethiopian Coptic church, which I think he felt ought to be destroyed and replaced with something better. As for his adoption of Ethiopian dress and culture, this resulted in people singing ‘The King of the Cannibal Islands’ in mockery of him, which shows the racism in Victorian society. And I would have liked to know much more about his son’s journey to Britain to meet him, and what he thought of us.

My Email to the Local Labour Party about the False View that only White Europeans Were Responsible for Slavery

January 4, 2023

I had an email from my local branch of the Labour party in Bristol this morning informing that they will be out this weekend canvassing people about the issues that matter to them. I wish them the very best of luck. Twelve years of Tory misrule have just about wrecked this great country and are forcing millions of ordinary, hardworking Brits into poverty. Not to mention the continued exploitation and impoverishment of the disabled and unemployment through benefit sanctions, work capability tests and all the rest of the welfare reforms that they have pushed through to enable them to stop paying benefits to people, who genuinely need it, all on the flimsiest of pretexts.

But one issue in Bristol that particularly concerns me is the way the slave trade is represented in exhibitions, the media and in education. Bristol was one of the major cities in the UK slave trade, along with London, Liverpool and I think Glasgow in Scotland. Although the slave trade was banned in 1807 and slavery itself abolished in 1837, it still casts a very long shadow over the city, just as it does the country generally. This was shown three years in the BLM riot that brought down the statue of Edward Colston and in a motion passed by the city council calling for reparations to be paid to the Black population. What concerns me about this is that it seems to me that a distorted image of slavery has arisen, in which White Europeans and Americans are seen as uniquely responsible and culpable for it. I am worried about the apparent lack of awareness that it existed right across the world and long before Europeans started enslaving Black Africans for labour in the plantations of the New World. It also appears that the BBC is determined to push this distorted image, as detailed by the group History Reclaimed and their document identifying the bias in twenty BBC programmes, several of which were about slavery. These included the edition of The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan when he went to Sierra Leone and Enslaved, presented by Hollywood actor Samuel L. Jackson. I therefore sent a reply stating my concern about this issue and the way it was handled by the local council. This runs

‘Dear Neil,

Thank you for your email letting me know that the party will be out this Saturday canvassing people in Bedminster about the issues that matter to them. I am afraid that long term illness prevents me from attending. However, apart from the continued cuts to public services forced on the mayor by central government cuts, there is one local issue that is of deep concern to me. This is the presentation and public knowledge of the history of slavery. Slavery has existed since antiquity and across the globe. Some of the earliest records come from the ancient near eastern town of Mari, which detail the sale of slaves and other properties. You can find lists of slaves on noble estates from ancient Egypt. Slavery also existed in the Muslim world, India and China. It also existed in Black Africa long before the emergence of the transatlantic slave trade. In some African societies, the proportion of the population that was enslaved varied between 30 to 70 per cent. By and large the slaves acquired by White European and American merchants were purchased from Black African slavers. Duke Ephraim, the king of Dahomey, had an income of £300,000 a year from slaving. There are records of British merchants to Africa being offered slaves Black chiefs. After abolition some of the slaving tribes attacked British trading posts in order to make us resume purchasing their human wares. Britain also paid compensation to former African slaving nations after abolition. In the 1850s we also fought a war with Dahomey in order to stop them enslaving the other local peoples.

But I am afraid I find little awareness of these issues in Bristol and among people generally. I am worried that this is creating a false view of the trade in the public, in which slavery, and particularly Black enslavement, is wholly the fault of Whites. This includes a lack of awareness that White Europeans, including British people and Bristolians, were also enslaved during the Turkish conquest of the Balkans and the Barbary pirates from Algiers and Morocco from the 16th century on till the French conquest of Algeria in the 1820s. I feel very strongly that this is creating an ideological motivated demonisation of Whites, especially if coupled with Critical Race Theory, which holds that all Whites are racist and will remain so.

I also feel this situation has been exacerbated locally by the motion passed a year or so ago calling for the payment of reparations for slavery, introduced by Green councillor Cleo Lake and seconded by Deputy Mayor and head of Equalities Asher Craig. This called for funding to be given to Black organisations rather than individuals, so that they can create sustainable, prosperous Black communities. This is obviously a noble aim, but the stipulation that the money should cover all Afrikans, as councillor Lake styles all Blacks, in the context of reparations means that Britain has accepted a moral responsibility for compensating people,. who were never enslaved by us, and which includes the vary African nations that committed the raiding and brutality that supplied the slaves. It also has nothing to say against the celebration in some African countries of these slavers, like Efroye Tinobue in Nigeria. It also erases from history the White victims of slavery.

I sent emails last year to Mdm. Craig and Councillor Lake pointing out these defects. I regret that I never received a reply. But this issue still has a particular urgency in Bristol. In previous correspondence, Asher Craig informed me that the local government was planning a new, ‘One Bristol’ curriculum for schools, which would foreground Black people. I have absolutely no qualms about Black Bristolians receiving the educational help they need, nor being included in our city’s history. But I am afraid that this curriculum will place the blame for slavery solely on White Bristolians and that this will lead to further racial division and prejudices.

I would very much like the local council to ensure that whenever slavery is taught or exhibitions on it mounted, its antiquity and the fact that other peoples, such as Black Africans, Arabs, Indians and so on were also involved, and that Whites were also the victims of the trade. This need not be an extensive treatment, but it should be there.

I hope you will take on board these concerns and recommendations, and wish you and the other party members all the best campaigning on Saturday.

Yours faithfully,

David Sivier’

I’ll let you know if I get a reply.

Governor of California Discussing Paying Reparations for Slavery

January 2, 2023

Last week Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, proposed that the state should pay reparations for slavery. This would consist in a payment of $220,000 to Black Californians descended from slaves. Newsom had previous passed or proposed legislation for the payment of a monthly amount to homeless trans people for a fixed term of one year. This was because there was a disproportionate number of trans people living on the streets, and the payment was to allow them to begin to purchase or rent a home. Newsom’s proposal to pay reparations for slavery was discussed by the Lotus Eaters over here and there’s a video by Black Conservative Perspective in America criticising it. The Black Conservative was not impressed, calling it divisive and playing a clip of Black speakers before the California state legislature or whatever demanding more. One man wanted the payment to be in a fixed amount of gold for each enslaved ancestor. An angry man wearing the red fez and tie of the Nation of Islam ranted about how God had a particular hatred of America and if the money wasn’t paid, He’d destroy the country with an asteroid or something. The Black Conservative considered that these payments would be inflationary, that the money would go on cars and cocaine, and that it would never be enough. People would always come back asking for more.

These are legitimate criticisms. Simon Webb, of History Debunked, made a video attacking the reparations for slavery campaign a few months or so ago. He also thought that it would cause racial divisions rather than solve them, and illustrated it with this example. Say there were two people living next to each other, in identical houses and with the same amount of wealth, but one was Black and the other White. If the Black man received £40,000 simply as compensation for his ancestors being enslaved but not for anything he personally had done, it would cause the White man to become resentful. It might not be true everywhere and of every White person – some may well share the opinion that it’s right Blacks descended from slaves should receive reparations for the suffering of their ancestors. But many others may well become extremely resentful. It could easily result in insults, abuse and worse. When Bristol city council passed a motion a year ago calling for the payment of reparations, Deputy Mayor and head of Equalities Asher Craig received an enormous amount of abusive messages.

I’m also sure that the Black Conservative also has a point about some of the prospective recipients squandering the money. I don’t doubt that some Blacks would use the money wisely to improve conditions for themselves and their children. But I can also see others wasting the money on expensive luxuries, like top of the range cars. There have been a number of stories in the past about people who’ve won millions on the National Lottery and who’ve then spent it all with nothing to show for it so that they’re back as poor as before. This has been done by people regardless of race, White and Black alike. I am also afraid that if these sums were paid, the gangster element in the Black community would use it to expand their violence and drug dealing, as criminals of any colour would if suddenly given a massive cash boost. Perhaps some would use it to leave the gangs and crime behind and try and establish themselves as respectable, law-abiding citizens. You’d hope so. But I think rather more criminals would simply use it to finance more of their destructive lifestyle, which would cause further damage to the Black community. And I am also afraid that whatever was paid would never be enough, and that they would always come back for more.

Thomas Sowell in one of his books argued against slavery reparations. He felt that the people, who were victimised and responsible for it are now dead, and so beyond our ability to help or punish. He also argued that whatever profits America had made from slavery had vanished in the bloodbath of the American Civil War. Furthermore, the guilt for something as terrible as slavery could not be absolved simply by paying money. He also made the point that no society could survive a moral viewpoint in which it had to be constantly criticising itself and paying compensation for the acts of the past. I think these are excellent points.

When Bristol passed its motion calling for reparations, the practical measures made it seem more like a call for further affirmative action for the Black British community as a whole justified through the connection to slavery. The motion ruled out payments to individuals. Instead they should be paid to Black-led organisations which would work to improve conditions and create sustainable, prosperous Black communities. All Blacks were to benefit from this, not just those of Afro-Caribbean or slave origin. While it’s better than Newsom’s proposal in providing for their real, collective benefit of the Black community rather than just the compensation of individuals, there are real moral problems with this as well. By including all Black, it also makes the British state morally responsible for people we did not enslave and who may themselves be descendants of the very slavers who sold their human cargo to us. It also ignores the fact that other nations, like the Arabs and Indians, were also involved in the African slave trade and the fact that White Europeans, including Brits, were also the victims of enslavement in the Turkish conquest of the Balkans and the Barbary pirates. I sent email messages to Craig and Cleo Lake, the Green councillor who proposed the motion, but got no reply. This, in my opinion, shows their absolute contempt for those challenging the notion.

In the British context, it could be argued that any profits Britain acquired from the slave trade were spent on our efforts to stamp it out through the activities of the British West African squadron and its patrols as well as a wider campaign against slaving and slavery during the Empire. There is also the problem that some of the countries responsible for kidnapping slaves also want reparations paid to them, even though some of their chiefs became extremely rich from the trade’s profits. The Caribbean nations, or some of them, have also demanded reparations. Some of this has been to deflect attention from the failings of their own rulers, while I don’t doubt that the venal kleptocrats are looking at a source of further money they can steal and loot. There’s also a question of the amount paid. Britain paid £20 million in compensation to the slaveowners at abolition, something that has been bitterly resented by some Black activists, just as it was by some abolitionists at the time. This translates into billions in today’s money and we only stopped paying it off a few years ago. If we were to pay a commensurate amount today, I think it would bankrupt us. And I can’t see that being to anyone’s benefit in Britain.

So far I think Newsom is on his own on this issue, and it remains to be seen whether he goes ahead with it. But this could be one issue to watch, as it’s possible other states will take it up, as well as activists over here.

‘Africa’s Slaves Today’ – A Good, But Dated Book Used by Simon Webb

December 31, 2022

I’ve remarked in previous posts about History Debunked’s Simon Webb that when he cites his sources, he’s usually correct. But that’s when he cites he sources. In one his videos a few years ago, he stressed the importance of reading as a indicator of educational attainment and social and economic success. The most successful children, he claimed, came from homes with a lot of books. I’ve heard that before, and I can see the truth in it. A child is most likely to be successful, if they come from homes where literacy is valued and there are books to read. Although obviously there are exceptions. He then said that it wasn’t expensive to build a good library for yourself – you could get many books cheap from secondhand bookshops. This is true, and I’ve done it myself, but the problem is finding a good secondhand bookshop. There are several in Bristol, and one very good one in Cheltenham. But many towns don’t have them. And the problem is that some of the books available there, while good in there time, are now dated. One of the books Webb waved around, which he supposedly got secondhand, and which he recommended to his viewers, was Africa’s Slaves Today. We had a copy donated to us at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol. It’s a very good book, but was published in the 1970s. Some of the information contained in it is pertinent to one of the horrible murder cases of the 1990s. This was the tragic death of Victoria Climbie, a little African girl who had been sent by her parents to be brought up in London by an aunt and her partner. The book notes that it was a common practice in Africa to send children to be brought up by wealthier relatives so that they could enjoy their advantages. However, some of these children were treated as slaves by their foster parents. Something similar happened to Climbie, who was hideously physically abused by the aunt and her partner until she eventually died. I believe she was actually on a social services watch list, but was let down by a heavy caseload and an incompetent supervisor. The Mail reported that the social worker didn’t know what to do about the case, and brought it to her supervisor’s attention. The supervisor, a Black woman, didn’t give her any positive advice, just a speech quoting from Maya Angelou while lighting candles. And thanks to these failings, a girl died.

I can’t remember very much about the book, except that now it seems perhaps too optimistic. The book notes that slavery still persists in parts of Africa, but notes that one candidate for Nigerian presidency had facial marking denoting slave origin. They concluded that it showed that prejudices against such people may be weakening. Unfortunately, this has not happened. The book Disposable People, published in the ’90s, noted that the number of slaves around the world had grown. There were now something like 20 million of them. This included enslaved labourers and prostitutes in countries like Brazil and the Golden Triangle area of southeast Asia. Their servitude was often disguised as long-term contracts. The subject has been covered in various TV programmes. One programme on Brazil showed the country’s task force against slavery liberating a group of them. You probably won’t be amazed by the fact that they mostly seemed to be Black. Disposable People also claimed that it was often the traditional slaves, like those in Mauretania, who were the best treated. Africa’s Slaves Today makes the same claim, arguing it was disproportionate and counterproductive to move against these traditional slaves, who were seen more as old family retainers and treated as such, in societies where slavery was slowly dying out. But this has not happened. There are anti-slavery groups in Mauretania still fighting to end slavery there. Mauretania has officially banned it, but this is not always enforced and the Islamic clergy are still very much in favour of it. And, partly thanks to Blair, Obama’s and Sarkozy’s bombing of Libya, slave markets have reopened in the part of that country controlled by the Islamists to sell the Black African migrants, who have travelled there in the hope of passage to Europe. Slave markets have also opened Uganda. None of this, of course, could have been foreseen by the book’s authors, which is why you also need to read more modern works like Sean Stilwell’s Slavery and Slaving in African History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2014), which also covers modern slavery and the efforts by former slaves and human rights groups to end it.

Back to History Debunked, you need to check some of what he says carefully, as really you should everything on YouTube. And be especially carefully when he doesn’t tell you where some fact he cites come from.