Posts Tagged ‘Royal Navy’

Over Ten Years Ago African Human Rights Organisations Urged Traditional Rulers to Apologise for their Role in Slave Trade

August 28, 2020

This is old news, but it is well worth repeating in the current controversy over historic transatlantic slave trade and its legacy. Although much of the blame has naturally been rightly placed on the White Europeans responsible for the purchase, transport and exploitation of enslaved Africans, human rights organisations in Africa have also recognised that its indigenous rulers were also responsible. And they have demanded they apologise for their participation in this massive crime against humanity.

On 18th November 2009, eleven years ago, the Guardian’s David Smith published a piece reporting that the Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria has written to the country’s tribal chiefs, stating “We cannot continue to blame the white men, as Africans, particularly the traditional rulers, are not blameless.” It urged them to apologise to ‘put a final seal to the slave trade’ and continued

Americans and Europe have accepted the cruelty of their roles and have forcefully apologised, it would be logical, reasonable and humbling if African traditional rulers … [can] accept blame and formally apologise to the descendants of the victims of their collaborative and exploitative slave trade.”

The head of the Congress, Shehu Sani, explained to the Beeb’s World Service that the Congress was asking the chiefs to make the apology because they were seeking to be included in a constitutional amendment in Nigeria:

“We felt that for them to have the moral standing to be part of our constitutional arrangement there are some historical issues for them to address. One part of which is the involvement of their institutions in the slave trade.” He stated that the ancestors of the country’s traditional rulers “raided communities and kidnapped people, shipping them away across the Sahara or across the Atlantic” on behalf of the slaves’ purchasers.

Other Africans supported the demand for an apology. They included Henry Bonsu, a British-born Ghanaian broadcaster and co-founder of the digital radio station, Colourful Radio. Bonsu had examined the issue himself in Ghana in a radio documentary. He said that some chiefs had accepted their responsible, and had visited Liverpool and the US in acts of atonement.

“I interviewed a chief who acknowledged there was collaboration and that without that involvement we wouldn’t have seen human trafficking on an industrial scale,” said Bonsu.

“An apology in Nigeria might be helpful because the chiefs did some terrible things and abetted a major crime.”

The call was also supported by Baffour Anning, the chief executive of the non-governmental agency Africa Human Right Heritage in Accra, Ghana. He said, !I certainly agree with the Nigeria Civil Rights Congress that the traditional leaders should render an apology for their role in the inhuman slavery administration.” He also believed it would accord with the UN’s position on human rights.

The article notes that the demands for an apology mostly came from the African diaspora, and that it wasn’t really a matter of public concern in Africa itself. It also noted that many traditional chiefs prefer to remain silent on this awkward and shameful issue. However, one of the exceptions was the former president of Uganda, Yoweri Musaveni, who in 1998 told Bill Clinton “African chiefs were the ones waging war on each other and capturing their own people and selling them. If anyone should apologise it should be the African chiefs. We still have those traitors here even today.”

See: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/18/africans-apologise-slave-trade

This adds a very interesting perspective on the current slavery debate, and one which very few here in the West are probably aware. It’s strange reading that Africans have come to Liverpool and the US seeking to atone for their ancestors crimes during the slave trade when so much of the debate has revolved around the responsibility of Liverpool, Bristol and others cities, and western nations as a whole, such as the US and Britain, for the abominable trade. One of my concerns about the demand for museums to slavery is that these would place the blame solely on western Whites, and so create not just a distorted view of slavery but another form of racism, in which slavery was only something that Whites inflicted on Blacks. If it is the Black diaspora that is demanding African chiefs recognise and apologise for their part in the slave trade, this may not be an issue.

Nevertheless, it needs to be remembered that slavery existed, in Africa and elsewhere, long before transatlantic slavery. Black Africans also enslaved each other, there was also a trade in slaves from east Africa to Arabia, India and Asia. At the same time the Turkish Empire also raided sub-Saharan Africa, particularly the Sudan, for slaves. One of the reasons the British invaded and conquered much of Africa was to stop the slave trade and end it at its source. In many cases, I’ve no doubt that this was just a pretext to provide a spurious justification for military annexation against competition for territory by other European nations. But many of the officers and troopers involved in the suppression of the trade were sincere. This included the Royal Navy, whose officers were largely evangelical Anglican Christians, who took their duty to stamp out the trade very seriously.

In the years since then real slavery has returned to Africa. The Islamists, who have seized power in part of Libya ever since we bombed it to liberate it from Colonel Gadaffy have taken to enslaving the Black African migrants making their way there in the hope of reaching sanctuary and a better life in Europe. At the same time there have also been reports of a slave market opening in Uganda. And this is apart from the persistence of traditional slavery in countries such as Mauretania and disguised forms of servitude in Africa and elsewhere, which were described a quarter of a century ago in the book Disposable People.

While it’s natural that attention should focus on historic Black slavery in the west following the Black Lives Matter protests and western Blacks’ general underprivileged condition, it is disgusting and shameful that real slavery should continue to exist in the 21st century. It needs to be tackled as well, beyond the debates about the legacy of historic slavery.

 

 

Workfare and Anti-Slavery Legislation

August 23, 2015

Left-wing bloggers against workfare, like Johnny Void, have repeatedly pointed out that workfare constitutes a form of slavery. Under the government’s welfare to work reforms, benefit claimants can be forced to work for companies for no pay, if they wish to receive their benefits. This applies even if the claimant has been sanctioned, so that they receive no benefit payments whatsoever, and are forced to use their savings or go to a food bank. Even if this does not constitute slavery, it certainly constitutes forced labour, which is almost the same and just as offensive under international law.

Yesterday I put the oath medieval slaves took in seventh century France, when poverty forced them to give up their freedom and become a lord’s slave. I pointed out how close this was to current workfare and in particular the use of workfare labour when the claimant has been sanctioned.

Sasson commented on the piece that it was ironic that the Tories were boasting about the efforts they were making to combat modern slavery, while bringing it back with their wretched welfare reforms. That’s exactly right, and I doubt if the point’s been lost on other left-wing commenters and bloggers either.

Mike over at Benefitbloodbath and other bloggers have pointed out that slavery is illegal under article 4 of the UN code of Human Rights. It is also illegal under British national and imperial law.

Slavery was formally abolished in the British Empire with the passage of Edward Stanley’s slavery abolition bill at midnight on the 31st July 1833. It received royal assent nearly a month later on the 28th August. Under its provisions, all slaves were automatically freed from the 1st August of that year. Even before this government decided to ban slavery formally, it had legally ceased to exist in the British Empire under the terms of Act 3 & 4 Will. IV c.73.

It could be argued that rather than being the property of private individuals, like the slaves freed under the above Slavery Abolition Act, those placed on workfare are most similar to the slaves owned by the British crown. These were slaves owned by the British state, some of whom it appears were apprenticed or indentured to private masters. Crown slaves in the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Mauritius and Trinidad were given their freedom under the orders of British government c. 1831. See the House of Commons Papers 1831: Slave Emancipation: Crown Slaves.

Liberated Africans, which was the term used by the British government to describe the slaves liberated from slave ships captured by the Royal Navy, were also freed by the British government. They were placed under the custody of the Crown, and apprenticed to individual private masters, who were supposed to teach them how they could support themselves as self-reliant, independent citizens. When they were given their freedom, the British government order a general muster of the Black and coloured population in the West Indies. Those, who had served their apprenticeships were to be given a certificate declaring them to be free. Those still serving their apprenticeships were to have them cancelled. They were then allowed to remain in the colony with the same rights as the rest of the free Black population. See the government paper House of Commons Papers 1831: Africans Captured: Apprenticed Africans.

Slavery was also declared to be non-existent under British law over fifty years earlier, with the Mansfield judgement on the Somerset case in 1772. James Somerset was a slave belonging to James Steuart. Steuart wished to take him from Britain to America to sell him. Somerset refused to go, and ran away. He was aided by British abolitionist campaigners, who pleaded habeas corpus in his defence, so that he could remain in the country during the trial. Habeas Corpus is, of course, one of the provisions in that document, Magna Carta, which David Cameron confessed to not knowing what it was on Letterman. The case was brought by the British anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson, who used it as a test case to see if slavery existed under British law. Lord Mansfield, reviewing the law, declared that it didn’t.

This meant that slavery was unenforceable in Britain. The owners of slaves, who ran away, could not use the law to reclaim their property.

Mansfield also made some stinging criticisms of slavery itself. In his ruling, he declared

‘The state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only by positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasions and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from the memory. It is so odious that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law.’

Which pretty much applies to workfare, as it has been introduced by law. It is so odious that, as Johnny Void has reported, the government has refused to disclose the identities of the companies, that have signed up for it for fear that public pressure will force the same companies to abandon it once their support is known. This is tacit admission that Mansfield is right, even today.

Furthermore, the enslaved themselves were aware of Mansfield’s judgement in America and the Caribbean, and made use of it to demand their freedom. In the early 19th century several slaves came forward to claim their freedom after returning to the Caribbean from England, or British territory, considering that they had effectively been given their freedom through residence there. They were Grace James, ‘Robert’, and ‘Rachael’ and ‘John Smith’. Grace James had been taken to England in 1822 by her mistress, Ann Allan. She returned to Antigua with her mistress the following year, 1823. Two years later she presented herself to the Collector of Customs, claiming that she had been illegally held in slavery and demanding her freedom under the terms of the 1824 Consolidation of Slavery Act. Robert had also been taken to England in 1815 by his master, William Burnthorne. They returned to Antigua in 1818. Like Grace James, Robert claimed his freedom through his residence in England, whose law did not recognise slavery.

Rachael and John Smith had come to Antigua from Barbados. They had gone with their master, Major Watts, to Gibraltar, a British territory, before returning to Barbados in 1819. Their claim to freedom is slightly different to the others, as they alleged that they had been given certificates of freedom in Gibraltar, but had given this to a resident of the island to register after they returned, when they were seized by Watts’ mother under power of attorney. The Antiguan solicitor-general, Musgrave, concurred with the slaves, declaring that they were now free and citing the precedents under English medieval law. See the government pamphlet Slaves in the Colonies: A Copy of Any Information.

It seems to me that these cases show how dubious workfare is legally, especially when it is applied to benefit claimants, who have been sanctioned. I think the Mansfield judgement, and the cases of Grace James, Robert, Rachael and John Smith could be cited to show that in such a case, even if workfare did not constitute slavery per se, it should be unenforceable.