Posts Tagged ‘Zanzibar’

My Proposed Article on Bristol’s Slavery Reparations – Ignored and Rejected by the Press?

April 14, 2021

Okay, I’ve blogged about it before when Bristol City council first passed the motion all those weeks ago. These were a couple of pieces about the motion, brought by Green councillor Cleo Lake, and seconded by Labour’s deputy mayor and head of equalities Asher Green, calling for the payment of reparations for slavery to all of Britain’s ‘Afrikan’ community. I criticised this because this motion effectively means the payment of reparations to the African peoples responsible for the raiding and enslavement, and their sale to outsiders. It wasn’t just European, who purchased and enslaved the continent’s peoples, but also Muslims, Arabs and Indians. The motion falsifies history by reducing a complex situation to simple Black and White – White Europeans versus Black Africans. I believe Lake and Craig are playing racial politics here by trying to create a unified Black British community by presenting all British Blacks as the victims of White, European, British slavery when this was not historically the case.

The motion also raises other issues by setting the precedent for formerly enslaved peoples to sue their former captors. Thus Black Africans could also demand reparations from Morocco, Algeria, Turkey and the successors to the great Arab caliphates of the Middle Ages – perhaps Saudi Arabia? – Oman and other states for their enslavement. As could Europeans. 2.5 million White Europeans were carried off into slavery by the Barbary pirates from Morocco and Algiers. Would the councillors, who supported and passed Lake’s and Craig’s slavery reparations motion also support similar motions for the payment of reparations to these people from their former masters?

I wrote to Lake and Craig raising these issues, and so far have received no reply. Perhaps they’re too busy. Craig has received 6,000 racially abusive messages, which I condemn, so perhaps she hasn’t looked at it because it’s been lost in all the other mail she’s received about it.

I tried to get the press interested in this issue, and so submitted an article about it. I first sent it to the Guardian, and then to a number of right-wing newspapers when I heard nothing from the Groan. I thought the right-wing press would be perhaps be more likely to publish it, and it contradicts some of the attitudes and assumptions of the pro-Black activists that newspapers like the I, Independent and Observer share and promote. Along with the article itself, I sent the following cover message.

Dear Sir,

I would be very grateful if you would consider the attached article laying out some of the problems with the motion passed a few weeks ago in Bristol calling for the payment of reparations for slavery to the Black community. There are a number of difficult and complex issues raised by this, which I do not believe have been adequately discussed in the press. One of these is that the motion calls for both Africans and Afro-Caribbean people to be granted reparations. While I’ve no doubt that Black African people are as disadvantaged as people of West Indian heritage, there is a problem here as historically it was African peoples who did the dirty business of slaving, selling them not just to Europeans, but also to Muslim, Arab and Indian slavers. It would therefore be unjust for people the British enslave or who actively collaborated in slaving to receive compensation for slavery.

Other problems with the motion are that it sets a precedent for other peoples to demand reparations for their enslavement. White Europeans would, following this logic, also be justified in demanding reparations for the enslavement of 2 1/2 million Europeans by the Barbary pirates. And Black Africans would also be entitled to ask Muslim and Arab nations for reparations for their enslavement of them.

I also consider the motion to be racially divisive, as it seeks to create a unified Black community, who are represented as equal victims, against Whites, who are considered slavers, thus simplifying a complex historical issue.

I hope you will consider the article suitable, and look forward to your reply.

Yours,

And here’s the article itself.

Slavery Reparations: Not All Blacks Were the Victims, Some Were the Slavers

A few weeks ago Bristol Council passed a motion calling for the payment of reparations to the Black British community for their enslavement. The motion was introduced by Cleo Lake, a former mayor and the Green Councillor for Cotham in the city, and seconded by Asher Craig, the city’s deputy mayor and head of equality. The reparations were to be both financial and cultural. It was moved that they should take the form of proper funding for projects to improve conditions for the Black community and raise them to the same, sustainable level of equality with the rest of British society. These projects were to be led and guided by Black organisations themselves. And the reparations should include all ‘Afrikans’, by which eccentric spelling Councillor Lake meant both Afro-Caribbean people and Black Africans. The motion was passed 47 to 11. It was supported by the Greens, Labour and the Lib Dems. Only the Tories opposed it. They said that while it came from ‘a good place’, the motion was ‘divisive’. In fact, there are a number of reasons why it should be opposed. The most important of these is that Black Africans were hardly innocent of slaving themselves.

Slavery existed in Africa long before the European invasion, and Britain wasn’t the only country that traded in enslaved Africans.  So did the Arabs, Ottoman Turks, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch. The first Black slaves in Europe were enslaved by Arabs and taken to al-Andalus, Muslim Spain. In addition to the transatlantic slave trade, there was also an Islamic slave trade to north Africa and Muslim nations in Asia. Although there were exceptions, Europeans did not directly enslave their African victims. Before the 19th century ‘Scramble for Africa’, powerful African states prevented Europeans from penetrating inland and seizing African territory. The European slave merchants were largely confined to specific quarters, rather like European ghettos, in these state’s main towns, from whom they purchased their human cargo. By the 19th century powerful African slaving nations, such as Dahomey, Whydah and Badagry had emerged in West Africa. In East Africa, the Yao, Marganja and Swahili peoples enslaved the people of other nations to sell to the Arabs. Some were purchased by the Imaum of Muscat, now Oman, for labour on his immensely profitable clove plantations in Zanzibar. It was to prevent Indian merchants from importing enslaved Africans into British India that the British government opened negotiations with the Imaum to halt the east African slave trade.

Part of the rationale for British imperialism was to stamp out the slave trade and slavery at its point of supply, and this was one of the causes of African resistance to British expansionism. The Mahdi’s rebellion in the Sudan, for example, was caused by the British attempting to abolish the Arab enslavement of Black Sudanese. It was to halt slaving by Dahomey that Britain fought a war against its king, Guezo. In some parts of Africa, slavery continued up to the 20th century because these countries had not been conquered by Europeans. The slave trade to Morocco continued to 1910 because the European powers had blocked the European invasion of that country. Slavery also persisted in Ethiopia, whose armies also preyed on the peoples of the surrounding African states, prompting a British punitive expedition in the 1880s.

This obviously presents problems for the payment of reparations to all sections of the Black British community, because some African nations weren’t the victims of White enslavement. They were the slavers. Someone once remarked on this situation that if reparations were to be paid, it should be by Africans compensating the Black peoples of the Caribbean and Americas.

And there are other problems with slavery reparations. If reparations were paid to Blacks for the enslavement of their ancestors, it would set a precedent for similar demands by other ethnicities. For example, up until the conquest of Algeria by France in the 19th century, White Europeans were captured and enslaved by Muslim pirates from Morocco and Algiers. About 2 ½ million people, including those from Bristol and the West Country, were carried off. The demand for reparations for the Black victims of slavery means that, by the same logic, White Europeans would also be justified in demanding reparations for the enslavement of their ancestors from those countries. At the same time, Black Africans would also be entirely justified in claiming reparations from the Muslim nations that enslaved them, such as perhaps Turkey or Saudi Arabia. But there have been no such demands, at least to my knowledge.

I don’t doubt that Black Africans in Bristol or elsewhere in the UK suffer the same problems of marginalisation, poverty, unemployment and discrimination as the rest of the Black population, nor that there should be official programmes to tackle these problems. And it is only fair and proper that they should be guided and informed by the Black community itself. But reparations cannot justly be paid to the Black community as a whole because of the deep involvement of some African peoples in slavery and the slave trade.

Furthermore, there’s a nasty, anti-White dimension to Lake’s motion. By claiming that all Blacks, both West Indian and African, were equally victims of the slave trade, she and her supporters seem to be trying to create a unified Black community by presenting all of them as the victims of White predation, simplifying a complex historical situation along racial lines.

I’ve written to councillors Lake and Craig about these issues, but so far have not received an answer. In Councillor Craig’s case, it may well be that my message to her got lost amongst the 6,000 abusive emails she is reported to have received. It is, of course, disgusting that she should suffer such abuse, and she has my sympathies in this. But this does not alter the fact that reparations for Black slavery raise a number of difficult issues which make it unsuitable as a means of improving conditions for Black Britons.

Well, I haven’t heard anything from any of the newspapers I submitted it to, not even an acknowledgement. It seems the news cycle has moved on and they’re not interested. But this doesn’t mean that the arguments against the motion are any less valid, and I thought people would like to read these arguments again for themselves, as well as about my efforts to raise them in the press.

YouTube Video for My Book on Slavery in the British Empire, ‘The Global Campaign’

February 18, 2019

This is the video I’ve just uploaded on YouTube about my two volume book on slavery, its abolition and the campaign against it in the British Empire, The Global Campaign, which I’ve published with Lulu.

The video explains that it grew out of my work as a volunteer at the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, helping to catalogue the archive of government documents that they had been granted by the Commonwealth Institute. I was busy summarizing these documents for a database on materials on slavery the Museum wanted to compile. Going through them, it became clear that the long process of its abolition in the Caribbean was just part of a wider attempt by the British to suppress it right across our empire, from Canada and the Caribbean across the Cape Colony, now part of South Africa, the Gold Coast, now Ghana, Sierra Leone, founded as a colony for freed slaves, central Africa, and what are now Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda, Egypt, the Sudan and the North African parts of the Turkish Empire, to India, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Java and Malaysia, and into the Pacific, in Fiji, Australia and the Pacific Island nations. Legislation in one section of the Empire, for example, the Caribbean, was also passed elsewhere, such as Cape Colony, Mauritius and the Seychelles. The British were aided in their campaign to stamp out slavery in Egypt, the Sudan and Uganda by the Egyptian ruler, the Khedive Ismail. They also signed treaties banning the slave trade from East Africa with the Imam of Muscat, now Oman, the ruler of Zanzibar and Pemba and the suzerain of some of the east African coastal states. There was also an invasion of Abyssinia, now Ethiopia, in retaliation for their raiding of the neighbouring British territories for slaves.

As well as trying to suppress the enslavement of Africans, the British were also forced to attack other forms of slavery, such as the forced kidnapping and sale of indentured migrant labourers from India and China in the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’, and the similar enslavement of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific for labour on the sugar plantations in Fiji and Queensland.

I also explain how one of the first English-speaking countries to ban slavery was Canada, where enlightened governors and judges twisted the interpretation of Canadian law to show that slavery did not officially exist there.

The video’s about ten minutes long. Unfortunately, I don’t say anything about the role Black resistance to slavery, from simple acts like running away, to full scale rebellions had in ending it, or of colonial governors and legislatures. But the book does mention them.

Here’s the video:

Yay! My Book on Slavery in the British Empire Has Been Published with Lulu

January 30, 2019

On Monday I finally got the proof copies I ordered of my book, The Global Campaign, which I’ve just published with Lulu, the print on demand service. The book’s in two volumes, which have the subtitles on their first pages The British Campaign to Eradicate Slavery in its Colonies. The book’s in two volumes. Volume One has the subtitle The Beginnings to Abolition and the British Caribbean, while Volume Two is subtitled Africa and the Wider World.

My blurb for the book runs

British imperialism created an empire stretching from North America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, much of whose population were slaves. Global Campaign tells how slavery in the British Empire arose, the conditions and resistance to it of the peoples they enslaved, and the steps taken to end it by the abolitionists across the Empire and the metropolitan authorities in London.

The first volume of this book, Volume 1: The Beginnings to Abolition and the British Caribbean describes the emergence of this Empire, and the attempts to end slavery within it up to end of apprenticeship in 1838.

Volume 2: Africa and the Wider World describes how the British tried to end it in their expanding Empire after 1838. It describes how abolition became part of the ideology of British imperialism, and spurred British expansion, annexation and conquest.

The two volumes also discuss the persistence of slavery after abolition into the modern world, and its continuing legacy across continents and cultures.

The contents of vol. 1 are an introduction, then the following:

Chapter 1: the British Slave Empire in 1815
Chapter 2: From Amelioration to Abolition
Chapter 3: Abolition, Apprenticeship and Limited Freedom, 1833-1838.

Vol. 2’s chapter are

1: Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast and Lagos
2: India, Ceylon, Java and Malaya,
3: The Pacific, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji
4: West Africa and the Gold Coast, 1874-1891
5: The Ottoman Empire, Egypt and Sudan
6: East and Central Africa
7: Zanzibar and Pemba
8: Legacies and Conclusion

Both volumes also have an index and bibliography. I also drew the cover art.

Volume 1 is 385 pages A5, ISBN 978-0-244-75207-1, price 12.00 pounds.
Volume 2 386 pages A5, ISBN 978-0-244-45228-5, price 12.00 pounds. Both prices exclusive of VAT.

The books are based on the notes and summaries I made for the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum of some of the official documents they’d acquired from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on slavery. I also supplemented this with a mass of secondary reading on slavery, the slave trade and the British Empire. It’s a fascinating story. I chose to write about slavery in the British Empire as a whole as I found when I was looking through the documents that slavery certainly wasn’t confined to the Caribbean. It was right across the world, though most of the published books concentrate on slavery in the US and the Caribbean. There has been a recent book on slavery and abolition in British India and Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and I remember seeing a book on the British campaign against slavery in the Pacific, published, I believe, from one of the antipodean publishers. I doubt very many people in Britain are aware that it existed in India and Sri Lanka, and that attempts to outlaw it there date from c. 1798, when the British judge of the Bombay (Mumbai) presidency ruled that it was illegal. Similarly, general histories of slavery do mention the infamous ‘coolie trade’ in indentured labourers from India and China. They were imported into the Caribbean and elsewhere around the world in order to supply cheap labour after the abolition of slavery in 1838. However, they were treated so abysmally in conditions often worse than those endured by enslaved Blacks, that it was dubbed by one British politician ‘A new system of slavery’. There’s an excellent book on it, with that as its title, by Hugh Tinker, published by one of the Indian presses.

General books on slavery also discuss the enslavement of indigenous Pacific Islanders, who were kidnapped and forced to work on plantations in Fiji and Queensland in Australia. But again, I doubt if many people in the UK have really heard about it. And there are other episodes in British imperial history and the British attempts to curb and suppress slavery around the world which also isn’t really widely known. For example, abolition provided some much of the ideological impetus for the British conquest of Africa. Sierra Leone was set up in the late 18th century as a colony for freed slaves. But the British were also forced to tackle slavery and slaving in the Gold Coast, after they acquired it in the 19th century. They then moved against and conquered the African kingdoms that refused to give up slaving, such as Ashanti, Dahomey and the chiefdoms around Lagos. It’s a similar story in east Africa, in what is now Tanganyika, Zambia, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Malawi. The British initially wished to conquer the area as part of the general European ‘Scramble for Africa’, and their main rivals in the region where the Portuguese. But the British public were also aware through the missionary work of David Livingstone that the area was part of the Arabic slave trade, and that the indigenous peoples of this region were being raided and enslaved by powerful local African states, such as the Yao and the Swahili as well as Arabs, and exported to work plantations in the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba off the east African coast. At the same time, Indian merchants were also buying and enslaving Africans from that area, particularly Uganda.

The British were also concerned to crush slavery in Egypt after they took control of the country with the French. They encouraged Khedive Ismail, the Egyptian ruler, to attempt to suppress it in Egypt and then the Sudan. It was as part of this anti-slavery campaign that the Khedive employed first Colonel Baker and then General Gordon, who was killed fighting the Mahdi.

At the same time, Stamford Raffles in Singapore and Raja Brooke of Sarawak justified their conquest and acquisition of these states as campaigns to end slavery in those parts of Asia. The British also took over Fiji at the request of the Fijian king, Cakabau. White Americans and Europeans had been entering the country, and Cakabau and his advisors were afraid that unless the country was taken under imperial control, the settlers would enslave the indigenous Fijians. Indeed, Cakabau had been made king of the whole of Fiji by the colonists, though he was acutely aware of how he was being used as a figurehead for effective White control of his people. At the same time, the White planters were also forming a White supremacist group. So he appealed to the British Empire to takeover his country in order to prevent his people’s enslavement.

British imperial slavery started off with the British colonies in the Caribbean and North America. I’ve ignored slavery in the US except for the period when it was part of the British Empire. The Canadians ended slavery nearly two decades before it was formally outlawed throughout the British Empire. It was done through enlightened governors, judges as well as abolitionists outside government. The country’s authorities did so by interpreting the law, often against its spirit, to show that slavery did not legally exist there. There were attempts by slaveowners to repeal the legislation, but this was halfhearted and by the 1820s slavery in Canada had officially died out.

After the British acquired Cape Colony at the southern tip of Africa, the very beginning of the modern state of South Africa, they were also faced with the problem of ending the enslavement of its indigenous population. This included the indigenous Khoisan ‘Bushmen’, who were being forced into slavery when they took employment with White farmers. At the same time, the British were trying to do the same in Mauritius and the Seychelles after they conquered them from the French.

The British initially started with a programme of gradual abolition. There was much debate at the time whether the enslaved peoples could support themselves as independent subjects if slavery was abolished. And so the abolitionists urged parliament to pass a series of legislation slowly improving their conditions. These regulated the foods they were given by the planters, the punishments that could be inflicted on them, as well as giving them medical care and support for the aged and disabled. They also tried to improve their legal status by giving them property rights and the right to be tried in ordinary courts. Special officials were set up, the Guardians and Protectors of Slaves, to examine complaints of cruelty.

This gradualist approach was challenged by the female abolitionists, who grew impatient with the cautious approach of the Anti-Slavery Society’s male leadership. They demanded immediate abolition. I’ve also tried to pay tribute to the struggle by the enslaved people themselves to cast off their shackless. In the Caribbean, this took the form of countless slave revolts and rebellions, like Maroons in Jamaica, who were never defeated by us. At the same time a series of slaves came forward to accuse their masters of cruelty, and to demand their freedom. After the Lord Mansfield ruled that slavery did not exist in English law in the late 18th century, slaves taken to Britain from the Caribbean by their masters presented themselves to the Protectors on their return demanding their freedom. They had been on British soil, and so had become free according to English law. They therefore claimed that they were illegally kept in slavery. As you can imagine, this produced outrage, with planters and slaveowners attacking both the anti-slavery legislation and official attempts to free the slaves as interference with the right of private property.

This legislation was introduced across the Empire. The same legislation that regulated and outlawed slavery in the Caribbean was also adopted in the Cape, Mauritius and the Seychelles. And the legislation introduced to ensure that indentured Indian and Chinese labourers were treated decently was also adopted for Pacific Islanders.

Slavery was eventually abolished in 1833, but a form of servitude persisted in the form of apprenticeship until 1838. This compelled the slaves to work unpaid for their masters for a certain number of hours each week. It was supposed to prepare them for true freedom, but was attacked and abandoned as just another form of slavery.

Unfortunately slavery continued to exist through the British Empire in various forms despite official abolition. The British were reluctant to act against it in India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Java and Perak in what is now Malaysia because they were afraid of antagonizing the indigenous princes and so causing a rebellion. In Egypt they attempted to solve the problem by encouraging the slaveowners as pious Muslims to manumit their slaves freely as an act of piety, as the Prophet Mohammed urges them in the Qu’ran. In the Caribbean, the freedom the former slaves enjoyed was limited. The British were afraid of the plantation economy collapsing, and so passed legislation designed to make it difficult for the freed people to leave their former masters, often tying them to highly exploitative contracts. The result was that Black West Indians continued to fear re-enslavement long after abolition, and there were further riots and rebellions later in the 19th century. In British Africa, the indigenous African peoples became second class citizens, and were increasingly forced out of governmental and administrative roles in favour of Whites. Some colonies also conscripted African labourers into systems of forced labour, so that many came to believe that they had simply swapped one form of slavery for another. The result has been that slavery has continued to persist. And it’s expanded through people trafficking and other forms of servitude and exploitation.

The book took me on off several years to write. It’s a fascinating subject, and you can’t but be impressed with the moral and physical courage of everyone, Black and White, who struggled to end it. I chose to write about it in the British Empire as while there are many books on slavery across the world, there didn’t seem to be any specifically on the British Empire. Studying it also explains why there is so much bitterness about it by some people of West Indian heritage and how it has shaped modern politics. For example, before South Sudan was given its independence, Sudan under the British was effectively divided into two countries. In the southern part of the country, the British attempted to protect the indigenous peoples from enslavement by banning Arabs. They were also opened up to Christian evangelization. In the Arab north, the British attempted to preserve good relations by prohibiting Christian evangelism.

I also attempt to explain how it is that under the transatlantic slave trade, slavery became associated with Blackness. In the ancient world and during the Middle Ages, Whites were also enslaved. But Europeans started turning to Black Africans in the 14th and 15th centuries when it became impossible for them to buy Slavs from eastern Europe. So common had the trade in Slavs been that the modern English word, slave, and related terms in other languages, like the German Sklave, actually derive from Slav.

It’s been fascinating and horrifying writing the book. And what is also horrifying is that it persists today, and that new legislation has had to be passed against it in the 21st century.