As a child growing up in Jamaica, Africa was always depicted as being mired in poverty, famine and desolation. Images of malnourished, pot-bellied children in Ethiopia and the war torn zones of DR Congo filled our television screens. Such images drove fear and sadness into my heart.
I can also recall my grandparents telling stories of how it was when they were growing up and repeating the stories their parents and grandparents told them, of how people were captured in Africa and brought over to the Caribbean on huge ships.
The effect the triangular slave trade has had on Africa and the Caribbean has been immense. Africa itself suffered a huge loss of human capital. – more than 10 million slaves trafficked over 400 years who were forced to start a new life in a new world. They lost not only their language and culture, but also the comfort and safety of family, not to mention their individuality and dignity as human beings. Nevertheless, they endeavoured to maintain as best as possible their identity and culture.
Slavery’s primary purpose was to grow sugarcane and tobacco on the islands and cotton, wheat, rice and corn in America, creating the wealth that financed England’s industrial revolution.
When you look at the huge economic developments within the EU and North America due to slavery, one wonders how different it would be if the descendants of slaves were given their just dues. When slavery was abolished slave owners were compensated for the loss of ‘property’ but there was no such recompense given to the slaves. In fact, they had to work a few more years to finance the compensation package and buy their freedom from the colonial masters, leaving them penniless and homeless. Can you imagine what that money would have done for such countries?
The discussion over reparations for the Caribbean is urgent and was brought to the fore at the UN in September last year. Caricom countries are demanding reparations for the victims of slavery and their descendants. Hillary Beckles, president Caricom Reparations Commission in Jamaica, has estimated that at least £76bn ($54bn) in reparations is owed to Caribbean nations from colonial masters such as Britain, France and Spain. If the Caribbean were to receive such an amount it would make a huge difference to their social and economic development.
According to the deputy prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, a substantial part of the backdrop of continuing socio-economic challenges faced by the Caribbean states and the legacy of underdevelopment is a consequence of African slavery and the genocide of the native Amerindians.
The Caribbean today has made huge strides in economic development and is continuing to make a global impact especially in tourism. Jamaica’s minister for tourism, Edmund Bartlett, has just been named worldwide tourism minister of the year by the Pacific Area Travel Writers Association, while Jamaica itself received the award as the best destination for adventure tourism.
Despite its history, the Caribbean continues to exceed global expectations. When you combine this dynamism with the huge wealth of natural resources that Africa possesses, it makes sense that we look to forging stronger ties. This can be done by signing bilateral agreements and opening trade routes linking Africa to the Caribbean. For countries like Jamaica that are heavily dependent on tourism, moving away from saturated western markets and targeting new markets within Africa would be beneficial. Africa has a growing middle class with strong spending power.
Also, the benefits of strengthening relations would be beneficial culturally. A combination of the human capital and the exchange of knowledge and expertise in technology, sports, music, leisure, finance and energy can benefit both regions immensely. Rather than wait on our old colonial masters to acknowledge and compensate us for the atrocities committed against us we should work together to build our nations and become self-sufficient.
I have had the opportunity to travel to Nigeria and South Africa and was amazed by the beauty I saw. Parts of Johannesburg and Cape Town took me straight back to Kingston. What makes these places even more beautiful is the warmth and hospitality of the locals.
The Africa of today is a far cry from what I envisaged as a child growing up. As Caribbeans we have so much in common with Africans. Let us take control and chart our own destiny to build a better future for our children.