A Call For Reparations For The Brutality of British Colonialism

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A British concentration camp in Kenya

Africans Rising is calling for Queen Elizabeth II of England to make amends for the atrocities which the British Empire committed in Africa, which Britain and the British royal family continue to benefit from to this day. The petition can be viewed and signed below:

Like all of the other European colonial powers, Britain enriched itself through the looting and pillaging of Africa. Britain was one of the several European nations which benefitted from the slave trade, in which millions of Africans were stolen from their homelands and transported to British colonies in the Americas where they were enslaved and forced to work without pay, while enduring the brutalities of life on the slave plantations.

Britain finally abolished slavery, although not without continued resistance from the enslaved population. In One Caribbean and Other Essays, I pointed out that the uprising led by Sam Sharpe in Jamaica forced Britain to abolish slavery sooner than Britain had originally intended. Once slavery was over, Britain continued to oppress Africans in the Caribbean through the system of colonialism.

While Africans in the diaspora were enduring the harshness of British colonialism, Britain moved to colonize Africa. The colonial conquest in Africa was a very brutal one. Colonialism in Kenya offers an example of this. Several years ago Mau Mau veterans in Kenya won the right to sue the British government over the tortures which they endured. This included being beaten, raped, and castrated by British officials. All of these abuses were covered up by the colonial adminstration. Richard Meinertzhagen, who served as a colonial soldier in Kenya, documented in his diary an attack on a village in Kenya in which the British soldiers were ordered to kill every single adult in the village. The orders were carried out. Every man and woman was killed without mercy — children were ordered to be spared, though Meinertzhagen writes that no children were found in the village at the time of the attack. In his diary, Meinertzhagen describes being ordered to massacre an entire village and burn it to the ground as being “a most unpleasant duty”, but he still carried out this duty.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/oct/05/maumau-court-colonial-compensation-torture

In Southern African, thousands of Africans were massacred by British and the territory which was seized by the British colonizers was renamed Rhodesia in honor of Cecil Rhodes. Similar massacres were also carried out by the British in Nigeria. The Benin Massacre of 1897 was especially noteworthy because the British burned and looted the city, taking many of Benin’s cultural artifacts back to Britain for display. Space won’t permit me to truly detail the brutalities which the British inflicted on African people during colonialism, so I offer just some examples. I wrote a book titled The Devastation and Economics of the African Holocaust, which addresses the horrors of colonialism in much more detail.

This colonial brutality was often justified by depicting African people as savages who needed to be brought under control through violent force. To further justify this brutality, the Europeans told exaggerated or outright false stories of African savagery and brutality. The city of Benin, for example, was called the “City of Skulls” or the “City of Blood.” Prempeh, the Asante ruler who was exiled by the British, was described by one European as having killed and eaten more human beings “than almost any man that ever lived.” There’s no evidence of Prempeh eating a single person. Ironically, Africans viewed Europeans as cannibals because the many captured Africans who were brought to the Europeans were never seen again. Many Africans assumed that the Europeans ate the captives. They had no idea about the hell which captives were enduring on the slave plantations in the Americas.

There was also the so-called “Hut Tax War” of 1898 in which Bai Bureh fought against the British in Sierra Leone. The British claimed that Bai Bureh launched a rebellion against taxes, but Bai Bureh’s own account of what happened states that the British were the ones who instigated the war against him and that no one asked him to pay any taxes. Bai Bureh heard that some of his people had been killed by British officials and that the same British officials were coming to kill him, so Bai Bureh fought back in self-defense, but the British made it appear as though he was the aggressor in the situation. This an example of the lengths which Britain went to in order to justify its colonial conquests.

When Africans began demanding for an end to colonial exploitation, Britain often responded by imprisoning those anti-colonial leaders. In Sudan, for example, Mahmoud Mohammed Taha was arrested and imprisoned for advocating independence from British colonial rule. In the Gold Coast, Kwame Nkrumah was imprisoned for the same reason. Dedan Kimathi, who was one of the leaders of the Mau Mau rebellion which was fighting for Kenya’s freedom from British rule, was captured and executed.

Africans Rising is calling for the British monarchy to not only acknowledge the crimes of the past — which Britain has often tried to cover up or downplay — but to also give Africans reparations for the injustices suffered under British rule, which has a lingering impact on Africa today. As Walter Rodney pointed out in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Europe enriched itself from Africa’s suffering. Today, Europe still enjoys the spoils of slavery and colonialism, whereas African people around the world are still in a state of underdevelopment.

Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.

Dwayne Wong (Omowale) is a Guyanese born Pan-Africanist, author, and law student.

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