Thursday, February 14, 2008

Is Europe growing a conscience?


APOLOGIES FOR SLAVERY

There are some very interesting happenings in the relationship between Europe and Africa. I am not a political scientist so I won't even pretend to have a complete grasp on what is happening in this perpetually tragic interaction. In recent years we are seeing some key European voices show empathy and at times apologise for the crimes committed against Africa and its people by their nations.

Following below afew excepts of some noted "apologies".

The big question is, now that these people are acknowledging the wrongs, what next?

"It is right that this anniversary is being marked today here in Ghana's Elmina Castle, the scene of such inhuman abuse, and in cities across the UK - in Liverpool, Hull, Bristol and London which played their part in this deplorable trade.

"It is an opportunity for the United Kingdom to express our deep sorrow and regret for our nation's role in the slave trade and for the unbearable suffering, individually and collectively, it caused."
He also paid tribute to the "courage and conviction" of those who campaigned to end the "vile trade" including former slave Olaudah Equiano, church leader Thomas Clarkson and MP William Wilberforce.


Tony Blair, Former British PM


“FOR me the humaneness of our world is linked with Africa’s fate. Isn’t it a question of Europe’s self-respect, in the light of our own foundations, values and history to show honest and generous involvement in Africa?”

The man who uttered these lofty words is German President Horst Kohler.

The German President just visited a region in Northern Uganda and South Sudan that has been devasted by war for over 20 years. And these were his words on his visit.
“The purpose is always to give hope to the people. Germany got help in order to recover from the Second World War and that is why Germany is also committed to help others who are recovering from war.

To round off the these quotes is an article on a dramatic apology from a descendent of the first slave trader.

Four centuries ago, his forefather achieved notoriety as England's first slave trader.
Thousands of kidnapped men, women and children were sold like cattle - if they survived being packed onto ships so tightly that they could not lie down.



Now Andrew Hawkins has made a dramatic gesture to atone for his ancestor's actions - kneeling in chains in front of thousands of Africans to apologise on behalf of his family.
The 37-year-old youth theatre worker is a descendant of Sir John Hawkins, an Elizabethan sea captain who began centuries of British involvement in the slave trade.



He travelled from his home in Cornwall to The Gambia in West Africa to try to make amends in front of the country's vice-president, Isatou Njie Saidy, and 25,000 of her compatriots.
The father-of-two joined a group of Europeans who took part in a procession while bound in chains before kneeling and offering their apology.


"I apologised on behalf of my family," he said yesterday. "I apologised for the adults and children taken.

"Then there was a long pause and we really didn't know what to expect - it was very nerve-wracking.
"They could have said 'We don't accept your apology, go away', and we were ready for that - it would have been understandable.
"But the vice-president came forward and accepted the apology very graciously. She offered her forgiveness and then came forward and took the chains off. That was entirely impromptu and very moving."
The trip earlier this month was the latest in a series of similar gestures organised by a group called The Lifeline Expedition aimed at achieving reconciliation between Europeans and Africans.
"I recognise that it's a small, simple act to say sorry - but it was a handful of people who started the slave trade and the ripples of their actions caused evil throughout the continent of Africa," said Mr Hawkins, who lives in Liskeard.
'One of the most memorable things I've ever done'
"I wouldn't have missed it for the world. It was one of the most memorable things I've ever done.


"It was a learning experience. You see just how deep the wounds left by the slave trade are.
"As someone with family links to the slave traders, it was a very difficult thing to see the consequences of their actions.


"Hopefully a handful of people can now be the beginning of something good."
While there they also visited the village of Juffureh where Kunta Kinte, the central character in Alex Haley's novel Roots, is said to have been born.


"We went there to ask forgiveness from the village elders," said Mr Hawkins.
"At first they were reluctant to give it, but as we shared our experience of the tour and how it had affected us, they accepted our apology.
"I think they wanted to see an emotional connection from us, and to see that we had gone there in humility."


Expedition leader David Potts said: "We do not think there has been a really sincere apology from Europeans to Africa and we want to do our part in trying to redress that.

"The trip to Gambia was an amazing experience, and one of the highlights of the expedition. Andrew made a huge contribution and it was great to have him there."

Next year the group is planning to do a walk between London, Liverpool, Bristol and Plymouth to mark the 200th anniversary of Britain's abolition of the slave trade.

Tony Blair has refused to say sorry for slavery in the past, largely because it could trigger demands for payouts from African countries, but pressure is expected to mount as the anniversary approaches.

Mr Hawkins said: "I don't think we learn enough about our participation in the slave trade in this country and the consequences that has had in Africa.
"We need to face up to that, and next year might be a good time to do that."

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It would be interesting to see this kind of gesture in America.

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