Last Saturday morning I watched and listened to a video recording of Britain’s High Commissioner to Jamaica, Asif Ahmad, laying out, as best he could, Her Majesty’s Government’s official positions on issues relating to slavery, reparations, the global reverberations from the Black Lives Matter protests, actions against offensive statues, renaming of institutions and places named after promoters and defenders of slavery and racism during colonialism and the myriad of issues put to him during the discussion on ‘Challenging the symbols of oppression’.
The discussion was spurred by the Jamaica government’s decision to ‘suspend’ use of a medal awarded by Her Majesty to loyal British subjects for splendid services rendered to the Crown, because it was belatedly discovered, in the wake of the George Floyd death, that this particular medal bears a symbol of a white angel standing over a black devil.
High Commissioner Ahmad is partly of Pakistani origin, which helped color his dissertations in the eyes of many watching in Jamaica and listening to a blue-blooded brown-skinned Englishman explaining Her Majesty’s Government’s positions on CARICOM nations’ joint call for Reparations from Britain and the European Union (EU) member-states involved for centuries of Slavery and Native Genocide in the Caribbean.
As I watched, my mind drifted to those times often recorded in history when the house slaves could always be depended upon to best explain to fellow slaves why ‘Massa is good’ and ‘Slavery is better’.
I’d heard declarations of Britain’s positions on slavery and reparations before, but never like this from a representative of the brown and black British minority, the descendants, heirs and successors of Indian and African immigrants to Britain.
He spoke in Jamaica, where Britain left 60 percent of its loyal colonial island subjects illiterate at independence, where African descendants are in the vast majority and the government and opposition are both in support of pursuing reparations.
I’d heard worse from the mouths of those whose minds and hands actually drove and drive the policies that High Commissioner Ahmad so dutifully espoused.
When British PM David Cameron visited Jamaica in 2015 to ask CARICOM leaders to ‘forget the past and let’s move on’ with 350 million devalued pounds worth of peanuts on the table to be shared between 14 countries as adequate compensation for over 400 years of slavery and native genocide, he knew — more than anyone else — that his slave-owning ancestral family not only owned over 500 slaves in Jamaica, but had also benefitted immensely from the 20 million pounds (worth over 300 billion pounds sterling today) that they were compensated over time for loss of their slaves and property. He knew too that the British government had only finished paying that hefty amount in 2015, the same year he visited Kingston and requested that it use part of its share of the peanuts to build prisons to house Jamaican immigrants his Conservative Party was most likely, with the benefit of hindsight, already planning to ‘send back home’ through mass deportation of the Windrush generation.
When PM Theresa May replaced David Cameron with a promise to deliver on the Brexit that her party had opposed in the national referendum and lost by a razor-thin but large dividing margin, her very first announcement was that she would assign 30 million pounds to the fight against ‘Modern Slavery’. Mrs May showed no interest in Britain’s role in and responsibility for the atrocities associated with the original Atlantic Slave Trade, acknowledged as the Greatest Crime Against Humanity, during which at least 30 million Africans were shipped through the infamous Middle Passage to Europe’s West Indian (Caribbean) colonies. But it didn’t take long to see that her declaration was no more than just that. Modern slavery lived on happily in the UK while Prime Minister May held on firmly to the British position that it would not apologize or atone, in any way, for its role as an architect of and benefactor from the criminal transatlantic slave trade, as both the original and final ports of call in the so-called Great Triangle.
Just as Mrs May ousted Cameron over Brexit, she too was outfoxed by Boris Johnson, whose position on slavery and colonialism was spelt out decades ago when he covered the European Union as a journalist and held that Britain should never have left Africa. His response in office today to the Black Lives Matter protests across the UK and targeting of statues of racist and colonial figures has reinforced that the current British PM, like his two predecessors, also maintains that Britain should simply not apologize for slavery, lest it legally bind itself to paying for its past sins of commission and omission.
All three PMs — Cameron, May and Johnson — were in office after the CARICOM nations in July 2013 established the Commission (CRC) and immediately requested dialogue with Britain and the EU regarding reparations for slavery and native genocide. Seven years later, London and Brussels have simply refused to even formally reply, far less agree, to the joint request of the leaders of 14 former mainly British, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and Scandinavian colonies that are now sovereign states and members of the United Nations (UN) and the British Commonwealth.
The faithful deliverer of Downing Street’s message in Jamaica was no different from that consistently sent out by Britain since 2013 in response to issues like slavery and reparations and in defense of symbols of the Empire.
It’s all in keeping with Britain’s strategy over time to maintain its position as a leading European nation with the wealth it gained from slavery and the industrial revolution that followed its involvement in the capture and export of over 12 million African slaves, over three million of whom were shipped on British vessels, insured by the likes of Lloyds of London, Barclays Bank, HSBC and others still very much alive today.
The abolition of slavery did not in any way affect Britain’s plans for expansion beyond the royal realm. In the 19th Century, Queen Victoria expanded Britain’s influence across Europe by marrying her nine children into other European royal families in Germany, Russia, Spain and other parts of the continent, some eventually ending-up fighting on opposing sides after she died, during the First World War.
Several decades later when Britain’s African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) colonies started gaining independence, London created the British Commonwealth, with Queen Elizabeth II as the eternal head, to keep the new sovereign states within the Royal realm.
The nations seeking reparations for slavery and native genocide are only asking for Britain to act in like manner as when it paid slave owners for the losses after abolition; and which France happily extorted from Haiti by way of reparations for loss of French planters’ properties and slaves as a result of the 1804 Revolution, which debt Haiti only finished paying in 1947.