Let’s bring the Caribbean struggle for reparations to Britain

by MOHAMMED ELNAIEM

On July 6, CARICOM renewed its call for reparations, emphasising the importance of reparations for the second stage of independence in the Caribbean PHOTO/CARICOM/Youtube

Britain has heard the call for reparations and ignored it for decades.

When the case for reparations is made, we are told to “move on” as then-British Prime Minister David Cameron put it to Jamaican politicians four years ago. When statues of imperialists and slaveowners come down, we are told that we are “trying to bowdlerise or edit our history” as Boris Johnson has recently said.

In other words, the conservatives insist we “move on” when the conversation of colonialism or slavery comes up, and when the statues that memorialise them come down, we are condemned for trying to “move on” from history. They cannot seem to make up their mind, but that should not be an obstacle to self-determination in its former (and some current) colonies. And that is what the case for reparations is about: self-determination.

On July 6, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) – an organisation of 15 countries in the Caribbean – renewed its calls for reparations, emphasising their importance for the second stage of independence in the Caribbean.

“We were not given a development compact,” Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados argued, “we were given political independence.” According to her, the Caribbean has made great strides to reverse legal inequalities. But only reparations could help overcome the psychological, sociological, and economical inequalities that exist within Caribbean countries and between them and their former colonisers. 

Here in Europe, progressives should understand that this is a call to action. 

In his reflections on his friendship with Pan-Africanist George Padmore, the late Trinidadian scholar CLR James recalled that roughly 10 of his friends, mostly West Indian, were the ones that were agitating for the independence of Africa. They reared, trained and prepared young Africans to take the reign of government. They were all based in London, including several people who would become the first heads of states in their own independent countries.

“Most of the people,” he recalled, “looked upon us as well-meaning but politically illiterate West Indians.” The conversation for independence had not yet become mainstream, and some even said it would not happen for another 100 or so years. That was in 1935, only 20 years before the process would begin.

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