EDITORIAL: Let the reparations begin

In a surprising bit of news, we learned that the the University of the West Indies (UWI) will receive £200 million in cash and kind from the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom in what has been described as reparation payments.  That is almost EC $695 million!!! This must be great news to the reparation movement, whether they believe that it is sufficient or not, as it signifies a seismic shift in the whole discussion regarding responsibility and reparations.

The payment was disclosed by Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice Chancellor of UWI, during a recent interview on the Jamaica News Network(JNN) programme – Insight. Beckles reported that “the University of Glasgow recognised that Jamaican slave owners had adopted the University of Glasgow as their university of choice and that £200 million of value was extracted from Jamaica and the Caribbean.” That is quite the welcomed admission. Not just welcomed but having it come from an institution such as the University of Glasgow sends a powerful message to the world that attempts must be made to make amends for the atrocious wrongs committed towards our African ancestors. 

The promised payment comes after a report that was recently published by Glasgow University, and based on more than two years of research. The report, which is available on the university’s website (https://www.gla.ac.uk) and hosted on our website, antiguaobserver.com, reveals that the institution directly benefitted from the slave trade during the 18th and 19th centuries. The £200 million is the university’s estimate of the benefits that it received in today’s dollars. 

The report’s origin began in July 2016 when the Senior Management Group of the University approved and issued a statement which, in part, proclaimed, “The University of Glasgow acknowledges that during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it received some gifts and bequests from persons who may have benefitted from the proceeds of slavery. Income from such gifts and bequests has been used in supporting academic activity undertaken by the students and staff of the University.” It ended by noting, “The Senior Management Group (SMG) of the University of Glasgow has instructed that research be undertaken and a report prepared on the University’s connections with those persons who may have benefitted from the proceeds of slavery. When it receives this report, the SMG will consider the most appropriate way of acknowledging those connections.”

It is easy to say “yippee!” and put our hands out to receive the cash and kind offered as reparations but the significance of this acknowledgement and the quantum of the promised payment must not be overlooked. We must put this into perspective. If a single university can acknowledge that it benefitted to the tune of £200 million, what is the total monetary value of possible reparations due to the region?

We are not here to argue the points regarding reparations but simply to point out that the value stolen from the region is immense. And while the university quantifies its reparations based on the benefits received, the toll has been much greater. Those benefits are the distilled cream that resulted from slave trade. The effects of the damage and destruction caused by the slave trade linger to this day and it is impossible to measure and it is impossible to attach a dollar figure.

None of what we say is meant to promote any lazy type of hand-out mentality but simply to emphasise that much of the economic and social challenges that we face today can be easily linked to the fallout of the slave trade. We must take responsibility for our direction and live up to the mismanagement of our nations, however, at the same time, so must those who benefitted from slavery.     

      The report and the decision by the University of Glasgow to pay reparations are just the beginning and these will raise some ugly and uncomfortable questions that we hope will enlighten the globe as to the contributions that the African slave trade made to the development of the First World. Today we are seen as third world nations or developing island states but conveniently forgotten is the fact that these poor nations and the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors are the foundation of some of the most powerful institutions and countries.  

Although the University of Glasgow benefitted tremendously from the slave trade, we must acknowledge that they also lobbied for its end and they are the first to make a tangible admission of their complacency and an attempt to atone for the wrongs that have been perpetrated by the inhumane trans-Atlantic slave trade. Maybe the rest that benefitted from the stolen labour of Africans ripped from their homeland will take note and take appropriate action.

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