The Case for Reparation

Various estimates have been made by Harpers Magazine, of the compensatory amount owed for the millions of hours of forced labour between 1619 and 1865. These hours of slave labour are estimated to be worth some one hundred trillion dollars with a compound interest of 6%.

Many suggestions of ways by which reparations could positively compensate the descendants of slaves are being made. Prominent among these suggestions is the call for debt forgiveness by international money lending institutions such as the Bank for Reconstruction and Development, otherwise known as the World Bank, and the International Monitory Fund. This has particular appeal to Caribbean interests, the reasons for which are quite well known.

What if reparations, in any form, are actually forthcoming? Will reparations of any sort put the Caribbean and its people on a stronger economic footing?

Those responsible for paying reparations will not place it directly into the hands of ordinary individuals. Governments must necessarily be responsible for managing the billions of reparation dollars, and while this is the most reasonable approach to take, experience has shown that we cannot be certain whether such large amounts of funds will be properly managed even by democratically elected governments.

It is not only the managing of the funds by governments that will make reparation the source of tremendous confusion and perhaps even social unrest. The issue will likely give rise to conflict arising from the depth of human nature and human behaviour in itself.

The issue of fairness, pertaining to the distribution of the funds… How will we be certain that every man woman and child of the enslaved ancestors receives his fair share, or at least feel he has. People must not only be compensated for work, but must feel they have been compensated fairly, and this is a rather difficult thing to do. Let us, for instance, say we distribute markers of differing shades of red to the compensated with bright red being used to indication the highest degree of satisfaction, and the very faded red marker to indicate the lowest level of satisfaction with his compensatory amount.

There is no doubt that if the recipients of reparations were asked, after the funds had been distributed, to colour a white sheet of paper indicating the degrees of the sense of satisfaction, there will be different shades of red on the paper. This can lead to social upheaval and conflict.

So far there has been no feasible way to adequately manage reparations. Scholars have pointed to reparations that have taken place as compensation for other forms of human atrocities, nevertheless there has  been nothing quite like the atrocity of slavery, and the efforts to compensate  the descendents of slaves is, in itself, a  daunting task ,especially as there is no observed realistic template for reparation on such a large scale over such an extensive time frame.

The appeal for reparations is not new to Africans since blood feuds were tribal institution among our ancestors, occurring when a breach of tribal laws was recognized and out of which reparations were obtained. There were rules about how blood feuds were perused. The kinsman of a slain Nuer man, for instance, may go after the perpetuator or any of the perpetuator’s close male kin, but had no right to touch neither the perpetrator’s mother’s brother, nor his father or mother’s sister, since they were not members of the offender’s lineage.

Our ancestors, the source of our reparation demands, would not want to be the cause of escalating feuds arising out the feeling among their offspring, that reparations have not been fairly distributed .





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