SOS Grey-Johnson on Slavery
Friday, June 13, 2008
On behalf of His Excellency Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, President of the Republic of The Gambia, the Government and people of The Gambia, I welcome you all to The Gambia, the Smiling Coast of Africa. I hope that during your brief stay among us, you will find time to enjoy the beauty of our country and the friendship and hospitality of our people.
It is indeed an honour for The Gambia to play host to this important, historic meeting on slavery and racism. It is probably the very first time that our continental organization, the African Union, or indeed its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) has convened a gathering of continental and diasporan African experts to deliberate on a subject which has had a severe negative impact on the lives and livelihood of Africans and people of African descent, the world over.
Africans were the victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade which lasted some four hundred years, and to this day, they continue to be the main victims of racism and xenophobia. And there is no gainsaying the fact that slavery and racism have taken their toll on the lives of Africans. Their effects on the African social, economic and political fabric have been debilitating and enduring to this day. It is therefore fitting, albeit long overdue that as a people, we should come together to craft a common position on the subject of slavery and racism and their continued drag on the self-actualization of Africans wherever they may be.
Convening the meeting on Gambian soil is of great significance and symbolism. It was the River Gambia - from which our country derives its name - that was used to penetrate the African continent and to hunt down, enslave and export our people to the Americas and the Caribbean. From the Fourteen Hundreds up to the late Eighteen Hundreds, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Africans were captured, chained, fettered, flogged, branded like cattle, caged like wild animals and kept in holding pens on several stations along the River Gambia.
The enslavement of our people was graphically depicted in ROOTS, the epic story of Alex Haley's Kunta Kinteh, who was captured and taken into slavery in America, from the village of Juffure on the River Gambia. In fact, every other year, we in The Gambia organize an "International Roots Homecoming Festival" to which both people of African descent and non-Africans are invited, to relive that dark period in the history of race relations, so that we learn from it and allow that experience to positively influence our understanding of ourselves and of each other. This year's Festival came to an end just a few days ago.
European nations were the main perpetrators of this crime against humanity. Between them, they were responsible for the capture and enslavement of more than 13 million Africans and the death in transit, or in the process of enslavement, of some 4 million more. The trans-Atlantic slave trade was the largest forced migration in human history and has come to be acknowledged as the most violent abuse of human rights as well as the greatest crime against humanity ever recorded. It disrupted Africa's political and social systems, de-populated large areas of West Africa, arrested our social and economic development and caused the underdevelopment of the continent. To this day, Africa has not recovered from the effects of this criminal trade, which now exists in the form of social and economic inequities, bigotry, hatred, prejudice and structural and racial violence.
Not only did the slave trade cause untold misery, suffering and damage to Africans, it also led to the colonization of the continent and the institutionalization of racism especially in the Americas and in certain parts of the African continent itself. And even after the formal abolition of slavery, the practice of slavery has endured in different forms through the many acts of racism that have affected the lives, and caused the death of millions of Africans on the continent and beyond, as well as through the emerging and growing phenomena of human trafficking, sexual slavery, child prostitution, etc., of which Africans continue to be the main victims.
The racist trans-Atlantic slave trade has been classified in international law as a crime against humanity, and in the same league as the holocaust, apartheid, genocide, ethnic cleansing, etc. It is no secret that the Jews, the Japanese, the Native Australians the Native Americans and every other group against whom such crimes were perpetrated have all received some form of restitution or an apology, or both. Why have Africans and people of African descent remained the only victims of these crimes, that have not as much as received an official word of apology, not to mention reparations, for the death and destruction caused by this crime committed against them?
As Americans observe the bi-centennial of the abolition of slavery in the United States this year, and as the United Nations prepares for a mid-term review of the United Nations Durban conference on racism, let us as a people rise up together and for once make it known to the whole world that we have not forgotten our history, and that we shall never forgive those who have wronged us, for as long as they refuse to ask for that forgiveness and offer to make amends.
It is my sincere hope that in the course of your deliberations you will come up with a set of strong, clear guidelines that will help our leaders to evince an unequivocal, common position on slavery and racism, a position that will hopefully set in motion the process of reconciliation, restitution and healing, over the greatest crime against humanity ever perpetrated in all of human history
As we prepare for the forthcoming review of the implementation of the Durban Declaration in 2009, let us refresh our memories on some of the salient points agreed in that Declaration. The Declaration calls, among other things, for the "provision of effective remedies, recourse, redress and compensatory and other measures at the national, regional and international levels", in order to mitigate the severely negative effects of slavery, the slave trade and racism.
I dare ask, what have we, Africans and people of African descent done so far to begin implementing those provisions of this Declaration? Should we not - as indeed the Declaration requires - now begin doing what ever it may take to ensure that we secure redress for all our people for all the centuries of violence, oppression and abuse that they have suffered as a result of slavery and its after-effects, racism and xenophobia?
I would like to believe that these are some of the questions that have brought you all to Banjul on this day.
I have no doubts that you will consider them with all the seriousness they deserve and without fear, or an iota of apprehension as to the rightness of this cause.
I thank you for your kind attention and now declare the meeting open.