The Banjul International Colloquium: Remembering the Past, Sharing the Future




    At some point in history, slavery and colonialism has plagued virtually every part of the world beginning from the mid 17th Century. From ancient Greece to the modern Americas, Europe and elsewhere in the World, many African governments and even some perpetrating nations have condemned the total inhuman damages and injustice meted on their ancestors in the mercy of slavery, slave trade and colonialism.

    Perpetrators of this nefarious deed arrived on African sources and began to control the minds of certain leaders of this rich but yet poor continent and robbed them of their energetic and productive young men and women and separated them forever with their families and loved ones. They were forcefully taken thousands of kilometers away from their homes to work in sugarcane farms and other economic resource enterprises as slaves without any reciprocal benefit.

    This cruel and odious atrocities meted on Africa’s past generations have affected the entire continent when slave masters brutally and indiscriminately transported her ancestors through the Atlantic Ocean. Sometimes it baffles to believe if the mind-devastating atrocities have really happened when they are narrated.

    The Gambia became the first African nation to courageously stand single among other nations in condemning the atrocities of slavery and colonialism and give them a new meaning for international recognition, restitution and reparation and even classifying them as crimes against humanity.

    As Gambia celebrates the 22nd year of the 1994 July 22nd Revolution that led the country to her Second Republic, the first international convergence, celebrated as the Banjul International Colloquium is been organised by the government of President Jammeh to discuss the indelible scars that slavery and colonialism marked in the minds of Africans and people of African descendants.

    Slavery and slave trade began in the early seventeenth century. However, the point for the United States slavery was set as early as the fourteenth century, when the rich nations of Spain and Portugal began to capture Africans for enslavement in Europe. When Spain, Portugal, and other European countries conquered and laid claim to the New World of the Caribbean and West Indies in the late sixteenth century, they brought along the practice of slavery. Eventually, slavery expanded to the north, to colonial America.

    Some statistics estimate that between the 17th and 19th centuries, one in every six people taken as slaves from West Africa were from the Senegambia region. Other figures say that at the height of the trade in the 17th century, some 5,000 to 6,000 slaves were transported from The Gambia each year on the ‘Voyage of No Return’. This period is known as the Triangular or Transatlantic Slave Trade (Middle Passage).

    Tabling a resolution before the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly this September to demand for reparation for the injuries caused on African ancestors during slave trade and colonialism eras would make The Gambia the first African nation to initiate one of the world’s must strongest demands of this time.

    The Resolution condemns the act of slavery, slave trade and colonialism and demand for the recognition of the atrocities perpetrated on Africans during the dark period. It also demands for official apology for the roles colonial masters played in the heinous acts.

    Gambia first sensitised the African group at the UN General Assembly on the resolution before moving it to the African Union to secure its decision and backing last October. Africans sticking together to back the resolution might not necessarily generate monetary dividend for the victimised nations but would sanction the nations whose forefathers perpetrated the inhuman acts to recognise and accept that their ancestors had woefully wronged them.

    In fact the resolution has now transcended from a single Gambian idea to an entire African initiative. Now the standing question that is searching for answers at this time is that will the United Nations General Assembly -largely dominated by perpetrating nations- give a focus to the Resolution.

    The first African slaves who arrived in America were brought to Jamestown by a Dutch ship in 1619. These 20 Africans were indentured servants, which meant that they were to work for a certain period of time in exchange for transportation and room and board. They were assigned land after their service and were considered free Negroes. Nonetheless, their settlement was involuntary.

    Gambia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Neneh Macdouall-Gaye said at the Colloquium that it is the first time since the end of slave trade and colonialism that an African Head of State -President Jammeh- has assumed the mantle of responsibility to obtain justice for the crimes committed against “our” peoples and countries.

    Dr Leonard Jeffries, an African-American professor of Black Studies at the City University of New York and a member of the World African Diaspora Union (WADU) said, knowledge is power and African knowledge is African empowerment. He said the Banjul International Colloquium is the beginning of a larger process for the recreation of Africa’s newest development.

    The conference hall of the Coral Beach Hotel and Spa was fully crowded with students, researchers on slavery and colonialism and historians declaring that all hope is not lost but demands most be made for reparation on the atrocities and inhuman acts mated on their ancestors.

    The debilitating pattern of violence of the highest immoral deprivation against African ancestors is still visible at historical sites in many countries affected by slave trade. In The Gambia, the marks could be found in Janjangbureh (formerly Georgetown), where a house entirely build from heavy boulder rocks now called the Slave House and in Juffureh still stand strong.

    At the slave assemble house in Janjangbureh, slaves are roughly packed; if not stored, in an underground, dark and horrifically unfit for human dwelling house. In that underground house, they are hardly provided with drinking water talk less of birth to keep them health and clean.

    History narrates that many of them would take advantage of the high tides when little and unhygienic water would flow from the river through the tiny underground windows to quench their taste.

    During a 1996 excursion in Janjangbureh, a curator at the slave house said violent slaves would be first sent to the underground house as punishment to calm them before being exhibited at the assemble house for sale.

    It is said that in total, 11.32 million people are thought to have been transported alive to the Americas of which 55% of African Americans are thought to have come from West Africa while 41% of them are believed to have come from Central West Africa or South West Africa. Two thirds of those traded were female, 10% died during capture or on their voyage. The greatest African community in the Diaspora is believed to be in Brazil with a population of about 200 million, followed by the Caribbean and the U.S.A.

    The starting point for the trade in human cargo was in 1441 when the Portuguese explorer, Antonio Gonsalves, kidnapped 10 West African natives and shipped them back to Lisbon. In Gambia the first colonial power to engage in slavery were the Portuguese. The first British involvement in West Africa was in 1562 when Sir John Hawkins seized about 300 locals from Sierra Leone and sold them in the Caribbean (Spanish West Indies.)

    by Amadou Jallow