Frank Phipps | We don’t beg at lord’s table
The statement by Lord Tariq Ahmad in The Gleaner of November 13, 2017 calls for a response when it is, as usual, telling us what is better for us rather than to peer back into history. Such a pity he was here only on a whistle stop and his opinion was published after he left, not permitting a robust and open debate on conflicting views. Or indeed, as was his mandate on this visit, to focus on a way forward "to help chart an even richer association between Britain and Jamaica" and "planning a better future to build bridges of mutual understanding between Britain and one of her former colonies." He could have done this at home and saved the plane fare for a whistle stop.
I note that Lord Ahmad was here as a political representative of the British government and should carry back a message informing those who sent him that the overwhelming majority of Jamaica's population today are by ethnic origin the descendants of the people from Africa who were enslave by the British, and remind them of the aphorism: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Before going further, I must declare that I am a member of the Nation Council on Reparation (Jamaica) and the views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Council.
The United Kingdom, through its political representatives, has consistently refused to accept that the enslavement of human beings for commercial gain is not only a crime against humanity, it is the insanity of a nation.
Peering back into history, it is of great importance to see that before Britain was involved in the slave trade, Queen Elizabeth I had condemned the practice.
The Queen was greatly concerned about these events:
She [Elizabeth I] seems to have been aware of the evils to which its continuance might lead, or that, if it were sanctioned, the most unjustifiable means might be made use of to procure the persons of the natives of Africa.
Summoning Captain John Hawkins, to brief her regarding his voyage to Africa, the Queen expressed her concern lest any of the Africans should be carried off without their free consent, declaring that "it would be detestable, and call down the vengeance of heaven upon the undertakers".
It is also of importance for Lord Ahmad to explain how come the Church of England, by a unanimous vote at synod, apologised for slavery but the present politicians will not.
It is not without importance that the act of the Parliament abolishing slavery first ordered millions of pounds to be paid to the planters in the Caribbean for loss of property by freeing their slaves. The people from Africa who had worked for generations like any other piece of industrial machinery had lost their humanity, were held with no right to the protection of law for the fundamental human rights of the individual, and were cast out and abandoned without compensation - to wander penniless and without property.
Has the noble Lord Ahmad seen the instruments of torture used as restraint for obedience and punishment of the people from Africa who had done them nothing? That is one small glimpse at the historical facts that only Mephistopheles would claim as "strong ties", which the noble lord would not have us peer into.
Here is the justification for the self-deluding insanity: "A great majority of those whose feelings have been agitated by eloquent orations concerning 'the odious state of slavery' have yet to learn that the trade which originally supplied African slaves for our West Indian settlements was previously coveted and adopted by Great Britain, simply as an advantageous branch of commerce. Subsequently, when it had been rendered instrumental in the cultivation of our colonies, an act of Parliament (23 Geo. 11 Cap.31) was passed with the preamble: 'Whereas the trade to and from Africa is very advantageous to Great Britain, and necessary for the supplying the plantations, and colonies thereunto belonging, with a sufficient number of Negroes, at reasonable rates.'"
PROSPERITY VS TRAGEDY
This is a period celebrated by some as the time of Britain's greatest prosperity, a period bemoaned by many as the time of mankind's greatest tragedy.
Accepting that Britain over the years has provided good and needed assistance to Jamaica, including a judicial and legal system, also a good but limited system for education, an international language, some economic aid and probably much more, there still has been no restorative justice to complete the full process for restoration of sanity for all who were affected by slavery. The present perpetual compliance with a policy of patronage will not liberate minds steeped in slavery, whether as oppressor or victim. Jamaicans should not be seen as mendicants gratefully accepting what falls from the master's table.
The sacrifice of our forefathers for the freedom, honour and dignity of the individual must not have been in vain. These can only be restored by a system that compels both victim and offender to mediate a restitution agreement that is in their own best interest.
- Frank Phipps (QC) is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to email@example.com.