Imani Tafari-Ama | P.J. Patterson’s crossing of reparations rubric
Rastafari chose Jamaica’s Independence Day to review the unfinished business of reparations. As in previous years, the country echoed sentiments that criticised the government, United Nations and European leaders for their inattention to pressing human rights concerns, including reparations, repatriation, equal rights and justice.
Emancipation and Independence are trigger issues for the Pan-African community in Jamaica. The official merging of the two concepts into the misnomer of Emancipendence is even more grating on the self-determination nerves. Those who rubbish these concepts suggest that Emancipation was denied by the Apprenticeship debacle, Independence was a scam by the British who have maintained political control to this day, and that these combined Troy horses should be dismantled by a more self-respecting populace.
It is remarkable that successive elected leaders on ‘the Rock’ have studiously avoided confronting Europe about the unfinished business of transitional justice. How did Mia Mottley move so effortlessly from having her country chided for being Little Britain to her role as new champion of the politics of decolonised identity on the global stage? Mottley did not waste time on constitutional reform. She showed that, with political will, you can cut to the chase of transformation with apparent ease.
While leaders like the Barbadian prime minister have figured out how to produce governance of the people for the people, local power brokers have been too busy carrying water for neo-colonials and their own self-interest to configure what the needs of the proposed republic should look like. Perhaps it is because former Prime Minister Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) was first and foremost a historian that he could have made such a potent analysis of the umbilical relationship between capitalism and enslavement.
Maybe the foundation that Eric Williams set for defining republic politics in his twin-island home-state was informed by the political economy of oil resources. Make no mistake, the Republic of T&T has tried and proven that they get it when it comes to Black Power. Their Emancipation Day hosting of the Asantehene of Ghana, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II made this point in no uncertain terms.
It seems, though, that the spirit of wheel and come again recently blew its way to the P.J. Patterson Institute for Africa-Caribbean Public Advocacy. Its head, former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, seems to have caught the full force of that wind of change. He shared radical views with the audience attending the 10th anniversary Conference of the Pan-African Enterprise Research Council (PAERC). Most stunning was his moment of epiphany about reparations.
Keynote speaker at the PAERC conference, Patterson explained that, when he was engaged in Lomé negotiations in the 1970s, “Europe was not ready for any conversation on reparations”. As he elaborated, “ ... that urgent conversation can no longer be delayed. Time is now of the essence.”
It is remarkable that P.J. must be the first prime minister to let the reparations word drop out of his mouth. I didn’t even know he agreed that reparations was a political project to pursue. The August 6 Rastafari forum certainly did not consider him among reparations’ champions. In fact, participants at the gathering expressed frustration that the discourse of reparations has been hijacked and diluted by the government and the University of the West Indies, without adequate Rastafari representation.
The former prime minister admitted that the State and the university have been myopic in their approach to self-identity politics, but that it is never too late for a shower of rain.
“It is a bit humbling to admit that we are still in an incipient stage on the programme enunciated by Garvey 100 years ago,” Patterson conceded, “but better late than never.” He elaborated that “it is that admission which led The University of the West Indies to establish the P.J. Patterson Institute for Africa-Caribbean Advocacy”.
Taking Patterson’s Road to Damascus conversion at face value, it would be even more remarkable if, as a legacy initiative, the Patterson Institute could formulate a strategy that addresses how the parallel obligations of Europe and Africa addressing reparations and repatriation objectives will be met. Europe’s studied silence about reparations has been matched by the African diaspora’s unconsciousness, shame and rejection of [Rastafari] reparations and repatriation demands as “madness”. This convergence of inaction has served the cause of the former colonisers while ignoring the solutions that Walter Rodney proposed for the problem of underdevelopment.
Patterson admitted that his transitional justice proposal was a mouthful, but he said it strong and long, anyway.
“We demand that Africa and its descendants must become engaged and involved in the operations of an equitable and development-oriented economic system,” the statesman continued. “Our institute seeks to assist governments, regional organisations, international institutions, the private sector and civil society to understand and advance existing schemes of regionalism in Africa and the Caribbean; to promote studies, exchanges [of] intergovernmental and institutional groupings for the development of economic and human resources within the continent, the Caribbean and the wider diaspora.”
Provided that these sentiments are action-oriented, they sound like key components of a good plan. It would be interesting to see if the P.J. Patterson Institute can prod Europe’s reluctant reparations protagonists to address their overdue obligations. Patterson’s negotiation expertise certainly should provide leverage for moving the matter forward.
The United Nations (UN) has still not acknowledged the genocide of indigenous peoples in the Caribbean, of Africans in the Maafa, the Holocaust of enslavement and of Indians and Chinese under indentureship, as crimes against humanity. This shows its eurocentric bias, which is a charade that was also dispelled by Patterson in his enlightenment thrust. He recommended a “brand-new design” to revamp the UN and multilateral agencies, which have not served the interests of Africa and her dispersed progeny.
Most African people in Jamaica have relinquished their rights to reparations in the belief that it is a lost cause. Rekindling the righteous indignation about what is still an outstanding obligation on the part of the European powers has been the prerogative of advocates like Rastafari who have seen the light of Pan-African pro-activism.
In his new incarnation, Pan-African statesman Patterson concluded that, in moving towards the goal of transformational politics, “we must be relentless in advocacy for reparative justice and to fight racism and discrimination, in order to obtain economic empowerment for people of colour everywhere.” In more than a manner of speaking, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Imani Tafari-Ama, PhD, is a Pan-African advocate and gender and development specialist. Send feedback to email@example.com