By COREY CONNELLY (Sunday Express, July 31 2016)
Emancipation observances reache its crescendo, tomorrow, with the traditional Kambule procession through the streets of Portof- Spain and, later, the grand cultural show at the Lidj Yasu Omowale Village, Queen’s Park Savannah.
And while many African descendants would have participated fully in the various events leading up to tomorrow’s events, the issue of reparations still remains a front-burner topic for diasporic peoples, who have long complained about the absence of any formal acknowledgement of the evils committed during the era of chattel slavery.
For chairman of the Emancipation Support Committee (ESC) Khafra Kambon, reparations are fundamental to cultivating greater self-respect among peoples of African origin.
And he is calling on the People’s National Movement (PNM), which formed the Government after the September 2015 general election, to re-install a Reparations Committee, in keeping with Caricom’s decision in 2013 for Caribbean territories to establish such groups to drive the process.
“This is one of the most historic decisions that Caricom has taken because it is a matter of not just money but self-respect,” he said of the decision.
“It is not only about financing measures that will help to correct the damage that has been done but acknowledging that slavery had affected the growth and development of the people in the region.
Kambon encouraged the Government to re-form a committee in line with the rest of Caricom,” noting that all of the islands had established committees, despite political transitions.
Following Caricom’s decision, two years ago, the then People’s Partnership Government established a Reparations Committee in Trinidad and Tobago, headed by Aiyegoro Ome, a founding member of the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC).
Former prime minister Kamla Persad- Bissessar, speaking at an Emancipation Dinner at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, in 2014, noted, then, the mounting calls for reparations.
“Across the Caribbean, the lobby for reparations for slavery and native genocide is growing.
Trinidad and Tobago, along with several other Caricom nations, have established national reparations committees to pursue amends from former colonial nations,” she had told guests.
On that occasion, Persad-Bissessar also alluded to statements made by St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonzalves, who had stressed the need to raise awareness for reparations.
“While I know Ome and his team will create greater awareness of this issue throughout the country in the coming months; I must also state we, as Caricom leaders, are saying to the former colonial nations that the case for reparatory justice is unquestionably strong,” the former prime minister had said.
“This is, therefore, a good moment for me to reaffirm my full support and the support of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago as you document the long-term effects of the enslavement of our African ancestors and their descendants and by extension our present society.” Persad-Bissessar had told guests that reparatory justice was being sought in several areas, including an indigenous people’s development programme; technology transfer; debt cancellation; illiteracy eradication; psychological rehabilitation; public health; the development of cultural institutions; repatriation, and a formal apology.
Kambon was a part of the Partnership-commissioned committee, which also included former Caricom secretary general Edwin Carrington; university lecturer Dr Claudius Fergus; veteran calypsonian Dr Hollis Liverpool and representatives from the Office of the Prime Minister and Ministries of Education, Culture and the Rastafarian Community.
He recalled that by the time the September 2015 general election came around, members of the committee simply did the honourable thing and resigned.
Kambon told Sunday Newsday that the committee was a serious one which, unfortunately, did not have time to begin its work in earnest.
He said the Government must re-activate moves in this regard.
“The issue is one that has been around for African enslavement as well as genocide against indigenous people’s in the region,” he said. “It is a reflection of how Africans are seen globally because other groups have suffered but gotten no reprieve.” Kambon gave an example of the German authorities treatment of Namibians in the early 1900s to highlight the brutality of the slave era – facts which the Sunday Newsday corroborated from historical documents about the ordeal.
According to documents, during the period 1904 to 1908, German soldiers brutally massacred thousands of Namibians after then General Lothar Von Trotha was sent to the country to quell an uprising by the Herero’s, one of the indigenous groups, against their German rulers.
In what historians regard as the 20th century’s first genocide, Von Trotha instructed his troops to eliminate the entire tribe.
On October, 1904, Trotha had declared: “Within the German boundaries, every Herero, whether found armed or unarmed, with or without cattle, will be shot. I shall not accept more women and children. … I shall order shots to be fired at them.” Confined to prison set-ups, the Hereros and members of another tribe, the Namas, died mainly of malnutrition while others were beheaded and their skulls sent to German researchers in Berlin for experimental purposes.
“In many instances, the women had to clean the skulls of the men, some not knowing that it belonged to their husbands,” Kambon said.
“That was the viciousness of it. It could have been your own husband’s head and they would have to boil it down and scrape it down to the skull.” The ESC Chairman claimed that the German had wiped out 80 percent of the Herero people and 50 percent of the Nama.
“It was really a war of extinction,” he added.
Lo and behold, news emerged last month that Germany was set to officially recognise the killing of thousands of Namibians, more than one century ago.
In a July 14 article in the London- based newspaper, Telegraph, headlined “Germany to recognise Herero genocide and apologise to Namibia,” Justin Huggler wrote that the country will recognise as genocide, the massacre of an estimated 110,000 of the Herero and Nama people of Namibia by German troops between 1904 and 1908 “in a landmark admission of historical guilt.” A spokesman for Angela Merkel’s government said Germany would formally apologise to Namibia, wrote Huggler.
No time frame was laid out for the formal apology in the article.
Huggler wrote that the “systematic extermination” of the Herero and Nama people is widely regarded as the first genocide of the 20th century.
In the meantime, Kambon believes that many African descendants, still allowed unequal treatment to be a part of their daily reality “without making it a major issue.” ‘There has to be some notion of what the level of decimation was with some measurement of the setback it created,” he said.
Kambon said many people were of the view that persons of African origin should be thanking the Europeans for their influence in many areas.
“They believe that we gained so much from them although Africans were killed for fun and sport,” he said.
Kambon said for many people, the issue of reparations was still a work in progress.
“We don’t feel deeply enough and aggrieved and so the struggle for reparations will be a permanent fight until it is achieved,” he said.
Kambon argued that Africans had made a significant input at all levels of the society.