The conference held in Accra, the capital of Ghana, on claims for compensation for the slave trade between the 16th and 19th centuries has gone virtually unnoticed in Europe and the United States. A thorny issue, all the more so because if the main slave traders were France, England, Portugal and the Netherlands, the major suppliers of this unfortunate human merchandise were the African sovereigns themselves, whose inter-ethnic wars ultimately made it easier for the vanquished to pay for the war expenses of the victors with their own lives.
Ghana, known during the explorations and colonisation as the Gold Coast, indicated by that name the main discovery to be exploited by the European discoverers and adventurers, just as other areas along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea were known as the Pepper Coast (today’s Liberia), the Slave Coast (Benin and Togo) or the Ivory Coast, which still retains that name.
In addition to goods in spices, fruits, minerals and timber, it is generally agreed that just over 12 million people were captured and forcibly shipped to American agricultural plantations, especially in the southern colonies of what is now the United States. The Cape Coast fort in Ghana, the island of Gorée, but above all Dahomey, were the main centres for the distribution and sale of those human beings, captured largely as a result of the wars waged by the local monarchs, especially the most warlike, Tegbesu, Kpengla and Agonglo, whose continuous booty in human beings crowded the market of Xweda, today’s Ouidah, where UNESCO built in 1992 the Gate of No Return, in memory of that terrible forced emigration.
Now, at the Accra Conference, Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, has again insisted on seeking reparations from the European nations involved in that trade, which ended legally in 1807 although it continued clandestinely until the second half of the 19th century. Akufo-Addo was nonetheless very cautious in pointing out that “the African continent deserves the official apologies of the European nations involved in the slave trade”, but refrained from quantifying precisely the compensation to be requested: “There is no money that can repair the damage and pain caused by this transatlantic trade, but it is a matter of principle that the world can no longer ignore as a matter of legitimate justice”, he said in his general plea.
The Ghanaian leader believes that the complaint should be a joint one, and urged all countries on the continent concerned to act together. A request implicitly and immediately accepted by the current chairperson of the African Union, the head of state of Comoros, Azali Assumani, who called the more than three centuries “the darkest phase of African history”.
The leaders of Ghana, Benin, Togo, Nigeria, Senegal, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Central African Republic, Niger, Congo and Cameroon acknowledged, however, that some European leaders have begun to recognise the excesses committed during that colonisation, citing the recent trip of British King Charles III to Kenya or the statements of German President Walter Steinmaier expressing his “shame for the crimes committed during the colonial period in Tanzania”. They also recognise that several European and North American museums have begun to return some of the stolen pieces to their countries of origin without any primary commercial transaction with the natives.
In addition, on the margins of the conference, some African leaders reported progress on the establishment of a Slavery Remembrance Route, which would link the sites where the men and women forced to leave in chains and overcrowded to the Americas were captured, confined, sold and shipped. Despite the tensions shaking the continent, a growing number of travellers, especially North Americans, are now visiting these places to rediscover their roots. In this regard, a new service to tourists has begun to flourish: DNA tests that would certify the exact African origin of slave ancestors.
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