Letter by Courtenay Francis Raymond Barnett
P.O. Box 45,
Turks and Caicos Islands
Prime Minister Anthony Blair
10 Downing Street
London SW 1
Dear Prime Minister Blair,
Subject : A case for an apology and reparations for Africans and people of the African Diaspora
I was born on the 4th October, 1954, of humble humanity in a poor country and am, as you are, a lawyer by profession….
You were born on the 6th May, 1953, of humble humanity in a wealthy country and are a lawyer, and are, as I am not, the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
On this historic day of the anniversary of the American War of Independence, when European colonials freed themselves from the oppression that was British rule in the American colonies in 1776, I feel considerable concern about conditions globally for Africans and people of the African Diaspora.
I reflected on reparations for Africans and people of the African Diaspora by reason of the unfortunate case of the arrogant and racist British conduct of shackling a lawyer in a British colony and assaulting him. I, along with another lawyer from the African Diaspora, in June, 2000, successfully represented this lawyer, himself a descendant of Africa. By a jury of his peers, in the British colony of the Turks and Caicos Islands, he was awarded compensation and legal costs for the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of being shackled. His statement on oath was that he asked British authority that if he were white whether he would be treated in this manner. Experienced as I am for many years a lawyer I shed tears, and so did many persons in court when my client Mr. Lloyd Rodney was asked about his feelings when shackled, and replied, ” I felt like a slave”. Emotions could not be restrained. My tears flowed freely as did the tears of several other persons in the court room, for horrific historical memory was stirred and the collective consciousness felt a sense of deep empathy with this descendant of slaves from Africa. I now ask, Prime Minister, has the time finally arrived for a larger legitimate claim, one historically more significant, a case for placement before the court of human conscience and you as Prime Minister of Great Britain.
Mr. Lloyd Rodney, my client, is the cousin of Professor Walter Rodney who wrote the seminal work,
” How Europe underdeveloped Africa”. The answer to the issue of Europe’s underdevelopment of Africa, should we pursue it, leads via the middle passage and links historically with issues addressed by Dr. Eric Williams in his work, entitled “Capitalism and slavery”. The tears which flowed for my client, Mr. Rodney, had deep and significant historical roots indeed .The British Chief Justice who that day tried the case, did not share the same, if any, empathy with my client. A feeling of hurt about racially abusive conduct against a person of African descent does not strike the heart of all human beings, as some feel that one set of standards are enshrined for some and another set apply to others. It was disgraceful that officers of the Crown had shackled Mr. Rodney, and worse yet that the Crown lied in its defence of the injury in formally pleading that no shackling had taken place.
The compensation awarded my client was his just due because British authority violated his body, assaulted and shackled him, while attempting to chain his human dignity. What, I ask myself, might be due to those and their descendants, had they previously had any systemic and/or institutional means of seeking and legitimately obtaining compensation for the egregious, degrading, and vastly inhumane treatment which was Britain’s significant part in the Atlantic African slave trade? This very question was raised by our legal colleague, Lord Gifford, at 9:18 p.m. on the 14th March, 1996, in the House of Lords.
While one may wish to give high praise to the tireless efforts of the abolitionists in words, ” Slavery was abolished as the result of the inspired and tireless efforts by the campaigners coupled with a growing doubt about its material economic advantages” as spoken by the Viscount of Falkland, one can for a moment also consider the corollary of waning ” material economic advantages” from the perspective of the African Diaspora. The compensation to the slave masters in Jamaica, where I was born, for the master’s loss of their “chattels” was some 20 million pounds at or about the 1838 abolition of slavery. The compensation to the slaves and their descendants was some’?
Prime Minister, I do honestly believe that there is a figure missing there.
Do not misunderstand, for Prime Minister, against all odds, without just reparation my family by dint of hard labour, and indeed unpaid slave labour, pulled ourselves economically up without either boots or money left by Britain to buy boot straps. Significant wealth compensated slave masters and went to Britain’s public coffers, from Jamaica, the Caribbean and all the colonies from which Britain stole people’s land and labour. That which was stolen over three centuries is unlikely to be returned, but as Prime Minister you can with human decency respond appropriately and fairly.
Three centuries of unpaid work and subjection in the Caribbean to single-crop dependency have to this day never been addressed. Three decades of political, but not economic independence, with little left behind by Britain for development, could never have fairly served to redress three centuries of exploitative and brutally inhumane policies. Worse yet, certain aspects of such oppression still continue. Britain departed politically from the Caribbean, but has held a certain consistent stranglehold through economic interests which to this day continue to bleed the resources of the Caribbean with monopolistic and grossly unfair practices by some British interests such as Cable and Wireless, the telecommunications giant.
Part of the colonial legacy, is the absence of any just compensation coupled with a perpetuation of Imperial domination via unjust terms of trade, a highly exploitative international monetary system, and patterns of giving so-called “aid” ( more akin to the debilitating disease of similar name) than any act of benevolence holding any real prospect of leading to self- sufficiency and economic independence for millions. Just consider for a moment the recent issue of the trade and sales of bananas from the single-crop economies in the Eastern Caribbean, then ask yourself Prime Minister whether Britain’s misgovernment in the Caribbean and overtly exploitative and racist policies have not bequeathed contemporary poverty.
Britain’s mass transportation of people across the middle passage, followed by enslavement warrants an apology, but more significantly the crime justly demands that fair reparations be paid now. Consider, for a moment, the equivalent situation under British policy in Ireland. The single-crop dependency, and role which British misgovernment played in Irish suffering, have produced consequences today. When Irish men to whom I spoke in America told me of the “Famine Queen”, Queen Victoria, the falsehood of Britain’s blaming the potato blight as a dispensation of providence to which one should ascribe all historical blame, and the blasphemy of ignoring British policy at the time in the causes of Irish suffering, I found common cause on the level of basic human hurt. It has become obvious to me in observing Britain’s problems with Ireland that the vast majority of Irish people consider to this day the Irish Famine one of Britain’s crimes against humanity. Indeed, the evidence is that other European countries had the same potato blight at the time, but under British policy the single-crop dependency led in Ireland to mass starvation and outward migration, but not quite so in the other European countries at the time. Irish hearts and minds feel this collective hurt at British hands. Why then Prime Minister, might you feel for a moment that the unrecompensed descendants of African slaves have any less right to their honest and sincerely felt human feelings?
To ignore the legitimacy of my request might compel you to be companions with those Europeans who excuse the wrong by pointing to Africans participation in the exploitation of Africans.
Alas, in every great crime against humanity the victims always have had and, in all historical probability, always will have collaborators. The rapist’s rape cannot be excused by reference to the fact that a brother participated while the act was being done. The Jews or French in the Second World War cannot claim that some Jews or French persons were not collusive participants in some evil acts of the attempted Nazi genocide of the Jewish people, nor can it be said that no French person participated for gain at the time of German occupation of France. The evil of the great wrong does not diminish for that the prime mover had secured some participants from the dominated populace. But, somehow some Europeans’ thinking on the issue find solace, or an assumed legitimacy for solace, as serves to diminish the scale of the barbarity as it weighs on human conscience to this day from historical suffering to contemporary consequences. This crime against humanity remains a crime of enormous and probably the largest proportion in the last five hundred years of human history.
Despite the passage of time, one need not lose sight from earliest colonial times to the modern practices of international lending agencies in these times of modern “institutionalised imperialism” operating in bodies such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and in “aid” policies of the European Union in certain aspects of European global conduct today. Domination through economic and politically determined strangleholds on the descendants of those whose foreparents had worked centuries without pay, may yet be viewed as an undeserved imposition of further economic violence.
Masters were human beings who under law lost something (someone?) and were compensated by Britain as acknowledgment of a just due from the Crown. What therefore was and is due to the descendants of those who lost their freedom and whose descendants in large measure have remained but children of Sisyphus, pushing burdens up to the top of foreign banks, only to have the debt stone roll down again for further labour. As unpaid labour helped to make Britain, Great Britain, and I am the first of the post-colonial generation now adult and able to speak freely, why then Prime Minister should we not address this matter in the court of human conscience with the evidence before us? When the verdict is in, are these people not deserving of an apology?
The effect of early investment of funds as weighed against the absence of compensation to those who had actually slaved explains much in the modern world in identifiable patterns of divisions between poverty and wealth, of both nations and individuals within nations. The principle, Prime Minister, under the Fatal Accidents Act, as you, as a lawyer, are aware, is that the loss which the surviving descendants suffer by way of absence of contribution from the wage earner must inure to the benefit of the familial survivors. Surely, as English law does not entertain any difficulty with this legal concept, then as an uncompensated descendant of slaves, who were unpaid, then is there not a case for just and due compensation from the nation which still holds the stolen wealth in custody?
I believe, as did the Jewish people who went back to Swiss banks after the Second World War, that it is time to open some of the vaults in which Britain has held much value in safekeeping. The inheritors now desire that their inheritance be paid out. I also consider that my immediate family has been hampered under colonialism and Britain’s policies remain accountable for lost opportunities. Being the first in my family to have the benefit of a university education, affords me this first real opportunity in history to address these matters of reparations as justified under law. About a half century ago, in Jamaica, the journalist and novelist, Roger Mais, was imprisoned under British colonial rule when in his article, “NOW WE KNOW”, he wrote the truth against British colonialism. I have been arrested and Mr. Lloyd Rodney has been imprisoned under British rule in these Turks and Caicos Islands for addressing and speaking out about issues of injustice, unfairness of British policies in these Islands, and corrupt practices effected under British justice. I do not have any apologies to make for doing that which human decency directs, and my conscience dictates is right, and a hundredfold arrests and imprisonments will not intimidate my opposition to inhumanity, racism and oppression.
Please, I beseech you Prime Minister, have the British Parliament fully investigate how in nine months by way of a British grant to the Colony of the Turks and Caicos Islands, three million pounds is spent to build a new prison, while the roads remain in disrepair; the school facilities are inadequate; the libraries have yet to be built; the old hospital is literally collapsing, and many of the poverty stricken people here live in shacks. Yet the housing for not so much as sixty prisoners, or one hundred maximum at any given time, is three million pounds freely given, expeditiously spent, and sustained in pride of place in the capital Grand Turk. Is it impossible in this millennium to change historically derived oppression, or is your heart and mind inured to human suffering as unnecessarily imposed by British policies here and elsewhere in the world? Prime Minister, are three centuries of such oppressive policies not enough?
As Poles have been compensated for slave labour extracted during German occupation ‘ then, why not African descendants for their foreparents unrewarded labour as has bequeathed poverty instead of payment. Either, as said rather callously, inhumanely and inappropriately by Lord Willoughby de Broke in the House of Lords debate on the issue of reparations, ” I had not intended to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, for asking this question but I am indebted to him because, looking at the clock, I find that I have missed my train home and I shall claim appropriate reparations by way of an overnight allowance” ; or, with normal human decency and in all conscience it can be acknowledged that there is no statute of limitations on a great crime against humanity. The noble Lord may not have missed his train that night, but he definitely misses the point that native Americans have been claiming and receiving compensation in the Unites States of America, the indigenous people who suffered crimes against them in New Zealand, Aborigines for tremendous losses of valuable land in Australia, and compensation has been paid to the native inhabitants in Canada as well. What credible excuse then can Britain find, as the nation which was one of the world’s greatest beneficiaries from the Atlantic African slave trade, for not apologising and paying just reparations?
Prime Minister, Lord Willoughby de Broke’s utterance, as quoted, is an uncivilised sentiment. Such thinking is symptomatic of a certain breed of racist British intolerance coupled with a self-deceptive ignorance of Britain’s very recent and continuing exploitative relations with many people and nations of the world. More telling is it where he stated, ” Reparations breed envy and distrust and stir up hatred”, for his is but ignorant misunderstanding to suggest that just compensation once fairly paid will not serve more by way of healing hurt, alleviating poverty as had been historically bequeathed, and serve more to lessen envy, build trust and bridges of humane atonement.
When less exploitative and more equitable institutional relations are established in the world community, we will then be well on the road to the unity of all humanity when then we might embrace, one with the other, as equals living in peace, with prosperity in dignity. Prime Minister, the point cannot be lost that the recent protests against the conduct of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank are quite justified expressions against institutions which in actuality serve more to widen than narrow gaps between global wealth and global poverty. The sources of structurally determined poverty do originate oftentimes from the regulatory trade mechanisms conceived in, and institutionally structured by the wealthy nations.
Sadly, it is this which breeds the envy as concerned that member of the House of Lords. So, the form of reparations may now be determined as mainly total debt forgiveness. On closer examination you may even find that in so doing Britain is giving away precious little, for debt burdens now so impoverish many nations where sixty percent and more of national budget is committed to countries such as Britain which originally stole people and lands, then ended up lending to the descendants of the slaves who still slave to repay unpayable debts. The little minimum of an apology and a justified waiver by lifting the debt burden off the backs of those who continue to slave and shovel wealth back to Britain as lender nation, is little to ask of Britain, which undeniably owes a tremendous debt to humanity, far greater than do the children of the African Diaspora owe to Britain be assured of that.
Traditionally poor nations are yet again given false hopes with a concept such as “globalisation”. Political independence from British colonialism merely gave false hope that one can be independent without the economic means for a sustainable start in life. “Globalisation” in certain aspects is similarly replete with such false hopes for the poor, as you can verify that the gaps between rich and poor are exacerbating, not declining under the new forms of “institutionalised imperialism”.
False promises have even destroyed people in Europe, Russia, where just as in the Third World forced devaluations of currency stimulated capital flight and has left greater debts and less in the value of money in public coffers for people’s real needs for education, housing, medical care and other social needs. Can you in heart and mind continue to subscribe to policies which bequeath mass suffering across the globe?
It is evidently more difficult now for significant sections of the British population than in the 1960s, there is significant unemployment in the North of England, and there is more uncertainty and overall volatility in the British domestic economy. Meanwhile, the poor nations remain likely to continue on the trajectory of poverty presently existing with gaps increasing between the former colonies and the European countries which had held colonies. As you are aware, Britain’s interest in relations with the rest of the countries of the world, bear much in dealings in covert arms trading and reliance on terms of trade less than favorable for the traditionally poor nations.
Economic promise of transformations through utilisation of new technologies, and more particularly information technologies, is largely a device to convince the poor of the world that the structural and institutional rule changes somewhere, somehow, hold promise for economic upliftment for Third World countries. The opening of those markets ironically under “globalisation” lift a certain elite minority but structurally impoverishes the majority. In 1997 more than sixty per cent of people in Third world nations lived in the rural areas, while more than eighty percent of main telephone lines were in urban centres. The consequences of monopoly domination by British companies such as Cable and Wireless in the Caribbean, and systems of expensive access to the international network, are but some of the realities of adverse economic consequences under policies which are promoted and perpetuated by rich against poor. As with your role in Britain domestically, structural economic stagnation in certain areas leave people in a sense of hopelessness as to a future of perpetual jobless poverty. If you, as you do Prime Minister, face this very real problem in Britain with disaffection about your government’s ability to deliver satisfactorily on a social charter of needs, can you but imagine the degrees of despondency in the African Diaspora ? And think further as to your challenge there in Britain, and translate your leadership tasks equivalency in terms of making a third world economy work in the type of world we live in could you manage if you were leader of a third world country, under the rules set by the wealthy nations?
Beyond our present discourse of black and white, do not for a moment think that I do not share, as I suspect you by now understand, a feeling of common concern across a wide spectrum of human issues. In that wide area, where we are faced with jobless areas and economies not working adequately to satisfy human aspirations, if for too long the repeated promises of new technologies, “globalisation”, the ability of the market to do without certain types of government intervention, are found to be false promises, then the implosion of human frustration will lead to increased violence in societies and between nations across the world.
The small step which I am asking you to take of making an apology to the people of the African Diaspora can but assist in bridging the gap of historically felt hurt, a sense of abandonment after exploitation, and feelings of persisting injustices. Help to build that worthwhile bridge across the wide divide of human feeling. Likewise, a mature rethinking of so-called “aid” in the traditional ways of consultancies with technical advisors, and unjust terms of loans tied to export credit guarantees, are areas for meaningful change which you ought to address. You can see the growing mass of global suffering, of which I can but remind you as seen and felt by me. Do you perceive and reasonably comprehend the magnitude of the problem which you can help alleviate, Prime Minister?
You, as Prime Minister, can to some extent, influence and positively change some of these long-standing problems existing between rich and poor, black and white. The ideological market embrace which you share with President Clinton, holds far too many false and unrealistic promises if critically examined relative to the actuality of people’s lives globally. I have found myself forced to rethink those false promises made by the wealthy countries of “globalisation”, with prosperity and peace.
I believe that the acquisitive material rationale as had propelled an imperialist country such as Britain, now objectively is compelling reassessment both of that historically derived model, and of the global viability of such a model’s perpetuation. In a world of limited resources, with populations doomed in actual hopelessness, you might sensibly reconsider these projected European modalities. We, as human beings, can conceive of , and actually apply far better means of social and economic relations well beyond some of the misconceptions of European dominated processes. Indeed, as you may observe in the most wealthy of nations there is a quest at heart for more than the “success” of over consumption .
There is real desire for inner contentment and spiritual satisfaction, in the sea of plenty. While food, shelter and clothing are basic material human needs, peace of mind is in itself indeed a worthy treasure. For what but an implicit quest for “Karma” could propel over-consumers, already well-fed, housed, clothed and educated to move away from the mindless acquisitive practices which materially deplenish and spiritually destroy?
You, Prime Minister, as a policy-maker in this never-ending bazaar of acquisition, may yourself yet come to doubt the sanity and/or rationality of enriching the few and impoverishing the many. Without a blend of spiritual connection to one’s inner humanity and needs, one will become alienated in life’s processes from the sources of that which serve to make us human and humane beings. Do think about the historical role you are presently playing and where you are directing the future of humanity. We can all be placed in service of a higher purpose and goal beyond individually pursued power such as you wield as the leader of Britain. After skewed material acquisition, there is still some human life and feeling left, then what?
In accordance with my feelings, and the feelings of millions of others around the globe, and with respect for the principles of The Abuja Declaration of the First Pan African Conference on Reparations, the obtaining of an apology from Her Majesty’s Government for the proven act of shackling in 1997 in a British colony, a descendant of African slaves, Lloyd Rodney, is sought as a necessary first necessary step towards human healing.
A more extensive and equally justified apology from Her Majesty’s Government for having stolen, transported and enslaved several millions of Africans, along with appropriate reparations now due for Britain’s barbaric conduct in and profit from the Atlantic African slave trade is desired as a larger meaningful step towards some of the healing needed in the world we both share and know as human beings. We need urgently to find ways of caring one for the other. Do you care about the feelings of Africans and people in the African Diaspora? Can you bring yourself to a sane realisation which obliges you on behalf of your nation to admit wrong and apologise as is right?
Where Europeans in the form of Irish people, or Jews from the infamous Holocaust are deserving recipients of an apology from the perpetrators of British and German crimes, respectively, against humanity, what more does it take to feel in your heart, and speak from a morally correct mind, an apology to people of African descent? Those words of apology as needed for all persons of African descent, should come easily from a heart and mind which is truly great. Such humanity and decency, surely, is not beyond the capacity of a great man leading a great nation?
When the British administration shackled Professor Walter Rodney’s cousin, Lloyd Rodney, that individual act of racist British intolerance said to me that centuries of enslaving people has implanted an evil in certain minds approaching proportions of endemic racism. Is the intimidation of a black lawyer who refuses to submit to injustice and subscribe to ideas of racial superiority, an act worthy of a great nation? How would you, Prime Minister, as a lawyer and a human being, have felt had you been shackled?
Why do some people place their humanity on a level above that of their fellow human beings? Can you condone such an act as perpetrated by the Crown’s servants? I do think that as Prime Minister, you have a far more commendable record of genuinely expressed concern for humanity than all of the petty officials appointed to rule these British Islands, who yet have to find a moral compass as directs right from wrong. An unqualified and truly sincere apology is most definitely due Mr. Rodney. When other victims have sought and received reparations, I am obliged to ask of you again, Prime Minister when will it be Britain’s time to acknowledge wrong and pay just compensation as is right? When?
The time has now come when you, Prime Minister Blair, as Prime Minister of Great Britain, that very same great nation of which you spoke with sincere and overflowing emotion at time of your winning the elections and becoming elected leader of Britain before the eyes of the world and the conscience of all humanity can make a morally justified, and legally correct admission of guilt for a great crime against humanity and apologise for your nation. Admit with a measure of humility, your nation’s wrong, and do not think that your dignity need be compromised, as was Mr. Rodney’s. Never will I ask that of you, for the indignity of slavery cannot be compensated by any denial of your dignity as a fellow human being.
Acknowledge the great benefits derived from the unpaid labour of persons stolen from Africa, and do understand that in seeking reparations there is no call for charity, but an end to oppression as it had existed and continues to exist to this day. As beneficiary of accumulated wealth from that time, a great man as you are can ensure that a great nation, as Britain is, does the morally correct thing.
May I exonerate you personally as the sins of your forefathers need not be visited upon you unduly, and it therefore might be more appropriate for Her Majesty, Elizabeth 11, to tender the necessary apology on behalf of the British nation. Indeed, Her Majesty’s lineage bears identifiable direct links to the very crime of which I spoke, and Her Majesty’s words therefore would be of greater significance in the hearts and minds of the people of Africa and the African Diaspora.
I place this formal request before you and file the reasonable request in the court of world opinion and before the eyes and conscience of the world community, in the name of common humanity and common human decency.
This letter is accordingly copied to Her Majesty, Elizabeth 11, the United Nations, global institutions,
and individuals concerned with this question of reparations for all Africans and people of African descent.
President Mandela’s tremendous humanity and diplomatic decency as displayed upon visiting Her Majesty, Elizabeth 11, provides a commendable example of what a great heart and mind can achieve with dignity. Can you say as Prime Minister that your nation, Britain, is sorry? Can you admit that Britain, was wrong, and for being wrong, Her Majesty, Elizabeth 11, on behalf of Great Britain, that great nation, while maintaining true dignity and decency, apologises as is right.
The case is before you, a Prime Minister with formal legal training, and your decision is awaited.
I have the honour to be Sir,
Courtenay ” X” ( names of ancestors along patrilineal descent unknown)
Courtenay Francis Raymond Barnett ( as inherited plantation name)
Attch: Judgment for compensation obtained by Mr. Lloyd Rodney against the Crown
CC. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11 of Great Britain, Northern Island and all Her Majesty’s various
Territories and Dominions
Concerned leaders in the International Community
The United Nations
Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs The European Commission
Other concerned International Institutions and Organisations