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Modern-Day Implications of International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade & its Abolition

© Flickr / Bruno CasonatoSlavery
Slavery - Sputnik International, 1920, 23.08.2022
Designated by UNESCO as the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, 23 August serves as a reminder of the events in 1791 on Saint Domingue - a French colony in the West Indies that is now the Republic of Haiti - that were destined to play a crucial role in the abolition of the transatlantic trade in human life.
The International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), was first observed on 23 August 1998.
From that day, it has been marked annually “to inscribe the tragedy of the slave trade in the memory of all peoples".
The day is an opportunity for “collective consideration of the historic causes, the methods and the consequences” of what was a common practice during the imperialist regimes of European nations.
Between the late 15th century and 1866, in the history of the slave trade to the New World, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database compiled in the late Nineties, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. Only 10.7 million are estimated to have survived the journey, disembarking in North America, the Caribbean and South America.

Trade in Human Cargo

From the middle of the 15th century, the transatlantic slave trade began when Portugal, and subsequently other European kingdoms, expanded their reach overseas. The Portuguese began to kidnap people from the west coast of Africa and take them back to Europe.
Although slavery and forced labor has been around for millennia, with Africans and Europeans trading goods and people across the Mediterranean, enslavement had never before been based on race, it is claimed.
As early as 1503, the Spanish are believed to have taken the first African captives to the Americas from Europe. By 1518, captives predominantly from the coast of West Africa, between modern-day Senegal and Angola - as well as today’s Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon - were shipped directly from Africa to America. Spain and Portugal also started establishing colonies in the New World.
© AP PhotoThe first African slaves arrive in Virginia in 1619
The first African slaves arrive in Virginia in 1619 - Sputnik International, 1920, 23.08.2022
The first African slaves arrive in Virginia in 1619
In England, Sir John Hawkins, one of the most notable naval commanders of the 16th century, is known not only for his pivotal role in maritime history, but also his role in the rise of the global slave trade. In 1562, when the trade in human flesh had been going on in West Africa for half a century, Captain John Hawkins led an expedition of three ships to Guinea during which he acquired around 500 Africans. He then sold them to Spanish colonial settlements in the New World at a huge profit for himself and the Crown.
By the 17th century, Britain, France, and Holland had also established colonies in the New World and the demand for slave labor had been triggered by the spread of sugar plantations in the Caribbean and tobacco plantations North America.
Slaves were crammed into ships with no knowledge of where they were going, with children making up about 26 percent of the captives. Metal shackles were used throughout the forced passage as restraints for the arms and legs. People would die on board from overheating, thirst, starvation and violence, with an estimated 15 percent perishing before they ever reached land.
In the 1700s, the largest numbers of enslaved Africans are believed to have been shipped to the Americas. It is claimed they account for nearly three-fifths of the total volume of the transatlantic slave trade.
Many deem 1619 to have been pivotal for the start of slavery in America, when the privateer ship The White Lion brought 20 enslaved Africans ashore in the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia. The human cargo had come from the port city of Luanda, now the capital of present-day Angola, but then a Portuguese colony.
That landmark event is often described by scholars as the beginning of what would become the institution of slavery in America. However, by the mid-19th century the abolition movement had ignited such a heated debate over slavery that it would eventually tear the nation apart in the bloody Civil War (12 April 1861 to 26 May 1865).
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The brutal trafficking in human beings eventually provoked well-organized opposition to the trade.
On the night of 22/23 August 1791, an uprising started on the island of Saint Domingue, a West Indian French colony on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The island is now home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. France controlled Hispaniola from 1795 to 1802, when a renewed rebellion began. Finally, the last French troops withdrew from the island in late 1803, and the colony declared its independence as Haiti the next year.
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The uprising in Saint Domingue inspired a sweeping movement against the colonial powers. In 1807 the British abolished the slave trade. The US Congress passed an act banning the importation of slaves into the United States in 1808, albeit not banning slavery itself. On 18 December 1865, the 13th Amendment was adopted as part of the United States Constitution that officially abolished slavery.
Other countries, such as Spain, Holland, Sweden, and France, also passed laws against the slave trade by the 1820s.

Reparations & Apologies

The end of the slave trade that had stifled Africa’s economic, cultural and psychological progress left the countries struggling to recover from the devastating legacy.
Because the majority of those taken captive in Africa by European slavers were women in their child-bearing years and young men, the slave trade devastated the continent's population. It resulted in the greatest forced migration of a human population in history.
Depopulation was also caused indirectly, as Europeans brought with them deadly diseases such as strains of syphilis and smallpox, typhus and tuberculosis.
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The practice also encouraged local African warlords and tribes to sell their own people and this led to an atmosphere of lawlessness and violence with previously existing systems of governance based on kinship and consent being jettisoned. Furthermore, slavery within African society grew in parallel with the transatlantic human trade, encouraging ethnic and social division.
As the economic development and wealth of Europe and the European colonies in the New World grew, West Africa was left impoverished.
Dr Menya Idd Sirajuddin, a political analyst with experience of work at the SENA Foundation in Uganda, was recently quoted by media this year as saying that statistical correlations “provide evidence that the slave trade adversely affected Africa’s economic development".
The effect wrought by the slave trade was social “fractionalization, weakened states, and a decline in the quality of domestic institutions", particularly judicial institutions. Slavery went hand in hand with corruption, involved theft, bribery, and this corrupt legacy is something with which post-colonial states still struggle.
In 'States and Power in Africa' (Princeton, 2000, ch 2 to 4), Jeffrey I Herbst argues that Africa’s poor economic performance is a result of “state failure”.

“… Because of a lack of significant political development during colonial rule,.. Africa’s post independence leaders inherited nation states that did not have the infrastructure necessary to extend authority and control over the whole country. Many states were, and still are, unable to collect taxes from their citizens, and as a result they are also unable to provide a minimum level of public goods and services.” ('States and Power in Africa', Herbst)

Over the years, African countries have been consolidating their efforts as calls for reparations from European countries for damage caused by the slave trade have grown.
European Parliament members attend a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019 - Sputnik International, 1920, 29.03.2019
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Ghana's capital Accra recently hosted a Reparations and Racial Healing Summit, together with the African Union Commission and the Africa Transitional Justice Legacy Fund. The event from 1 to 4 August was organized to coordinate a comprehensive global strategy and agenda for the Global Reparations Movement. The latter seeks to secure reparations for the transatlantic slave trade and European colonialism in Africa.
Ghana’s president, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, while speaking at the Reparations and Racial Healing Summit on 1 August, called for “long overdue” slavery reparations to Africa and the African diaspora.
John Ikubaje from the African Union’s secretariat, the African Union Commission, said that "these are developments the African Union is working on and will continue to work with different stakeholders that are working along that line" to get justice for Africa.
Beyond issues such as return of artifacts, compensation and apologies for past crimes, the AUC's major policy programs seek to ensure that Africa doesn't remain subservient to the West, Ikubaje insisted.
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