Ras Tafari and Reparation
Now, the Caribbean Community bloc of more than a dozen nations is launching an effort to seek compensation for what they say is the lingering legacy of the Atlantic slave trade across the region. Caricom, as the organization is called, has enlisted the help of a prominent British human rights law firm and is creating a Reparations Commission to press the issue.
The bloc is focusing on Britain on behalf of the English-speaking Caribbean, France for the slavery in Haiti and the Netherlands for Suriname, a former Dutch colony on the northeastern edge of South America.
Some RasTafari from Jamaica, like Nyah Binghi Lion Claw, disdain all government initiatives and are skeptical of Caricom's efforts. "What is going on now is just the same slavers trying to benefit. Tell me, who do the governments of Caricom represent? The slaves or the slavers?" he said outside a lecture hall.
But others are more hopeful that the governments' initiative can bolster their longstanding efforts. "It's a good thing that Caricom is seeking reparations now. We need to free up RasTafari," said Bongo Ernest, who believe returning to Africa would heal humanity and complete a cycle broken by slavery.
Ras Patrick Beckford, a member of the Rasta branch Twelve Tribes of Israel, believes persistence in pushing for reparations will eventually pay off. "There are those of our detractors who would want us to believe that Britain would never pay reparations. I don't believe that. We have to be positive," he told attendees. "We are going to use one country first as a stepping stone to garner what belongs to us."
Ambassador to the United Nations for the Bobo Shanti Order, Priest Trevor Stewart, has accused the Jamaica's leaders of piggy-backing on the thrust for reparation to gain political traction. With this in mind, he is calling on politicians to "back off," adding that Ras Tafari had been toiling for years in this regard and are on the brink of making progress.
Stewart said the Bobo Shanti Order, also known as the Ethiopia Africa Black Congress Church of Divine Salvation, delivered a detailed document to the United Nations years ago, seeking reparation for the descendants of enslaved Africans in Jamaica. Throughout the years Bobo Shanti of the Great Ras Tafari Nation have unsuccessfully taken its case to the UN international court of justice in The Hague, in the Netherlands.
He said that there was no need for the issue of reparation to be debated in Parliament as put forth by one politician, especially since a host of other CARICOM countries have now lined up behind the issue.
"All this is a sham," Stewart said.
"It's now that they see that reparation is possible and is becoming fashionable that everybody jumping on the bandwagon."
In her Emancipation Day message a few days ago, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said the Caribbean should explore all avenues related to reparations and urged the descendants of former slave owners to do the right thing.
Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke has also joined the call for England and other European countries to give compensation for the years of slavery.
About a decade ago (2004), a consortium of Ras Tafari Houses and organizations formally demanded that European nations, especially the United Kingdom, pay Rastafarians £72.5 billion (J$7.9 trillion) so they can be repatriated and resettled in Africa. This was to supply the resources needed to allow up to 500,000 Citizen of the Ras Tafari Nation to settle in the motherland.
The invoice includes:
. a 10-year stipend for 500,000 persons, totalling £5 billion;
. five jet airplanes at £1.5 billion;
. two cruise ships at £1.0 billion;
. five merchant ships at £2.5 billion;
. establishing five hospitality centres in Africa at £5 billion;
. purchase of tractors and farm equipment, communication satellites, solar power equipment, computers and cultural products totalling £10 billion;
. establishing five multi-purpose hospitals at £5 billion;
. sustainable project funding repairing, agriculture, health, culture, housing, economic, education, and museums totalling £40 billion; and
. other expenses totalling £2.5 billion.
The request is one form of reparation for the atrocities meted out to Blacks who were enslaved by Europeans for over 300 years.
The petition is the "first time that an invoice has been done on behalf of the Ras Tafari Nation", according to Barbara Makeda Blake-Hannah, co-ordinator of the Jamaica Reparation Movement (JaRM).
“Houses” involved in the petition were David House, Nyah Binghi, 12 Tribe of Israel, - Ethiopian Black International Congress, (Bobo Shanti) and the Ethiopian World Federation Inc.. Other organizations include the Jamaica Reparations Movement, Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).
"It is purely for Ras Tafari Nation repatriation. But we are not saying that others cannot do their own form of reparations," said Blake-Hannah who maintained that the sum requested was not overly ambitious as the 2000 Ghanian conference on reparations had placed total reparations to all the descendants of Africans who were brought unwillingly to the Caribbean, North America or South America "in the region of US$770 trillion.
During a weeklong conference and general assembly at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. RasTafari were gathered to brainstorm ways of pressuring European countries to pay reparations for slavery.
The Ras Tafari Nation has long called for slavery reparations, which is viewed as a key precept along with repatriation to Africa. Members have petitioned Queen Elizabeth II for compensation over the years. But the claims were rejected, and the monarchy said the British government could not be held accountable for wrongs in past centuries since slavery wasn't a crime when it was condoned.
The group argues that Jamaica is entitled to reparations such as debt relief in exchange for years of slavery, which they say has left the former British colony destitute.
In a letter the British High Commission called slavery "barbaric" and "uncivilized" but ruled out compensation for descendants of slaves. "We regret and condemn the inequities of the historic slave trade, but these shameful activities belong to the past," the high commission wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by Associated Press. "Governments today cannot take responsibility for what happened over 150 years ago." Instead, Britain will explore ways to "commemorate" victims of slavery, the high commission said. It did not elaborate.
Ras Howie Wright, a spokesman for the RasTafari Brethren of Jamaica, denounced the decision Wednesday and said his group would continue seeking reparations through various world bodies like the Organization for African Unity. "The Queen is wrong," he said. "A crime against humanity doesn't have any specific time. No matter how long ago you did it, you still have to pay."
Advocates of slavery reparations estimate the damages owed to descendants of African slaves in the trillions of U.S. dollars.
Howard Hamilton, Jamaica's public defender and the Rastafarians' legal adviser, said the group would settle for the cancellation of Jamaica's foreign debt to Britain, estimated at more than $109-million (U.S.).
He said the British government owed descendants of Jamaican slaves the same treatment afforded to past slave owners in Jamaica, who received a total of $10.5-million in compensation after slavery was abolished on the island in 1834. Today, the same amount would be worth $184-million (U.S.).
A group in the South American country of Guyana — the Kingdom of Descendants of Africans in Guyana — received a similar response from Britain, activist Violet Jean-Baptiste said.
Mr. Hamilton said he would try to link the Rastafarians' effort with similar claims being considered in the United States.