The five-day 5th State of the Black World Conference (SOBWC) in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, from April 19 to 23, will be laden with daily tables-full of menus and recipes for Food-for-Thought, attracting leaders and top representatives of national, state and multinational entities from Africa, The Americas and The Caribbean, alongside stakeholders from North and South America.
The parley will see and hear from: Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley and Grenada Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell, Vice President of Colombia Francia Marquez and Colombian Senator Dorina Hernandez.
Also in attendance will be former Jamaica Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, Chair of the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) Sir Hilary Beckles, veteran Black American actor Danny Glover — and Dr. Julius Garvey (son of the legendary Marcus Mosiah Garvey) will be Honorary Conference Chair.
The theme for SOBWC 2023 is ‘Global Africans Rising: Empowerment, Reparations and Healing’ and Dr. Ron Daniels, President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW) is “honored and delighted” that President Akufo-Addo will deliver a keynote address.
He says having President Addo participate “is particularly significant, because he is rapidly emerging as the global champion for Reparations among heads of state in Africa.”
Dr Daniels also expects President Akufo-Addo’s address (on the Reparations theme), coupled with those of other heads of state and leading reparations advocates, “will elevate this conference to one of the most significant in the 21st Century.”
SOBWC 5 starts with an opening-day Pan African Institute, chaired by Glover — who’s also a United Nations (UN) Ambassador for the Decade for People of African Descent — at which elder statesman Patterson will deliver framing remarks on “The State of Democracy and Development in the Caribbean and Africa”.
The Institute will be followed by an International Town Hall Meeting on “The State of the Global Reparations Movement” to be addressed by President Akufo-Addo, Prime Minister Mottley, Vice President Marquez and Sir Hilary Beckles, who’s also Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (The UWI).
The Town Hall meeting will also feature a tribute to Maurice Bishop, late Prime Minister of Grenada, to be presented by current Grenada Prime Minister Dikon Mitchell.
The wide-ranging theme and its tripod of requirements to take the contemporary Black World to the next logical stages in its continuing progress comes 531 years after Christopher Columbus lost his way in the Caribbean but also opened the way for the Native Genocide and destruction of indigenous civilizations that followed, to introduce Christianity and Slavery through murder with blessings of men of cloth with crosses and rosaries, in the name of God.
This SOBWC also comes almost 189 years after Abolition and Emancipation of slavery in the British Empire and also has relevance for dozens of former European colonies in the British-led Commonwealth.
The centuries-old reparations movement has assumed trans-continental proportions today, thanks to the historic call in November 2013, by leaders of 14 former British, French and Dutch colonies in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) — the former British West Indies (BWI) – for Reparations from the UK and Europe for Slavery and Native Genocide.
Ripples to Waves
That call for Apology and Atonement from the European nations that built empires off the blood, sweat and tears of enslaved Africans, was made by the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC), through the European Union (EU), accompanied by a 10-Point Plan for Reparatory Justice that outlines what CARICOM wants for the descendants of the millions of enslaved Africans who survived the perilous ‘Middle Passage’ and toiled on Caribbean and American plantations to ensure the continuity of the profitable cycle of Chattel Slavery through the ‘Great Triangle’ that started and ended in Europe.
The Reparations Movement today is the end result, to date, of the waves created by the ripples from the 2013 CARICOM call for discussion on reparations, that helped lead to establishment of the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC) and helped galvanize the rebirth of the quest for Reparations for Americans of African Descent that never ended after families of those who fought for US independence in 1776 were promised 40 acres (of bare land) and a (barren) mule, that none ever got.
The Caribbean’s reparations waves also washed -up on African shores with the African Union (AU) now also embracing the Reparations cause with more vitality.
The waves also reached Indian shores, with CARICOM engaged with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modhi in initial discussions about the commonality in India and CARICOM’s mutual quests for Reparations for Indentureship and Reparations.
The reparations movement scaled more global mountains after the May 23, 2020 murder of George Floyd at the hands of US police in a killing the world saw online and which sparked the biggest international human rights, anti-racist and pro-reparations protest chain-reaction in history.
It spanned oceans and continents, toppling statues and fueling demands for everything from police reform in the USA to the Black Lives Matter movement taking hold across the world.
The Black Lives Matter backlash forced a common reaction on both sides of The Atlantic, galvanizing earlier and new demands that forced companies and churches, universities, banks and families – and other entities with clear links to Slavery – to engage in what Sir Hilary Beckles describes as “Research and Run” on the part of those whose findings were too true to admit, far-less account for, but none of which could hide in this Information Age.
But the snowball effect of the demands for reparations and re-examination of Britain and Europe’s role that followed revelations that UK families were paid compensation – their Reparations for Slavery – up to 2015, also resulted in commendable and welcome signs of initial willingness by guilt parties to atone and apologize, as with the few universities, churches, companies and families that have acknowledged the findings and taken steps to amend.
In August 2021, Bridget Freeman, a UK philanthropist and musician, made a voluntary donation of US $500,000 to The UWI’s Global Giving Fund as “a personal reparation” after late discovery of her family’s ties to Slavery in the Caribbean.
That was followed in 2022 by an indication that Digicel Chairman Denis O’Brian was ready to make a sizeable personal contribution to help push Reparations in the UK and across CARICOM.
Then, February 2023 saw the formal launch of a $100,000 Family Reparations Fund in Grenada by ex-BBC Presenter Laura Trevelyan, whose family had owned slaves and plantations there.
Buckingham Palace offered expressions of royal sorrow three times during the late Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations across the Commonwealth, with Prince Charles leading the way on November 30, 2021 at Barbados’ republic celebrations and following-up at the 2022 Commonwealth Summit in Rwanda; and through Prince William during his Royal Visit to Jamaica in March 2022.
The Royal Visits to former British West Indian colonies, pursued with traditional historical colonial strings attached, yielded images that didn’t brighten the monarchy’s image in the Caribbean, instead inviting Reparations protests at every stop in Antigua, Bahamas, Belize, Jamaica, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent & The Grenadines – and with the Grenada leg canceled ahead of the trip to avoid exactly what happened everywhere else.
On December 18, 2022, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte offered a formal apology for The Netherlands role in Trans-Atlantic slavery and pledged reparations would follow for Surinam, even if not under his watch, describing his intervention as “a comma, and not a full-stop.”
But the Dutch comma also accentuated the first public apology by an EU member-state that built its empire off slavery, opening the way for others to follow, voluntarily or not.
Thus far in 2023, Prince Charles has responded positively to a call by The Guardian newspaper for Buckingham Palace to follow its example and fess-up about the Royal Family’s involvement in the slave trade.
The Guardian, whose owners owned-up to its slavery connection only after independent investigations already under way (that the paper eventually joined) were leading to unearthing the uncomfortable facts, including a document proving that its founding family had donated slaves to a British king (information I’m sure the historian in Sir Hilary could easily have provided, if only asked…)
King Charles responded by saying that six months earlier (October 2022), he’d in fact commissioned a thorough investigation into the roles of Buckingham and other royal palaces in Slavery – and that he may also be willing to discuss Reparations.
Those statements by the king, two months before his coronation in May and less than a year after his mother’s unprecedented expressions of royal sorrow — even without any clear apology — also resulted from the waves started by what was seen as a mere pebble in global waters in 2013, but which, nine years later, have assumed near tidal-wave and tsunamic proportions in some cases and places.
SOBWC 2023 will be representative of Reparations and Black World entities and advocates in Africa and the Caribbean, North and South America and the Caribbean — and People of African Descent on both sides of The Atlantic.
The CARICOM region will have Prime Ministers Mitchell and Mottley, elder statesman P.J. Patterson), CRC Chair (Sir Hilary) and Dr Hilary Brown of the CARICOM Secretariat, as well as chairs of National Reparations Committees (NRCs) in CARICOM.
The presence of Colombia’s first Black Vice President and the country’s first Black elected senator will also do much to broaden and deepen the spread of the original CARICOM message to all of South America’s mainland and island nations.
The First African Union (AU)-CARICOM Summit took place September 7, 2021 and one year later the two regions agreed to observe the date annually as AFRICA-CARICOM Day.
And in 2022, the Caribbean got formal inclusion in the UN’s Permanent Forum for the Decade for People of African Descent (2014-2025), although only in the decade’s eighth year.
2023 has already seen and heard public protests and loud calls by UK parliamentarians (including John Lewis, of Grenadian ancestry) for MPs with historical family links to Slavery in the Caribbean (like Richard Drax’s to Barbados) to examine their horns and consciences and follow the Freeman, O’Brian and Trevelyan examples — not just making amends, but also assisting in ensuring the UK government responds to CARICOM’s outstanding requests to London (and Brussels) for a discussion on Reparations.
Notwithstanding all the above, the UK and EU haven’t even afforded the Heads of Government of 14 member-states of the UN — all of which are also former European colonies — a formal response from Brussels, which is obviously more bent on preserving the post-Slavery, neocolonial and imperial Status Quo than caring to address claims by small nations for compensation by way of reparations for centuries of direct and generational effects of what the UN has designated (Slavery) as the ‘Worst Crime Against Humanity’ known to Humankind.
But never mind all the obvious-stated reasons why Brussels should have at least responded by now, the EU has simply failed or refused to elevate the almost-decade-old formal CARICOM Heads of Governments’ request for dialogue on Reparations to the status of an agenda item.
As the CRC approaches its next quarterly meeting ahead of its 10th Anniversary, SOBWC 5 offers five days of opportunities to examine the wider themes of ‘Global Africans Rising’ and its sub-themes of Empowerment, Reparations and Healing.
But apart from the items already on the menu for the five-day Baltimore International Food-for-Thought parley, the conference – longer than an international cricket test match — will offer at least five times the possibilities for the usual type of sideline networking that lasts beyond usual one-day conferences.
So, while the global 2023 SOBWC’s agenda will have set the tone, content will be fleshed-out at the tables in the halls and between meetings, as delegates use this rare extended opportunity to network and build contacts for permanent alliances.
In that regard, delegates might want to look at the following issues that are common to all as to each:
1. Adopting a Universal 10-point Plan for Reparatory Justice for Native Genocide, Slavery and Indentureship
2. Adoption of W. Arthur Lewis’ 1939 blueprint in his seminal book Labour in the West Indies (available on Amazon) as Universal Template for an Economic Development model (already done by CARICOM in 2020)
3. Establish unified modalities to determine approaches to issues like:
(a) Quantums Owed and Formulae for Reparations
(b) Making the Legal Cases
(c) Private Financing Initiatives
(d) A Global Calendar of Dates of Significance to Nations and People of African Descent
4. Equalizing Demands for Reparations for Native Genocide and Indentureship
5. Ensuring Reparations and Black Lives Matter themes are reflected in the US 2024 Presidential Campaign
6. Globalization of the HR-40 Campaign
7. Responding to Buckingham Palace’s expressions of royal sorrow
8. Implications for First People of the Renunciation of the Vatican’s ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ by the first Latin American Pope
9. Establishment of a Universal Tri-continental Library and Museum of Slavery, Native Genocide and Indentureship (covering Africa, The Americas and The Caribbean)
10. Promoting a Second Decade for People of African Descent
11. Building Trans-Atlantic Alliances; and
12. Taking the Global Reparations Case to the United Nations General Assembly, the European Parliament, the US Congress, the Inter-American Parliamentary Union, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Union, the Caribbean Court of Justice and the International Court of Justice
All the above are interconnected with the grand theme and while most delegates may not have five free days to attend either a cricket match or Black World status conference, there’s still enough time to ensure each and all are fleshed-and-flushed-out well-enough for post-conference follow-up, to help Global Africans continue to rise.
Unfortunately, the Reparations Message has spread over the last nine years faster and farther than imagined in 2013, to the extent that CARICOM and member-nations are playing catch-up as new initiatives unfold and older ones gather more steam than moss.
The CRC’s next quarterly meeting, expected soon after SOBWC 5, will also be able to further discuss related SOBWC issues specific to the region, especially CARICOM’s institutional capacity to adjust to the multiplied needs for time and resources and the need for upgrading the relationship between the CRC and the PMSC (the latter only having met twice since 2013).
CARICOM and the CRC will also have to grasp with new realities, like how to respond to private family financing and ‘repair’ initiatives, related Caribbean diplomatic representation at the UN and appointment of national, regional and international CARICOM Reparations Ambassadors.
But the 5th SOBWC, with its all-embracing theme and tripod of tentacles, coming as it is at a time when the global reparations and related causes are still more bubbling than sizzling and attended by delegates from Africa and The Americas, The Caribbean and Europe, has all the ingredients it will take to realize Dr Daniel’s wish for it to be “one of the most significant in the 21st century.”
The State of the Black World Conference V – https://ibw21.org/sobwcv/
Earl Bousquet is Chair of the Saint Lucia National Reparations Committee (NRC).