EDITORIAL: Need to reflect on our history
One of the inescapable incidents of man’s inhumanity to man is the need for reflection on events which some of us would rather forget.
Slavery, in our case, and the Holocaust, in the case of the Jews, are two examples of such atrocities, but modern-day ethnic cleansing and the whole colonial experience also come to mind.
Two recent news items brought us face to face with this need to reflect, if only to ensure that we honour the contribution of our forbears. The recent publication by Sir Hilary Beckles, a well known academic and social and economic historian, of his latest work entitled Britain’s Black Debt, is an important contribution to a balanced and proper appreciation of our past as a people once suffering under the yoke of colonialism.
The professor’s work in this book is yet another reason it is important for a people to look for themselves at their history and not solely rely on historians, who are strangers to the experience, to research and publish their history.
The historical data unearthed by Sir Hilary presents a convincing case for the award of what has been identified in the public mind as reparations. The specific benefit of this scholarly reflection is that it has identified, in a direct way, the connection between some present-day personal wealth and privilege in Britain; and the exploitation of the people of this region over the centuries during and after slavery.
He has even posited the view that the very high-salt diet of the slaves – consumed day after day, year in and year out – may be connected to the susceptibility of our people as the heirs of such slaves, to some of the more rampant non-communicable diseases of our time.
In reflecting on times past, our concern is to ensure that we so understand our history that neither we nor our children should lose our sense of perspective as we grapple for a clear understanding of where we came from, so as to know where we need to go, and Sir Hilary’s work helps us in that journey.
On Monday we heard that the British government and Kenyan citizens had begun talks aimed at working out compensation for the Kenyans tortured and sexually assaulted at the hands of the colonial British in the 1950s.
This was also a cause for sober reflection because a British High Court decision last October ruled that three elderly Kenyans could pursue claims for the horrible deprivations they had suffered at the hands of the British colonial administration and the British government had appealed. One hopes that these negotiations are satisfactorily concluded and justice is at last done.
Given our shared history we can identify with the position of the Kenyans and wish them well in their ongoing fight for justice. Yet, even as we reflect on these matters, we note carefully that in commenting on the latest aspects of the Kenyan case the British Foreign Office has stated that “it is an enduring feature of our democracy that we are willing to learn from our history”.
It would be a supreme irony if, in reflecting on our history, we did not draw the appropriate lessons so that both we and our heirs could learn well from these past experiences.