African Union and the Diaspora speak with one voice for Reparations

by August 19, 2023

HE Francia Marquez, Vice-President of the Republic of Colombia and The UWI Vice-Chancellor Prof. Sir Hilary Beckles.

As the Caribbean region marked 185 years of Emancipation from slavery, history was again unfolding in Barbados with a convergence of African Union, CARICOM and civil society leaders for a high-level Study Tour on Reparations and Racial Healing.

Convening partners included the African Union Economic Social and Cultural Council (AU-ECOSOCC) and The University of The West Indies (The UWI) with Vice-Chancellor and CARICOM Reparations Commission Chair, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles recognised as a key contributor to the thought leadership which produced the very successful study tour, strengthening bonds between Africa and the diaspora on the subject of reparatory justice.

Professor Beckles’ statement at the concluding news conference held on July 27, was a passionate articulation of the significance of the moment: “This magnificent workshop is the result of the convergence of two very powerful historical forces. Those of us who have come through the diaspora, victims of colonisation, demanding freedom and justice and we are now on the same playing field as our African leaders who have now come to the table to energise this movement.” Acknowledging the longstanding support of global civil society partners for the reparations movement he noted however, that “There is only so much the diaspora can do without the powerful voice and solidarity of African political leadership…finally, as in the Caribbean, African governments have now come on board. We believe this will change the entire trajectory of reparatory justice.”

Mr. Kyeretwie Osei, Head of Programs, ECOSOCC who also served as moderator for the news conference, shared highlight lessons and outcomes of the study tour. These included firstly an identified need to create a political framework on the African continent, the Caribbean and Latin America to guide cooperation on issues of reparative justice. Secondly, a call for institutional cooperation between the African Union and CARICOM as well as like-minded institutions in the Americas. Thirdly, he noted the need to ensure that the reparations dialogue incorporates shared and contemporary challenges e.g., climate justice and improved equity in the global financial architecture. Finally, Mr. Osei acknowledged the clear messaging from the youth participants of the need to better incorporate their perspectives and voices allowing them to own the message, advocate for and campaign on the issue of reparations and reparative justice in their own terms and language.

Speaking on behalf of the African Union, His Excellency Youssouf Mondoha Assoumani, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Union of Comoros and Chair of the Permanent Representatives Committee of the African Union focused on the developmental importance of strategic engagements with the diaspora. He positioned the study tour as a part of a process of continuous engagement in various regions of the world; “The African Union recognises that the African diaspora represents a historical and evolutionary experience that calls for an approach which is sensitive to the specificities of different regions. Africa and its diaspora are still reconnecting and collectively recovering from the deep wounds inflicted by slavery and colonialism. This historical context is essential to recognising the urgency of reparatory justice. The demand for a black global identity has never been stronger, and it is crucial to recognise how slavery, colonialism, and racism intersect and impact the lives of black people around the world.”

Also delivering statements were Her Excellency Francia Marquez, Vice-President of the Republic of Colombia; and Mr. Khalid Boudali, Presiding Officer of the ECOSOCC.

Proudly identifying herself as the first woman of African descent to become Vice-President of Colombia, HE Francia Marquez joined colleagues in highlighting the significance of the occasion. She said, “After centuries of loss, damage and suffering, the time has come for transformation, but this of course will be impossible if only the diaspora mobilises around this topic. It will only be possible if Africa also takes on the very important role it needs to occupy, to work with the diaspora, fight for the dignity that we all deserve and fight to stop the shame that has been imposed on our societies historically.”

ECOSOCC Presiding Officer Mr. Boudali committed that outcomes and lessons learned from the study tour will contribute to developing a strategic advocacy campaign in support of the reparations agenda across member states of both regions. He also assured that the Council would continue to play its part in promoting the representation of the African diaspora at the AU’s General Assembly.

The historic study tour was the result of the February 2023 decision of the African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government which called for a Common African Position and Programme of Action on reparations and reparative justice. Other key partners in the convening of the study tour included the Caribbean Pan African Network (CPAN); the Government of Barbados and the Open Society Foundations serving as a facilitator.