AEDRMC representatives review of the Edinburgh ReparatIons Conference

Several members of theAfrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March Committee (AEDRMC) were in attendance at the recently concluded Repairing the Past, Imagining the Future, Reparations & Beyond three-day interdisciplinary conference which took place at the Edinburgh University from 5-7 November 2015. The members in attendance were Co-Chair, Prophet Kwaku, Secretary, Sis Natoya Smith & Media Officer, BroDulani Ayton. Also, Co-Chair Sis JendayiSerwah listened to the conference sessions that were recorded and transmitted via the livestream.

Organised by Dr Nicki Frith (University of Edinburgh) Professor Joyce Hope Scott from Boston's Wheelock College, and PhD candidate Sarah Arens (University of Edinburgh) the conference brought academics, activists and government linked groups together for a three day networking event in order to stimulate debate and discussion over the effects of enslavement, past and present and suggest practical ways of repairing the contemporary legacies of enslavement beyond that of commemoration and memorialisation. The conference was also in commemoration of the UK ‘Black History’ and the US' 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment that formally abolished slavery in American law.

At this point it is necessary for us to make it clear that the grassroots community in Britain were not informed by either of the Universities, who came together to put on this international Conference. We were made aware of this conference through our work with scholar-activists Kofi MawuliKlu& Esther Stanford-XoseiPARCOE (Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe), two of the conference presenters.Who made arrangements forus to be able to attend without having to pay the conference registrationfees.

In an open letter to the conference organisers calling for “cognitive justice in academic discourse on reparations” PARCOE requested of the organisers that they:

(1) offer a select number of bursaries for at least one-day free participation in the conference to any bona fide Activist from Afrikan and other Communities of Reparations interest

(2) support and enable PARCOE to facilitate ‘Grounding’ (an open and informal dialogue and reasoning) with contingents of the International Social Movement for Afrikan Reparations (ISMAR), Academia and Communities of Reparatory Justice Interest and contingents of the as a fringe event during the conference; which was facilitated in honour particularly of our beloved martyred Dr. Walter Rodney and other Scholar-Activist Heroes and Sheroes of our Pan-Afrikan Reparatory Struggle for Global Justice;

(3) establish a Joint Working Committee, together with representatives of PARCOE, the Afrikan Reparations Transnational Community of Practice (ARTCoP) and other interested parties, to globally promote, as one of the longer enduring practical outcomes of the conference, the periodic holding of such Academia and Communities of Reparatory Justice Interest Groundings with the ISMAR/PRIM (Peoples Reparations International Movement) in schools, colleges, universities as well as Community Spaces of Lifelong Learning (COSOLLs) all over the World.

The full letter sent to the conference organisers can be found here:

The response from Dr Frith on behalf of the conference organisers can be found here:

Overall there were some very interesting and informative presentations made at the conference including the keynote address provided by Professor Verene Shepherd, (University of the West Indies and Co-Vice-Chair of the CARICOM Reparations Commission) on the subject: ‘Past Imperfect, Future Perfect ?: Reparation, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation’ in which she provided a vivid reminder of the past wrongs and enduring impact on the present day realities facing Afrikan people in and beyond the Caribbean. Nevertheless her view that CARICOM had become the official voice of the reparations movement was hotly contested by Prophet Kwaku, supported by Bro Kofi Klu and subsequently reinforced by Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Chairperson of the CARICOM Reparations Commission.

In addition some of the other key presentations made from the perspective of reparations social-movement building were those of:

•Professor Ray Winbush (Morgan State University, MD, USA), ‘Necessary Coalitions in the Struggle for Reparations: The GLASS Model’.
•Professor Joyce E. King (Georgia State University, GA, USA), ‘A Reparatory Justice Curriculum for Human Freedom: Re-Writing the Debt Owed and the Story of Our Dispossession’ ’Kofi MawuliKlu (Panafriindaba, UK and Ghana, PARCOE), ‘Resurgence of the ISMAR in the United Kingdom: Towards the Pan-Afrikan Grassroots Globalization of the PRIM.’
•Professor Jessica Gordon Nembhard (John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, NY, USA), ‘African-American Cooperatives, Community Development and the Case for Reparations’.
•Isis Amlak (Global Afrikan Congress uk, GACuk), ‘Agents of Change Versus Reform: The Role of Global Grassroots Activists in the Movement for Reparatory Justice’.
•Esther Stanford-Xosei (The Afrikan Reparations Transnational Community of Practice, ARTCoP and University of Chichester), ‘Operation Stop Maangamizi: So-called Transatlantic Slavery and its Legacies in the Critical Perspective of the International Social Movement for Afrikan Reparations (ISMAR)’.

One of the most significant sessions in the conference was the ‘Grounding with the ISMAR’(International Social Movement for Afrikan Reparations) session which was called to introduce delegates to the broad diversity of various sections of the ISMAR and counter the ground-up reparations movement denial. The session’s overriding purpose was to highlight a significant number of special interest groups, liberation struggles furthering the Pan-Afrikan Revolution and communities of reparations interest struggling for self-determination and restoration of Afrikan peoplehood and nationhood that need to be recognised, their efforts amplified here in Europe and such parties be involved if we are to have a genuine and holistic reparatory justice organising process. Despite the recent proliferation of news focus give to the issue of reparations for people of Afrikan heritage and a flurry of activity among various sectors of Afrikan Diaspora civil society in the Caribbean, the Americas and Europe - few of these groupings reflect an awareness and strategizing which takes into consideration to the scope, strength and manifestations of the reparations movement on the Afrikan continent. It was pointed out that the call for national UK agendawould not necessarily capture this diversity of forces making up the ISMAR as many such groupings were too busy fighting for survival and in defence of basic freedoms so did not have the ‘privilege’ to take time out to come to academic conferences whether at the grassroots of our community or in establishment academic settings. We took from this session the simple message that we have to do more than engage in reparations talk and ensure our own advocacy and outreach goes beyond a narrow section of grassroots activists, and their allied organisations, that we are comfortable with yet still may engage in action which is disconnected from the international movements, campaigns and interest groups organising and struggling to effect and secure reparations on the one hand, or academic talking shops and sounding-boards on the other.

It became very clear at the conference that knowledge production on reparations could very well become an academic industrial complex, if such knowledge is not grounded in Afrikan heritage community goals and aspirations for a post-reparations future or indeed some of the emerging structures such as ARTCoP which promotes grassroots scholar-activism on reparations and others that promote action-learning on reparations, such as the Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March Committee. As the AEDRMC, we recognise and value the role of self, family, community, organisational and life-long teaching, learning and education as part of our own preparation for reparations hence why we chose the mobilisation theme for this year as being: ‘Education is Part of the Preparation for Reparations’. It also became clear that rather than just adorn ourselves in the fanfare of triumphalism at having simply attended the conference, the key determinant of its impact and outcomes will be the extent to which the discourse and knowledge shared at the conference influences the power structures that are preventing Afrikan people from determining our own realities. In addition, the extent to which we at the grassroots are not only able to influence others around our own self-determined reparatory justice objectives and goals but also the degree to which we are able to also learn from other people’s reparatory justice struggles and cross fertilise our knowledges on reparations as the ‘battle of ideas’ on various aspects of reparations becomes more commonplace.

As members of theAEDRMC, we are part of a contingent of Afrikan heritage community activists, who individually and collectively, were able to demonstrate and impress upon delegates that within the UK there exists a body of committed reparations activists. Also we have the challenge of ensuring that in the future, we are no longer ignored or bypassed when it comes to programmes and activities being organised on British soil in academic spaces which purport to be about us.

Most significantly, and given the environment in which the conference took place, it was encouraging to hear Professor Sir Hilary Beckles concede that, 'CARICOM is not the heart of the reparations movement. It's only an element.' Beckles full comments on this point are as follows:

“…And to the gentleman who spoke about the CARICOM Reparations Commission, let me say this, It’s a government commission, notwithstanding the fact that many others are on it, we have all different types of people on this commission, Grassroots people, academics, NGO people, all kinds of people are on this commission, but it is a government commission and we are aware of its limits. I do not believe that the CARICOM Reparations Commission is at the heart of the struggle, it is not at the heart of this struggle. It is just an element of many other elements in the struggle and I will not be part of any rationale that says the CARICOM Reparations Commission is in the vanguard of the reparations movement, it is not. It is just a strategy developed at a moment in time to move the conversation along, a little. But it is not the heart of this struggle and can never be. It’s a civil society struggle. The commission is just an instrument, moving it from A to B, hoping that it adds value. But believe me it is not at the center. So, yes it has advantages, but we who are on it, are fully aware of its many disadvantages and the criticisms of it are real and legitimate. From time to time the Prime Ministers remind us that we cannot step outside the crease, we are a government commission, they remind us of that. So believe me there is, there’s a tension there. So the critique, I am happy to hear it, because I am thankful we have the civil society movement going and if we think for a moment, that the CARICOM government commission is going to hold this together, it cannot, it is just an instrument in the many other elements in the process. Thank you.”

The full presentation can be found here (from 2:06:44)

Conference Co-organiser Professor Joyce Hope Scott, in the introduction and reiterated at the end during the round table discussions, stated that this would not be just another conference, insisting that “something will come out of it”.Accordingly, one of the main conclusions to come out during the round table discussions, was that in future the way that our Ancestors are addressed will not be as ‘The Slaves’ but ‘The Afrikans who were kidnapped and enslaved’ i.e.‘Enslaved Afrikans’. This reaffirms the humanity of our Ancestors and demonstrates the power of the grassroots ability to influence discourse and outcomes within academic scholarship settings. Also, during the roundtable conclusion, Prophet Kwaku made it clear that Europeans are still benefiting from our Maangamizi, in that Europeans are presenting scholarly papers on our Maangamizi which, if not happening already, will go towards them gaining PhDs etc. Prophet Kwaku emphasized “Dis ah no joke ting” pointing out that Europeans continue to benefit from our suffering, in that for some of them, their establishment academic writings are a job, but for us as Afrikans, this is economic, intellectual, academic cultural and spiritual warfare and our very lives and future are at stake. This point was backed up by Sisters Isis Amlak from the GACuk, in addition to Sister Matilda MacAttram (Black Mental Health UK) who referred to this as ‘academic genocide’. It was quite clear throughout the conference that for the Afrikans who reside in the UK,the language of reference is always one of Afrikan inclusion. Meaning that, we always refer to the entire Afrikan peoples on the Continent and in the Diaspora. We the Afrikan grassroots in the International Social Movement for Afrikan Reparations, both on the Diaspora and in the continent of Afrika, cannot hold our breaths and just wait for another conference. For the conditions of life that our people are experiencing today compels us to carrying on doing what we have to do to move the reparations agenda forward within and beyond the UK. The next reparations conference that happens must be led by the grassroots, we must galvanise our resources and make this happen. At the same time, we must not see progress on reparations happening only when it occurs in sanitisedconference settings’ as we must also strive to not valorise Eurocentric approaches to knowledge production and dissemination. We must find ways of truly ‘grounding’ with the masses of our people on the sacred and just cause of reparatory justice.

We on the Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March Committee remain committed to realising the aims of the march which are to:

1. To draw attention to Afrikan people’s global determination to not let the British State and other perpetrators get away with the crimes of the Maangamizi (Afrikan hellacaust of chattel, colonial and neo-colonial enslavement).
2. To hand in the Stop the Maangamizi: We Charge Genocide/Ecocide petition requesting an All-Party Commission of Inquiry for Truth & Reparatory Justice in order to raise consciousness about the fact that all the attacks on us, in both individual and collective instances, amount to Genocide/Ecocide in Maangamizi continuity necessitating reparations.
3. To increase awareness of the necessity to ‘Stop the Maangamizi’ and its current manifestations such as austerity, attempts to recolonise Afrika, mentacide and deaths in police, psychiatric and prison custody.
4. To demonstrate Afrikan peoples’ strength, capacity and determination to speak to and challenge establishment power with our growing grassroots power to effect and secure reparations (reparatory justice) on our own terms.
5. To highlight Afrikan peoples grassroots demands and initiatives for effecting and securing reparations.

In conclusion, this is not the first reparations conference there has been in the UK and this will certainly not be the last. We each have a responsibility to also learn about what has already been done on this issue, the history of UK based Afrikan organising efforts to secure reparatory justice so that we may better assess how much our current actions are advancing the struggle to effect secure reparatory justice. In the meantime, the work to liberate ourselves and our people as well as build another world from the one that we currently inhabit, the only true guarantee of non-repetition, continues!

If you would like to do more to be engaged in reparations social movement-building please visit this website to see what you can do to assist us in fulfilling some of the aims of the Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March and its year-round programme of education for mobilisation and self-organisation towards effecting and securing reparations.

Despite the fact that it may appear as though there is no organising framework and strategy in the UK, such a view is based on a lack of knowledge, and in some cases, denial of the recent history and/or a forgetting of strategies that have been agreed at previous reparations gatherings since the inception of the seminal ‘Africa Reparations Movement’ (ARM, UK) in 1993, despite the many contestations of its legitimacy from section of the Afrikan grassroots, in addition to the various reparations focused organisations and organising processes within and beyond the UK since this time. It is incumbent upon members of the Afrikan heritage community to know that this struggle begun long before each and every one of us was born. So, if we are to do justice to this sacred cause and those Afrikan luminaries from among us who have carried the baton throughout the generations,as well as strengthen the movement, it is important for us to have the humility to know where and when we joined the struggle is not where the struggle begun. Let us continue to learn from those who struggled before us and make the necessary improvements along the way for the sake of our children and our future progeny.

Hotep, Ase!!!

Prophet Kwaku Bonsu& Sis JendayiSerwah
Co-Chairs Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March Committee

Also read: Justification for Reparations part 1

Justification for Reparations part 2

Reparations and A New Global Order: A Comparative Overview by Dr Chinweizu Chinweizu
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