Marcus Garvey, Pan Africanism and Reparations
The following article has been republished. It originally appeared in Searchlight and was written by Renwick Rose on August 19, 2022.
This past Wednesday, August 17, marked the 135th anniversary of the great Marcus Mosiah Garvey, hailed up to today as one of the foremost advocates of the black race and an outstanding black liberator. He was one of the leading Pan Africanists of the early 20th century, a black Jamaican-born who along with the Trinidadian George Padmore ensured that the Caribbean, the seat of the odious system of slavery, played a prominent role in anti-slavery, anti-colonialism and black self-determination.
Garvey has left a legacy including speeches and writings and has been particularly influential on the Rastafarian movement and on those who advocate strong links between African people in the homeland and those in the western hemisphere and Europe. But he did not just talk and write, for his life was a shining example of tireless and committed opposition to the gross injustices committed against his people.
Garvey was an activist who travelled the globe preaching the messages of black liberation and unity of the African people. Who can forget his exhortation of “Up, you African people, you have nothing to lose but your chains”. He was an uncompromising defender of the rights of black people, a vocal promoter of black pride which had been severely damaged by the ravages of colonialism and slavery, and urged that black people should strive not only for political independence but economic independence as well.
One of Garvey’s legacies to us is the call for Reparations for the victims of slavery and colonialism. It was no surprise that in several countries, Garveyite chapters sprung up. Many of the formal and informal chapters owe their existence to his mighty presence and most of the Caribbean’s anti-colonial leaders of the 20th century were heavily influenced by him. These include our own Captain Hugh Mulzac, Ebeneezer Joshua and Samuel “Sheriff” Lewis, leader of the national rebellion in 1935.
It must be emphasized that Garvey’s work has contributed in no small way to the development of the Reparations Movement of today. Leaders of this movement not only advocated its end but also that proponents of the system and their modern-day beneficiaries should atone for the genocide and heinous human rights violations of the rights of African people.
Thus, for him, it was not enough to say “Sorry” for the crimes of the past, there must also be atonement and compensation for these evils.
That remains at the heart of the call, the essence of the Reparations Movement, a movement which is not just limited to the advocacy of civil society organizations but now extends to national governments and even inter-governmental organizations, including CARICOM, the African Union and the United Nations itself.
As usual, especially with the demand for reparations being placed at a higher level, there are those who have vested interests in opposing reparations, who set out to distort the aims and progress of the Reparations Movement. Unfortunately, the nature of local politics is such that persons opposed to governments in Africa and the Caribbean in particular, sometimes get annoyed or impatient with what seems to be the slow pace of the forward movement of reparations and, sometimes, justly so, the commitment of their governments to reparations.
This is understandable, but we must never allow it to distract us from the fundamental aims or get so taken up by right opportunism or leftism, that we end up divided on such a vital matter. It would be a fatal error either on the part of governments or their opponents to facilitate the divide and rule strategy of those who want to block the progress of the Reparations Movement.
Fortunately, there are among us, outstanding regional leaders with track records of substance who are keeping the flag flying. One such is Antiguan patriot Dorbrene “Fats” O’Marde who last week delivered the memorial address at the UWI-sponsored function to honour the memory of one of our own Pan Africanists and nationalist, the late Oscar Allen.
In his address, Dorbrene put to rest the falsehood that reparations is just about money, attempts by governments and interested persons to get money from developed countries. He made it clear that reparations constitute “not a begging exercise” but rather is aimed at restoring equity and social relations by those whose human rights have been violated over the years.
O’Marde also informed his listeners that it is not a trivial exercise but one that calls for the proponents to clearly establish that a crime took place and that such crimes (slavery, genocide and colonialism) have contributed to the present condition of those affected.
Excellent work, “Fats”!
In order for reparations to succeed we have to learn to exercise patience and demonstrate understanding. It is quite in order to be critical of this or that government or the pace and depth of work of the Reparations Movement, but we should avoid isolationist do-it-alone positions. Those who are “Blacker than thou”, or “Most coarse” will play into the hands of those who oppose Reparations.
Governments, CARICOM, the UWI and national committees will not always work with the dedication and pace that many of us will like, but we have to learn to be critical positively and avoid division at all costs.
We must continue to prod and urge but to avoid factionalism. Unity is essential and a fundamental requisite for success. Let us all be supportive, critical where necessary but ON BOARD.