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Euro parliament passes call for reparations for crimes against Africa during colonialism

  • Resolution was approved by 535 MEPs, with 80 votes against and 44 abstentions
  • It calls on EU members to declassify colonial archives and issue public apologies
  • Urges countries to adopt reforms to end discrimination against Afro-Europeans
  • In Congo, Belgian King Leopold II said to have made between $100 and $500 million during his reign there but as many as 10 million Africans were killed in the process
  • Belgian soldiers routinely to cut off the heads of the Congolese men and hang them on the village palisades, also their sexual members, and also hang the women and children on the palisade in the form of a cross

 

THE European Parliament has overwhelmingly backed a watershed resolution calling for reparations for crimes committed in Africa during European colonialism. The bill urges European member states to introduce a series of sweeping reforms aimed at tackling ‘structural racism’ facing millions of Afro-Europeans.

TOP: The European Parliament voted has overwhelmingly backed a resolution calling for reparations on EU countries for crimes against Africa. Above: The resolution, hailed as a 'watershed moment', was drawn up by British Labour MEP Claude Moraes

TOP: The European Parliament voted has overwhelmingly backed a resolution calling for reparations on EU countries for crimes against Africa. Above: The resolution, hailed as a ‘watershed moment’, was drawn up by British Labour MEP Claude Moraes

‘Histories of injustices against Africans and people of African Descent – including enslavement, forced labour, racial apartheid, massacre, and genocides in the context of European colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade – remain largely unrecognised and unaccounted for at an institutional level in the European Uion (EU) member states,’ the text states.

The resolution was drawn up by British Labour MEP Claude Moraes and was inspired by the racist behavior experienced by Italian socialist MEP Cecile Kyenge, who served as Italy’s first black government minister.

The text was inspired by the racist behavior experienced by Italian socialist MEP Cecile Kyenge (pictured), who served as Italy’s first black government minister

The text was inspired by the racist behaviour experienced by Italian socialist MEP Cecile Kyenge who served as Italy’s first black government minister

It calls on the countries to implement nation-wide strategies to deal with discrimination in education, health, housing, policing, the justice system and politics.

The resolution – approved by 535 MEPs, with 80 votes against and 44 abstentions – also calls on European member states to declassify their colonial archives, covering the most disturbing periods of Europe’s colonial past, and issue public apologies. It urges the EU to adopt ‘a workforce diversity and inclusion strategy’ to address the underrepresentation of ethnic minority officials.

As it stands, the EU does not share data on race, ethnicity or religion because it’s considered contrary to equality. The text is not legally-binding, but it was hailed as a watershed moment campaign groups for specifically focusing on the discrimination faced on the continent by an estimated 15 million people. Pressure is now on the European commission to fund the schemes in the EU’s next seven-year budget.

When they could not cope with the slave work of producing their quotas of rubber harvest, King Leopold II had instructions that arms of the ‘offending’ Congolese should be chopped off

When they could not cope with the slave work of producing their quotas of rubber harvest, King Leopold II had instructions that arms of the ‘offending’ Congolese should be chopped off

Amel Yacef, the chair of the European Network Against Racism, told The Guardian the vote was ‘a historic, watershed moment for the recognition of people of African descent in Europe’.

She added: ‘The European parliament is leading the way and sending a signal to EU member states to tackle structural racism that prevents black people from being included in European society. The ball is now in their court: we need concrete action plans and specific measures now.’

One of the great crimes of the last 150 years was the conquest and exploitation of the Congo by King Leopold II of Belgium. When King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa was published, It exposed all the major characters in that brutal patch of history.

One of the most savage and brutal human beings that ever lived; King Leopold II of the Belgian Congo infamy

One of the most savage and brutal human beings that ever lived; King Leopold II of the Belgian Congo infamy

It featured the avaricious King Leopold, who imposed a slave labour system on his ‘personal’ African colony to extract its vast wealth in ivory and wild rubber, with millions dying in the process. The book included the remarkable array of heroic figures who resisted or exposed  the brutal European king’s misdeeds. Among them were African rebel leaders like Chief Mulume Niama, who fought to the death trying to preserve the independence of his Sanga people; an Irishman, Roger Casement, whose exposure to the Congo made him realize that his own country was an exploited colony and who was later hanged by the British; two black Americans who courageously managed to get information to the outside world; and the Nigerian-born Hezekiah Andrew Shanu, a small businessman who secretly leaked documents to a British journalist and was hounded to death for doing so.

The book evokes the full brutality of that era. It is one of many that would make people across the world realize at last that colonialism in Africa deserved to be ranked with Nazism and Soviet communism as one of the great totalitarian systems of modern times.

European colonialism changed the world in countless ways, but the most blatantly apparent will always be the loss of life and bloodshed that occurred in the name of expansion and progress. Western imperialism, motivated by the desire to find resources, make money, save the “uncivilized,” and garner prestige, ultimately brought about death, hardship, and violence for those who received it.

Under the reign of terror instituted by King Leopold II in Congo, as many as 10 million Africans lost their lives to one man's greed, exploitation and brutality that Africa

Under the reign of terror instituted by King Leopold II in Congo, as many as 10 million Africans lost their lives to one man’s greed, exploitation and brutality that Africa

The effects of colonialism – everything from genocide to resource exploitation to loss of cultural identity – are still felt today, while many of the lessons of colonialism seem to remain unlearned. Keep in mind, these are only some of the worst events and policies European imperialism had to offer. The horror, tragedy, and pain that was the European-driven  Atlantic Slave Trade, is on itself another story on its own.

The Belgian Congo, 1885-1908

Ruled by King Leopold II of Belgium (1835-1909) is recorded as the worst human brutality ever. King Leopold exploited the land and the Congolese people for ivory, rubber, and timber. He wanted to prove to the world that his small country could compete with the other European powers. Rubber was particularly prosperous for Leopold, who had personal control of most of the Congo until 1908.

When the Congolese men, women and children could no longer cope with the work, King Leopold II’s men would simply go after them, either killing them or cutting off their hands or genitals

When the Congolese men, women and children could no longer cope with the work, King Leopold II’s men would simply go after them, either killing them or cutting off their hands or genitals

During the late 1880s and early 1890s, the increased production of bicycles and automobiles led to a growing need for rubber that Leopold happily met. He did this with forced labour, placing Africans under the authority of a rubber agent who sent them to the forest with quotas while holding their wives and children hostage. When the Africans did not meet the quota, they were severely punished – usually flogged – and as the demand for rubber continued to go up, men had to venture further and further into the forest to find mature rubber vines. Belgians also used forced labor to cut timber and build roads.

Men worked themselves to death, their families starved, and many Africans fled to the forests as an act of rebellion. Leopold’s men, part of a private military force called Force Publique (FP), would simply go after them, either killing them or cutting off their hands or genitals to make an example of them and motivate through fear.

The Belgian soldiers were told not to waste bullets and were expected to bring back one hand for every bullet they fired. After one village rebelled, one FP officer recalled: “the commanding officer ordered us to cut off the heads of the men and hang them on the village palisades, also their sexual members, and to hang the women and the children on the palisade in the form of a cross.” When a soldier couldn’t produce a hand, he would buy one or trade for one – or he would cut one off of a living person to turn into his superior.

Slave labour in rubber plantation of King Leopold II Belgian Congo

Slave labour in rubber plantation of King Leopold II Belgian Congo

Entire villages were killed, women were assaulted while their husbands harvested rubber, and once outsiders began to get an idea of what was going on, they appealed to Leopold to stop. When George Washington William visited the Congo in 1890, he wrote a letter to Leopold questioning why there was no “civilizing” going on – meaning Christianity – and leveling charges against him of brutality. He described how the Belgians were “excessively cruel to its prisoners, condemning them, for the slightest offenses, to the chain gang, the like of which can not be seen in any other Government in the civilized or uncivilized world. Often these ox-chains eat into the necks of the prisoners and produce sores about which the flies circle, aggravating the running wound; so the prisoner is constantly worried. These poor creatures are frequently beaten with a dried piece of hippopotamus skin, called a “chicote”, and usually the blood flows at every stroke when well laid on.”

International outrage over the conditions in the Congo Free State led to the Belgian government taking over control of the colony, and renaming it the Belgian Congo in 1908. Leopold was said to have made between $100 and $500 million during his run as head of the Congo Free State but as many as 10 million Africans were killed in the process.

German Namibia And The Herero Genocide, 1904-1907

Germany’s imperial possessions in Africa included modern day Namibia, which was then called South West Africa. In the aftermath of the Berlin Conference of 1884 and 1885 (which divvied up Africa to European countries), Germany took possession of Namibia, negotiated its borders with the neighboring Portuguese-controlled Angola, and arranged for access to the Zambezi River with Britain in the east. By 1890, German began confiscating land and cattle from the native Herero and Nama populations.

The Germans herded Herero and Nama (Namibia) people into reservations and camps. Many were used as slave labour to build railways, docks and buildings throughout the country

The Germans herded Herero and Nama (Namibia) people into reservations and camps. Many were used as slave labour to build railways, docks and buildings throughout the country

There were rebellions against German rule during the 1890s and early 1900s as well as skirmishes between German troops and local tribes in 1903. One Nama chief was shot in a dispute over a goat and when Herero groups refused to move to reservations, both sides began to move toward war. In early 1904, 100 Germans were killed by African forces, who outnumbered the Europeans initially, but by August, the Germans had the upper hand.

Over the subsequent two years, Germany moved the Herero and Nama tribes to reservations and camps. Many of the “prisoners of war” from the camps “were used as slave labour to build railways, docks and buildings throughout the country.” Germany issued extermination orders, articulated by colonial governor, Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha. The order stated: “The Herero people will have to leave the country. If the people refuse I will force them with cannons to do so. Within the German boundaries, every Herero, with or without firearms, with or without cattle, will be shot. I won’t accommodate women and children anymore. I shall drive them back to their people or I shall give the order to shoot at them.”

The war between Germany and the Nama carried on until 1907, by which time “65,000-80,000 Herero lives and around 10,000 Nama lives had been lost.” This constituted about 80% of their total populations.

 

-Additional reporting by Correspondents and Agencies

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