As I wrote in my last piece, the issue of reparations for Africans is a major issue being debated in Guyana and the Caribbean community, particularly since Caricom is keeping the issue on top of its agenda. In Guyana, reparations are closely tied to Eric Phillips, who as the leader of the Guyana Reparations Committee, has made a serious commitment to seeking reparations from European countries which committed “crimes against humanity” in their pursuit of chattel slavery, resulting in the forceful removal of Africans from their homeland and distribution to plantation economies around the world. It was the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, under the PPP government, which established the Guyana Reparations Committee in 2013. Mr Phillips has since served as its Chairperson.
For the record, I have no problem with demands for reparations by African leaders in Guyana, as long as reparation claims do not brand the Amerindians and Indians as perpetrators of this crime against humanity, overtly or covertly. A civilized world owes it to humanity to correct past injustices against its fellow citizens. Social justice and correcting historical wrongs should not create additional strains in our already racially divided society.
No doubt, Phillips, who is quite capable of leading this charge, is determined to seek out justice for his fellow Africans. According to his resume, Phillips is listed as a consultant and a former White House Fellow. He is a lecturer at the Business and Management Department at the University of Guyana and a Director of the African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA). Needless to say, Eric is well grounded in the African tradition, and his role in the Reparations Committee makes him a central leader of Africans in Guyana. Additionally, his current position as a Presidential advisor puts him in a position where he can effectively influence the Guyana government on this issue. Not surprisingly, President Granger, in a recent presentation at the Cuffy 250 symposium, made it clear that the Guyana Government is interested in more than an apology from the guilty party, and that his government will pursue the call for reparations with a sense of urgency.
Whether Africans like it or not, Phillips is speaking on behalf of the over 200,000 or more Persons of African Descent living in Guyana and their ancestors who have made Guyana their home for over three hundred and fifty years, following the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Phillips is not alone in this struggle. There is a silent majority, represented by a wide ranging number of African organisations in Guyana that have accepted the reality of reparations as a compensatory act towards the injustice of slavery. If most African organisations are not on board yet, they will probably join the calls for reparations at some point. As Granger reminded us, these African organisations, with those formed over the last 25 years, include, but are not limited to: the African Cultural Development Association (ACDA); African Heritage Foundation (AHF); African Welfare Convention (AWC); All African-Guyanese Council (AAGC); Forum for the Liberation of African-Guyanese (FLAG); National Emancipation Trust (NET); Movement for Economic Empowerment (MEE); Pan-African Movement (PAM); and Revival of Awareness and Promotion of African Culture (RAPAC).
History has recorded that Africans “had driven back the sea and had cleared, drained and reclaimed 15,000 square miles of forest and swamps” [equivalent to 9,000,000 acres of land]… installed “2,580,000 miles of drainage canals, trenches and inter-bed drains…3,500 miles of dams, roads and footpaths, and 2,176 miles of sea and river defence” and the Venn Commission has noted that “a value of 100,000,000 tons of earth” was moved by African slaves to humanize the Guyanese physical landscape. This is no small accomplishment, but the labour that went into this turning point in Guyana’s early history, converted a wasteland into a habitable environment for future generations.
In his quest to convince the naysayers that justice for Africans will be achieved through reparations, Eric Phillips has eagerly over-extended his reach and has taken antagonistic positions against his opponents. While he has been criticized for downplaying the Amerindians’ case for reparations, he now seems to have placed Indians as perpetrators of the injustice against Africans. Here is what he said:
“…denying the descendants of Africans in Guyana their just reparations in terms of lands is simply another ‘crime against humanity’ by those who came after them”. He left us dangling by saying that his comments on these issues “will have to wait”. Is there any doubt as to what he meant?
To be continued.