Bicentenaire de l’abolition de l’esclavage: Retour sur l’omerta africaine (We don’t discuss slavery)

Thomas Clarkson
We don’t discuss slavery. Barima Kwame Nkye XII (chef ghanéen)
Il apparaît bien paradoxal, au moment où l’Afrique attend des excuses pour les effets dévastateurs qui ont laminé son potentiel économique, déformé les systèmes politiques, sapé les pratiques morales et civiques, qu’elle continue à pratiquer elle-même l’esclavage. Moustapha Kadi Oumani
Les « traites d’exportation » des Noirs hors d’Afrique remontent au VIIe siècle de notre ère, avec la constitution d’un vaste empire musulman qui est esclavagiste, comme la plupart des sociétés de l’époque. Comme on ne peut réduire un musulman en servitude, on répond par l’importation d’esclaves venant d’Asie, d’Europe centrale et d’Afrique subsaharienne. Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau
A la différence de l’islam, le christianisme n’a pas entériné l’esclavage. Mais, comme il ne comportait aucune règle d’organisation sociale, il ne l’a pas non plus interdit. Pourtant, l’idée d’une égalité de tous les hommes en Dieu dont était porteur le christianisme a joué contre l’esclavage, qui disparaît de France avant l’an mil. Cependant, il ressurgit au XVIIe siècle aux Antilles françaises, bien que la législation royale y prescrive l’emploi d’une main-d’oeuvre libre venue de France. L’importation des premiers esclaves noirs, achetés à des Hollandais, se fait illégalement. Jean-Louis Harouel
Si Dieudonné plaçait l’Histoire au-dessus de son fantasme mémoriel, comment l’humoriste franco-camerounais, né dans la banlieue parisienne, pourrait-il se revendiquer « descendant d’esclave »?  Géraldine Faes et Stephen Smith
Concernant le passé, les historiens s’inquiètent pour la vérité historique et pour leur liberté de recherche du fait de l’intrusion du législateur et du juge dans leur domaine. La loi Taubira procède en effet d’une lecture partielle en n’évoquant que «la traite négrière transatlantique ainsi que la traite dans l’océan Indien d’une part, et l’esclavage d’autre part, perpétrés à partir du XVe siècle, aux Amériques et aux Caraïbes, dans l’océan Indien et en Europe». D’une tragédie qui appartient à la longue histoire de l’humanité elle ne retient, sur une séquence courte, que les faits imputables aux seuls Blancs européens, laissant de côté la majorité des victimes de l’esclavage. La terrible traite transatlantique, du XVe au XIXe siècle, ne constitue malheureusement qu’une partie de l’histoire de l’esclavage, qui comprend également la traite arabo-musulmane, laquelle a duré du VIIe au XXe siècle, et la traite intra-africaine, toutes deux plus meurtrières. Le risque de voir cette histoire partielle, donc partiale, devenir histoire officielle a mobilisé les historiens quand l’un des meilleurs spécialistes actuels des traites négrières, Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau, a été attaqué en justice au nom de la loi Taubira. Parce qu’il rappelait que la quasi-totalité des esclaves africains avaient été razziés non par des Blancs, mais par des négriers africains et que le commerce des esclaves était une routine sur le continent noir bien avant l’arrivée des négriers européens. Il lui était aussi reproché de réfuter l’application du terme de «génocide» aux traites négrières, contredisant ainsi le parallèle implicite entre l’esclavage et l’extermination des juifs qu’évoque l’exposé des motifs de la loi Taubira. (…) Les enjeux du présent expliquent ces relectures du passé. Christiane Taubira déclare sans ambages qu’il ne faut pas trop évoquer la traite négrière arabo-musulmane pour que les «jeunes Arabes» «ne portent pas sur leur dos tout le poids de l’héritage des méfaits des Arabes». Ces logiques communautaires influent aussi sur le projet mémoriel La Route de l’esclave, décidé en 1993 par l’Unesco: Roger Botte, chercheur au Centre d’études africaines du CNRS, constate qu’il privilégie également la traite transatlantique du fait de «la pression des représentants du monde arabe et des Etats africains». Les démarches identitaires d’associations revendiquant le statut de victimes de l’Histoire transforment les débats. Dieudonné et les Indigènes de la République ont ainsi avancé l’expression très problématique de «descendant d’esclave». Empruntée aux Noirs américains – chez qui elle correspond à une réalité historique – cette notion ne peut, avec des nuances, s’appliquer en France qu’aux populations originaires des départements d’outre-mer, mais pas à celles de l’immigration africaine, n’ayant aucun rapport généalogique avec l’esclavage, sinon une éventuelle filiation avec des marchands d’esclaves. (…) Que signifie en effet revendiquer une identité victimaire et invoquer une «souffrance» avec cinq ou six générations de décalage? Est-elle assimilable aux souffrances et traumatismes transmis ou vécus directement, d’une génération à l’autre ou entre contemporains, qu’ont connus juifs, Arméniens, Bosniaques, Rwandais ou victimes du communisme? Et à quoi correspond l’application, à des siècles de distance, de la notion de «crime contre l’humanité», définie en 1945? Là réside le paradoxe le plus gênant, quand l’obsession pour un passé réinventé sert de substitut aux urgences du présent: le concept de crime contre l’humanité est une catégorie pénale dont l’objet est la poursuite de criminels; elle a ainsi permis de pourchasser au bout du monde les derniers criminels nazis. Or les criminels esclavagistes n’appartiennent malheureusement pas tous au passé lointain. Si l’histoire des traites européennes, qui se caractérise par sa relative brièveté et par leur abolition, est terminée depuis plus d’un siècle et demi, l’esclavage s’est prolongé dans de nombreux pays (dont l’Arabie saoudite) jusqu’au milieu du XXe siècle – c’est pour le dénoncer qu’Hergé a publié Coke en stock, en 1958. Et il persiste de nos jours dans certains pays, dont le Soudan, le Niger et la Mauritanie, qui l’a pourtant aboli officiellement en 1960, et de nouveau en 1980. Selon le Haut-Commissariat des Nations unies aux droits de l’homme, il y aurait toujours plusieurs millions d’adultes en esclavage dans le monde et plusieurs associations humanitaires ont aujourd’hui pour objet le rachat d’esclaves: l’une d’elles a récemment racheté, au Soudan, un millier d’esclaves à raison de 50 dollars chacun dans la province de Bar el-Ghazal et, au Niger, les membres de Timidria continuent de lutter contre l’esclavage, malgré son abolition, en 1999 (…). Ces militants anonymes ont le tort de vouloir libérer les victimes oubliées d’une histoire qui écrase encore plutôt que d’instrumentaliser une histoire révolue. Eric Conan
The slaves were not meant to be killed, or even worked to death (though many did die); there was no effort to wipe out a race. Still, as the writer William St Clair points out, in one way the analogy with Nazi death camps works—in “the organised fictions, hypocrisies and self-deceptions that enabled otherwise reasonably decent people to condone, to participate and to benefit.” For most Europeans the existence of the slave trade, and slavery itself, was barely known. In England there was no slavery, so there was no particular reason for most people to face the ugly truth. The means by which sugar lumps arrived on tables in polite society were carefully hidden. (…) Those fine feelings were spared from reality by careful euphemisms. There were no slave-traders; only “adventurers” in the “Africa” or “Guinea” trade. Prints of the gleaming white Cape Coast Castle made it look like a European palace; there was no hint at its real role. Shackles used to string captives together were just “collars”. The “Company of Merchants”, which ran Britain’s slave trade, had on its logo an elephant and a beehive—denoting Africa and America—but nothing about slaves. (…) But there was still a pervasive feeling that, despite all the evasions, those involved in the trade were doing something deeply wrong. In the courtyard of Cape Coast Castle lies the tomb of Philip Quaque, the chaplain to the officers and men of the castle for 42 years in the second half of the 18th century. During all that time he failed to bring a single officer to the Christian rite of Holy Communion. In a letter he reflected that this had nothing to do with his (black) skin-colour, and more to do with a mood of shame: “The only plea they offer is that while they are here acting against Light and Conscience they dare not come to that holy Table.” This sense of guilt was to prove the Achilles heel of the slave trade in Europe. The task the abolitionists set themselves was to expose the reality of the trade to an ignorant public. They thought the moral sense of ordinary people would do the rest, and in part they were right. But lighting the spark of conscience needs brave individuals—like Thomas Clarkson, the moving spirit behind the founding of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of Slavery in 1787. He had been a student at Cambridge University two years before. He entered the university’s Latin essay contest, set by a vice-chancellor who was also an early abolitionist. The title was: Is it lawful to make slaves of others against their will? After two months’ research, he not only won the prize but also dedicated the rest of his long life to the cause of abolition. (…) Even the Quakers, the first abolitionists, were impressed by his zeal. It was essentially the alliance of Clarkson, an Anglican, and the Quakers, with their existing network of preachers and supporters, that made up the abolitionist movement; in an ironic nod to their success, slavers would call their ships the Willing Quaker and the Accomplished Quaker. Clarkson fixed the strategy of the campaign. His first task was to gather evidence about the slave trade, not easy when things were so hidden from public view. He spent long periods in Liverpool and Bristol, trying to gather testimony from the captains or doctors of slave ships, or freed slaves. Almost nobody would talk to him, but over the years small chinks opened in the wall of silence. One who came forward was John Newton, a former slave captain turned Anglican priest. His descriptions of the trade were very influential. Just as important was Clarkson’s gathering of the physical evidence of the slave trade to confirm the oral and written accounts he collected. In Liverpool he picked up “collars”, thumbscrews and a device for force-feeding slaves, which he would display at the hundreds of public lectures that he gave all over Britain, and France too. But Clarkson’s greatest coup was to get hold of a “plate”, or diagram, of the slave-ship Brookes, owned by a Liverpool family of that name, which operated between the Gold Coast and Jamaica. Clarkson and others reworked the plate to show the Brookes loaded with 482 slaves, lined up in rows and squashed together. As always, Clarkson and the abolitionists were strictly accurate; the ship had once carried over 600 slaves in even closer confinement, but they did not want to be accused of exaggeration. In 1789 they published 700 posters of this image and it was a sensation; nobody could now deny the horrors of the “middle passage”, during which many slaves either killed themselves or died of disease, starvation and cruel treatment. It became the abiding image of the campaign, rather like the thin and haunting faces of the newly freed inmates of the Belsen concentration camp. Clarkson also organised what was probably the first ever consumer-goods boycott, of slave-grown sugar, to bring home to ordinary Britons at their tea tables the message that they were paying a dreadful price in human cruelty for indulging a sweet tooth. At one time more than 300,000 people joined the boycott, also designed to hit the profits of the plantation owners. And he inspired the parliamentary movement against slavery, recruiting as spokesman a young Tory, William Wilberforce (see article), who brought successive bills before Parliament to abolish the slave trade until one was passed in 1807. (…) For all the fervour of its opponents, the slave trade would not have collapsed without rebellions by the victims. The most important was in 1791 on St Domingue. Within two months the slaves had taken control of the island, led by the remarkable Toussaint L’Ouverture. His guerrillas saw off the two greatest imperial armies of the day, the French and British; this led to the establishment of the republic of Haiti in 1804 and to the emancipation of about 500,000 slaves. It was clear that European armies would find it hard to contain many more uprisings, a point proved again on the British islands of Grenada and Barbados. Samuel Sharpe’s uprising on Jamaica in 1831 was put down at great cost; the British feared that if slavery continued, they would lose some colonies altogether. So in 1833 slavery was abolished throughout their empire. Britain was not the first to outlaw the slave trade in its territory; the Danes had done so in 1803, the French temporarily in 1794 and several northern American states had also done so before 1807. But as Britain was the big sea power of the day, it alone could enforce abolition throughout the world, as its navy resolutely tried to do for the rest of the 19th century. Other European nations, notably the Portuguese, persisted with the trade into the 1860s. (…) Most European states have tried to face up to the past, but slavery’s legacy is in some ways even more poisonous in places like modern Ghana. A smokescreen still covers the African role in this pernicious trade. It is an awkward fact that the traffic could not have existed without African chiefs and traders. Europeans rarely went far from their forts; slaves were brought to them. Indeed, when the Europeans arrived the slave trade and slavery were already integral parts of local tribal economies. One of the few Ghanaian historians to touch these issues, Akosua Adoma Perbi, writes that “slavery became an important part of the Asante state [the Gold Coast’s most powerful] right from its inception. For three centuries, Asante became the largest slave-trading, slave-owning and slave-dealing state in Ghana.” (…) Most of the slaves sold to Europeans in later centuries were men and women captured in battles between tribes like the Asante and the Acan. Many of the captives were kept as slaves by the victors, where they were treated relatively well and could gain some social standing within their new families. Still, the proliferation of wars between the tribes was, as Ms Perbi writes, “mostly aimed at acquiring slaves for sale to the European companies and individual European merchants”. So integral did the slave trade become to the local chiefs’ welfare that its abolition hit hard. In 1872, long after abolition, Zey, the king of Asante, wrote to the British monarch asking for the slave trade to be renewed. Yaw Bedwa of the University of Ghana says there has been a “general amnesia in Ghana about slavery”. The role of the chiefs is particularly sensitive, as they still play a big role in Ghana. “We don’t discuss slavery,” says Barima Kwame Nkye XII, a paramount chief in the town of Assin Mauso. He defends domestic slavery in the past as a generally benevolent institution, and insists that the chiefs had little to do with the slave trade. (…) Mr Bedwa faces anger from African-Americans who come to Ghana looking for roots, only to be confronted with the role of Africans in the slave trade. Mr Bedwa tells them that Africans who did not suffer from slavery were still victims of colonialism, poverty and disease. But, as in every exploitative system, some had it worse than others. The Economist

Intéressant article de The Economist, en ce bicentenaire (jour pour jour) de l’abolition de l’esclavage par l’Angleterre, qui, malgré les allusions douteuses à « l’Holocauste », a le mérite de rappeler certains faits oubliés ou délibérément occultés notamment en Afrique même et dans les pays musulmans …

Comme le rôle des chefs africains qui (avec les Arabes) pratiquaient depuis toujours l’esclavage et sans lesquels le trafic n’aurait pas été possible, comme en témoignent leurs protestations lors de l’abolition.

Et donc le fait que c’est en fait les Occidentaux et notamment des groupes chrétiens (avec à leur tête de courageux et brillants propagandistes comme l’Anglican Thomas Clarkson ou le MP William Wilberforce) qui, via le bras armé de la Royal Navy et plus tard des US Marines, finiront à imposer à tous, à savoir aux « négriers » tant arabes qu’africains ou occidentaux qu’à une population européenne largement ignorante et indifférente aux détails de la traite, ladite abolition.

Slavery

Breaking the chains

Feb 22nd 2007 | CAPE COAST, GHANA
The Economist

Britain abolished the slave trade 200 years ago this week. Its landmarks are an abiding legacy of cruelty

Mary Evans

THE dungeons can still shock, two centuries after their last inmates were freed. Damp and fetid in the tropical air, immersed in virtual darkness, this is where slaves were kept, often for months at a time—before being led down a tunnel through the “door of no return” to ships riding in the surf, ready to begin their appalling voyage over the ocean.

Just one of the countless inmates left a written record. Having been sold to white traders for a gun, a piece of cloth and some lead, Quobna Ottobah Cugoano recalled waiting in the dungeon till his time arrived: “To conduct us away to the ship, it was a most horrible scene; there was nothing to be heard but rattling of chains, smacking of whips, and groans and cries of our fellow men. Some would not stir from the ground, when they were lashed and beaten in the most horrible manner.”

When the dungeons were excavated in the late 19th century, a mass of caked excrement was removed, together with the bones of birds and animals on which the slaves presumably fed. On such misery was founded a global trading system that in its heyday, in the mid-18th century, was taking about 85,000 Africans a year across the Atlantic to work on sugar and tobacco plantations that made Europe rich.

Cape Coast Castle was the grandest of the slave emporiums, at the centre of the trade. But in present-day Ghana, then called the Gold Coast, there were over 30 more slave forts, built and maintained by almost all of the European trading powers of the day: the Swedes, Danes, French, British, Dutch and Portuguese.

The “triangular trade” as it was known, whereby slave-ships left European ports for west Africa with rum, guns, textiles and other goods to exchange for slaves, and then transported them across the Atlantic to sell to plantation-owners, and then returned with sugar and coffee, also fuelled the first great wave of economic globalisation. Slavers in France would send their shirts to be washed in the streams of the Caribbean isle of St Domingue, now Haiti; the water there was said to whiten the linen better than any European stream.

At one point the plantations of St Domingue provided two-thirds of France’s overseas wealth. By the mid-18th century, though, Britain was the biggest slaving nation, and ports like Bristol, Liverpool and London thrived as a result.

So integral to the British economy was the slave business that there were few men and institutions of wealth who did not want to invest in it, from the royal family and the Church of England downwards. Slavers could count on the Archbishop of Canterbury to defend them before God, and on politicians, like the young William Gladstone, himself the son of a plantation-owner, to plead their case in Parliament.

Given how entrenched the slave trade was at the time, it is remarkable that a campaign to abolish it which began in 1787 succeeded only two decades later. It was 200 years ago this week that a bill to abolish slavery got through its second, decisive reading in Parliament.

Ultimately it was the shame and degradation that the slave traffic brought to those involved, perpetrators as well as victims, that proved its undoing. And the atmosphere of shame is still palpable in the places where the transatlantic trade started, on the African coast.

Given the trade’s vast scale, some call it a holocaust. Up to 20m Africans were taken across the Atlantic between the 15th and 19th centuries, denuding many places of their most able workers. The slaves were not meant to be killed, or even worked to death (though many did die); there was no effort to wipe out a race. Still, as the writer William St Clair points out, in one way the analogy with Nazi death camps works—in “the organised fictions, hypocrisies and self-deceptions that enabled otherwise reasonably decent people to condone, to participate and to benefit.”

For most Europeans the existence of the slave trade, and slavery itself, was barely known. In England there was no slavery, so there was no particular reason for most people to face the ugly truth.

The means by which sugar lumps arrived on tables in polite society were carefully hidden. The young officers of the African Service who volunteered to man the slave forts and oversee the dungeons were children of the age of enlightenment. They saw themselves as well-endowed with all the refined feelings and sensibilities that could be expected of a gentleman.

Those fine feelings were spared from reality by careful euphemisms. There were no slave-traders; only “adventurers” in the “Africa” or “Guinea” trade. Prints of the gleaming white Cape Coast Castle made it look like a European palace; there was no hint at its real role. Shackles used to string captives together were just “collars”. The “Company of Merchants”, which ran Britain’s slave trade, had on its logo an elephant and a beehive—denoting Africa and America—but nothing about slaves.

Of an evening, officers of the African Service might peruse a new work of history or philosophy: an eerie precursor of the Nazi officers who relaxed to the sound of Beethoven after a day in the gas chambers.

But there was still a pervasive feeling that, despite all the evasions, those involved in the trade were doing something deeply wrong. In the courtyard of Cape Coast Castle lies the tomb of Philip Quaque, the chaplain to the officers and men of the castle for 42 years in the second half of the 18th century. During all that time he failed to bring a single officer to the Christian rite of Holy Communion. In a letter he reflected that this had nothing to do with his (black) skin-colour, and more to do with a mood of shame: “The only plea they offer is that while they are here acting against Light and Conscience they dare not come to that holy Table.”

An essay that mattered

This sense of guilt was to prove the Achilles heel of the slave trade in Europe. The task the abolitionists set themselves was to expose the reality of the trade to an ignorant public. They thought the moral sense of ordinary people would do the rest, and in part they were right. But lighting the spark of conscience needs brave individuals—like Thomas Clarkson, the moving spirit behind the founding of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of Slavery in 1787. He had been a student at Cambridge University two years before. He entered the university’s Latin essay contest, set by a vice-chancellor who was also an early abolitionist. The title was: Is it lawful to make slaves of others against their will? After two months’ research, he not only won the prize but also dedicated the rest of his long life to the cause of abolition. A large man with thick red hair, he would brook no compromise. A friend scolded him for being “deficient in caution and prudence”, but his lack of these qualities gave him the anger and energy to succeed.

If anyone was the founder of the modern human-rights movement it was Clarkson. Even the Quakers, the first abolitionists, were impressed by his zeal. It was essentially the alliance of Clarkson, an Anglican, and the Quakers, with their existing network of preachers and supporters, that made up the abolitionist movement; in an ironic nod to their success, slavers would call their ships the Willing Quaker and the Accomplished Quaker.

Clarkson fixed the strategy of the campaign. His first task was to gather evidence about the slave trade, not easy when things were so hidden from public view. He spent long periods in Liverpool and Bristol, trying to gather testimony from the captains or doctors of slave ships, or freed slaves. Almost nobody would talk to him, but over the years small chinks opened in the wall of silence.

One who came forward was John Newton, a former slave captain turned Anglican priest. His descriptions of the trade were very influential. Just as important was Clarkson’s gathering of the physical evidence of the slave trade to confirm the oral and written accounts he collected. In Liverpool he picked up “collars”, thumbscrews and a device for force-feeding slaves, which he would display at the hundreds of public lectures that he gave all over Britain, and France too.

But Clarkson’s greatest coup was to get hold of a “plate”, or diagram, of the slave-ship Brookes, owned by a Liverpool family of that name, which operated between the Gold Coast and Jamaica. Clarkson and others reworked the plate to show the Brookes loaded with 482 slaves, lined up in rows and squashed together. As always, Clarkson and the abolitionists were strictly accurate; the ship had once carried over 600 slaves in even closer confinement, but they did not want to be accused of exaggeration. In 1789 they published 700 posters of this image and it was a sensation; nobody could now deny the horrors of the “middle passage”, during which many slaves either killed themselves or died of disease, starvation and cruel treatment. It became the abiding image of the campaign, rather like the thin and haunting faces of the newly freed inmates of the Belsen concentration camp.

Clarkson also organised what was probably the first ever consumer-goods boycott, of slave-grown sugar, to bring home to ordinary Britons at their tea tables the message that they were paying a dreadful price in human cruelty for indulging a sweet tooth. At one time more than 300,000 people joined the boycott, also designed to hit the profits of the plantation owners. And he inspired the parliamentary movement against slavery, recruiting as spokesman a young Tory, William Wilberforce (see article), who brought successive bills before Parliament to abolish the slave trade until one was passed in 1807.

Copy, copy and copy again

In its tactics, boycotts, moral zeal, lobbying, research and its use of images, the British campaign was a template for many later ones—against slavery in the Belgian Congo in the late 19th century; against apartheid in South Africa; and against segregation in the American south.

For all the fervour of its opponents, the slave trade would not have collapsed without rebellions by the victims. The most important was in 1791 on St Domingue. Within two months the slaves had taken control of the island, led by the remarkable Toussaint L’Ouverture. His guerrillas saw off the two greatest imperial armies of the day, the French and British; this led to the establishment of the republic of Haiti in 1804 and to the emancipation of about 500,000 slaves. It was clear that European armies would find it hard to contain many more uprisings, a point proved again on the British islands of Grenada and Barbados. Samuel Sharpe’s uprising on Jamaica in 1831 was put down at great cost; the British feared that if slavery continued, they would lose some colonies altogether. So in 1833 slavery was abolished throughout their empire.

Britain was not the first to outlaw the slave trade in its territory; the Danes had done so in 1803, the French temporarily in 1794 and several northern American states had also done so before 1807. But as Britain was the big sea power of the day, it alone could enforce abolition throughout the world, as its navy resolutely tried to do for the rest of the 19th century. Other European nations, notably the Portuguese, persisted with the trade into the 1860s.

The European and American role in the slave trade is now well-known and governments, such as Britain’s and France’s, as well as individual cities have apologised. There will be much talk about apologies this year. Some will ask whether words of regret are enough. In America slave descendants are fighting a long-running legal battle, in a class-action lawsuit, to get financial compensation from corporations alleged to have benefited from slavery.

In Ghana, meanwhile, Nii Anum Akwete Momli, the chief of slave descendants in the village of Sesemi, north of the capital Accra, says some compensation is arriving already—in the form of electricity and water, part of an aid package from Denmark, another slave-trading nation.

Most European states have tried to face up to the past, but slavery’s legacy is in some ways even more poisonous in places like modern Ghana. A smokescreen still covers the African role in this pernicious trade. It is an awkward fact that the traffic could not have existed without African chiefs and traders. Europeans rarely went far from their forts; slaves were brought to them. Indeed, when the Europeans arrived the slave trade and slavery were already integral parts of local tribal economies. One of the few Ghanaian historians to touch these issues, Akosua Adoma Perbi, writes that “slavery became an important part of the Asante state [the Gold Coast’s most powerful] right from its inception. For three centuries, Asante became the largest slave-trading, slave-owning and slave-dealing state in Ghana.”

When the Portuguese arrived on the scene in 1471, they were intermediaries, bringing slaves (and other goods) from Senegal and Benin along the coast to Ghana to sell them in exchange for gold to the Asante and other local peoples. The Asante then mounted slave-trading expeditions to get labour for gold mines.

The forts themselves were not owned by the Europeans; the land on which Cape Coast Castle was built was rented to the British by the local chief for a monthly sum. It was in the interests of the Europeans to respect local customs and laws, as that included the institution of slavery. This meant that they could take slaves but not, for instance, kill animals for amusement; when one officer, James Swanzy, shot a crocodile there was a huge fuss and compensation was paid.
AP

Ghana’s slave dungeons: still a shock, two centuries on

Most of the slaves sold to Europeans in later centuries were men and women captured in battles between tribes like the Asante and the Acan. Many of the captives were kept as slaves by the victors, where they were treated relatively well and could gain some social standing within their new families. Still, the proliferation of wars between the tribes was, as Ms Perbi writes, “mostly aimed at acquiring slaves for sale to the European companies and individual European merchants”. So integral did the slave trade become to the local chiefs’ welfare that its abolition hit hard. In 1872, long after abolition, Zey, the king of Asante, wrote to the British monarch asking for the slave trade to be renewed.

Yaw Bedwa of the University of Ghana says there has been a “general amnesia in Ghana about slavery”. The role of the chiefs is particularly sensitive, as they still play a big role in Ghana. “We don’t discuss slavery,” says Barima Kwame Nkye XII, a paramount chief in the town of Assin Mauso. He defends domestic slavery in the past as a generally benevolent institution, and insists that the chiefs had little to do with the slave trade.

The wounds of slavery are still too raw to be exposed in public, even more so as the stigma of slavery remains attached to slave descendants who, in some cases, still cannot inherit property. Mr Bedwa faces anger from African-Americans who come to Ghana looking for roots, only to be confronted with the role of Africans in the slave trade. Mr Bedwa tells them that Africans who did not suffer from slavery were still victims of colonialism, poverty and disease. But, as in every exploitative system, some had it worse than others.

Voir aussi:

A contested mantle

A new tug of war

Feb 22nd 2007
The Economist

Let him go, he’s ours

To whom does William Wilberforce—the best-known figure in the British campaign to end slavery—belong? As with many historical figures, his mantle is contested by devotees of different political hues.

To progressives, he was, of course, a pioneer of campaigns for social justice. To modern British Tories, he embodies a sort of compassionate conservatism of the kind that the party’s present leader, David Cameron, is keen to proclaim.

In the end any analysis of the real William Wilberforce has to draw on theology as well as politics. He can hardly be understood except in the context of a strain of evangelical Christianity, one that stresses sin and atonement, to which he was converted in 1787.

That in turn has made him an attractive figure for parts of the conservative camp in the United States. Whereas Americans used to look upon Wilberforce, in a fuzzy way, as an equivalent of Abraham Lincoln, the British abolitionist has now acquired fans on the religious right. Sam Brownback, a Republican senator from Kansas, says his life was changed by a biography of Wilberforce. This explains the senator’s agitation over killings in the Sudanese region of Darfur, and his concern over sex trafficking. Like his hero, Mr Brownback has undergone a conversion; evangelical by background, he became Roman Catholic after a brush with cancer. Others on America’s right link Wilberforce with opposition to abortion.

Wilberforce professed two goals in life: to abolish slavery, and to redeem British “manners”—or raise the nation’s moral tone. He saw the abolition of slavery as part of a broader project to bring the world closer to God. He campaigned against “vice” or licentious behaviour—gambling, drunkenness or promiscuity—after growing alarmed at the frequency of execution by hanging. If lesser sins were dealt with sooner, fewer people would commit serious crimes, he felt.

On the face of things, such a stringent world view would sound absurd in the chaotic diversity of modern Britain. But nobody should be surprised if some stern form of conservative Christianity, claiming the legacy of Wilberforce, emerges in one small corner, at least, of the politico-religious spectrum. The shocks of secularism, immigration and rival faiths have already shaken up the complacency of Anglicanism in peculiar ways. One day Britain might have its own version of Senator Brownback.

Voir également:

Brownback, Pryor Introduce Resolution Honoring William Wilberforce

Commemorates life of British abolitionist

Friday, February 16, 2007

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Mark Pryor (D-AR) yesterday introduced a resolution commemorating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade and honoring the life of William Wilberforce, a humanitarian who was instrumental in abolishing the British slave trade.

« Wilberforce’s passion and commitment to end the British slave trade and renew the culture solidified the inherency of human dignity and sanctity of human life, » said Brownback. « As the 200th anniversary of British slave trade abolition approaches we should celebrate Wilberforce’s victories and use his legacy as an inspiration to renew our culture by continuing to fight for human life and human dignity. »

« William Wilberforce’s unmatched determination to end the British slave trade practice continues to inspire leaders and communities throughout the world, » said Pryor. « However, we can not turn a blind eye to how the slave trade has evolved into the trafficking of women and children. The life of Wilberforce is a powerful reminder that we all have a responsibility to stand up and speak out against injustice no matter how long it takes. »

As a member of the British House of Commons, William Wilberforce fought for twenty years to pass legislation banning the slave trade. On February 23, 1807, the British Parliament passed a bill banning the slave trade in the British Empire. In 1833, the House of Commons voted to abolish slavery altogether.

Brownback continued, « We must continue to follow Wilberforce’s example and fight for the dignity and freedom of every person. It is intolerable that 200 years after Britain banned its slave trade, there are still hundreds of thousands of victims of human trafficking who are used as bonded labors, sex slaves, and in other horrifying capacities. »

In 2006, the United States Department of State estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 persons were trafficked across international borders. In 2000, Brownback was instrumental in drafting and passing the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, which seeks to combat human trafficking.

Voir enfin:

Encore aujourd’hui
Eric Conan
L’Express
04/05/2006

La première célébration, le 10 mai prochain, de la Journée des mémoires de la traite négrière, de l’esclavage et de leurs abolitions marque un tournant de la «politique mémorielle»: c’est non pas une date du passé qui est choisie pour commémorer un événement du passé, mais le présent qui commémore son propre regard sur le passé. Ce 10 mai renvoie en effet au 10 mai 2001, jour du vote de la loi Taubira, qualifiant la traite négrière transatlantique et l’esclavage de «crime contre l’humanité», date préférée au 27 avril 1848 (abolition définitive de l’esclavage en France).

Jacques Chirac a ainsi tranché, le 30 janvier dernier, au terme de la polémique sur l’article 4 de la loi du 23 février 2005 recommandant aux enseignants d’évoquer le «rôle positif de la présence française outre-mer». Ce texte, qui avait scandalisé nombre d’historiens, avait été retiré le 25 janvier, mais la loi Taubira, qui lui a servi de modèle et dont beaucoup d’historiens demandaient aussi l’abrogation, se voit sanctifiée. Ce paradoxe témoigne de l’ambiguïté de débats mémoriels qui prennent le pas à la fois sur l’Histoire et sur l’intérêt pour le présent, ce qu’illustre la question de l’esclavage.

Concernant le passé, les historiens s’inquiètent pour la vérité historique et pour leur liberté de recherche du fait de l’intrusion du législateur et du juge dans leur domaine. La loi Taubira procède en effet d’une lecture partielle en n’évoquant que «la traite négrière transatlantique ainsi que la traite dans l’océan Indien d’une part, et l’esclavage d’autre part, perpétrés à partir du XVe siècle, aux Amériques et aux Caraïbes, dans l’océan Indien et en Europe». D’une tragédie qui appartient à la longue histoire de l’humanité elle ne retient, sur une séquence courte, que les faits imputables aux seuls Blancs européens, laissant de côté la majorité des victimes de l’esclavage. La terrible traite transatlantique, du XVe au XIXe siècle, ne constitue malheureusement qu’une partie de l’histoire de l’esclavage, qui comprend également la traite arabo-musulmane, laquelle a duré du VIIe au XXe siècle, et la traite intra-africaine, toutes deux plus meurtrières.

Le risque de voir cette histoire partielle, donc partiale, devenir histoire officielle a mobilisé les historiens quand l’un des meilleurs spécialistes actuels des traites négrières, Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau, a été attaqué en justice au nom de la loi Taubira. Parce qu’il rappelait que la quasi-totalité des esclaves africains avaient été razziés non par des Blancs, mais par des négriers africains et que le commerce des esclaves était une routine sur le continent noir bien avant l’arrivée des négriers européens. Il lui était aussi reproché de réfuter l’application du terme de «génocide» aux traites négrières, contredisant ainsi le parallèle implicite entre l’esclavage et l’extermination des juifs qu’évoque l’exposé des motifs de la loi Taubira.

L’affaire Pétré-Grenouilleau a d’autant plus inquiété les historiens que la loi de 2001 précise dans son article 2 que «les programmes de recherche en histoire» devront accorder «la place conséquente qu’ils méritent» à la traite négrière et à l’esclavage, dont l’interprétation judiciaire risque de se limiter à la définition partielle que ladite loi donne. Et Christiane Taubira ne les a pas rassurés en déclarant que constituerait pour elle un «vrai problème» le fait qu’Olivier Pétré- Grenouilleau, professeur d’université, «payé par l’Education nationale sur fonds publics», continue d’enseigner ses «thèses» aux étudiants… Les historiens ne cessent d’ailleurs de voir leur rôle réduit par l’inflation mémorielle: s’ils avaient été encore sollicités lors des débats sur Vichy, on n’a plus eu besoin d’eux dans ceux sur la guerre d’Algérie et on les poursuit maintenant en justice à propos de la mémoire de la colonisation.
L’obsession pour un passé réinventé

Les enjeux du présent expliquent ces relectures du passé. Christiane Taubira déclare sans ambages qu’il ne faut pas trop évoquer la traite négrière arabo-musulmane pour que les «jeunes Arabes» «ne portent pas sur leur dos tout le poids de l’héritage des méfaits des Arabes». Ces logiques communautaires influent aussi sur le projet mémoriel La Route de l’esclave, décidé en 1993 par l’Unesco: Roger Botte, chercheur au Centre d’études africaines du CNRS, constate qu’il privilégie également la traite transatlantique du fait de «la pression des représentants du monde arabe et des Etats africains».

Les démarches identitaires d’associations revendiquant le statut de victimes de l’Histoire transforment les débats. Dieudonné et les Indigènes de la République ont ainsi avancé l’expression très problématique de «descendant d’esclave». Empruntée aux Noirs américains – chez qui elle correspond à une réalité historique – cette notion ne peut, avec des nuances, s’appliquer en France qu’aux populations originaires des départements d’outre-mer, mais pas à celles de l’immigration africaine, n’ayant aucun rapport généalogique avec l’esclavage, sinon une éventuelle filiation avec des marchands d’esclaves. «Si Dieudonné plaçait l’Histoire au-dessus de son fantasme mémoriel, comment l’humoriste franco-camerounais, né dans la banlieue parisienne, pourrait-il se revendiquer « descendant d’esclave »?» s’interrogent donc Géraldine Faes et Stephen Smith dans Noir et français! (Panama), ouvrage précis et passionnant qu’ils viennent de publier sur ces questions. Que signifie en effet revendiquer une identité victimaire et invoquer une «souffrance» avec cinq ou six générations de décalage? Est-elle assimilable aux souffrances et traumatismes transmis ou vécus directement, d’une génération à l’autre ou entre contemporains, qu’ont connus juifs, Arméniens, Bosniaques, Rwandais ou victimes du communisme? Et à quoi correspond l’application, à des siècles de distance, de la notion de «crime contre l’humanité», définie en 1945? Là réside le paradoxe le plus gênant, quand l’obsession pour un passé réinventé sert de substitut aux urgences du présent: le concept de crime contre l’humanité est une catégorie pénale dont l’objet est la poursuite de criminels; elle a ainsi permis de pourchasser au bout du monde les derniers criminels nazis. Or les criminels esclavagistes n’appartiennent malheureusement pas tous au passé lointain. Si l’histoire des traites européennes, qui se caractérise par sa relative brièveté et par leur abolition, est terminée depuis plus d’un siècle et demi, l’esclavage s’est prolongé dans de nombreux pays (dont l’Arabie saoudite) jusqu’au milieu du XXe siècle – c’est pour le dénoncer qu’Hergé a publié Coke en stock, en 1958. Et il persiste de nos jours dans certains pays, dont le Soudan, le Niger et la Mauritanie, qui l’a pourtant aboli officiellement en 1960, et de nouveau en 1980. Selon le Haut-Commissariat des Nations unies aux droits de l’homme, il y aurait toujours plusieurs millions d’adultes en esclavage dans le monde et plusieurs associations humanitaires ont aujourd’hui pour objet le rachat d’esclaves: l’une d’elles a récemment racheté, au Soudan, un millier d’esclaves à raison de 50 dollars chacun dans la province de Bar el-Ghazal et, au Niger, les membres de Timidria continuent de lutter contre l’esclavage, malgré son abolition, en 1999 (notre reportage au Niger).

Ces militants anonymes ont le tort de vouloir libérer les victimes oubliées d’une histoire qui écrase encore plutôt que d’instrumentaliser une histoire révolue, comme le souligne l’un d’entre eux, Moustapha Kadi Oumani, en conclusion d’Un tabou brisé. L’esclavage en Afrique (l’Harmattan): «Il apparaît bien paradoxal, au moment où l’Afrique attend des excuses pour les effets dévastateurs qui ont laminé son potentiel économique, déformé les systèmes politiques, sapé les pratiques morales et civiques, qu’elle continue à pratiquer elle-même l’esclavage.»

Publicités

3 Responses to Bicentenaire de l’abolition de l’esclavage: Retour sur l’omerta africaine (We don’t discuss slavery)

  1. […] un récent article de the Economist et après l’omerta sur les traites arabe et africaine […]

    J'aime

  2. Ultimate ninja naruto

    Bicentenaire de l’abolition de l’esclavage: Retour sur l’omerta africaine (We don’t discuss slavery) | jcdurbant

    J'aime

Laisser un commentaire

Entrez vos coordonnées ci-dessous ou cliquez sur une icône pour vous connecter:

Logo WordPress.com

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte WordPress.com. Déconnexion / Changer )

Image Twitter

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte Twitter. Déconnexion / Changer )

Photo Facebook

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte Facebook. Déconnexion / Changer )

Photo Google+

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte Google+. Déconnexion / Changer )

Connexion à %s

%d blogueurs aiment cette page :