• The highlight of this year’s Black History Month celebration at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, was a lecture on 2nd March 2017 by Ambassador Kwesi Quartey, the deputy chairperson of the African Union.
  • The AU Deputy Chairperson discussed the early roots of African unity, highlighting issues about the fraught relationship between African diaspora and the slave trade.
  • An interesting feature has been apologies, first by Tony Blair (former British Prime Minister), second by John Kufuor (former President of Ghana), for responsibilities during the slave trade.
  • Amb. Quartey’s talk highlighted the importance of understanding the complex histories behind the African slave trade in order to better understand the connections between the slave trade, Africans in the diaspora, and their connection to Africa as it relates to today’s politics.

By: Edwin Adjei

The highlight of this year’s Black History Month celebration at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, was a lecture on 2nd March 2017 by Ambassador Kwesi Quartey, the deputy chairperson of the African Union. The theme for his lecture was “From the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to the AU: Tracing the Interconnecting Cord of Pan-Africanism.” In this lecture, he sought to educate the audience about some of the early roots of African unity, which have often been linked with Africans in the diaspora and the slave trade, challenges that have left centuries-old wounds. African unity, the African diaspora and the slave trade have been contentious issues, and his lecture began with some of the contestations that continue to divide Africa and the African diaspora.

In March 2007, 200 years after abolishing the slave trade, the then–prime minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, apologized to John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor, the President of Ghana and the then–president of the African Union, for the role Britain played in the slave trade. “I have said we are sorry and I say it again … It is important to remember what happened in the past, to condemn it and say why it was entirely unacceptable,” Blair said after meeting Kuffuor on 14th March, 2007.

In return, President Kufuor apologized to Prime Minister Blair for the role Africans played in the slave trade and added that because of their complicity, the question of reparation was not the best approach. While Blair’s apology was criticized for not being enough of an apology, Kufuor’s apology was like stirring the hornet’s nest. It sparked controversy among some historians who felt it was out of place since it was the West who should be apologizing to Africa and not the other way around, and it sparked outrage among some Africans in the diaspora and those on the continent. This debate on the role Africa played in the slave trade continues to this day.

In the Institute of African Studies Lecture, Ambassador Quartey noted that the beginning of international trade was the slave trade. Giving several examples such as the Zong Massacre and the harsh laws on the treatment of slaves in the Virgin Islands which were the first laws to be passed when the Virgin Islands got its first legislature, Amb. Quartey showed how the brutal nature of the slave trade sought to drive fear into Africans and the fate of all those who stood in the way of the slave trade. Citing rebellions in the colonies from flight to armed resistance and the existence of many forts and castles in Africa as European monuments of war and terror, Amb. Quartey showed how difficult it was for Africans to overcome the threat of annihilation many had already faced in various parts of the world, by resisting the slave trade.

The Ambassador then went on to cite several cases of uprisings by slaves in Britain and other parts of the British colony that led the British to abolish the slave trade. All these uprisings sought to show that while the West sought to portray the slave trade as better for Africans and divinely ordained, the blacks themselves were not in favour of it and were willing to sacrifice their lives to obtain the freedom they expected to enjoy after death.

Amb. Quartey’s purpose in delivering the lecture and the celebration of Black History Month was to learn more about the slave trade and Africans in the diaspora, along with their connection to Africa, as it helps to understand the politics of today. He ended by saying that when people hear that Africans partook in the slave trade, they have to understand the history behind it.

The full lecture is available to watch here in two parts:

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