Monday 26 October 2020

Reparations to Africa


Reparations to Africa

The Black Lives Matter movement includes calls for reparations to African-Americans for enslavement. Many people ask whether reparations should also be paid to the continent of Africa for the slave trade.,

The last time there was much discussion of reparations to Africa was during the UN World Conference on Racism, held in Durban, South Africa in 2001.  Unfortunately, that conference was overshadowed by the 9/11 attacks on the US only a few days after it ended.

Types of reparations

A United Nations document discusses the different aspect of reparations. One aspect is apology for harms committed in the past.

Several Western countries have expressed regret for their participation in the slave trade. For example, at the Durban Conference a Dutch government minister expressed “deep remorse” for the slave trade and enslavement.  But these countries usually avoid direct apologies that might entail legal liability.

Another aspect of reparations is removal of offensive monuments. In Bristol, England in June 2020, activists tore down a monument to a “founder” of that city, Edward Colston. Colston had been a prominent slave-trader

Western museums that own precious African artifacts are facing calls to return them to Africa. Some activists would like the British Museum to return the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. su

Other museums present Africans and African societies in ways that that may be racist. Belgium’s Africa Museum has been accused of this.

Teaching the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade could be part of the reparative process. Both within Africa and in former slave-trading countries, people need to learn this history.

But the slave trade was not limited to the trans-Atlantic trade.  Arabs also took slaves from Africa. Historian Paul Lovejoy estimates that about 14 million people were taken from Africa in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and about 10 million in the Arab trade. An accurate history would  have to include the Arab trade.

Nor could history teachers ignore slave-trading by Africans. The Nigerian writer Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani was shocked to learn that her great-grandfather was a slave trader, selling slaves to Cuba and Brazil after the trade was abolished by the US and Great Britain. When her great-grandfather died, six slaves were buried alive with him. 

Financial Reparations

Often we think of reparations as financial. One problem is which former slave trading and slave-holding nations might owe financial reparations to Africa. Approximately a quarter million enslaved Africans disembarked in the US between 1626 and 1875. 5.1 million disembarked in Brazil between 1401 and 1875. Does Brazil, a middle-income country, owe financial reparations to Africa?  

Similarly, do Arab countries and African slave-traders owe reparations for their part in the slave trade? The distinguished philosopher Anthony Appiah is of mixed Ashanti (Ghanaian) and British ancestry. Both his British and Ashanti ancestors traded in slaves.,trade%2C%20or%20some% Do the Ashanti owe reparations to other ethnic groups within Ghana from whom they took slaves?

If only rich Western countries are responsible to pay financial reparations, to what entity should they pay them?  Perhaps each Western county should try to determine the countries where the bulk of its slaves originated (e.g. Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal or Angola). They could then compensate those countries.

Nevertheless, Westerners might ask why they should pay reparations to Africa. The trans-Atlantic slave trade ended in the mid-19th century. Some scholars and activists argue that Western countries should pay reparations because without the slave trade, Africa would be much more developed today.  On the other hand, Africa might simply have remained a continent of agriculturalists and nomadic herders, with some groups growing rich from internal slavery.

Most of sub-Saharan Africa was colonized in the late 19th century, but most African countries have been independent for between 45 and 60 years. Many of their governments have been extremely abusive. Many African political leaders have suppressed democracy, exploited their own citizens, and engaged in massive corruption.

Critics could argue that Africa’s continued underdevelopment is a consequence of these leaders’ actions.

Critics could also argue that Western countries have already compensated for the slave trade via foreign aid. Much foreign aid was misused or stolen by corrupt governments. Whether reparations or aid, the same problems of mismanagement, lack of transparency, and corruption emerge. There is no guarantee that financial reparations for the slave trade would reach the people most in need of it.

Distributive Justice

Rather than sorting out who is responsible for Africa’s underdevelopment since the slave-trading days, perhaps we should focus on distributive justice rather than reparative. 

Distributive justice does not mean re-distribution, taking money from rich nations or individuals and distributing it to poor. It means that the goods everyone needs everywhere in the world—food, housing, health care, education, and social security—should be distributed to them in an equitable way.  These are international-recognized human rights, protected by the 1976 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

As the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights argues, everyone is entitled to an international order in which all their human rights are protected. Whether or not a Western country engaged in the slave trade, it should to try to ensure that Africans enjoy their human rights. Whether or not an African is a descendant of a slave owner, she should try to help ensure her co-nationals’ human rights. And all African governments are responsible to protect the human rights of all their citizens.







Tuesday 20 October 2020

Maoist Censorship and Cowardly Capitulation: The Bruce Gilley Affair, Part II

 On June 10, 2020, I posted a blog concerning the successful attempt to censor an article by Dr. Bruce Gilley defending colonialism.  You can find that blog here.

 I disagreed with much of what Dr. Gilley wrote in that article, but I defended his right to make his argument and have it published.

Recently, Dr. Gilley was appointed editor of a news series called “Problems of Anti-Colonialism’ for Lexington Books, an imprint of Rowman and Littlefield.  The first book in this series was to be a biography Gilley himself wrote of Sir Alan Burns, a governor of the Gold Coast (now Ghana).  The book was properly reviewed by two other scholars and recommended for publication.  Then over a thousand people signed a petition on against publication of the book. Despite a counter-petition initiated soon after and signed, as of today (October 20, 2020) by over 4400 people, Rowman and Littlefield “released” Gilley from his contract. 

Below is a letter I sent to Ms. Julie Kirsch, the Senior Vice-President and publisher of Rowman and Littlefield, via email on October 8, 2020. As of today, October 20, 2020, I have received no response.  I have added links that were not in the original email, but have not otherwise changed it. The content of the Wikipedia entry for Joshua Moufawad-Paul has changed since I first read it, and now contains a reference to my letter below.


Ms. Julie Kirsch,

Senior Vice-President and Publisher,

Rowman and Littlefield

October 8, 2020


Dear Ms. Kirsch,

I am writing to express my extreme concern to you upon learning that Rowman and Littlefield has cancelled publication of Dr. Bruce Gilley's book, The Last Imperialist: Sir Alan Burns’ Epic Defense of the British Empire, and has also cancelled his editorship of a new series to be called Problems of Anti-Colonialism. 

The reason for this cancellation appears to be a petition on entitled “Bruce Gilley’s Colonial Apologetics,” ( organized by one Joshua Moufawad-Paul, who is identified by Wikipedia as a professor of philosophy at York University in Canada, ( I cannot find a listing for him on that department’s website. ( He is also listed in his Wikipedia entry as a Maoist.  I hope that this is not accurate. A Maoist is someone who follows the teaching of Mao Tse-Tung.  Mao Tse-Tung was one of history's most egregious murderers, responsible, for example, for the deaths of 30 to 45 million people during China's so-called agricultural Great Leap Forward (1958-62).  Mao also favoured censorship: during the Great Leap Forward peasants and journalists, indeed even children, who protested Mao's policies were tortured to death or executed in various horrible manners. ( , pp. 27-33).

If Mr. Moufawad-Paul is indeed a Maoist, then it would be consistent with his ideological beliefs to wish to censor Dr. Gilley's writings.  I do not know if he read Dr. Gilley's article, “The Case for Colonialism,” which stirred controversy in 2017. Nor do I know if he, or any of the signatories of the petition to which Roman and Littlefield appears to have capitulated, have read the book in question. I do know that the petition is full of misinformation. Indeed, it appears to me that one of the statements in this petition, the claim that Dr. Gilley “endorses a white nationalist perspective,” is libelous.

I, on the other hand, have read Dr. Gilley's original article. I attach a copy of a piece I published in the newsletter of Canada's Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship about it. ( I am also the author of Colonialism and Underdevelopment in Ghana (Croom Helm, 1978), and I do not agree with Dr. Gilley's defense of colonialism. ( ) I do believe, however, that he had a right to publish this article. Others who believed this were Dr, Martin Klein, a distinguished historian of Africa who, like me, disagreed with much of what Dr. Gilley argued, and Noam Chomsky.

I have not read The Last Imperialist, but had Lexington published it and had I read it, I suspect I would find it interesting but nevertheless disagree with some or all of it. 

I am also the author of Human Rights in Commonwealth Africa, published in 1986 by Rowman and Littlefield. ( Mr. Matthew Held, an editor at Rowman and Littlefield at the time, encouraged me to submit this manuscript to you. This book is very critical of the human rights practices and policies of post-colonial African rulers in nine English-speaking African countries. I am now wondering if you would be willing to publish such a volume today, given your apparent reaction to a petition signed by over a thousand people, the vast majority of whom, I suspect, did not read Dr. Gilley's original controversial article or his book. Perhaps they would find my human-rights perspective indicative of white nationalism.

There is now a counter-petition on, inaugurated by the (U.S.) National Association of Scholars. ( ) I have chosen not to sign it, preferring to write this letter to you instead. However, I agreed with the gist of this petition, especially the call for you to apologize to Dr Gilley, to vindicate his scholarly reputation, and to-re-commit Rowman and Littlefield to publication of The Last Imperialist and the series on problems of anti-colonialism.

I am copying this letter to Dr. Gilley for his information. He did not request that I send this letter to you, nor did he in any way influence its content. However, he has my permission to circulate this letter to you as he sees fit. 

I am also attaching a one-page professional biography. You will note that I have received several academic awards for my work on human rights. Freedom of speech is a core human right.  By your apparent capitulation to a call for censorship on, you have undermined freedom of speech.

Yours sincerely,

Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann

Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science,

Wilfrid Laurier University

Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights 2003-16

Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada



Tuesday 13 October 2020

Threat to Americans' Human Rights

Note: I originally wrote the blog below for a bipartisan US website called Divided We Fall. It was posted on October 5, 2020. Here is the link to the original post, with a reply by Prof. Catherine Renshaw of Australia. I was asked to write about threats to Americans' human rights from both the political left and the political right, and decided to do so from the point of view of international human rights law, which makes it clear that the far larger threat is from the right.

Threats to Americans’ Human Rights

International Human Rights Law

In the midst of the 2020 campaign for the US Presidency, many people worry that both the political left and the political right are undermining human rights. This article compares human rights in the US to international human rights law, in order to assess these possible threats.

Three documents comprise the International Bill of Rights. Along with other UN members, in 1948 the US voted for the non-binding 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Two 1976 treaties elaborated on the UDHR and transformed it into international law. They are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

Civil and Political Rights

The US ratified the ICCPR in 1992. Ratification means that a government has consented to be bound by a treaty.

The ICCPR protects such rights as freedom of thought and expression (freedom of speech) and peaceful assembly. It also protects the right to vote and to participate in public affairs, the rule of law, and the rights of people detained by the police. And it protects freedom of religion. 

Some American leftists would like to deny freedom of speech to some individuals or categories of people. These leftists practice identity politics. They believe that everything an individual says can be explained by their identity, for example as a white male.

Many identity politics leftists have campaigned to restrict freedom of speech, especially on US campuses. This trend to restrict freedom of speech is indeed worrisome, and should be combatted. 

Freedom of speech is a core human right. No one should be denied their right to freedom of speech because of their identity, either as Black or White, or female or male.

But the leftist threat to freedom of speech is far from the most important threat to civil and political rights in the US today. That threat comes from the political right, specifically the Republican Party and President Donald Trump.

The right to vote has never been well-protected in the US. Women, African-Americans, Native Americans and other minorities had to fight for it. In some US states, convicted felons are not permitted to vote, even after they have served their sentences. In 2016, only 64 per cent of voting-age Americans was actually registered to vote

More recent initiatives further restrict the right to vote. These include the requirement that voters produce identification, and reduction of the numbers of polling booths.  

In recent months the US has also witnessed restrictions on the right of peaceable assembly.  Unidentified but presumably federal forces descended on Portland, Oregon in the summer of 2020 and arrested peaceful protesters, taking them to unknown locations.

The Portland arrests seem to be a violation of the 2010 UN International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The Convention defines enforced disappearance as “arrest…by agents of the State …followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”  But the US has not ratified this Convention.  

President Trump also undermines the rule of law in other ways. He routinely dismisses law enforcement officers with whose decisions he disagrees. He pardons convicted criminals who are or were his cronies. He does not criticize heavily armed police forces that attack unarmed protesters or murder unarmed citizens.

And President Trump calls journalists enemies of the people. So far, he has not actually been able to eliminate freedom of the press, which is a bedrock right in any democracy.

These recent attacks on civil and political rights have led many observers to wonder if the future of the US lies in fascism. The parallels with Nazi Germany are not exact, but are very worrisome. Just as the rich and powerful in 1930s Germany deferred to Adolf Hitler, so many Republicans who should know better have supported President Trump’s attacks on civil and political rights. 

The US was once respected worldwide for its defense of civil and political rights. Yet it is now a country where such basic human rights are under attack.

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Meantime, the US has never supported the international law of economic and social rights. It has never ratified the ICESCR. Thus under international law, it is not obliged to protect human rights to health care, housing, social security, or an adequate standard of living.

Yet President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed some of these rights as early as 1944. He proclaimed a second Bill of Rights. This second Bill included rights to a useful and remunerative job, a decent home, adequate medical care, a good education, and adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.

When Senator Bernie Sanders claims that “health is a human right,” he is agreeing both with President Roosevelt and with international human rights law, but not with US law. The US is one of the few developed Western countries where citizens do not enjoy universal, tax-supported access to health care.

The US is also one of the most unequal developed Western countries. Tax cuts for the rich intensify that inequality. So does denial of health care to the poor, extremely unequal educational systems from the primary to the university levels, and inadequate social welfare. 

There is no human right in international law to economic equality. Yet scholars and activists know that the more unequal a society is, the less likely that those at the bottom will enjoy not only their economic and social rights, but also their civil and political rights.

It is difficult to take part in the deliberative political process, for example, is you are working three minimum-wage jobs to support your family. Or if you are sick with Covid-19 and can’t afford medical treatment.

Collective Rights

Aside from the rights mentioned in the ICCPR and ICESCR, collective rights are emerging in international human rights law. Collective rights include the right to peace, the right to development, and the right to a clean and healthy environment.

Former Vice-President Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for US President, acknowledges climate change and its threats to the environment. President Trump and the Republican Party do not.

Unalienable Rights

Recently, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made public the Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights. This report mentioned two foremost unalienable rights: religious liberty and property rights.

Religious liberty is not threatened in the US, although some religious people may believe that they should be free to discriminate in their businesses against LGBT+ people. President Trump's early attempt to impose a so-called “Muslim ban” on immigrants, later modified to ban immigrants from certain Muslim majority countries, did threaten the freedom of religion of prospective immigrants.

As with freedom of religion, no one threatens Americans’ property rights. Even people whom some members of the political right consider to be extreme leftists, if not “communists,” do not do so.

Social Democracy

Left-wing politicians in the US such as Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are social democrats, not communists. Social democracy is a variant of liberalism that views the social provision of economic security as an inherent part of respect for the individual. It is not communism.

Social democracy protects civil and political rights, which communism routinely violates. It preserves a market-based economic system and protects private property, which communism destroys.

But social democrats also try to protect citizens against detrimental market forces and extreme inequality. Contemporary social democrats also worry about collective rights, especially the right to be protected against climate change.

In other Western states, social democracy is a normal part of politics. It is not considered to be an extreme leftist position.

The left wing of the Democratic Party is comprised of social democrats, or what Senator Sanders and Representative Ocasio-Cortez call democratic socialists. It is the political group most willing to protect the entire range of internationally-recognized human rights in the US.