Nicole Lee, executive director of TransAfrica Forum
Photograph © Simon Webb
International Slavery Museum gala dinner, 22 August 2007
Transcript of the speech given by TransAfrica Forum executive director Nicole Lee, at the gala dinner to celebrate the opening of the International Slavery Museum on 22 August 2007.
I begin by delivering regrets from our chairman of the board Danny Glover. Mr Glover long ago put this historic evening in his calendar but the demands of his professional schedule and his life’s project on the Haitian Revolution prevent him from being here. He is committed to visiting the museum in the future. I am honoured to stand here in his place addressing the issues related to the history of slavery and those that face Africa and its Diaspora today. TransAfrica has a long history of standing with the global community in seeking to bring justice and fairness to Africans on the continent and around the world.
Two hundred years ago, after 245 years of institutionalized violent and brutal enslavement of African peoples the British Evangelical Christians allied with Quakers mobilised the British Parliament - with the likes of William Wilberforce and others called the 'Saints' - to achieve an Act of Parliament for Abolition of the Slave Trade. They believed the abolition of slavery was a divinely ordained battle. However, as we all know, stopping the ships that ripped Africa’s children from their shores did not end slavery or the horror and continental devastation that is felt even today in Africa and for her children all over the world.
The kind of moral and political calculus that led to the abolition of slave trade 200 years ago is required today as this generation of Africans and her allies combat the vestiges of slavery. We should recall that the new revolutionary people and government of Haiti were not recognized by the US or Europe after the slaves overthrew French rule. It was the dawn of a new era and Haiti stood as a symbol of self-determination and the possibility of freedom for enslaved people. While we have all benefited from the effects of the Haitian revolution, Haiti and her people continue to suffer from poverty and constant destabilisation. The international community must make a commitment to the sovereignty of this great nation and to allow the Haitian people to fulfil the promises of the Haitian revolution begun so long ago.
Also today, undermining the efforts the British government and others are putting forth to relieve so-called African debt are 'vulture funds'. Vulture funds are companies that buy defaulted (often discounted) debt of highly indebted poor nations. Many of these funds seek repayment via litigation - suing for the full value of the debt plus extraordinary interest. In short, the money the G-8 set aside for African debt relief is in jeopardy of being spent to repay private investors who are taking advantage of Africa's distress. This is economically immoral and a modern day example of how Western greed continues to plague the continent of Africa. I commend Prime Minister Gordon Brown for the leadership he has shown to end this despicable practice and for his advocacy on behalf of African debt relief and elimination. Today I call on all of you to urge your governments to pass legislation that forbids corporations from circumventing national and international debt relief mechanisms in the pursuit of exorbitant profit. I ask us all to encourage the EU and the G-8 to stop vulture funds, and we call for the entire world to denounce such practices. Given the history of the slavery and the slave trade, the West clearly owes Africa substantially more than Africa owes it.
This museum is an important contribution to the global struggle to address the long and tragic history of the slave trade and slavery, as well as the heroic efforts by the enslaved to end them. However, equally important to the education of museum visitors are the moral obligations history places upon each and every one of us to assume the social responsibility to address the ongoing inequities and inhumanity wrought by the history of slavery.
I thank the men and women who had the vision for this museum, the commitment to achieve it and we at TransAfrica look forward to a long and inspired partnership with the International Slavery Museum.
22 August 2007