The case for slavery reparations seems to be growing louder every day. This week, indigenous representatives from 12 Commonwealth countries called on King Charles to begin the process of paying reparations. The King has personally expressed sorrow for the suffering of slaves and Buckingham Palace has said that it is taking the issue of reparations ‘profoundly seriously’. Earlier this year, a former BBC journalist committed to sending £100,000 in aid to the Caribbean to atone for her own family’s historical links to the slave trade.
The central thesis of slavery reparations is that white majority countries owe money to ethnic minorities as their ancestors may have enslaved others or benefited from a slave-system economy.
There is a problem with this though: ultimately, the great evil of slavery was practised by all inhabited continents and all races. And there will be almost no one alive today in the world who doesn’t have an ancestral link to the slave trade. This fact collapses the modern-day reparations argument.
Take the Afro-Omani slave trader Tippu Tip, who in 1895 was reported to have seven plantations and own 10,000 slaves. He was one of the largest slavers in all of East Africa.
Tip, alongside countless fellow indigenous Africans, would capture slaves in village raids or as prisoners of war, and they would be sold at the African coast to outside traders or fellow Africans within the subcontinent. Tip’s own home country Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania) was, although small in size, a large trading empire. In 1859 alone, 19,000 slaves were imported there from the East African Coast.
Long before the transatlantic slave trade began, slavery was commonplace in many parts of the globe.