Afrika and reparations activism in the UK – an interview with Esther Stanford-Xosei

ROAPE’s Ben Radley interviews Pan-Afrikan activist Esther Stanford-Xosei. Stanford-Xosei speaks about the struggle for the total liberation and unification of Afrikan people and an indispensable and self-empowering reparatory justice. She argues that reparatory justice and Pan-Afrikan liberation is central to reparations activism in Britain.

Ben Radley: Can you please describe to us a little about your personal background, and what experiences or encounters had the strongest influence on your early political development?

Esther Stanford-Xosei: I was born in South London and brought into this world by parents who were born in the Caribbean (Barbados and Guyana), yet who retained their genetic and cultural memory of Afrika. My activism has sought to re-member the historic, geopolitical and cultural ties between Diaspora communities and our ancestral Motherland, Afrika. By vocation I am a jurisconsult, or legal specialist in applied jurisprudence, the science, philosophy and study of law through its actual practice. As a jurisconsult, my unique professional niche is serving as a Pan-Afrikan internationalist ‘guerrilla lawyer’; a grassroots scholar-activist law practitioner. I am also in the process of completing my PhD research on the UK contingent of the International Social Movement for Afrikan Reparations.

The Anti-Apartheid Movement had a strong influence on my early political development. I recall that in 1987, at age 13, I entered a competition for young Black writers, and my winning entry was a piece of creative writing under the theme ‘Not only equality but justice’, about the abolition of apartheid featuring the role of an imagined woman protagonist who was a freedom-fighting ‘mother of the nation’ named Mauba Sheshea. The impact of the Anti-Apartheid Movement had a strong influence on my emerging race and national consciousness as an Afrikan woman in the Diaspora as well as recognition of the connections between global racism and imperialism.

Another significant encounter was my activism as an aspiring lawyer as part of a UK organisation of ‘Black Lawyers’, to effect and secure holistic reparatory justice; organising with fellow Pan-Afrikanists who were in exile in the UK and had been involved in Afrikan liberation struggles in their home countries in Afrika. Recognising the fact that there was a political vacuum in championing the cause of Pan-Afrikan Reparations, these encounters led to my involvement in 2000, with fellow-Ghanaian Pan-Afrikanists Kofi Mawuli Klu and Kwame Adofo Sampong, in co-founding the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe.

Part of your academic work has focused on studying the history of reparations activism in the UK. How far back does this history go? Who were its earliest advocates, and did they share a similar understanding of reparations to how the issue is framed and addressed today?

The history of reparations organising in the UK goes back to the eighteenth century. Some of the earliest documentation of calls for reparations that influenced organising in Britain go back to a letter written by Fiaga Agaja Trudo Audati in 1726, addressed to King George of England demanding an end to chattel enslavement and trafficking, by setting up ‘local plantation agriculture’ within Ouidah, a coastal city in the then Kingdom of Whydah (in what is now Benin). This intervention by Agaja has increased awareness about indigenous Afrikan abolitionists in Afrika and their influence on the Slavery Abolitionist Movement within and beyond the UK. Some of the earliest documented organising to effect and secure reparatory justice can be traced to the Sons of Africa, including one of its key protagonists Attobah Kwodjo Enu aka Ottobah Cugoano (1757-1791). Cugoano was an enslaved Afrikan originally from the Fante village of Ajumako in present-day Ghana. The ‘Sons of Africa’ movement was formed in London (1797) by Cugoano and Olaudah Equiano (1745-97) as a “political group led by Afrikan abolitionists who campaigned to end slavery”.

However, these men were not just abolitionists; they were also reparationists. In 1787, Cugoano published the book Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species. In the post-script to the 1791 edition, Cugoano raises “the issue of adequate reparation and restitution for the injuries enslaved persons received”, making him the first published Afrikan author in English to denounce the trafficking and enslavement of Afrikans and to pronounce the Afrikan human right to resistance against enslavement, as well as to advocate in a letter to the Prince of Wales the demand for reparations including ‘restitution for the injuries’.

What is traditionally termed ‘repatriation’, a return to one’s homeland, represents the oldest form of Afrikan Reparations, dating from the fifteenth century when the first Afrikans were kidnapped and trafficked from the continent and their cultural and spiritual way of life. Cognisant of Afrikan peoples’ desire to be reconnected with their homeland, in the eighteenth century, the British Government developed a nation-state colonial scheme which included aspects of returning Afrikans to Afrika but devoid of the true essence of reparations which is more correctly rematriation.

Rematriation describes the historical, cultural and spiritual restitution needed to repair and redress the dispossessions and other violations suffered by enslaved Afrikan people. Rematriation includes the right to return and belong to ‘Pan-Afrika’. It encompasses the Akan Sankofa principle of returning to and renewing forms of decolonial Afrikan indigeneity to fetch one’s Afrikan personality in material, cultural and spiritual terms, which are all routed in the land and peoplehood of Afrika. In this way, rematriation contributes to repairing enduring historical and contemporary injustices by paying attention to the ongoing psychological, cultural and spiritual damage caused to the sensibilities of people of Afrikan ancestry and heritage through epistemicide and the continued existence of coloniality.

In every subsequent generation since these times, there have been efforts made to effect and secure holistic reparatory justice. In the twentieth century, the Pan-African Congresses in 1900 (London), 1921 (London, Paris, Brussels), 1923 (London, Lisbon), 1927 (New York) and, most importantly, 1945 (Manchester) consolidated a growing Pan-Afrikan Movement out of which contemporary movements for reparations both globally and in the UK would form.

Today, the UK contingent of the International Social Movement for Afrikan Reparations both acknowledges this history of reparations organising and builds trans-generationally from the knowledges and solidarity that it generated. Many of those twentieth century Pan-Afrikanists who organised in the UK and who were involved in reparatory justice organising work are well known and have been well researched as contributing to the Pan-Afrikan Movement in the twentieth century, such as Marcus Garvey, Amy Ashwood Garvey, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Kwame Nkrumah, Claudia Jones, Constance Cummings-John and Una Mason.

When many people hear the word ‘reparations’ they tend to think of economic compensation, but as you have just touched on, it is about much more than this. What does the term mean to you and others involved in the struggle and how does it relate to the broader radical project of African emancipation and self-determination?

In The Making of An African Intellectual, Robert Hill recalls how Walter Rodney asserted that the role of Black people in institutions of higher learning was as a part of the development of Black struggle”. He used the term ‘guerrilla intellectual’ to “come to grips with the initial imbalance of power in the context of academic learning”. He strongly advocated that sincere intellectuals within European academic institutions should embrace the first and major struggle – the struggle over ‘ideas’. Like all other terms, reparations itself is contested. As such, it is important to know that the term ‘reparations’ has its roots in the modern English term ‘repair’; meaning to restore to good condition, to set right, or make amends.

Influenced by the analysis of the Indigenous Yaqui scholar, Rebecca Tsosie, who researches reparations for Indigenous nations in the Americas, the framework for understanding the role of ‘reparations’ for Afrikan People worldwide necessarily must be intergenerational and intercultural and must address Indigenous Afrikan epistemologies. The Maangamizi – which is a Kiswahili and Pan-Afrikan term for the intent to destroy Afrikan people in terms of everything that represents Afrikan personhood, manifesting itself in the continuum of chattel, colonial and neocolonial enslavement including crimes of ecocide and genocide – not only included the theft of the Afrikan person but also, and equally importantly, severed the captive Afrikan from the knowledges that inform the very foundation of human identity; in this case, the Afrikan personhood and personality. Accordingly, there can be no authentic reparatory justice for Afrikan people without global cognitive justice, meaning reparations must also entail restoring indigenous Afrikan knowledge systems of language, spirituality and philosophy, music, art and symbolism, as well as science and technology resulting in Afrika redefining her own knowledge systems.

As I have written elsewhere, the core objectives of Pan-Afrikanism, including the attainment and securing of holistic reparatory justice and Pan-Afrikan liberation and nation-building, have been central to reparations activism in Britain. This has been defined by the taking back of Afrika, restoring Afrikan sovereignty and building Afrika into an unconquerable powerful Pan-Afrikan Union of Communities known as Maatubuntuman, which is collectively governed by Afrikans on the continent of Afrika and the Diaspora.

One of the unique features of Afrikan Reparations organising in Britain is that it has always had a Pan-Afrikan focus. Our emphasis then as Afrikan reparationists in the UK has been on relating to reparations not just as a legal case or claim and political struggle, but also as an international social movement, embodied in the International Social Movement for Afrikan Reparations. Many Afrikans organising as part of the UK contingent are in pursuit of comprehensive holistic land-based reparations. This means that pursuit of effecting and securing reparatory justice for us as Afrikans in the Diaspora – and certainly those of us who identify as the Maatubuntujamaa, Afrikan Heritage Community for National Self-Determination in the UK – is umbilically connected to the liberation of Afrika, restoration of Afrikan sovereignty and the self-determination of Afrikan people worldwide.Maatubuntujamaas is a model of non-territorial autonomy premised on autonomous community institution-building, resource exchange and service-provision.

The Maatubuntujamaa in the UK has come up with a set of ten proposals for reparations as part of a plan referred to as the Pempamsiempango. In the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe, we recognise the economics of reparations, but only insofar as receiving the financial component of reparations will be meaningful only if it serves the holistic purpose and strengthens the integral whole of our self-repair process”. So, for us, the economics of Afrikan Reparations relate to how Afrikan Heritage Communities people provide for and re-equip ourselves, as Afrikan people, with the dignity of community self-reliance, reclaiming our stewardship of Mother Earth and securing the restituted resources of Afrika and Afrikan people worldwide. This includes access to land and other tangible and intangible heritage and property, distributed and utilised within Planetary boundaries and in harmony with all life forms.

Concretely, this entails first and foremost the urgent need for Pan-Afrikan Reparations and other Global Justice Movements to compel the stopping of neocolonialism and its inbuilt manifestations of genocide, ecocide and extractivist plunder in Afrika and other parts of the Global South that we have re-made home. In addition, combining our collective power to ensuring the redistribution of wealth and ushering in of a new international political and economic order which supports transformative adaptation and is based on ecological restoration, community governance and stewardship of work and resources for the re-making of our world.

A vital mechanism in achieving this is the demand for the establishment of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry for Truth and Reparatory Justice, as part of a global process of dialogue between Afrikan people and state institutions of perpetrators of the Maangamizi, such as the British Parliament, in order that Afrikan Heritage Communities across the world can harmonise our own self-repair plans and actions towards not only advocating for ourselves before all state bodies, but also working to guarantee the non-repetition of the Maangamizi as an aspect of reparations recognised under international law. This goes beyond mere compensation which, as Robin Kelley argues, does not challenge the terms of racial capitalism, but rather reinforces neoliberalism and capitalism including the logic of property rights and compensation without radical transformation.

You often invoke the work and legacy of the Ghanian political revolutionary and intellectual Kwame Nkrumah when discussing and advocating for reparatory justice. Can you talk about his influence on your work and activism?

In his 23 September 1960 address to the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, Kwame Nkrumah demonstrated Continental Afrikan input to the movement for reparations when he stated:

The great tide of history flows, and as it flows it carries to the shores of reality the stubborn facts of life and man’s relations, one with another. One cardinal fact of our time is the momentous impact of Africa’s awakening upon the modern world. The flowing tide of African nationalism sweeps everything before it and constitutes a challenge to the colonial powers to make a just restitution for the years of injustice and crime committed against our continent.

This is important in the sense that Nkrumah and others felt that the struggle for the total liberation and unification of Afrikan People was a self-empowering reparatory justice process which if enabled to develop, would then allow Afrikans to repair themselves by their own people’s power. Revolutionary leaders like Nkrumah put a lot of effort into seeking to ensure that the struggle for Afrikan Liberation realised this objective of self-repair. Part of this struggle was the reparatory justice conceptualisation of national liberation from the agenda of the Garveyite Movement and the Pan-African Congresses. That is why the US-sponsored plots to overthrow governments, such as that of Kwame Nkrumah and the earlier assassination of Patrice Lumumba, were attacks on that state-building reparatory justice process, being spearheaded by the then resurgent Pan-Afrikan Movement. This is what Susan Williams, the author of White Malice: The CIA and the Covert Recolonization of Africa, refers to as the struggle for Afrikan Independence being strangled at birth.

Particularly from the late 1970s, when neocolonialism became the dominant form of the nation state in Afrika and the Diaspora, the reparatory justice process was expunged out of emerging nation states which became cogs in the wheel of neocolonialism, devoid of any truly self-repairing substance instead of them becoming building blocks of a truly independent Pan-Afrikan Union of States as envisaged by Nkrumah and others. This complete divorcing of the Pan-Afrikan reparatory justice process from the nation states that emerged after so-called independence compelled the Pan-Afrikan Movement to have a life of its own from the grassroots. My activism – especially working through structures such as the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe, the Stop the Maangamizi: We Charge Genocide/Ecocide Campaign, and the Global Afrikan Peoples Parliament – is returning to that understanding of reparations as rematriation and an independent sovereign nation-building process.

In the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe’s approach to reparations campaigning, we are guided by the strategy and tactics for the Pan-Afrikan Revolution outlined by Kwame Nkrumah in his post-1966 works such as Revolutionary Path and Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare. In these works, Nkrumah recognised and advocated that indigenous Afrikan ethnicities, communities and nationalities should constitute the core base for the establishment of a repaired Afrika which frees itself from the constraints of European coloniality and the structural violence of Euro-American dominance in Afrika. Integral to this process is the shutting down of what the Stop the Maangamizi Campaign refers to as Maangamizi crimes scenes, which are those sites of extractivist plunder which prolong the criminality of neocolonialism and Afrikan peoples’ dispossession and exploitation.

How do you assess the current state and strength of the struggle today?

There was a lull in the early 2000s, due to gains of the Pan-Afrikan Movement being eroded and many liberation movements departing from the reparatory justice essence of struggles for national and social liberation to embrace neoliberalism, and the states formed by such movements resigning themselves to neocolonialism. More recently, Afrikan Reparations is winning back international recognition as the imperative of our times. A lot of focused work has been done by some of the organisational formations that I am part of to give visibility to the International Social Movement for Afrikan Reparations from below, and to also recognise the intersectional nature of the cause of Afrikan Reparations.

Looking back, I would say that between 2000 and 2015 was for us a period of regrouping and re-catalysing the International Social Movement for Afrikan Reparations. But by 2015, the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe had consolidated its position as a vanguard formation around which other structures started evolving, which we have been able to intellectually influence in regards to strategy and tactics, such as the Stop the Maangamizi Campaign, Global Afrikan Peoples Parliament, the Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March Committee, and the International Network of Scholars and Activists for Afrikan Reparations, formed in 2017 and with its exemplary Principles of Participation.

In the UK, there is a contingent of the International Social Movement for Afrikan Reparations which I believe is one of the most revolutionary in the world, because of its explicit Pan-Afrikan focus and objectives of the restoration of Afrikan Sovereignty and bringing about fundamental social and ecological transformation. From this, we see the promise of an emerging ‘Blackprint’ which remains true to the Pan-Afrikan foundations of reparations movement-building.

We are seeing the growing influence of Afrikan reparationists on other movements such as environmental and climate justice movements aided by the fact that resistance to the worldwide climate and ecological crises is radicalising forces both in the Global South and the Global North.

For instance, the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe took reparations into the Environmental Movement here in the UK and has been strategically building affinities with movements such as Extinction Rebellion (XR) through the Stop the Maangamizi Campaign which co-founded the Extinction Rebellion Internationalist Solidarity Network soon after the inception of XR in 2018. Through the Stop the Maangamizi Campaign’s influence, XR and a specific formation within it known as XR-Being the Change Affinity Network have embraced the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe’s advocacy of ‘Planet Repairs’.

This recognition of Afrikan Reparations and Planet Repairs has also led to mainstream political parties in the UK such as the Green Party of England and Wales embracing Planet Repairs and working with the Stop the Maangamizi Campaign to co-produce the text of Reparations and Atonement for the Transatlantic Trafficking of Enslaved Africans motions, which have now been passed by Islington and Lambeth Council and Bristol City Council. The key purpose of these motions is to build glocal support at the local and city council level for the Stop the Maangamizi Campaign’s demand for the UK Parliament to establish the All-Party Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry for Truth and Reparatory Justice. It took the strength and mobilisation of support of people on the ground locally, nationally, and internationally to create the public receptivity to the passing of these motions.

Despite these advances, there are dangers in the increasing recognition and embracing of reparations, such as the ever-increasing potential of movement-capture, the NGO-isation of reparatory justice resistance, counterinsurgency and the promotion of neoliberal measures purported to be reparatory, but which reinforce global white supremacy, neocolonialism and racial capitalism.

Building on this impetus, underpinned by two decades of mobilising and organising communities, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for African Reparations (APPGAR) was launched on 20 October 2021. The significance of this parliamentary group is that it is the first space created within the state institutions of the UK for dialogue in pursuit of holistic Afrikan reparations, meaning embracing Planet Repairs. Since its launch, APPGAR has opened up prospects for programmes which can support Afrikan Heritage Communities to be drivers of policy on Afrikan Reparations through community links to the group. Work has already begun in developing youth perspectives on Afrikan Reparations and educational repairs. On 20 February 2022, and in association with the Maangamizi Educational Trust and the International Network of Scholars and Activists for Afrikan Reparations, I initiated the launch of the Mbuya Nehanda Afrikan Women and Reparations Project. These focus groups will explore the rights, needs, and perspectives of Women of Afrikan ancestry and heritage on holistic Afrikan Reparatory Justice with a view to concretising Afrikan ‘Womanist’ approaches to policy-making and other strategic interventions relevant to the work of the APPGAR.

The significance of launching this project on the 20 February 2022 is that the date falls on the 124th anniversary of the 1898 arraignment of Mbuya Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana at the High Court of Matabeleland in the case of the (British) Queen of England vs Nehanda. Mbuya Nehanda-Charwe was a powerful spirit medium, who today can be characterised as a reparationist committed to upholding traditional Shona culture and a heroine of the 1896/7 first Chimurenga war for national liberation against British settler colonialism. Mbuya Nehanda-Charwe, along with three others, was falsely accused of murdering a brutal and terroristic British commissioner, Henry Hawkins Pollard of the British South Africa Company, and was subsequently hanged by the British settler colonial regime on the 27 April 1898, for her contributions in mobilising communities against colonial misrule and dispossession. Before Mbuya Nehanda-Charwe was hanged, her dying words of resistance were that her bones would rise again to lead a new, victorious rebellion against the British colonialists. To us as Afrikan Reparationists, she is one of the greatest Afrikan Sheroes who shaped and influenced the early Afrikan Liberation struggle against the Maangamizi of colonialism.

Esther Stanford-Xosei is a decolonial Pan-Afrikanist Jurisconsult, Reparationist, Community Advocate and ‘Ourstorian’ engaged in reparations policy, research and movement-building under the auspices of the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe, Stop the Maangamizi Campaign, Global Afrikan People’s Parliament, International Network of Scholars & Activists for Afrikan Reparations, Extinction Rebellion Internationalist Solidarity Network as well as XR-Being the Change Affinity Network.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.