Slave trade was not European invention

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2001, 12:00am

The United Nations World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which was held earlier this month, was intended to mark a milestone against discrimination.

Instead, it lurched for nine days through acrimony, walk-outs and contentiousness before stumbling into bathos at the finish line. As your editorial of September 9 notes, 'too much time was spent discussing the past and the politicised situation in the Middle East'. Indeed, much of the motivation was either to disparage Israel and promote the Palestinian cause or to badger the rich Western nations into paying ransom to expiate the alleged sins of their great-grandfathers.

But when it comes to slavery, who's kidding whom? Slavery was hardly invented by the European nations, and the slave trade was practised worldwide before the first European slaving vessels appeared on Africa's coasts in the 16th century. Arab traders had, for centuries, traded with sub-Saharan chieftains for captured enemy tribesmen.

White traders merely inherited the preferred trading position of the Arab merchants. And what great wars were waged in Africa to rid the continent of the scourge of slavery? The sad truth is that the African potentates of yesteryear were all-too-willing beneficiaries of slavery and in no way fought for its eradication.

It was courageous white abolitionists, such as Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce and William Lloyd Garrison, who raised the consciousness of their Anglo-American countrymen to outlaw first the slave trade in the early 19th century and then slavery itself. America's bloodiest war yet was waged largely by white men against white men, for the sake of this sacred cause. Perhaps it would not have been too much for the Durban conference to get its facts straight and issue, instead of demands and righteous howls of condemnation, a note of gratitude to the courage of those, white and black, who died fighting slavery.

To rail today against the Western nations which ultimately helped bring about the demise of slavery is to disregard the lessons of history.


Tai Tam