Thursday, August 12, 2010


A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.

The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey August 17, 1887 – June 10, 1940

Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born on August 17, 1887 at St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica. Garvey is considered the father of the modern Pan-African movement. He encouraged Africans from the continent and from the Diaspora to know their history and to be proud of their skin colour and physical features. He did this at a time when Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora were living in countries that were colonized by Europeans (Ethiopia was the exception.) Wholesale colonization of the African continent began after 14 white men from Europe and the United States of America (USA) met in 1884 at the Congress of Berlin where they allotted themselves portions of the continent. Over a three month period from November 15, 1884 to February 26, 1885 this group of white men from Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway (unified from 1814-1905), Turkey and the USA decided to carve up the African continent for their benefit. At the time Britain, France, Germany and Portugal had colonies on the African continent so the others wanted the opportunity to exploit Africans and Africa. Chattel slavery, the European four hundred year plunder and brutalization of Africans was almost at an end (at least on paper) so these parasites were seeking another method of leeching the human and other resources of Africa. With no regard for African culture or history, no consultation with any African, this group of white men drew borders that separated families and forced together groups that traditionally lived separately with a delicate balance of keeping peaceful relations by living separately.

This obscene scramble for Africa happened three years before Garvey’s birth and there was a response from Africans in the Diaspora. In 1886 George Charles, president of the African Emigration Association, advised the US Congress that his organization planned to establish a United States of Africa. Pan-Africanists convened the Congress on Africa in Chicago (August 14 – 21) 1893 where they denounced the carving up of the continent by Europeans. From the 1893 Pan-African Congress on Africa in Chicago the African Association was founded in 1897 by Trinidad born lawyer Henry Sylvester Williams (February 15, 1869 - March 26, 1911) who is considered the grandfather of Pan-Africanism. Three years later while studying for his law degree in London, England, Williams convened the first Pan-African Conference (July 23 – 25) in 1900.

When Williams and others were attending that first Pan-African Conference in 1900 Garvey was a 12 year old, just approaching his teenage years. Twelve years later, in 1912 Garvey arrived in London, England where he lived for two years until his return to Jamaica in 1914. While living in London, Garvey met Duse Mohammed Ali, an Egyptian scholar and editor of the African Times and Orient Review. Garvey honed his public speaking skills at London’s Hyde Park Speaker’s Corner and he wrote several articles that were published in the African Times and Orient Review. This experience contributed to Garvey’s ability to eventually guide the United Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) which he founded in 1914 when he returned to Jamaica. After Garvey moved to Harlem, New York, on March 16, 1916 the UNIA-ACL became an international organization. By 1919, the UNIA-ACL had a membership of over three million with more than 300 branches in African communities across the globe.

Garvey’s philosophies influenced Africans from all walks of life from across the globe. Certain members of my family took the knowing of your history to heart in a very special way. Whenever I spent time at the home of my mother’s older sister in Mora Street, Mackenzie, her husband would tell the story of the Herero at least once a week. The Herero were the victims of the first genocide of the 20th century at the hands of the Germans who during the European 1884–85 Berlin Conference theft of African land had laid claim to Herero territory.

During the European scramble for Africa after the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 the Germans laid claim to German Kamerun, now Cameroon and part of Nigeria, German East Africa, now Rwanda, Burundi and most of Tanzania, German South-West Africa, now Namibia and German Togoland, now Togo and eastern part of Ghana. Africans across the continent resisted the occupation of their homes by these European interlopers. Some of the better known leaders of the resistance fighters are Nana Yaa Asantewa of Ghana, Mbuya Nehanda of Zimbabwe, Cetewayo and Shaka of South Africa, Emperor Menelik of Ethiopia, Kinjikitile Ngwale of Tanganyika and Samori Ture of Guinea. In each case except Ethiopia after decades of fighting the Europeans, the territories were colonized for at least 50 years before the Africans regained their political freedom. The barbarism and brutality of the Europeans in subduing the Africans is probably unmatched in the case of the Herero people of Namibia who were victims of the unparalleled savagery of the Germans. The German genocide of the Herero people is now well documented. It is fascinating to read the sequence of events, the trickery used by the Germans to gain access and then “own” the African land. August 11, 1904 began the German slaughter of the Herero people and by 1907 approximately 85% of the Herero had been massacred by the Germans. Apart from the wholesale slaughter, German doctors performed horrific experiments on Herero men, women and children who they tortured and mutilated in the concentration camps the Germans established. The children born of the rape of Herero women by German men also warehoused in the concentration camps were included in the “scientific” experiments. German geneticist Herr Doktor Eugen Fischer went to the concentration camps in Namibia to conduct medical experiments on race. Photographs of the horribly emaciated bodies of some of the German victims from the concentration camps are not for the squeamish.

The Germans lost their African colonies to other greedy and brutal European nations after their WWI defeat (1914-1918) On March 21, 1990, Namibia became an independent nation and in September 2001, the Herero filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of the District of Columbia demanding reparations of $4 billion from the German government and several German companies including Deutsche Bank, mining company Terex Corporation, formerly Orenstein-Koppel Co., and the shipping company Deutsche Afrika Linie, formerly Woermann Linie, all of which allegedly profited from the German occupation of Namibia. The District Court of Columbia has a 215-year-old law on its books, the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789, which allows for civil action from foreign countries.

The Germans continue to resist compensating the Herero for the genocide of 1904 - 1908. Manfred Hinz, a German law professor suggested:
"We should think of a reconciliation commission with leaders of the Herero people and Germany to work out an appropriate form of apology and possible reparation and hopefully an out of court settlement."
German Ambassador Wolfgang Massing urged the Herero to drop the law suit and try and find other ways to deal with the "wounds of the past".

With "knowledge of their past history, origin and culture" the Herero are very rooted and will continue the pursuit of reparations for the atrocities visited upon their people by the Germans. The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey who was born 123 years ago would be proud of the Herero people for keeping their history alive and pursuing reparations. Garvey said:

Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm, look for me all around you, for, with God's grace, I shall come and bring with me countless millions of black slaves who have died in America and the West Indies and the millions in Africa to aid you in the fight for Liberty, Freedom and Life.

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