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Friday, 7 September, 2001, 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK
Africa media split on slavery
Africa Media Watch
The World Conference Against Racism in Durban continues to dominate the African media, but newspapers are divided over the issue of a European apology for the slave trade.

A commentary in the Nigerian newspaper This Day quotes Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo calling for an apology, but notes that he stopped short of demanding reparations.


Europe did not have a monopoly on slavery. Muslim traders also exported as many as 17 million slaves

This Day, Nigeria

'No monopoly'

But the paper goes on to quote President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal as saying that the concept of reparations is "absurd and even insulting", arguing that three centuries of slavery cannot be evaluated in terms of dollars.

"He also pointed out that slavery had been practised by everyone, including his own ancestors," the paper notes.

"Europe did not have a monopoly on slavery. Muslim traders also exported as many as 17 million slaves to the coast of the Indian Ocean, the Middle East and North Africa," This Day adds.

Regret or apology?

South Africa's Business Day also refers to President Obasanjo's call for an apology, stating that his unexpected demand in a speech to the conference destroyed South Africa's carefully constructed compromise position.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo
Obasanjo came under fire

"Obasanjo's speech came as a slap in the face," the paper quoted a source close to the South African delegation as saying.

"We thought that we had reached agreement... that by accepting American `regret' instead of `apology', we would receive strong support from developed countries for the New Africa Initiative" development programme, the source told the paper.

US attitude "obnoxious"


The Western nations...have demonstrated an aloofness tantamount to turning up their noses at the victims of their past actions

The Sowetan, South Africa

A commentary in South Africa's The Sowetan begins by saying "there is a great temptation to lash out in reactive agitation at the obnoxious attitude of the Bush Administration in rejecting the World Conference Against Racism".

The paper then loses no time in giving in to the temptation: "To do so would lend undue credit to a dwarf of a president who assumed power under dubious circumstances to start with."

It also condemns the low level of Western representation at the forum.

US President George W Bush
Bush: Dwarfed by responsibility?

"We remain concerned, however, that the Western nations whose forebears were the perpetrators of this abomination have demonstrated an aloofness tantamount to turning up their noses at the victims of their past actions, by boycotting the conference."

"In addition, the attendance by a pitiful 18 heads of state or governments is a sad indictment against the leaders of the world," The Sowetan concludes.

'Worst treatment'


Africa does not necessarily want anybody's money. We merely want the world to acknowledge the evils of its past.

The Nation, Kenya

In a commentary entitled "Atone for African Slave Holocaust", Kenya's The Nation, Kenya condemns the "bickering" over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the conference and says the row sidelined the slavery issue.

"It seems that the world does not wish to acknowledge the crimes against our humanity perpetrated by Europeans and Arabs - as well as certain slaving tribes - in the name of trade," the paper says.

"We have been wronged. The African slave trade easily represents the worst treatment of human beings by human beings," the paper says.

"Africa does not necessarily want anybody's money. We merely want the world to acknowledge the evils of its past. Then we shall do our very best to forgive," the paper concludes.

Reparations 'a mistake'


The response to the fall-out from slavery cannot be a one-off payment as a result of one group in society holding the rest to ransom

Will Hutton, Daily Mail and Guardian, South Africa

A commentary by Will Hutton in the South African Daily Mail & Guardian says that "slavery is America's incubus. It made racist hypocrites of the founding fathers who drafted a Constitution and Bill of Rights that proclaimed individual liberties for all as long as they were white, knowing exactly what they were doing".

But Mr Hutton goes on to argue that, despite his gut reaction being that reparations should be paid, they would be a grave mistake.

"It is a seductive argument - but wrong. The response to the fall-out from slavery cannot be a one-off payment as a result of one group in society holding the rest to ransom," he says.

"A society can only hold together if it stands by universal egalitarian values and a universal infrastructure of justice - and it is within those we design our response to racism. The road to hell is paved with good intentions," he concludes.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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