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WEB POSTED 10-08-2002

 
 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Benin seeks forgiveness for role in slave trade

WASHINGTON (NNPA)—In an unprecedented move, Cyrille Oguin, ambassador to the United States from the African Republic of Benin, has admitted his country’s part in the trans-Atlantic slave trade that peddled millions of Africans over 300 years, and is seeking reconciliation and forgiveness.

Mr. Oguin said the loss of millions of Africans from the continent has led to its lack of development and prosperity.

"If a vital part of you was missing, would you not miss it?" asked Mr. Oguin at a press conference at the embassy of the Republic of Benin in Washington, D.C.

The slave trade—or the "Middle Passage," the journey of Africans kidnapped from their homeland and put on European vessels to be transported to Europe and the Americas for enslavement—has been described as the most horrific and disgraceful crime against human beings in history. This peddling of human beings, an untold number of African men, women and children, between the 15th and 19th centuries cost millions of lives and robbed Africa of her most valuable natural resource, her people.

What has always been clear is that Europeans implemented, organized and fueled the slave trade for their own greed and prosperity. The part that has always been unclear is the involvement of African leaders in assisting in the capture, exportation and exploitation of millions of Africans.

Mr. Oguin echoed the Republic of Benin President Mathieu Kerekou’s sentiment expressed at a 1999 reconciliation conference: "We owe to ourselves never to forget these absent ones standing among us who did not die their own deaths. We must acknowledge and share responsibility in the humiliations."

Mr. Oguin said that admitting guilt is the first step in reconciliation, to clean the blood of millions from the past from his country’s hands.

"I think that’s a very important move on his part," said A. Peter Bailey, a lecturer and editor of Vital Issues: A Journal of African American Speeches. "There has been a tendency to blur over the pivotal role that some African chiefs played in the enslavement of African people. It is a good sign to hear someone acknowledge it and express regret over what happened."

Originally called Dahomey, Benin changed its name after gaining independence from France in 1960. A country of about 6.5 million, it is between Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria in West Africa. It is about the size of the state of Pennsylvania and borders the Atlantic Ocean. That, said Mr. Oguin, allowed the country to be used as a major port for the slave trade. Slaves were marched down a path that cuts through his country, branded or otherwise marked, and held at holding camps in the port of Ouidah, now part of a toured slave route in Benin. From this port city, thousand of slaves were stripped, chained in pairs by the ankles and taken by canoes at night to slaving vessels anchored in the harbors.

For this assistance and for sometimes even providing the cargo for the slave merchants, Mr. Oguin says they are sorry.

—LaWanda Johnson

Washington Afro-American

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