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
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
"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.