Still in chains!

The year 2007's commemoration of the bicentenary of the parliamentary abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in the British empire is an insult to the Africans who continue to be virtually in chains as slaves of Europe and the West, and physically in shackles across British and European detention camps built specifically for the foreigner and making millions of profits for multinationals. Deja-vu!

It is well known that Western powers committed numerous crimes, including the slave trade, in their exploitation of Africa. They also gradually moulded African countries into their material suppliers and product-dumping markets, which resulted in abnormal economic structures in many African countries with deleterious effects. What is more, they introduced divide-and-rule tactics to Africa, which created ethnic conflicts, incited religious dissent, and provoked religious conflicts, thereby undermining the traditional African social and economic order.

In history, slaves were stolen, snatched or bought, forces into boats - some killed on the journeys -, and taken from their lands, to work in forced labour as their European masters' slaves, for the rest of their lives. Their children were born slaves. After the scramble for Africa, the British empire and other European colonialists enslaved Africans in their own lands, and even after granting the newly-divided African states 'independence', the chains remain in form of treaties, contracts and laws entered into, immediately before the colonialists' departure, in order to continue milking Africa of its resources; donor 'aid' in form of exorbitant high interest loans.

Development funds in form of donor 'aid' are multi-accounted for, with 'reform' demands attached for public corporations and utilities, as IMF and the World Bank conditions cripple Africa; trade injustices and imbalances, and European product dumping – making it impossible for Africans to compete; outright exploitation and disregard to human rights and environment when it comes to the the West's demand for Africa's resources; outright theft in form of 'patents' of Africa's indigenous medicines and herbs, then demands of exorbitant prices for lifesaving pharmaceutical products made from those resources; 'brain drain' of Africa's academics and professionals attracted by Europe's economies, to escape poverty; turning a blind eye on African leaders who squander and stash stolen billions of Africa's wealth, never to be returned after their demise or defeat; arms trades that fuel Africa's conflicts and cause deaths, suffering, displacement , refugees and asylum seekers. As a result, African countries have been in a poor and backward state since they were granted independence. Even today, Western multinational corporations manipulate those industries that are of utmost importance to African countries’ economies such as heavy industry, mining and manufacturing.

This time around, for mostly young Africans fighting for survival, the clock of slavery has turned back. The corrupt African Leaders have taken the role of slave trader, as their greed for personal wealth and power drives them. Just like the triangular trade that began in the 16th Century, which involved; first the European traders selling guns and gun powder to the leaders and Chiefs of African villages encouraging them to make war against each other, so the practice continues in a more systematic, 'legal' and sophisticated manner, and the arms trade provide huge profits for the UK and EU states. Second, with the confusion of war, conflicts and greed of power and wealth, and unscrupulous deals, the Africans' wealth is robbed. The same way Africans were forced into boats to be transported to the Americas as slaves for the rest of their lives, this time around Africans are forced into backs of lorries, boats etc., to Europe, in their fight for survival – to escape conflicts; fight for justice and equality; persecution – often because of speaking out against these injustices –; and poverty. The African is also chained by globalist policies, multi-corporations, IMF conditions, 'debts' owed to the World Bank and Western 'donors' such as the U.K. The third part of the triangle is completed when Africa's 'stolen' wealth is brought to Europe and the West by the EU states and companies – in form of profit, and in a more sophisticated way, with British and European detention camps being built and expanded specifically for the African and Asian foreigner, making millions of profits for multinationals and their shareholders.

The African who succeeds to make through all the hurdles and 'assault course' against all odds to the shores of Fortress Europe to claim political asylum is then shackled on arrival. The criminalization of immigrants seeking political asylum reflects a trend by governments of industrialized nations. These nations are increasingly demanding that asylum seekers have complete documents from their home governments – who are often the persecutors – in order to enter without being imprisoned. It occurs at a time when there is a growing number of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing torture and other human right abuses.

Throughout the UK, approximately 2,500 asylum seekers (including children) are estimated to be held in detention, at any one time. One of the largest concentrations of detained asylum seekers in the UK is near Heathrow airport (Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres), where, at any given time, approximately 800 individuals are detained in two UK Immigration Detention contract facilities, and an unknown number of individuals are detained in prisons. Bail and release rates and length of detention among asylum seekers arriving without proper documentation in the UK, and those deemed to be suitable for 'Fast-Track' of their asylum claims as well as 'failed' asylum seekers are few and far between.

The practice of detaining asylum seekers in the UK and other nations has greatly concerned health professionals and human rights advocates, in part because of the potential detrimental effects of detention on the mental health of asylum seekers. Many asylum seekers have suffered trauma, such as torture, prior to immigration, which contributes to high rates of psychiatric morbidity in this population. Detention may exacerbate prior symptoms or even foster development of new problems. The practice of imprisoning asylum seekers who flee to Europe to escape torture, abuse, and persecution in their own countries has damaging effects on the well-being of these individuals. Detention can induce fear, isolation and hopelessness, and exacerbate the severe psychological distress frequently exhibited by asylum seekers who are already traumatized.

Detention of asylum seekers and migrants is an evil policy and should be abolished. There is no limit to detention and no independent review of that decision. Terrorist suspects are better treated, as they can only be held for a maximum of 28 days without charge. Asylum seekers are guilty of seeking asylum and can be held at detention centres for months and years. Since 1994, there has been 7182 documented refugee deaths through Fortress Europe, and the number keeps rising. In UK detention centres, self harm and attempted suicides are common a daily occurrence. Since 1989, there has been 71 suicides of asylum seekers and foreign nationals. 36 suicides of asylum seekers and foreign nationals in prisons, detention centres and psychiatric custody. In the last five years, alone, there have been 41 suicides – 15 in detention and 26 in the community. In the same period, 21 people have died as a result of using dangerous and risky methods to enter the country.

The legacies of enslavement and colonialism continue today, both in Africa and in the UK and the west. In Kenya for example, the Mau Mau rebellion against British rule during the 1950s was led in part by Kenyans who served under the British flag in the second world war and returned trained to fight and with a burning sense of grievance at colonial rule. The organisation was dominated by the Kikuyu who had suffered more than most Kenyans from the land grabbing by white settlers. The Mau Mau's killing of settlers, including women and children, at the end of 1952 and early 1953 led to its vilification in Britain as a group of savages and terrorists.

But Britain's response proved no less barbaric. Its forces killed thousands of Africans, and imprisoned tens of thousands, before the end of the rebellion in 1959. Britain also hanged about 1,000 people as rebels although many of them never bore arms. The government put the final death toll at 11,000 Kenyans compared with 32 white settlers and about 200 soldiers and police. Recent research suggests up to 100,000 Kenyans died, many through torture, starvation and neglect in the British prison camps. The Mau Mau killed more than 2,000 Africans they accused of collaboration.

During the seven years after Britain declared the "Kenya emergency" in 1952, accounts of rape, systematic and prolonged beatings and other physical tortures that caused permanent injury and starvation as part of a British policy to break the rebellion are documented. Some of the former detainees describe rape and sexual abuse of women; others say they survived camps where inmates were flogged, worked to death, murdered in cold blood or starved. A group of surviving victims now want compensation but also an apology for what they describe as a system of organised brutality unmatched anywhere else in the waning years of the British empire. Even in the 1950s, the camps were described as "Kenya's gulags" and likened by officials to Nazi slave labour camps. 50 years from now, what will be said about UK and the west's detention policies aimed at people of the 'third world'? I can bet it will come to haunt the British, the Europeans and the west as much as slavery has since its 'abolition'.

The camps were justified, in British eyes, by the Mau Mau's butchering of 32 white settlers and African chiefs loyal to the crown early in the rebellion. The Mau Mau were dominated by the Kikuyu, the largest ethnic group in Kenya, and were largely driven by bitterness at the loss of land to the white settlers. But the struggle also divided the tribe, and the Mau Mau ultimately killed far more fellow Kikuyu than whites, with massacres such as the killing of 120 men, women and children at Lari in March 1953. In Britain the Mau Mau were portrayed as representing the re-emergence of a primitive bloodlust that the twin benefits of colonisation - Christianity and civilisation - were intended to eradicate. But the British soon proved they could be as brutal as their enemies.

The Kenyan Human Rights Commission, which is backing the former prisoners' legal claim, says about 160,000 people were detained in dire conditions and that tens of thousands were tortured to get them to renounce their oath to the Mau Mau. Britain set up the camps in response to the brutal killings of white settlers, including women and children. After the emergency was lifted in 1961, an official report determined that 32 whites had been killed by the insurgency while more than 11,000 Africans died, many of them civilians. Others put the death toll much higher. Lawyers for the claimants are likely to call as a witness a US academic, Caroline Elkins, whose acclaimed book, Britain's Gulag, estimates that up to 100,000 Kenyans died of torture, abuse and neglect in the British camps. The British authorities also hanged hundreds of Mau Mau members for offences other than killing, such as illegal possession of arms or associating with people illegally carrying weapons.

In Britain and Europe, the legacies of enslavement and colonialism continue not only from the wealth gained from resources from Africa through 'neo-colonialism', but also by 'neo-slavery' right in European soil, by the detention of asylum seekers and migrants, as well as exorbitant visa extension fees for short-term migrants such as students and foreign workers. Multinational corporations are making lucrative profits for their shareholders, while the UK taxpayer for example pays for the costs of depriving the asylum seeker and migrant of their fundamental freedom. It costs £1,230 per detainee per week in detention excluding overheads such as failed removals, medical care, transfer and escorting costs and cancelled flights.

The British colonial legacy has also left bitter struggle among nationals, by the part played in suppressing the Mau Mau by some Kenyans who went on to hold senior posts in government (many still in powerful positions in government and business). This has left fertile ground for organisations like Mungiki to flourish, - some of the ideology stems from the Mau Mau - as an organised collective against those in power who perhaps maintain some of the old colonial, imperialist, attitudes. It is just sad that they have to incorporate violence into the movement and thus attract more violence from the security forces, creating a vicious circle!

George Mwangi + other sources georgemwas

27th October 2006