On 27 March 2007 Toyin Agbetu challenged the British Government, Monarchy and Church as they disrespected his and the Ancestors of a billion Africans worldwide. Their audacious attempt to rewrite the history of Maafa casting Britain as an anti-slavery champion occurred during a religious celebration attempting to canonize the Tory MP William Wilberforce.
The ceremony which was widely known by the Pan African community as the ‘Wilberfest/Wilberfarce Offensive’ occurred during a celebration of the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act taking place in Westminster Abbey. The Entire Wilberfest season cost the British government £20 million in state propaganda and led to a huge number of exhibitions, documentaries, films and a change in the national curriculum.
The narrative the British government attempted to promote is that Britain was the first nation to ‘legally’ stop the enslavement of African people with its parliamentary act in 1807. This is untrue on several accounts. In Europe, Denmark passed its laws banning the ‘slave trade’ in 1792 which took effect in 1803. The UK’s copycat 1807 act only targeted the kidnapping and transportation of captive Africans (the so called ‘slave trade’). It took several decades before Britain in 1838 actually passed an act abolishing slavery and transformed it into colonialism. However, the first people to secure enslaved Africans their freedom were African people themselves through the relentless uprisings they organised in the Caribbean and across the Americas. This continued across the decades in the form of anti-colonial movements.
Despite the international condemnation of the 2007 event, on 12 October 2016, the Government, Monarchy and Church repeated its own original sin. In an evening ritual attended by the Prime Minister Theresa May, Princess Eugenie of York and her sister Beatrice, they once again attempted the disingenuous spiritual elevation of Wilberforce. The Archbishop Justin Welby said “William Wilberforce convinced his generation that slavery was a sin – a sin that was a curse of the country in which he lived.”
Welby lied by omission in failing to also explain that Wilberforce was opposed to the Haitian (St Domingue) Revolution that led to the freedom of thousands of enslaved Africans.
As a member of the ‘Society for Gradual Abolition’ Wilberforce did not believe Africans should be freed without first training them how to serve the needs of their European enslavers.
In 2010, Stephen Tomkins’ Groundbreaking research utilising British Colonial Office papers revealed that William Wilberforce not only ‘condoned slavery’ but was also complicit in it. As a director of the Sierra Leone Company he would use the British Navy and the 1807 Act to seize Africans captured from other European nations and instead of freeing them, transport them to Sierra Leone where they were;
“... sold to landowners and they put them to slave labour... Men and children were “indentured” for $20. Women were given away. They did not call them slaves, they were “apprentices” – not purchased, but “redeemed”... They received no wages, just food. And those that escaped were recaptured, in irons.”
There is absolutely no doubt that Wilberforce was fully aware and in agreement with the practice. When Thomas Perronet Thompson, the then governor of Sierra Leone begged Wilberforce for an explanation to the appalling situation. Wilberforce replied; “I wish I had time to go into particulars respecting the difficulties which forced us into acquiescing in the system of apprenticing,”
Thompson then threatened to blow the whistle and tell the world that Wilberforce and the Sierra Leone Company had “by means of their agents become slave traders themselves”. As a result, Wilberforce agreed to him being fired.
Toyin Agbetu suggests that “In many ways Wilberforce, in opposing the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, Thomas Paines’ - Rights of Man for the English working class and being a director of an enslaving colony in Africa after 1807 - is one of the founding fathers of colonialism”
This real history makes a mockery of claims by the Prime Minister Theresa May who at the 2016 event claimed;
“More than 200 years ago William Wilberforce led Britain in the fight against slavery – opening the eyes of the world to the horrors and indignity of human servitude... Giving voice to the plight of innocent men, women and children... So, as we gather here to honour William Wilberforce’s memory, I think of his extraordinary strength and courage”
The event which was notable for its absence of any Africans included some token names such as footballer Al Bangura who did a reading and a mention of Marlene Sookdeo whose name was added to the wreath for Wilberforce.
Perhaps the attempt to bury the Truth is motivated by a desire to cover the extent to which many within the British political elite benefited and continue to prosper from the ill-gotten gains of African enslavement and colonialism. The Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership established at UCL have created a database enabling users to trace the individuals and firms that inherited wealth from the proceeds of Maafa.
Being Woke: 2007 - 2017
Reflection on Resistance
At exactly 12 noon, ten years after the original Wiberfest at Westminster Abbey Toyin Agbetu returned with a group seeking to reverse the damage caused. Together they worked to honour the millions of African freedom fighters and innocent victims of British enslavement. In a ceremony led by Maame Ama Gueye as drummer Sista Cee Cee set the spiritual tempo, African Ancestors were remembered and respected as crowds of people gathered to watch and take part in the proceedings.
The ritual of remembrance was described by one participant as “The priestess who led the act of hope and remembrance was at least as impressive as the Archbishop of Canterbury – and more firmly grounded in her religion, which I am sure is more real and relevant to her adherents needs. Altogether an inspiring event!”
Many remarked it was a beautiful occasion of both healing and inspiration.
The follow-up evening session reflecting on resistance took place at the fully booked event hosted at the Lib-Rary in London’s Covent Garden.
Special guests Henry Bonsu and SisDr Sandra Richards received a hero’s applause as they recalled the events of 2007 and whilst in conversation with Agbetu offered advice on why and how we need to remain active in seeking progressive change today. Prof Hakim Adi made a powerful contribution when he reminded all those present that history is also the record of change, it documents why and how people have managed to change the world.
Agbetu concluded the discussion asking “how we can resist today in 2017, with so many of the world’s oppressed people facing a crisis of confidence as they struggle to succeed when challenging power. Mass protests don’t seem to work and petitions signed by millions are ignored by those in power.”
He suggested “Racism is on the rise, from the increase of Afriphobia in a post-Brexit environment to the strengthening of the alt-right by Trumpism. Something has to change.”
The guests responded, the audience contributed and as a key moment in African British history was made once again, the evening closed with some fine poetry from Ngoma Silver Bishop and Sankhara Messado.
External LinksBeing WokeLegacies of British Slave-ownershipWilliam Wilberforce condoned slavery, Colonial Office papers revealMy protest was born of anger, not madnessYou, the Queen, should be ashamed!
Being Woke: Ama Gueye, Henry Bonsu, Sandra Richards, Ngoma Bishop, Hakim Adi, Sankhara Messado
African remembrance during Wilberfest at Westminster AbbeyBBC apologises for wrong facts on Wilberfest reporting
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