As I was getting into my fourth year of my theological training in St. Paul’s United Theological College, (now St. Paul’s University Limuru, Kenya) in 2002 I felt that I needed something to challenge me. Otherwise I would have been so bored as many of my classmates who were much older than I, and had gone through the old system of education in Kenya (7-6-3) or had a three year theological diploma were graduating in their third year, leaving me and three other young seminarians, who were of the newer 8-4-4 education system to continue for one more year.
To keep myself busy, I chose to write research paper (Bachelor of Divinity dissertation) which was optional in St. Paul’s then. As I was perusing the Bible I stopped at Paul’s Letter to Philemon. As I read it, I was drawn to the fact that Paul wrote this letter to a slave-owner (Philemon) about his runaway slave (Onesimus). This became the subject of my research.
I was doing this right after, the World Conference Against Racism and Xenophobia, in Durban South Africa in September 2001.
My research curiosity led me to read about ancient Roman Slavery and also the recent enslavement of my people, the Africans. It is here that I got more interested into the discussions of the World Conference Against Racism and Xenophobia in Durban South Africa. The African and African diaspora delegates in that conference strongly called for measures to end racism, xenophobia, and racial discrimination in all its forms. Many called for reparation and apology to the people of African descent.
Coincidentally, in my fourth year, 2003, St. Paul’s United Theological College was having its centennial celebration as the oldest institution of learning in Kenya. St. Paul’s University began in the Kenyan coast of Indian ocean as a rehabilitation center for rescued African slaves.
What this means is that even by 1903 the enslavement of our people was ongoing in East Africa long after the Emancipation Act was passed in the British Parliament in 1834.
It’s been now been 19 years since the Durban Conference, but it seems nothing has changed. Actually, it appears that racism and especially white supremacy has been emboldened in the last few years.
So, what is the impact of August 1, 1834 Emancipation Act to the mother continent, Africa?
For me the impact of this Act is a mixed bag of good and not so good backlashes.
On the good side, the Emancipation Act stopped mass and wanton exportation of African people to Britain and its colonies including here in Canada. This also slowed other forms of exploitation of Africa’s resources including ivory, gold and other minerals for a short time before Europe devised other ways of exploiting Africa.
This brings me to what I think was a backlash of Emancipation Act to the Africans in the mother continent. Now that African slaves were not easily available, there evolved a black market (pun intended) for the African bodies. The Arabs were the most perpetuators of smuggling of African slaves to the middle east, Europe and America.
It is these smuggled African slaves who were rescued and were supposed to be rehabilitated in 1903 in an institution that would later become St. Paul’s United Theological college that I went to.
Now that Europeans could blame the Arabs for continuing slavery this began a long process of scapegoating. In the disguise of saving the Africans there was imported into Africa a new religion, or rather, a utopian Christianity that emphasized better life in heaven than on earth, while supporting predatory capitalism and encouraged self-centered western individualism. Missionaries like David Livingston, in all the good that they did, also convinced Europe that what Africa needed was 3 Cs: Christianity, Civilization, and Commerce. Simply, colonization!
As mentioned above it did not take long before Europe came up with new ways of exploiting Africans in the mother continent. The Berlin conference of 1884, which sanctioned the official colonization of Africa, signified the “ingenuity” of European exploitations of the mother continent and its people. In my country, Kenya, the British colonization was essentially to provide cheap labor and cheap raw materials for their rapid industrialization.
I guess these post Emancipations plights in Africa can explains why very few people in the mother continent celebrate August 1 unlike the Africans in diaspora.
You may ask, is the commemoration of August 1, 1834, still important for people in Africa?
Probably, all African countries should make it an official public holiday.
Emancipation Day is an important mark for our people both in Africa and in diaspora. It is a mark of the good side of human nature. It is a mirror especially to those still holding the hangovers of white supremacy and the perpetuation of systemic racism, that they too can reach a little farther for that inner good, if they want. If somebody could in 1834, with ubiquitous presence of African slaves in the British Empire, be convinced that slavery could come to an end, then today’s systemic racism stands no place. It has to come to an end!
Commemoration of August 1 provides hope for everyone, especially us the people of African descent. As we continue with the current racial equality discourse, we are reminded that August 1, 1834 was one of the loudest chants that, “Black Lives Matter!”
Rev’d. Andrew Kinoti Liarenge is the minister of the Chalmers-Wesley United Church in Quebec City.
He was born in Meru, Kenya.