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The BBC’s latest attempt to play down the UK’s role in slavery | Colonialism



In July 2018, Nigerian journalist and writer Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani wrote an honest, captivating and illuminating article about how her late great-grandfather’s life as a 19th-century slave trader shaped her life. 

In the expansive essay published by the New Yorker, Nwaubani told intriguing tales about family, Igbo traditions, slavery and colonialism. She explained how her great-grandfather, Nwaubani Ogogo Oriaku, gained wealth and influence during the transatlantic slave trade era by selling other Africans and helping missionaries establish Christianity in Nigeria. 

She also provided an honest and nuanced account of the conflicting feelings many of her relatives have about her great-grandfather’s legacy. 

She told us how her father once declared he could never be ashamed of the infamous slave trader. “Why should I be,” she quoted him as asking, “His business was legitimate at the time. He was respected by everyone around.”

But she also wrote about her relatives who see things differently. She told us about her cousin Chidi, who grew up in England and chose to keep his family’s inglorious past hidden from his British friends. She also wrote about another cousin, Chiomia, who says she asks “God to forgive our ancestors” whenever she watches a film about slavery. 

In the essay, Nwaubani underlined her family’s efforts to break away from its painful and tainted history. She mentioned how in 1992, believing that they are being punished for the crimes of their ancestors, the community her family hails from chose to adopt a new name to reflect their “severance from the atrocities of the past”. She also proudly described in detail a deliverance ceremony her family held in January 2018 to publicly denounce its role in the slave trade. “During the ceremony, I was overwhelmed with relief” Nwaubani reflected, “My family was finally taking a step beyond whispering and worrying.”

According to Nwaubani’s account in the New Yorker, her family resisted the temptation to accept their grandfather as a product of his times, took a strong moral stand on slavery, and made a clean break from his despicable legacy.  

If this essay remained as Nwaubani’s only telling of her family’s story, it could have been her heartfelt contribution to the efforts to honestly document one of the most painful periods in human history. It might have persevered as a strong, insightful and emancipating analysis of the slave trade from an African point of view. More so, in today’s progressive political climate, it could have provided an example as to how families, communities and societies could reflect honestly on the crimes of their ancestors and redeem themselves from the overbearing weight of historical injustices.    

Yet, unfortunately, it has not.

On July 19, just seven weeks after George Floyd’s police killing in Minnesota sparked a global movement for racial justice, Nwaubani chose to tell her great-grandfather’s story once again, this time to the BBC. The new article, titled “My great-grandfather sold slaves”,  has a brand new editorial slant and does not once mention her family’s efforts to reckon with the slaveholder’s legacy.  

This time, the Nigerian journalist describes his grandfather not as someone who “gained power and wealth by selling other Africans across the Atlantic”, but merely as “a businessman” who lived in a time when “the fittest survived and the bravest excelled”.

There is also no mention of the heart-wrenching emotions towards slavery experienced by her family. As a result, there is no sign of the overarching and progressive morality that characterised the New Yorker article.  

Clearly, unlike the original essay published two years ago, the aim of the BBC article is not to chronicle a family’s struggle to come in terms with the abominable deeds of an ancestor, but to offer a defence for that ancestor by stating yesterday’s slave masters should not be judged by today’s moral standards. 

In the BBC article, in a desperate and shocking attempt to glorify a man who traded human beings for a living, Nwaubani even shares an anecdote that paints her great-grandfather as a hero for successfully confronting officials of the British colonial government after they “seized some of his slaves”. 

The BBC article not only tries to whitewash Nwaubani Ogogo Oriaku’s legacy, but also attempts to put the blame for the transatlantic slave trade on Africans. It states that “buying and selling of human beings among the Igbo had been going on long before the Europeans arrived” and implies that the arrival of Europeans merely accelerated an existing and established practice. By doing so, the article clearly intends to play down the United Kingdom’s role in trafficking approximately 11-14 million Africans, many of whom died at sea, or at the hands of angry, hate-filled lynch mobs or cruel slave masters in America. 

In her piece for the BBC, Nwaubani not only gives the impression that slavery was really just an African construct, but she also credits the UK for bringing it to an end. Without the help of the enlightened and compassionate British Empire, Nwaubani opines, the slave trade would have never ended. To top it all, she suggests, were the Igbos enamoured by statues, her grandfather certainly would deserve to have one built in his honour.

So why did Nwaubani decide to retell her great-grandfather’s story and offer a defence for him at a time when the Black Live Matters movement’s call for racial justice finally started to be heard across the globe? And why did the BBC decide it has a national responsibility to redeem the wounded pride and fading morality of the British Empire with an article glorifying a 19th-Century Nigerian slave trader at such a momentous time in history?  

Nwaubani’s revised, highly defensive account of her great-grandfather’s life reeks of a desire to protect undue privilege. It is reminiscent of President Donald Trump’s desperate attempts to rewrite history and present slaveholders and mass murderers who shaped the past of the United States as “the most daring and courageous people ever to walk on the face of the Earth“. 

In her collaboration with the BBC, she also attempts to somewhat absolve the UK of its overriding responsibility in advancing the transatlantic slave trade, setting up colonial structures throughout Africa, and perpetrating racist hierarchies globally. 

Because of British slavery and colonialism, the BBC enjoys extensive reach across Africa via TV, radio and online platforms. It is a trusted and popular voice in Africa. However, as Nwaubani’s article clearly demonstrates, even at a time when winds of just and progressive change are blowing across the globe, it is unable to resist an urge to defend the UK’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge its leading role in the centuries-long slave trade. 

It was only in 2015 when then British Prime Minister David Cameron told Jamaicans to “move on” from the “painful legacy of slavery”, while simultaneously lauding the UK’s role in abolishing the slave trade. The current prime minister, Boris Johnson, is also known for his admiration of the British Empire, and repeated attempts to dismiss Britain’s role in slavery.

In this context, it is easy to understand why the BBC decided to publish Nwaubani’s article casting slavery as an African construct when the world’s focus shifted on the UK’s colonial legacy. 

The efforts of the living beneficiaries of the transatlantic slave trade to stem the winds of change, however, are futile. 

The statues of slave traders, men such as Edward Colston, a British merchant who made a fortune from the slave trade in the late 1600s, are being forcibly removed in the US, the UK, and various other European countries. The US is reassessing its brutal past and current policies towards policing, racism and Black lives. So are Hollywood studios. So are major corporations, such as Facebook and Netflix.

So are Africans of all hues.

Nothing the BBC publishes can ever silence the voices that are demanding the UK to have a long overdue reckoning with its brutal history. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Minister Rukutana charged with attempted murder, remanded




The state minister for Labour, Gender and Economic Development Mwesigwa Rukutana has been remanded to Kyamugorani prison in Mbarara district.

Rukutana appeared before Ntungamo Grade One magistrate Nazifah Namayanja this afternoon from where he was charged with seven offences related to attempted murder, assault, malicious damage, and threatening violence.

Rukutana was captured in a video that went viral on social media showing him grabbing a gun from one of his bodyguards and started shooting at a vehicle belonging to supporters of his political rival Naome Kabasharira. At the time of the incident, Rukutana had just lost the Rushenyi country NRM flag to Kabasharira.

The prosecution alleges that on September 5, 2020, at Kagugu village in Ntungamo district, Rukutana and others still at large assaulted Julius Niwamanya and threatened to kill or injure him together with three others. The others are Stuart Kamukama, Dan Rwibirungi, and Moses Kamukama. 

It is also alleged that Rukutana also willfully and unlawfully damaged a motor vehicle registration number UAR 840X Toyota Rav 4 type which belongs to Moses Muhumuza.

According to the Judiciary public relations officer, Jameson Karemani, Rukutana has not taken a plea of these charges against him since they can only be tried by the chief magistrate who was not in court today.

As a result, the magistrate decided to send him to Kyamugorani, awaiting his return to court on Tuesday.      

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Lira district headquarters closed over COVID-19




Lira district headquarters have been closed after one staff tested positive for COVID-19 last week. 

On Monday morning, district staff were blocked at the gate with only the deputy chief administrative officer, his secretary and the receptionist allowed access to their offices. 

Paul Samuel Mbiiwa, the deputy chief administrative officer says that only heads of department will be allowed at the headquarters while the rest will work from home. He adds that the restriction will help to curb the spread of the virus.

“You see corona is not a joke. We have taken a step at fighting it and that is why you are seeing the staff outside. Even in my office here I do not want people to come if there is anything we can discuss on the phone.”

Francis Okello Olwa, a senior community development officer who doubles as the district spokesperson says that the entire district offices will be fumigated and closed for two days.

Health authorities in the district are planning to take samples from all the staff because they could have interacted with the one who tested positive. Currently, there are 19 COVID-19 patients under treatment at Lira regional referral hospital.     

On Sunday four health workers at the hospital tested positive for COVID-19. Dr Patrick Odongo, a senior medical officer at the hospital also succumbed to the virus.  

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Museveni issues ultimatum to police boss




Museveni flagged off distribution of motorcycles for NRM chairpersons

President Yoweri Museveni has given Inspector General of Police (IGP) Martins Okoth Ochola a chilling ultimatum: You either do your work or I will do it myself!

Museveni disclosed the ultimatum he gave to the IGP today Monday at the NRM secretariat at Plot 10 Kyadondo Road in Kampala where he was flagging off the distribution of motorcycles to parish chairpersons of the ruling National Resistance Movement party across the country. 

“I told the IGP that if the police doesn’t do their work, I will do it myself by arresting the police officers themselves,” Museveni stunned his audience as he commented on the electoral violence that marred the NRM primaries held on Friday last week. At least 4 people were killed across the country during the primaries. 

“There was violence in Bukono county [Namutumba district] where people were beaten. I got information that police has not done much work. Some (policemen) have been arrested and given police bond; there is no police bond for somebody who has attacked Ugandans!,” Museveni added. 

Museveni vowed to deal with all persons who messed up the party primaries.  In some parts of the country, there were massive regularities where candidates who had been defeated ended up being announced winners. In some places like Namutumba, Isingiro, Ntungamo, Jinja, Katakwi, among others, there was violence that led to the killing and wounding of civilians. Museveni said that they are going to make sure that all those who participated in these irregularities and violence are held to account. 

Museveni said although the violence was orchestrated by the politicians, the police personnel are to be held accountable for failing to contain it.

Last week, police spokesman Fred Enanga warned police personnel especially those guarding VIPs against being drawn into the politicians’ political wrangles, reminding them that they would face the music if they did. With the president now threatening to go and conduct the arrests of errant policemen himself, IGP Ochola is likely to move fast to avert the spectacle. 

Museveni wondered why police would shoot at unarmed people who were fighting amongst themselves: “That policeman must be arrested; even the ones who are threatening people you will go to jail for that if we get evidence,” a seemingly incensed Museveni said.

He also said that the state minister of Labour, Gender and Economic Development Mwesigwa Rukutana who was captured on camera attempting to shoot people over the weekend in Ntugamo after he lost the  Rushenyi primaries, will be charged with threatening violence and attempted murder. 

 “This game is finished,” Museveni said.

Rukatana has since been charged and remanded to Kyamugorani prison in Mbarara district in western Uganda. Museveni called upon all those dissatisfied with the election results to write petitions to the regional panels of elders which he said are going to be constituted to hear all election complaints.

“We are going to get three respected people who are not part of the struggles, then we shall go and audit village per village and we shall discover. If you have committed forgery, the registrar or the politician who ordered,  you all shall go to jail. The game is finished; the voting is by lining and if you miss-add, you are ‘miss-add’ yourself,” Museveni said.

Museveni’s speech came shortly before that of Justine Kasule Lumumba, the secretary general of the NRM who called upon the president to reign over some senior people who with impunity were freely changing the results of the elections.

“Some of our staff were lured into changing declaration forms on the way forgetting that people who had participated at the village don’t need to write; they registered the record in their faces…Some have done things with impunity… in Butemba county Kyakwanzi district, one of the candidates who got 3,000 votes brought in soldiers, cordoned off that place and was declared a winner and off they went away,” Lumumba said. 

The ball is now in Ochola’s court to get the police to execute their duties professionally and with impartiality. In March 2017, President Museveni warned Ochola’s predecessor Kale Kayihura to clean the police force of wrong elements. As months passed with no visible sign of police officers shaping up, Museveni resorted to other security agencies who started arresting rogue senior police officers and charging them in the military court for various crimes.

Kayihura was then removed from office, arrested and jointly charged with the errant officers in the army court. To avoid similar fate, Ochola is likely to use a firmer hand on the police officers so that by the time of the February 2021 elections, there is no laxity in the force’s execution of its mandate to maintain law and order.

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