African business, politics and lifestyle
Time for colonial masters to pay up?
Italy settled its colonial era dispute with Libya at the weekend with $5 billion in compensation for wrongs done during colonial rule. The money will be invested in a major new highway as well as used for clearing mines and other projects. Both sides say that will allow them to make a new start.
Relations between Libya and Italy had been especially difficult and this was a very specific dispute, but Italian colonialism did not last all that long in Africa – even if there were episodes of particular nastiness while it did.
What about the far more important colonial players in Africa: Britain, France and Portugal? Not only was their presence far longer lasting, but they were more heavily involved in the Atlantic Slave Trade, which sapped the strength of west and central Africa for centuries and forced millions of its people into death or slavery. Calls for reparations from some quarters have never died down.
The colonial powers later carved up the map of Africa for their own administrative convenience and with little regard for those living there. Independence movements were often suppressed with heavy force — including in Algeria, the former Portuguese colonies and Kenya.
Since independence, the former colonial powers have given billions of dollars in development aid and other assistance. They generally have far better relationships with former colonies than Italy had with Libya.
But is it time for other former colonial powers to apologise and pay up for misdeeds on the continent? Or should the past be left for the history books?