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Time for colonial masters to pay up?

August 31, 2008

Italy's PM Berlusconi is greeted by Libya's leader Gaddafi in BenghaziItaly 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?


Now that Italy has shown the way, it is time for Russia with its newly acquired gains to compensate eastern European countries, Central Asian and countries in the Caucassian countries in full. Italy has shown the way. Middle age despotism should belong to the past. A great nation like Russia should stand up and say PUT-IN you belong to the PAST. It is time to PUT-you-OUT.

Posted by gabay | Report as abusive

Why not ask the United States to compensate the Third World countries that it used during the Cold War instead?Countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Panama and Iran were under the yoke of American control during the 60s and 70s. Not to mention, America also BOMBED them; Vietnam War, Invasion of Panama and extending the Vietnam War into Cambodian soil.But no, we dont hear anyone complaining about America, we only hear people whining about Russia and its “aggression”. Come on, Russia didn’t overthrow a country like the US did with Afghanistan and Iraq.

Posted by Maurice | Report as abusive

it has finally come,as europe sees itself as a defender of human righs they should show they can make up for past deeds and as a haitian i cant wait till france repay us for the money they force us to pay to ensure our freedom which took us a hundred years to pay off

Posted by reginald | Report as abusive

Will Britain be required to compensate America?

Posted by ad | Report as abusive

The comments so far seem to be chiefly informed by ignorance – as is the original piece.

Posted by B M Walker | Report as abusive

Africa should be compensated for slavery, colonialism, cold war and unfair trade policies. Col Muammar Gaddafi must be congratulated for his persistence on this matter and other matters with regards to the treatment of his son by the Swiss authorities. Other African leaders need to take a leaf out his book.

Posted by Nduka Tolefe | Report as abusive

Will France do the same for all those atrocities committed in Algeria and elsewhere?

Posted by tziri djamel | Report as abusive

Respect to Italian politicians and decision makers who led to a step like this. I am sure that everyone is looking after themselves, first and foremost, so there are politics and benefits in this whole deal. With that said, it is still very worthwhile to seek mutual benefits by such deals, and publicizing them. They at least help the whole world feel better, give them hope, and make relationships between the very natives of both countries much more amicable. I’d love to see similar initiatives from other countries, especially the UK, France, and the new colonizer: USA.

Posted by Yaseen | Report as abusive

Deep contemplation was required,before I could type these few words of comment. When you do a story on reparation, every one who feels slighted,in one way or another,submits a claim.The remedy therefore,is to recognise that we are all the same mixed-up, confused, hurt, red blooded, nomadsacross this planet. There really is no Italian, No British, No American, and No African, Just Us Hue-man Beings across the globe. the worst travesty commited was Religion that seperated peoples.I teach spirituality, the recognition of god-self not Judism,Islamism, or Christianism. Wars have purposely been fought under the false banner of ISM’s . End the ISM’s ; And you have the solutions.Hotep(Peace)Dr. Ausar Kemet

Posted by Dr. Ausar Kemet | Report as abusive

I agree with Dr KemetI was and is always heartbroken by the fact that we should find some way to tread on others.I am from Africa and everybody has some economic-racist ax to grind with colonials who are predominantly whiteBut I have observed that people who keep on looking at the past actually walk with their backs to the future. They have no vision nor anticipation of a better life. They lack basic preparedness to address the challenges of the future. They still expect handouts as they are not prepared to turn around and grasp the opportunities that are in the dawn of the future. I just wonder what legacy they will leave their children?It took the colonials decades to teach them the communications of today, the medical, engineering political and economical infrastructures that they so flagrantly use and do not sustain. That was only with partial success. Maybe that efforts should be payment enough. When will these backwards walkers be proud enough to stand on their own merits and stop scheming for handouts and handdowns?


Seems to me like no matter how much money is handed over to African countries in compensation for the wrongs of the past it will not make a differece. If you live in Africa like I do you will know that indigenous people feel that injustice is simply neverending and the West must always be made to pay up no and in the future. God!

Posted by Philip | Report as abusive

To Andrew Swan, you talk about handouts, what handouts. The Germans and everybody associated with the holocaust rightly paid out compensation to the Jewish community, are you calling that some sort of handout, no its called compensation for crimes against Humanity. Italy paid yesterday and the rest would follow suit even if it takes hundred years. As for handouts Africa don’t need them and with time you shall witness the benefits of a multipolar world, unfair trade practices and unipolarisation of our world are now becoming things of the past.

Posted by Nduka Tolefe | Report as abusive

What a load of hypocritical hogwash. So the Italians cough up $5 billion (using the US system of numbers (short scale), not the British system (long scale) thus 1 billion is a thousand million), for ‘circumstantial wrong doing’ and the Libyans cough up $2.7 billion for ‘circumstantial wrong doing’ for the Lockerbie victims. ( tm) That leaves $2.3 billion divided by 5.5 million population ( = $4181 per person. This is presumably called ‘Fair-Trade’. The Italians have a reputation of responsible government reminiscent of a firing squad formed in a circle. I suggest any future post-colonial guilt ridden nations take time out to read Clare Short’s letter to Robert Mugabe (Google that for a great laugh), simply put – she said – ‘shove it!’

Posted by Lore | Report as abusive

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