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Time for colonial masters to pay up?

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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.

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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.

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