The Caribbean’s push for reparations from descendant beneficiaries of slavery made major headway today as a Scottish university that acknowledged it earned millions from the trade signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the University of the West Indies.
The agreement will result in the joint establishment and management of a research facility dedicated to studies that lead to various development projects in the region.
No date has been set, but the agreement calls for the building of joint facilities at both UWI and the University of Glasgow.
The Scottish university, as an act of reparation for slavery, has agreed to contribute £20 million to the institution to fund its operations and research programmes over the next 20 years, officials said.
At the abolition of slavery in 1833, the British government compensated slaveowners £20 million for their ‘loss of property’ as enslaved African people were emancipated.
The buyout, estimated to have been worth 40 per cent of the British national budget of the day, is now worth about £17 billion in today’s money.
The Scottish university – founded in 1451, the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world – decided to take the step following research done some four years ago that proved that it had benefitted directly from the proceeds of slavery and the slave trade totalling some £200 million in today’s value.
Addressing the MOU signing ceremony from UWI’s Kingston headquarters, Sir Hilary Beckles said the partnership represents “a commitment to fund development solutions for the people of the Caribbean as they continue to battle with the debilitating legacies of slavery and colonization”.
He added: “We have agreed to jointly establish and manage an institution for collaborative research action that will mobilize historical knowledge to be galvanized to meet the development needs of the Caribbean and Africa.
“This institution will be called the Glasgow Caribbean Centre for Development Institution.
“Its collaborative research agenda will revolve around broad areas and issues of public health, development economics and cultural empowerment and related themes and subjects.”
Sir Hilary said the centre will be administered by a joint board and its activities and allocations will be “guided by the principle of reparatory justice”. UWI is also looking at the possibility of establishing an “online slavery museum”, he said.
He said other universities in the UK were in the process of “looking at the matter” of reparation and at least two of them have so far agreed to “research and then stand up and repair”.
Dr David Duncan, Chief Operating Officer and University Secretary and Chair of History of Slavery Committee at the University of Glasgow, said the intention behind signing of the MOU was “to be honest as we can about the past and be forward looking and respect the different experiences we have had historically and establish a true partnership”.
Stating that the university could not go back and change the past, he said the signing of the MOU could be seen as a part of the learning institution’s way of saying “sorry”.
Dr Duncan explained that the agreement paved the way for his institution to raise more awareness about slavery and reparation, offer scholarships for students of minority ethnic background, carry out further research on slavery and its consequences and further collaborate with institutions in countries affected by slavery.
Stating that Glasgow University was willing to share its expertise with others, Dr Duncan said he was hoping that the MOU between the two learning institutions would serve as an example for others to follow.
He declared: “We are absolutely determined as two universities that this will not be a ‘no action, talk only’ agreement.
“It will be the beginning of a real partnership.
“We are not in the business of researching and running, this will be an enduring bond between the two institutions.”
In a recorded video message, Prime Minister Mia Mottley welcomed the signing of the agreement, though acknowledging that “no amount of time could erase the scares” of those affected by slavery.
Describing the MOU as “a step in the right direction” and “a start of saying sorry and dealing with the consequences”, she believed once the research process was started then the region would be able to address a number of developmental issues.
Mottley, who chairs CARICOM’s prime ministerial subcommittee on reparation, said she hoped others would follow in the British university’s footsteps.