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Colonialism: Compensation for

Should former colonial powers pay reparations to former colonies for their past activities?

All the Yes points:

  1. Colonial-era activity was morally wrong and indefensible. Colonising countries justified their acti…
  2. Reparations would represent an important demonstration of the closing of colonial scars. Many of th…
  3. There are precedents for paying reparations to states or peoples in compensation for historical wron…
  4. Reparations would be an effective way of righting the economic imbalance caused by colonialism. Muc…
  5. Reparations represent a concern for the developing world independently of colonial-era wrongs. Even…

All the No points:

Colonial-era activity was morally wrong and indefensible. Colonising countries justified their acti…

Yes because…

Colonial-era activity was morally wrong and indefensible. Colonising countries justified their actions on the basis of cultural and racial superiority. This ethnocentric approach overvalued western traditions and undervalued those of the countries which were colonised. They undermined the property and social rights of the countries that were colonised and also promoted the success of military might in ordering world affairs over more peaceful resolution. These are all core elements of a colonial mindset. They are not simply a by-product of colonialism, but rather they form part of the very nature of colonial thinking. They are completely out of step with what is now regarded as appropriate or desirable behaviour in world affairs and in terms of indigenous property and social rights. Reparations would provide a meaningful act of apology for such wrongs.

No because…

Payments to developing countries or others would not be actual reparations. It is possible to accept the case for historical wrongs having been committed without accepting that this creates any reasonable justification for reparations. Reparations are something that is given to a victim to correct a past wrong. Very basically, for example, if a house was firebombed, getting the arsonist to make reparations to the homeowner would allow the latter to build a new house. However, how can the term reparations be applied to colonial-era wrongs? The victims of those wrongs are long since dead. Those in favour argue that we can use modern governments or the descendants of colonial-era dwellers as a sort of proxy for those who suffered. Yet there is no precedent for doing this after such a long period. Additionally, how would one judge who these people are? Some of them now live very pampered lives in developed countries – is it justifiable to pay money to such people which has come out of tax paid by people who in some cases are less well off than them today?

Reparations would represent an important demonstration of the closing of colonial scars. Many of th…

Yes because…

Reparations would represent an important demonstration of the closing of colonial scars. Many of the problems that now face former colonies can be traced in part or in whole to the actions of colonial-era masters (e.g. the ethnic tensions in Rwanda and Burundi). In order to move on from the damaging legacy of that era, it is therefore necessary for former colonial powers to make some tangible show that they have closed the colonial chapter of their history and they are seeking a new, more co-operative relationship with developing countries which were their former colonies. It is also important to demonstrate that they now recognise the needs of former colonies rather than simply the economic opportunities that are offered by them. In this way, reparations would be an effective way of demonstrating a coming together across the ages.

No because…

Such reparations would be symbolic only but would do little for the developing world. The west might feel better about itself, but it might then wash its hands of Africa, believing that it had already discharged its responsibilities. Instead of a one-off act, it would be better to develop a long-term engagement between developed and developing countries (e.g. fairer trade rules, debt relief). This would allow aid to be focused on those countries most in need, whereas reparations for the past would give as much to countries such as Malaysia, South Africa and India, as to poorer states with similar colonial histories.

The symbolism of reparations would also reinforce the position of dictators such as Robert Mugabe, who blame colonial powers for all the present problems affecting their countries, often as a way of shifting attention from their own failings.

There are precedents for paying reparations to states or peoples in compensation for historical wron…

Yes because…

There are precedents for paying reparations to states or peoples in compensation for historical wrongs. Germany pays an annual amount to Israel and Japan paid reparations after World War II to former colonial possessions such as Korea. More recently, Britain has paid some compensation to the Maoris of New Zealand for damage done in colonial times, and the USA has similarly compensated Native American tribes for broken treaties. Iraq pays compensation to Kuwait for damage done during its invasion and occupation of 1990-91. Why shouldn’t former colonies in Africa be similarly trusted to use reparations money wisely?

Distribution would be complicated given the large number of countries involved as colonisers and colonies, but that is no reason not to attempt it. One suggestion for Africa has been that reparations should pay for free universal education. Another is that proper North-South and East-West railway links be constructed to improve trade within Africa.

No because…

Distributing any reparations would be problematical. We have already seen that there are question marks over who would be the appropriate recipients of reparations. Even if we presume that such a group could be identified, it would be very difficult to distribute the reparations effectively. Claims to reparations would likely be competing and there is very little if any documentary evidence to support such claims in many cases. The wrongs referred to are deep in history. The countries within which reparations would be made in many cases have deeply corrupt and inefficient infrastructure and yet it seems likely that only this infrastructure would serve to distribute the reparations. There would also likely be problems with disbursing cash reparations suddenly to people in some such countries where a sudden cash windfall can make one a target for banditry.

Reparations would be an effective way of righting the economic imbalance caused by colonialism. Muc…

Yes because…

Reparations would be an effective way of righting the economic imbalance caused by colonialism. Much of the justification for colonialism, although it may have been given other excuses, was essentially economic in nature. It concerned colonising countries identifying countries with rich natural resources or human resources, and little ability to defend themselves. They would then seek to colonise such countries as a way of providing natural resources and sometimes cheap labour for their own markets, as well as possible a market for their goods. Given that colonial powers such as Britain and France gained much of their present prosperity in this way, and that colonised countries continue to suffer economically from the legacy of colonialism, it is both appropriate and logical that the economic imbalance ought to be corrected. As the word “reparations” suggests, this is exactly what reparations would do – they would rebalance the economic relationship between the two countries in a way that sought to correct the historical wrongs.

No because…

Reparations punish today’s taxpayers, who are not implicated in colonial-era history. There is a disconnection on the benefit side, in that the reparations for wrongs inflicted on historical people go to their descendants. This is also true on the payment side of the equation. The reparations could not be funded from the direct profits of exploitation, as that was spent long ago (indeed, some historians believe countries such as Britain actually spent more on their colonial possessions than they received in return). Instead, they would need to be funded by taxation levied on today’s taxpayers in developed countries. These people had nothing to do with colonial-era wrongs and no guilt for them, and so it is wrong to burden them with the obligation of payment.

Reparations represent a concern for the developing world independently of colonial-era wrongs. Even…

Yes because…

Reparations represent a concern for the developing world independently of colonial-era wrongs. Even alongside all of the colonialism-based arguments for reparations, we might argue that there are strong other justifications for reparations. The developed world in many cases recognises the dire poverty and social challenges faced by the developing world today. Yet simply giving aid as an act of charity can be embarrassing and demeaning, both for the donor and the recipient in different ways. A system of reparation can facilitate the same partial transfer of wealth from developed world to developing world, but in a way which is more sensitive to these concerns. It allows aid to be given to the developing world in a way which is dignified but not spurious.

No because…

Reparations are a form of neo-colonialism. For many of the reasons outlined above, it seems likely that if governments of former colonisers agreed to reparations programmes, they would do so only under certain fairly strict conditions. So they would make payments, but direct to whom, how and possibly the ways in which such payments could be used. This could clearly amount to a sort of socio-economic engineering tool. It would allow the donor government to exert some influence over policy areas within the recipient country. This has the hallmarks of the very colonialism for which the reparations are supposed to atone.

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Birgit Laule
5 years ago
Reply to  Dave

I am for compensation, which should start first of all with an official aplogy fromm the Britain Government as well as from the royal family to all countries, also acknowledging the plenty of bloodshed, Genozide of several ancient cultures and people, destruction of sacred places, discrimination of other races, traditions, spoken and /or written languages and so on. Germany did apologize and payed (and is still paying) compensation and that’s only right. It is a big part of the school curriculum in History, too. No one can bring back the many killed people and the suffering cannot be made undone. I also don’t want to spread more hate. But we have to remember to learn from history to move on. And exspecially in times like this it would do well to remind people that Britain actuallt has a dept to over 100 countries on this planet.

Bernard Nattons
1 year ago
Reply to  Dave

I’m with compensation side. Genocide, force work until death, discrimination, slavery, rape, etc. It’s a serious crime that a country do for a prolonged years (350 years).
At that time colonialist treat human as a livestock, yes like a cow or horse. They don’t care about someone life, if they can’t work then just kill them.
Talk about rail way, how many human life wasted only for that? (work without payment, and if your hand stop moving, then you dead).
Yes, of course you can’t pay compensation to the dead people, why? because they are dead, the whole family is dead (cant survive past 25 because malnutrition).
Thanks to the trampled lives, now colonialist become a developed country.

Argiris kalogiratos
11 months ago
Reply to  Dave

I am against compensation since colonization happened in a time were it was not wrong to do things like. Moreover the people that are going to pay the compensations are people directly decended from the people who fought against racism and fascism and put an end to the atrocieties committed by far right and far left groups. Furthermore the countries that committed those undeniable atrocieties ar white once that lifted those countries from the stone age to the modern age without wanting to be offensive but that’s the truth. Those countries also provided to the world and the countries that had as colonies with technology that they couldn’t have developed by themselves. Also when those countries colonized those places there wasn’t a distinct group of people such as algerians there were tribes and basic formed empires of the classical era on which they declared war and won as it happened from thousands of years before. To conclude the colonization was from our perspective and ethics bad but not from the then ethics, the colonizing countries did wrongs that no one can denied but brought with them medicines that have saved millions of the lives that they had also oppressed law that formed the basics of the newly formed states in africa and also the end of slavery that a lot of africans participated against their own people etc., plus that the people that live now in those states that oppressed the inhabitants of these lands are the most non racist people out there.

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