Issue #32
September 28th, 2008

Former Colonial Government Pays African Reparations
by William Reed

Under Col. Muammar Gaddafi's prolonged and persistent pressure for justice, Libya became the first African country to receive apologies and compensation from a former colonial power. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi recently apologized to the North African country for damage Italy inflicted during 40 years of colonial rule and signed an agreement to pay $5 billion as compensation to resolve colonial-era disputes.

Libya's leader said the settlement opened the door to partnership between the two states. Long a pariah among Western powers, Gaddafi called the treaty historic and that it marked the defeat of colonialism. Gaddafi said "Tyranny has a price which must be borne by the perpetrators," while Mr. Berlusconi said the deal ended 40 years of misunderstanding.

Italy was a minor player in European whites Manifest Destiny of domination over lesser races to shape the world in their image. During their Colonization Period European nations extended their sovereignty over territories beyond their borders by establishment of either settler or exploitation colonies during which indigenous populations were directly ruled, displaced, or exterminated. For almost a century European countries engaged in systems of direct political, economic, and cultural intervention and hegemony over weaker, and almost always non-white, nations. Italy invaded Libya in 1911. It also invaded Ethiopia and occupied Eritrea and Somalia.

When Italy invaded the North African country that borders the Mediterranean, much of the European thinking was that colonialism was legal. Rome and Tripoli Rome have spent years arguing over compensation for the colonial period. But, Gaddafi doggedly pursued reparations and labeled colonialism as crimes recognized in international law.

Although the Italian Reparations have numerous self-serving tenets, African leaders are pondering: Will the move set a precedent? And, whether other former colonial masters will pay reparations for the civil wrongs and human rights abuses they visited on former subjects?

Until Italian confession and penance, former colonial powers had refused to acknowledge the legal and moral basis for reparations for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, human rights abuses and other international injustices they committed in Africa. Mr. Berlusconi told Libyan journalists that the $5 billion compensation was a material and emotional recognition of the mistakes that Italy had made during colonialism. But, many said say that the deal has much more to do with Italy's concern about oil and immigrants.

Mr. Berlusconi said he'd pay $200 million for infrastructure projects over the next 25 years, including a coastal highway across Libya from Tunisia to Egypt - to be built by Italian contractors. There will also be a colonial-era mine clearing project. Italy also returned an ancient statue of Venus, the headless Venus of Cyrene, taken to Rome during colonial times.

Italy has been swamped by thousands of African migrants trying to reach its shores by boat and Berlusconi wants Gaddafi to crack down on African migrants and Italy is to pay for $500 million of electronic monitors along Libya's coast as part of the compensation package.

In this historic document, Italy apologizes for killing, destruction and repression Libyans during the colonial rule, Col. Gaddafi said. Gaddafi has pushed for the United States of Africa for years. Libya is a North African country that borders the Mediterranean Sea to the north and lies between Egypt to the east and Sudan to the southeast, the former Ottoman territory is an area of almost 700,000 square miles, 90 percent of which is desert. Libya is the fourth largest country in Africa by area, and the 17th largest in the world. Oil was discovered in 1958 and has transformed its economy. The capital, Tripoli, is home to 1.7 million of Libya's 5.7 million people.

Now that Libya has been compensated by its former colonial master, who will follow suit? France, a major ex-colonial force in Africa, downplayed the treaty as "strictly an arrangement between Italy and Libya to enhance relations between Libya and the international community, including European".

Proper restitutions will begin when all Europeans acknowledge they benefited from colonialism and that it was a crime against humanity whose consequences are still with us.

William Reed's article reprinted from

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