Some brief answers to questions we are sometimes asked
Surely Africans should also be walking in chains as well as whites since they were involved in the slave trade?
Africans on our Lifeline Expedition teams often wish to express apology for the involvement of their ancestors in selling fellow Africans to white traders. However we believe that Europeans have a far greater responsibility. There were Africans who sought to oppose the slave trade. For example Tomba in the Gambia region urged other Africans not to sell fellow Africans to the slave traders. His opposition soon alerted the Europeans and he was quickly defeated and his followers killed or taken into slavery themselves. The message was clear for Africans - "You must do it our way or you are finished."
The moral dilemma for an African chief was that if he wanted his nation to continue to exist, he was going to need to obtain guns. Without guns, his tribe would inevitably be enslaved. The only way to obtain the guns necessary for his nation's survival was to trade them for slaves. In other words African chiefs were forced into a choice - either get involved in the slave trade or accept the annihilation of your tribe.
We are not in principle averse to Africans walking in the chains with us, but believe that it is important that it should at least be a majority of white people in the coffle.
What about the white slave trade?
The trade in white slaves firstly from Europe to North Africa and the Middle East and secondly from Europe to the colonies and Barbados is also an issue that should be acknowledged and dealt with, but it has to be admitted that though considerable, it was nothing like the scale of the Atlantic slave trade. Historian Robert Davis estimates that between 1 and 1.25 million Europeans were taken, compared with conservative estimates of 11 million Africans captured. Furthermore some historians estimate that it cost 5 dead Africans to land one slave alive in the Americas - that was not the case with the European slaves. Also during the main period of the slave trade, the population of Europe grew from 100 million to 274 million, while that of Africa actually shrank from 100 million to 98 million. The economic and social consequences of the slave trade were of an altogether different degree for Europe and for Africa.
Surely you should be dealing with issues of slavery today?
We totally agree about the seriousness of current day slavery. We support the work of Anti-Slavery International and we stress that what we are doing is not only addressing historical issues, but also raising awareness of issues like child trafficking today.
Surely your approach will only perpetuate a victim mentality and anger amongst Africans of the Diaspora?
We have found that actions have had the opposite effect. What we do does not provide excuses for the victim mentality. Africans of the Diaspora who have joined the Lifeline Expedition have admitted that they had a negative attitude to white people because of slavery and it's legacy, but anger and bitterness is a wrong response to that situation. Invariably their participation has diffused anger and empowered people to live with a new sense of our common humanity. One person we met in Richmond Virginia admitted that when he joined the walk , he had no intention of forgiving whites, but at the end, he admitted, "I grew up with so much anger... today I can say I can put it behind me and forgive you."
Is it really valid to apologize for the sins of your forefathers?
Our Western culture is very individualistic and we tend only to take responsibility for our own personal faults. However, most other cultures in the world feel much more connected with their communities both in the present and the past. I believe that I am not personally guilty of course with regard to the slave trade, but I do believe I am in some sense accountable as an English person, who I know has forbears who took part in the exploitation of Africa. In the same way that I live with thankfulness for many good things that I inherit here in England because of the good work done by my forbears, I think I should also take on board the fact that some things I have inherited (such as the poverty of Africa compared with Europe) is a negative inheritance that needs dealing with.