West Africans to African-Americans: “We Apologize for Slavery”

Rusty Wright presents a contemporary example of a new Christian offering repentance for past sins committed by his people and reconciliation through Christ in moving forward in the forgiveness of God.  This is an excellent example of how those with a Christian worldview can work to bring healing to those wounded by past, grievous sins.

The president of the West African nation of Benin has a message for African-Americans: His compatriots are sorry for their ancestors’ complicity in the slave trade. During December, he’s going to tell them that at a special Leadership Reconciliation Conference on his soil.

An often-overlooked facet of slavery’s ugly historical stain is that black Africans sold other black Africans into slavery. When rival tribes made war, the victors took prisoners and made them indentured servants, often selling them to white slave merchants. Tribal animosity seethed.

Benin president Matthieu Kerekou says intertribal hostility over the slave trade still exists. Many of his people have never seen descendants of their forebears who were shipped off to the Americas.

Kerekou attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington last February and sought African-American church leaders to whom he could apologize. The pastors offered forgiveness. As a result, 125 Western leaders will gather with tribal chiefs from across Benin for the reconciliation event. U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R, Oklahoma) and Congressman Tony Hall (D, Ohio) will participate along with pastors, athletes, celebrities and representatives of European (former) slave-trading nations.

Brian Johnson, an African-American living in Virginia, heads a U.S. sponsoring group COMINAD (Cooperative Missions Network of the African Dispersion) and works with many black churches. Johnson says the infamous “Gate of No Return” that stands on the Benin beach where slaves embarked will be renamed the “Gate of Return” and/or destroyed. African-Americans will be granted Benin citizenship.

Plans exist for a larger reconciliation event in 2000. A ship will sail the old slave route from the Canary Islands to Benin and business leaders will host an international business exposition to help stimulate trade.

Johnson says President Kerekou’s mission has a spiritual flavor motivated by the president’s own recent commitment to Christ. “In the same way that God offered forgiveness by presenting His Son, who was offended first,” Johnson notes, African-American church leaders want to offer forgiveness to the descendants of their ancestors’ captors. Both the president and the pastors hope to effect reconciliation and to provide an example to help ease global racial tensions.

Johnson says the realization that blacks sold other blacks into slavery has been hard for many African-Americans to handle. “This made it difficult to just hold the white man responsible,” he notes. “This creates some problems in our own psyche. We have to deal with another angle to this and it makes it difficult. It’s not [merely] a black/white thing.”

He says the problem is in human hearts. ” ‘All have sinned,’” he claims, quoting the New Testament. “All of us need to confess our wrong and appeal to [God] for forgiveness.”

Former Senator George Aiken of Vermont once said that if we awoke one morning to find everyone were the same race, color and creed, we’d find a new cause for prejudice by noon. Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy lamented that “Everybody thinks of changing humanity, but nobody thinks of changing himself.” Perhaps Johnson’s and President Kerekou’s prescription is worth considering.

© 1999 Rusty Wright. Used by permission. All rights reserved.