Herero crafts market by Wild Rose Dogs
Herero crafts market by Wild Rose Dog

There is no amount of money that any nation can ever offer to make up for mass atrocities. The notion of financial compensation to erase ethnically-based murder sounds, on the surface, morally perverse. How much money in reparations would it take for America to make up for the hundreds of years of slavery and Jim Crow?

Can mega-dollars pave over mega-death? Do we calculate the moral math by the years of suffering, or by the dead bodies? Would, say, fifteen billion dollars in diamonds make up for the 15 million Congolese cumulatively killed by the Belgians under the orders of King Leopold. What sum could be levied against the Chinese Communist Party for their direct and demonstrable support of the Khmer Rouge Regime, to make whole the families of the one and a half million men and women murdered in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979? The direct survivors of this genocide have never been compensated, have never asked for compensation, despite the salient fact that they are still living? Cambodia instead, like South Africa, has gone the route of Truth and Reconciliation. Those countries went the way of establishing the horrible truths of their past, assigning blame and offering forgiveness to the forthright and repentant, so that the countries could move on. That is quite different from reparations.

There is a definite global mood to make amends for the sins of the past. Perhaps some of this has to do with our proximity to the pandemic, at present moving into the rear-view mirror of History, at least in many Western countries. At the beginning of the pandemic, borders were closed, and it appeared as if ethno-nationalism was going to be validated as the spirit of the age. But as the global threat of the pandemic recedes, and the amount of vaccines multiply and proliferate, it appears that the lessons of the virus are instead: transparency, global cooperation and the perils of inequality. It is not inconceivable that these takeaways – particularly that of inequality — have contributed to a sense in global capitals of tying up lose threads of the colonial past. Last week, for example, French President Macron asked for Rwanda’s forgiveness over its role in the 1994 genocide.

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