Multiple But Invisible: Reparations Demands For Colonial Crimes In The Great Lakes Region

There are still strong tensions in some former metropoles over whether colonization and slavery constitute crimes against humanity. Yet, in other spheres, it is increasingly common to hear valid proposals on modalities of reparations for colonial crimes and slavery. Many actors involved in those conversations believe that debates on reparations must not remain Eurocentric. Rather, they hold that it is necessary to give an opportunity for voices from Africa to be heard; better still, to listen to these voices. And, listening to Africa means paying attention to what all Africans have to say, i.e., Africa in all its geographical and political multiplicity – North, West, Central, East, and Southern Africa – but also, African actors in all their diversity, including states, civil society, and beyond.

This report is part of an effort to understand demands for reparations coming from Africa and African civil societies, and, more specifically, to contribute to the development of an agenda for reparations for colonial crimes and slavery. It aims to synthesize the demands coming from Africa's Great Lakes region (Burundi, DRC, Rwanda), as part of the broader AfaLab project, "Pursuing an agenda for reparations for colonial crimes and slavery." 

This project fits into the larger goal to pursue recognition and repair for past and contemporary structural racial injustices between states and peoples. It is based on the observation that historical and contemporary racial injustices continue to be invisible, and that this invisibilization both results in the perpetuation of injustices and impedes affected and aggrieved populations’ access to justice. 

Hence the need to:

  • invest in the production and dissemination of relevant knowledge to make historical and contemporary racial injustices visible.
  • produce and disseminate sufficient information to enable access to justice for those affected by racial injustices.

To contribute to the development of this African agenda on reparations for colonial crimes and slavery, AfaLab has set up five research projects corresponding to the five regions of the continent. The goal of this research is to take stock of ongoing mobilizations for reparations in each region, and to analyze the most "promising" among them. It is within this broader framework that the present report identifies reparation demands in Africa's Great Lakes region. 

This report, combined with those to be produced in other parts of Africa, will provide AfaLab with a solid analysis on reparations for colonial crimes and slavery. And it will enable us to support the demands of African civil society actors, who must continue to play an important role in the development of an African agenda on reparations.

More specifically, the report will attempt to answer the following questions:

  • What are the reparations demands for crimes committed during colonization?
  • Who are the actors making these demands? With what resources (political, legal, media, material)? What constraints do they face? Who are their allies?
  • In what arenas are these demands brought forward? To whom are they addressed?
  • What is the history of the demands?
  • What do the demands for reparations enable mobilized actors to do? What do they prevent them from doing?

In other words, this project seeks to define: the demands that are being made; the actors formulating them; the demands’ targets; the resources or modalities used; the spaces/arenas where demands are formulated; the alliances forged and the challenges encountered in this process; the history of the demands more generally; and how effective these actions have been. 

To answer these questions, we conducted a literature review and interviewed several players from the Great Lakes region.