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Two universities sign historic agreement for slavery reparations

UNITY: Sir Hilary Beckles and Dr. David Duncan

THE VICE-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, and the University of Glasgow’s Chief Operating Officer, Dr. David Duncan made history cosigning an agreement for slavery reparations.

This is the first time a UK based institution that profited from slavery apologised for its role and given substantial monetary reparations. The £20 million agreement ($24,308,500 USD) was signed at The UWI's regional headquarters in Kingston, Jamaica, on July 31, 2019 - the day which full emancipation in Jamaica took effect 181 years ago.

The £20 million agreement between the two universities will be used for research and other development-based initiatives over the next 20 years, under the auspices of the Glasgow-Caribbean Centre for Development Research.

The University of Glasgow will allocate resources to support the running of the Centre and will work with the UWI to attract external funding for mutually agreed projects that will benefit the communities of the Caribbean islands and other parts of the world affected by the slave trade.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles commented that he “was proud of the decision of the University of Glasgow to take this bold, moral, historic step in recognising the slavery aspect of its past and to rise as an advocate of reparatory justice, and an example of 21st century university enlightenment.”

Signing the MoU on behalf of the University of Glasgow was Dr David Duncan, Chief Operating Officer and University Secretary. He said, “This is a historic and profoundly momentous occasion for both the University of Glasgow and The University of the West Indies. When we commissioned our year-long study into the links the University of Glasgow had with historical slavery we were conscious both of the proud part that Glasgow played in the abolitionist movement, and an awareness that we would have benefitted, albeit indirectly from that appalling and heinous trade.

"From the very first we determined to be open, honest and transparent with the findings, and to produce a programme of reparative justice. In this we were greatly assisted by Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies who was one of our external advisors. I am delighted that as a result of the report we are now able to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between the University of Glasgow and The UWI and I look forward to the many collaborative ventures that we will jointly undertake in future.”

In a 2019 interview with Caribbean Beat, Sir Beckles said that being a “Windrush child” sealed his destiny of being “involved in aspects of the black journey”.

He noted the “transformational power” of the University of the West Indies and said: "The last fifty years, we’ve built the Caribbean out of the colonial rubble. The issues in front of us this time are very different. An important role of UWI is to help clarify this historic moment and develop conversations about the next half-century. My focus was always on economic development and the role that education can play in the economic transformation of our societies”.

“Reparations is connected to economic development. I’m the vice president of the UNESCO Global Slave Routes project, the chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, along with other hats. I’m responsible for developing a framework for the research of slavery on a global basis. I spend a lot of time in Africa, Latin America, and Asia looking at how black slavery was globalised. Everything is connected.

“Britain has a role to play in putting back some of the money it milked from the Caribbean for its own development. Having achieved its own transformation, we’ve been left with the results of that extraction. I believe we have a right! Britain should return to the scene of the crime, and participate in cleaning up the mess it left behind”.

Another commemorative signing of the MoU is scheduled at the University of Glasgow on August 23, 2019, coinciding with UNESCO’s International Day of Remembrance of the Slave Trade. It will include the unveiling of a commemorative plaque in honour of the enslaved.