Howard French, a Professor of Journalism at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has said that Africa provided gold and cheap labour, in the form of slaves, for the transformation of Europe into a prosperous and economic zone in the 19th century.
French, who was a guest speaker at the hybrid 4th edition of the Sterling Leadership Series, held over the weekend in Lagos, with the theme: ‘Born in Blackness: Truth, Lies and X’, contended that it was gold from Ghana and slaves from the rest of Africa that served as cheap labour for three and half centuries during the slave trade that made the difference in terms of Europe’s economic prosperity compared to other parts of the world.
He averred that it was Africa’s wealth and labour that enabled the settlement of the Western Hemisphere and ensured the transformation of that part of the world into a prosperous economic zone.
“Without Africans, the prosperity of Europe would never have happened on the scale it is today. Europe would have been a minor player in the history of the modern world. It is Africa and its people that made the difference for Europe,” he said.
French, who had worked with the New York Times as a foreign correspondent, remarked that the enslavement of Africans was the basis of economic life in Barbados, which the British took over in 1630.
The guest speaker, who is also a photo-journalist, noted that consequently, the English were able to defeat Spain and took Jamaica away from them. Jamaica became larger because English techniques of plantation management were so much more refined at that time and Jamaica became a vastly greater source of wealth even than Barbados had been for England.
French said the life expectancy of the African slaves from the moment they landed in a plantation in the New World, on the average, was between five and seven years.
“That means, on the average, an African could expect to survive for only five to seven years. That’s how badly they were exploited,” he said.
He said after this, Napoleon said he would come back and try a second time and he set the largest naval expedition in his country’s history all the way across the Atlantic to try to defeat the Africans and they (Africans) defeated him.
So the Africans were able to defeat three great imperial armies of the modern era and one of them was France which they beat twice and therefore in 1804, Haiti declared its independence and in its founding document, its constitution, it establishes the fullest enlightenment that has ever been seen.
Some of the provisions of the constitution are: No person may be held as a slave by any other person. No person may be discriminated against on the basis of race by any other person, all races, including the white race.
He also noted that Haitians had been through it all and they also provided protection for the white people and that people of every race must be treated equally. He said economic freedom led to the birth of the concept of citizenship, which had never existed before in Europe as the English people had time to relax while drinking coffee.
The hybrid event was attended by emerging leaders in the Nigerian economy, directors of Sterling Bank, senior management staff, employees on the leadership track of the bank, high network customers and other external customers as well as media practitioners.
The past three highly successful Sterling Leadership Series had featured speakers such as Professor Wole Soyinka, Dr. Omobola Johnson, former Minister of Communication Technology and Mr. Yaw Sarkoh, former Managing Director and CEO of Unilever Nigeria Plc. They were hosted by Yemi Odubiyi, Executive Director, Corporate and Investment Banking with Sterling Bank.