Tony Blair should make clear slavery apology, says world churches chief

By staff writers
March 22, 2007
Dr Samuel Kobia

The head of the World Council of Churches - which brings together Christians from many of the world's major denominations and traditions - has asked Prime Minister Tony Blair to change his mind and make an apology for Britain's involvement in the slave trade.

"People of African descent in the diaspora and in Africa await an unambiguous apology and clear sign from European nations that acknowledges their participation in this terrible part of colonial history" that was the slave trade, the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary, the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, has told Mr Blair.

While appreciating that Blair has had the "courage to remind people of this tragic part of the colonial history," Kobia says he hopes that under the prime minister's leadership, European nations can "begin a process of truth-telling, repentance and reconciliation in order to promote an honest and open dialogue in relation to the scars left […] as a part of the colonial legacy".

Dated 16 March 2007, the letter refers to the upcoming bicentennial anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which Britain and the Commonwealth will mark on Sunday 25 March.

In his letter, Dr Kobia also reminds the UK prime minister - after having done the same earlier with the Archbishop of Canterbury - of a dream cherished by the late renowned British missiologist and ecumenist Bishop Lesslie Newbigin.

After visiting Ghana's Elmina Castle - a medieval fortress where slaves were held captive in dungeons before being forcibly shipped to America - Newbigin wrote about his desire that "some representative Englishman - an archbishop or prime minister - might come to Ghana and go down into that dungeon, kneel down on the floor and offer a prayer of contrition".

"Perhaps this bicentennial year of the abolition of the slave trade is the right moment to heed Bishop Newbigin's admonition," Dr Kobia suggests.

Anti-slavery groups, human rights activists, London Mayor Ken Livingstone, many in the churches, and the UK Christian think tank Ekklesia are among others calling for an apology as a way of marking a genuine willingness to deal with the past and seek justice in the future.

The full text of the WCC letter to Tony Blair is here.

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