On 9th of October 1846, Sweden’s parliament decided to abolish slavery trade and a year later, the last African slaves were freed from Saint-Barthélemy, a Swedish colony (between 1st July 1784 to 16th March 1878). The island coat of arms still carries Swedish national arms, “The Three crown” till today. The day (9th October) is not only for the afro swedes but for the swedes as well, unfortunately we do not take time to reflect on that day and remember all the enslaved people.
We speak about the last freed slaves, in 1847 but what is freedom? Are you free when you cannot get work to support your family not because you lack competence but rather because of your African background? Are you free when you cannot freely walk on the street but with the fear of being attacked? Are you free when your children go to school to read books with people that they identify with but are portrayed as less intelligent and ugly? The slave law was abolished a long time ago but I would state that the Afroswedes or just Africans in general everywhere around the world are not free. Freedom is more than that. United Nation stated in 2011 that black people were exposed to racism and afro phobia all over the world and has worse prerequisites than others. It should be clear and self-evident that black people are the most exposed group and that they have existed in Sweden and are part of Swedish history. That was the opening message delivered by Malcome Momodou Jallow at the conference held to remember and talk about slave trade in Malmö. The conference was organized by Afrosvenskarnas in collaboration with, ABF, Malmöhögskolan, Malmö mot diskriminerin, studentkåren Malmö and Malmöstad.
Alice Bah Kuhnke, The Swedish Minister of Cultural and Democracy said in her speech that part of her responsibilities in her position is to observe the different forms of racism and its historical background, and commended Afrosvenskarna for organizing the conference. She said the government is working to establish a forum where different forms of racism in history and today will be taught. This she said will be done in dialogue with all civil society organizations. In her close remark she said “the special assignment I have in the government is to fight against all kinds of racism as afro phobia, Islam phobia, anti-Semitism professed in different ways”.
Kitimbwa Sabuni- presentation was focused on Sweden’s colonial time and role during slavery. He also discussed the political work for social and economic justice for people in the African diaspora, for afro swedes in particular and why it is specially hard in Sweden to raise it in the political agenda. He said Sweden has successfully grown an exceptional self-image that was neither involved nor interested in the Atlantic slave trade and colonialism. It is in Sweden, a place in the world where racism in a category is seen as integration question.
Here is a summary of his presentation:
- 400 years ago, Sweden was a world power and Swedish elites, saw how other countries made profits from the Atlantic slave trade.
- Louis De Geer, a Swedish industrialist, made money from the iron industry. He took Sweden into the Atlantic slavery trade. Axel Oxenstierna a Swedish statesman, he had the highest political post under the Queen Kristina was persuade by Louis De Geer that Sweden should send a slave expedition. Louis De Geer paid for the expedition. In1646 the boat, Sant Jakob, was equipped and left from Stockholm through Gothenburg to African West Coast (the gold coast, Ghana).
- Slavery and slave trade existed and was practiced during that time. As a result, African kingdoms were in war with each other. Those that were prisoners of war were sold as slaves to European slave owner or other slave buyers. It needs to be pointed out that the African form of slavery or forced labour was different from the one that the Europeans created called cattle slavery, when a human being is reduced to a property based on skin colour.
- The swedes managed to negotiate 260 slaves, took them in their boats to Barbados, that was a slave colony producing sugar. 150 of the 260 slaves arrived from the trip. Although 110 slaves died along the way, it was still a profitable trip and the remaining slaves were traded for sugar (there was a great demand for this at that time) that was taken to Sweden. Apart from the sugar that they profited from, samples such as tobacco, coffee, cognac products produced in Barbados were brought back to Sweden. Products from Africa were also brought to Sweden like artworks and three children. The children were placed with Axel Oxenstierna. So the rich man Louis De Geer was courting another rich man Axel by giving him three black children as a present.
- Due to profit,there was an interest in continuing this form of business. In 1649 the Swedish African Company (Svenska Afrikanska kompaniet ) was established, Louis De Geer had the major share in the company with some other aristocrats.
- Wanting to push the idea of slave trade further, they wanted to start a Swedish colony so that they could formulate better. The Swedish government knew what was going on and they were given royal privileges by the Queen Kristina, a special permit from the government to run a slave trade. The Queen Kristina wrote a letter to the King of Fetu, a Kingdom in Ghana asking for permission to build a Swedish trade fortress. Fort Carolusborg was the second largest on the African coast. Slave trade was conducted here for 13 years until the Swedes were pushed out by the Dutch and the Dutch returned it to the British. The Fort Carolusborg was renamed by the British to Cape Coast Castle (Ghana).
- Sweden contributed to the slave trade through the Swedish iron. The iron was used in all parts of the slave trade; for the equipment, chains, boats, weapons. The weapons were exported to the slave countries in exchange for slaves. African kingdoms were in need of weapons to defend their kingdom and also went to war in order to get slaves. Kingdoms needed to go to war in order to produce slaves. Saying no was not easy as there were always other kingdoms that could be approached putting other kingdoms in risk to slavery.
- The slave trade gave Sweden (among others European countries) development of different financial systems. While in Africa it was a cycle of misery, violence and the loss of the most valuable which were: the young, the smartest, and the strongest, as these were the ones that they were interested in not the old or sick.
- King Gustav III managed to negotiate a deal with the French. Sweden received Saint Barthélemy a West Indian island in exchange for the French to use Gothenburg harbour. That was in 1784.
- At the time there were 281 enslaved Africans, the harbour was well positioned and the Swedish Indian Company (Svensk indiska kompaniet) was created to manage this. During three decades the slave trade was successful, it grew from 281 slaves to 2500 slaves. The economy was circled around the slave trade.
- Apartheid was imposed on the island to maintain the social structure, it was divided into three categories, black (slaves), mixed heritage or black that are free and the third being the white.
- When the history is retold Queen Kristina, Axel Oxenstierna, Louis De Geer are praised figures but the story of the African is never narrated, it as if the enslaved almost never existed. (Reference to some of the untold narrative was the story of two young kids that were brought to Sweden by a priest that wanted to continue having servants. The slaves were mistreated by the priest and wife, the town interfered and took the kids and they were sent back to Saint Barthélemy, but the kids died due to the mistreatment. These two kids are not spoken of in history)
- According to Afrosvenskarna, the Atlantic slave trade can only be understood as a holocaust, a morally horrendous crime not only to those affected but to human kind. The crime is expressed in three ways; destruction of human life that has never been evaluated, destruction of culture of civilisation (in form of oral and written scripters, buildings, villages, art) and destruction of human potential.
He concluded in his presentation, that Africans in Sweden were not being integrated into the society but were being integrated permanently to low class and also wondered why the Swedish government has not gathered any statistics that show the ethnic irregularity when it has statistics on everything and yet no statistics on Afro-Swedes.
Simon Woolley, the cofounder and director of Operation Black Vote in the United Kingdom said in his speech that Africans in Sweden will have to challenge the mindset of people that sees black, Latino, Chinese or coloured people as inferior, not good enough or undeserving. The biggest challenge that we face in tackling racism is denial that racism does not exist. He said he was surprised when he heard that Sweden does not monitor ethnicity and in doing so it cannot tackle the problems that they do not see. He compared it to ignoring gender inequality. He advised that Afroswedes should demand in a strong, resolute and united entity for justice and equality by tackling injustice. When you demand justice and equality, everybody benefit. We have to take Sweden or institution beyond their prejudice to see colored people as human being.
Alice Bah Kuhnke, The Swedish Minister of Cultural and Democracy
Malcome Momodou Jallow
Simon Woolley, the cofounder and director of Operation Black Vote in UK
Cross section of people that attended the conference
Kitimbwa Sabuni presented Sweden’s colonial time and role during slavery
Photograph by: Naomi Images
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