Four centuries after the first African slaves were shipped from Africa to the Americas, Barack Obama, the first African American U.S. President, visited one of the major slave shipping points of the triangular trade: Goree Island.
Obama started off his week-long trip through Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania with a private tour of the Goree Island Slave House. Built in 1776 by the Dutch on Goree Island off the Senegal coast, it is contested whether the ‘House of Slaves’ (Maison des Esclaves) was really a major slave-trading point; some historians suggest that the island was more of a merchant port, and the slave house a merchant’s home. However, despite the controversy over its effective role in the slave trade, there is no doubt that slaves walked through the “door of no return,” never to come back.
Now turned into a museum and classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, the House of Slaves reminds all its visitors of the brutality and cruelty inflicted upon other human beings during the slave trade.
“It’s a very powerful moment… to be able to come here and to fully appreciate the magnitude of the slave trade, to get a sense in a very intimate way of the incredible inhumanity and hardship that people faced”, stated Obama, who is believed to have at least one enslaved ancestor. First Lady Michelle Obama, a descendant of slaves, did not wish to comment on their visit to the House of Slaves.
More than just diplomatic, Obama’s visit to the Slave House is highly significant for many, both African and American. It is an acknowledgment of the dark history of slavery of the United States, a reminder of the considerable transformation that American society has undergone in the past decades.
The desegregation of American society and the election of the first African American President in the history of the U.S. has made Africans very supportive and proud, although there is some disappointment that the President seems less involved with the continent than his predecessors Georges W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Moved by the living testimony of the slave trade evoked by the Goree Island Slave House, Obama emphasized the importance of the defense of human rights and praised the U.S. Supreme Court for the same-sex marriage ruling. He was accompanied by Senegalese President Macky Sall, who paradoxically declared that Senegal was “still not ready to decriminalize homosexuality”.
Obama’s visit to Goree Island and then to South Africa raises the question of the place of aid to Africa in American foreign policy priorities. That question has yet to be answered.
– Lauren Yeh
Source: Yahoo! News, PolicyMic, LA Times
Photo: Washington Post