IS SLAVERY JUST HISTORY?
The President of Ghana, John Agyekum Kufuor, on Thursday July 6, delighted crowds by officially opening the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE).
A host of distinguished national and international guests were present at the opening vent including the Rt.Hon John Prescott MP, Deputy Prime Minister and popular BBC news presenter Moira Stuart.
President Kufuor congratulated the city for its commitment to continuing the legacy of William Wilberforce, Hull’s most famous son, and praised WISE for its importance as the UK’s first specialist research institute dedicated to the study of historic and contemporary slavery and emancipation.
The presidential visit also commemorated the millions of Africans taken by Europeans to the Americas as slaves, many of them from the part of West Africa that today comprises
the independent nation of Ghana.
Named after William Wilberforce, WISE is led by internationally renowned academics from the University of Hull and is located in the recently refurbished grade II listed Oriel Chambers next to the birthplace of Wilberforce, Wilberforce House. Unlike many other British seaports, Hull was not actively involved in the Atlantic slave trade.
Professor David Drewry, Vice Chancellor at the University of Hull, explained: “2007 is the bicentenary of the legal ending of the British slave trade, an event indelibly associated with Wilberforce. It is fitting that 200 years after this act, which was a fundamental turning point in world history, Hull is once again at the heart of bringing to the world’s attention modern forms of slavery and reminding us all of the need to encourage the research necessary to address and tackle them.”
WISE will look to learn from the past, highlighting the history of the slave trade and will tell the stories of the millions of enslaved Africans who where taken across the Atlantic 200 years ago.
WISE will also act as a platform to look at the wider context of modern social justice and human rights issues. The team at WISE is already building research and learning networks with other universities around with the world including Harvard, Yale and Stanford in the US.
Professor David Richardson, Director of WISE, said: “Slavery now, as in the past, denies people their identity. WISE is about rescuing people from enforced anonymity and recognising their achievements and contributions as well as those of their descendants.”
WISE aims to dispel the myth that slavery is history. Slavery is illegal across the globe but it is estimated that today 27 million people world-wide are living under some form of slavery, including debt bondage, prostitution, child labour, forced labour, and human trafficking.
Nobel Laureate, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is patron of WISE and commented:
“All forms of slavery are urgent, from the exploitation of women as sex slaves to employing children in unacceptable conditions for long hours.”
“The plight of illegal immigrants and what is happening to them is one of the worst forms of slavery affecting the world today.”
“I am very proud and greatly honoured to be associated with this institute. It is outstanding.”
The official opening by Ghana’s president is further testament to the strong relationships the University and city of Hull is building with Africa. Hull recently commemorated the 25th Anniversary of its twinning with Freetown, Capital of Sierra Leone and it is hoped that further links, through WISE, will now be made with Ghana.
WISE will co-sponsor an international conference in Ghana in 2007 at venues close to sites of memory of transatlantic slavery. The conference will follow on other events in Ghana intended to mark the 50th anniversary in 2007 of the creation of the modern state of Ghana, the first African nation to achieve independence after 1945.
Opportunities to develop Fair Trade connections with Ghana are to be pursued as the country is one of the world’s largest cocoa producers.