LE MONDE, AFP, (France), REUTERS

Worldcrunch

PARIS - Like the United States, France now finds itself in front of an open "reparations question" for its past role in slavery.

Visiting Africa for the first time since his election, French President François Hollande found himself entangled in the thorny question of compensation for the descendents of the victims of slavery.

At a joint press conference in Dakar with Senegalese President Macky Sall, the two heads of state were asked if Africa should ask for reparations for France’s centuries-long role in the slave trade, Reuters reports. Sall answered, “I am not an activist of the past. We do not forget it… but moral recognition should be enough.”

Hollande spoke next: “Reparation means not only moral reparations. It is also about knowing what we want to do together. Are we capable of creating shared development?” The French president later visited the island of Goree, a former slave holding center that is now a memorial and UNESCO world culture site.

The question of reparations has unleashed a torrent of comment in Africa and France. Although France abolished slavery in 1848, and celebrates that day every year on May 10, it was one of the principal countries participating in the slave trade in the decades and centuries before that.

Far from paying reparations to former slaves, France actually received payments from the nation of Haiti from 1825 to 1946 to compensate for the loss of France’s colony in Haiti after a slave revolt created an independent state there in 1804. When slaves in France and its colonies were freed in 1848, colonists who had owned sugar plantations in Haiti and still claimed property there were paid reparations for the loss of their slaves, according to the Agence France Presse.

But with France mired in its own deepening economic crisis, French government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem insisted that any reparations for France’s role in slavery would be “moral only,” Le Monde reported.

However, an umbrella group of black organizations in France has met twice with officials of French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s office, and an interministerial meeting has been called for November 8 to discuss the subject further, the AFP reports.