Black Earth Podcast

Climate reparations has become an important and often misunderstood issue in climate justice. Whilst much of the discussions focus on paying money to countries that are unjustly impacted by climate change, reparations is so much more than paying compensation for harms done to Earth and communities.

In this episode, we speak with Esther Stanford-Xosei, a leading reparations and law scholar working on reparations policy, research and movement-building around the world. 

Esther shares with us what reparations really is, why reparations is important to healing our relationship with Earth, and how we can all take part in reparations.

Episode time stamps

00:00 Welcome to Black Earth and why we are talking about reparations 
1:50 Esther’s relationship with nature
5:34 What is reparations?
10:01 The five principles of reparations 
16:46 The connection between reparations, environmental justice, and cognitive justice and why it’s important to healing Earth
23:50 Why Esther started the Mbuya Nehanda Afrikan women and reparations project
29:20 Why Mbuya Nehanda’s remains are still in a British museum
32:17 How individuals can take part in reparations

How to support Esther’s work
Mbuya Nehanda Project - 

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Creators & Guests

Marion Atieno Osieyo
Creator and Host of Black Earth Podcast
Anesu Matanda Mambingo
Social Media and Marketing Lead

What is Black Earth Podcast ?

Black Earth is an interview podcast celebrating nature and black women leaders in the environmental movement. Join us for inspiring, informed and authentic conversations on how we can make a positive impact for people and nature worldwide.

Episodes out every Wednesday. Connect with us online @blackearthpodcast on Instagram, LinkedIn and Tiktok.

Hosted by Marion Atieno Osieyo. Healing our relationship with nature, one conversation at a time.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: [00:00:00] Welcome to Black Earth Podcast. Black Earth is an interview podcast celebrating nature and the incredible black women in the environmental movement. In this episode, we're talking about reparations. So increasingly, there is a call for climate reparations, where countries who are contributing the most to climate change are being asked to pay reparations, in the form of money, to countries who are being most impacted by climate change.

While paying compensation and taking accountability for the impacts of climate change is really important, reparations is So much more than paying money to countries and communities most affected by climate change, especially if it allows for high polluting countries and industries to [00:01:00] continue harming Earth because they have the money to pay it off.

In this episode, I speak with Esther Stanford-Xosei, a leading reparations scholar about what reparations really is and why it's important for healing ourselves and our collective relationship with Earth.

So welcome Esther. It is a real joy and an honor to have you, uh, join us today and to have this conversation with you, which I feel is so central to the work of healing ourselves, healing our communities, and healing, uh, mother Earth. So thank you for, for joining us today. Um, so Esther, how would you describe your relationship with nature?

Esther Stanford-Xosei: Wow, [00:02:00] that is a really curious question that is challenging for me to answer because when I think about my relationship with nature, I think about a process and the way in which my relationship with nature has changed, and partly because of the damage that we as African people have experienced as a result of the maangamizi, which is key Swahili term for the intentional destruction of the people otherwise referred to as the African Holocaust of, uh, chattel colonial and neo-colonial forms of enslavement.

So part of the maangamizi has meant that my earlier relationship with nature, uh, was one of disconnection. Disconnection because of dispossession, uh, because of being uprooted from a land base, uprooted from a sense of home. [00:03:00] And even though being born in the UK knowing this is not my home and never really feeling connected, um, to the earth here in the uk because I was always conscious that my parents, direct parents came from somewhere else and my ancestry much further back.

So my process of reconnecting with nature has been a process of kind of, um, self-repair, internal self-repair. And now, uh, as a reparationist, I feel very, um, Comfortable speaking about my connection with nature because it has evolved and I myself, have been going through a process of, uh, returning to nature or returning to our mother, um, known as re matriation returning to the ways of Mother Earth, trying [00:04:00] to live in harmony, seeing myself as part of Mother Earth, fully as a woman um, as an activist, as a motherist um, that's how I see my connection to nature.

Uh, but so it's been as a reparation ist in truth that I've had the opportunity and I'd say the head space, the consciousness to know that the true repair is that return to mother. Yeah. It's not some money that someone can give because that can never compensate for what we have truly lost and continue to lose because of our uprootedness because we don't really have, um, access to land here in the diaspora, particularly in Europe and specifically the United Kingdom.

We don't really have access to as [00:05:00] a collective, as a people, I'm not talking about our gardens, or even if we're fortunate enough to have allotments, which many of us don't. I do happen to have an allotment. Um, so that is another kind of layer, uh, but it's not sufficient as grateful as I am for having that, uh, it's not sufficient in terms of a true process of rematriation.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: A focus on, on your work is, uh, reparations and you, you described yourself as a reparation, so what is reparations? Um, there is, I know that there are some principles, um, outlined in international human rights law, which state, you know, the five, uh, components or the five [00:06:00] aspects of what reparations, true reparations is for a people, for an individual. , and I wondered if that's a good place for us to start talking about it, or is there another place

Esther Stanford-Xosei: We can um, well, we can segue into that, definitely. Um, I would just start by saying that, well, it's not my saying there's an indigenous Yaqui American, uh, professor of law called, uh, professor Rebecca Tsosie and she argues, she writes about Native Americans and reparations and she points out that there is no universal theory on reparations that fits all people, all cultures. That for Native American people, reparations must embrace native epistemologies and different kind of relationships to se settler colonialism, European settler colonialism.

So I'm really borrowing from Rebecca [00:07:00] Tsosie around the fact that there is no universal principle, but essentially reparations means to repair coming from the root repair to repair. And, uh, in the international social movement for African reparations, we recognize two main approaches or frameworks on reparations.

The first is what's known as the conceptual framework, which was advanced by Professor Chinwezu, who's a Nigerian public intellectual, and he argues that reparations is really about holistic repair . Uh, he points out self-made repairs, mental repairs, psychological repairs, cultural repairs, organizational repairs, institutional repairs, social repairs, political repairs, um, educational repairs, family repairs, relationship repairs, repairs in [00:08:00] ourself and group overstanding and status.

And also repairs to our sense of dignity, worth and value, and of course repairs to our reputation. He has a very famous definition that, that those really are the different strands of repair, and he points out that more important than any, um, lands to be recovered and any monies to be received is the opportunity that the reparations campaign offers, um, for the rehabilitation, um, of, of black people by black people for black people, yeah. Essentially.

And that the most important part of any repair process is our self-repair. That money is 1%. So there's been various statistics, figures, you know, trillions, trillions, trillions, trillions of pounds or dollars or euros. But whatever these figures are in monetary [00:09:00] terms, that's only 1% of what the reparation about is about.

So that's the conceptual framework that which is known as the big picture framework. Um, and then, um, there is the operational framework which is taken from the basic principles and guidelines on the right to a remedy and reparation for victims of gross violations of international human rights law, and serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Now these are what's known as soft law. They're principles that have been adopted by the United Nations. Um, and the first aspect of this framework, of which there are five key headings that any reparations process, programs, initiatives, policies, et cetera, intervention must have, you know, they, they must be kind of, uh, multifaceted and there are are different kind [00:10:00] of layers to that.

Now, the first thing is what's known as stopping the harm or cessation of violations, and also what's known as assurances. Now, the fifth principle is actually, which I am adding as the first Is the guarantees of non repetition. This is how do we ensure that what has happened to an individual? But in our case, we're talking about a group of people never happens again.

So no more colonialism, no more neocolonialism, no more imperialism, no more genocide, no more anti African prejudice and discrimination. Or anti-black racism. No more of that. A world free of all these things. Those are just some of the manifestations of the maangamizi and the guarantees of non repetition also speak to [00:11:00] what kind of transformed world repaired world would need to be in place for this mai to never be repeated for any of our generat.

Then there is this notion of what's known called restitution, which really means to put a people or a group back in the situation that they would have been in, but for what has happened to them. Yeah. So that might include restitution of citizenship, of land, of property, of all our cultural, sacred, hallowed property that has been stolen from us.

All of that, um, all of our restitution of our connection to Mother Earth. Yes, to be stewards again. To be vice students in terms of that part of earth that we have been blessed to call home [00:12:00] and nurture into the generations.

Then there's the notion of compensation, which is what most people think of when they think of reparation, and they often make, uh, reparations synonymous with compensation.

It's not, compensation is only one of the five aspects of reparation under international law, and in truth, compensation should really serve our restitution. Not compensation cuz it's my money and I'm gonna do what I want with it. It's not your money. It was generated by, you know, millions of your lineage.

So we here in our finite sense of selfhood on Mother Earth in this incarnation do not really have the right ancestrally to now appropriate our whole lineage's inheritance and say, well, this is how I want to [00:13:00] use it. Yeah. And that's what a lot of people don't think about. And it's because we've been, we're, you know, we've become Eurocentric, we've bought into individualism, we've lost this sense of what it means, many of us have lost and are seeking to reclaim or rebuild, regenerate, restore this notion of what it means to be African, what it means to have that, that sense of a collective, a value system that is, we are. Yeah, not I am. Yeah, Ubuntu.

Compensation is also not just about money, but it is about putting an economic value on harm, on loss, on dispossesion [00:14:00] on racism Afrophobia. What is the cost of the differential say of race discrimination in the workplace, or the cost that we pay as a result of just being born, who we are from womb to tomb, the disproportionate health impacts, all of that.

What would it cost to to kind of have equity there? That's really would come into a compensation sort of package.

Then there's this notion of what's called satisfaction, which is symbolic, reparations, and satisfaction is all those measures that we put in place to feel satisfied that there's been an acknowledgement, that there's been recognition of what we've done, what we've, sorry, um, experienced our contribution to civilization, to culture, to society, to humanity.

Um, it might include symbolic measures, like changing street names and, um, [00:15:00] commemoration days and pulling down statutes of enslavers and colonizers. Um, changing the curriculum. Changing the narrative in a society.

So then there is the notion of rehabilitation. And rehabilitation speaks to the healing. A lot of our people really emphasize and prioritize what they call healing. Healing is defined in different ways, but essentially all the measures that would amount to healing. Healing from intergenerational Stockholm syndrome and our tendency to identify over-identify with our kidnappers, our oppressors, our colonizers, um, healing from intergenerational internalized Afrophobia, anti African hate, prejudice and discrimination, [00:16:00] healing from intergenerational, love of all things European, to the detriment and denigration of our own self, and peoplehood.

Access to, um, programs, interventions, initiatives that can build, rebuild rebuild our families that have been scattered, torn apart, separated, um, disrepair that's in our family because of all the injustice and oppression and the way that we also internalize that and end up repeating negative patterns that probably in truth began as survival responses. Yeah. Um, rehabilitation also looks like access to justice.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Could you share the connection between, uh, reparatory justice, environmental justice, and cognitive justice? Yes. Because they're the kind of different aspects of planet [00:17:00] repairs Yes. And how they are helping us heal our relationships with ourselves and with each other, and also with, with Mother Earth.

Esther Stanford-Xosei: So the, the reparatory justice I've really kind of, um, spoken to, yes now, environmental justice is again, a framework that has come out of our people struggle. Um, and it gets defined in different, different ways But there are, um, sort of environmental justice principles that speak to the reality of people racialized as say, black, um, especially within, um, north America who in, who have been having to challenge, um, environmental racism. Um, environmental dispossession as part of the struggle to bring about, um, environmental justice, which is a holistic, there are [00:18:00] like different headings around it, but it's all very much, uh, mother Earth centered and, you know, promoting holistic forms of being and relating to mother earth.

Um, as I said, there are several definitions of environmental justice as a movement, which it, it sort of really seeks to speak to and, um, express, uh, and also I guess address the unfair or disproportionate impact, um, that environmental racism has had on our, um, communities in particular. Okay. Um, and so, That is, I mean, there are so many ways that we could define that. Uh, and that's why I'm leaving it a bit kind of general because it, it allows for people's own interpretations of what environmental justice looks like. [00:19:00] Mm-hmm. But it's the whole range of, um, what that is now .

Now the cognitive justice is probably something that people are not quite as familiar with . And what that really means is it's the right of multiple forms of knowledge to coexist. Yeah. And it, it, it recognizes that part of the repair that we are using, the repair frameworks that we are using have been, uh, based on coloniality because they have arisen from epistemicide, the killing of our people's knowledges.

So our people's knowledges of who we are, that we are nature, what our connection to Mother Earth is. That we are one that Mother Earth is a living being, not something that we can just go and carve up, cut up, sell as, and do with dispose of how we [00:20:00] please. That goes against our epistemology.

But it's when you have been denied access to your own knowledges and then you've been now given a colonial knowledge. Yeah. That reinforced all of this. So people, our people who were venerators of Mother Nature, a lot of our spiritual practices, libation, et cetera, that's about venerating. Pouring libations, offering up prayers, offering up in Ations when even people hunted or they had to cut anything down, they had to take from nature. We had to offer up prayers, you know, to, to, to, to deal with that, that depletion and to make atonement, you know, to make amends for whatever we've taken.

Um, and so the cognitive justice speaks to all of that. So it speaks to allowing for there to be equity in knowledges. So we [00:21:00] must have the right to use our knowledge systems to re renew them, to recover the knowledge systems we had of how to grow, um, crops.

Yeah, that didn't kind of despoil the Earth . So going away from this mono cropping, this plantation kind of agriculture, which has been very harmful. So returning to the ways of our own environmental stewardship knowledge. Yeah. So that is part of the cognitive justice.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you for sharing that, Esther. Um, as you were speaking about planet repairs, I've been thinking a lot of, uh, there are other movements around the world that are really, uh, they speak to the planet repairs, uh, that you, you are talking about.

So in, in North American, Canada, the [00:22:00] indigenous led LandBack movements, that's being initiated and done by Indigenous communities and Indigenous nations, um, within that land. And a lot of the really transformative, uh, food and farming justice collectives like Soul Fire Farm based in New York. The Coco Collective, uh, based in London, they're really about transforming, uh, people's relationship with each other and with land through food and growing food that is, Indigenous to, their ancestry but also the farming practices are also, uh, indigenous, uh, Afro indigenous farming practices.

So this, this idea of planet repairs, I think is speaking to a growing or evolving movement around the world where people seeking to repair their relationship with [00:23:00] themselves, with each other, through embracing those three aspects of reparatory justice, of environmental justice, and cognitive justice. You know, remembering the ways of being and knowing and living that is truly indigenous to themselves and is dignifying for themselves and also for, uh, mother nature.

You are also involved in a project, uh, which is quite exciting to me. The Mbuya Nehanda African Women and Reparations Project which was launched on the 20th of February, 2022. Could you share a bit more about who Mbuya Nehanda is? And [00:24:00] then tell us a bit more about the project and what your intentions are for this project now.

Esther Stanford-Xosei: Um, full name Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana. She was a, uh, what's known as svikiro, my pronunciation, I hope it's correct, or a spirit medium of the Shona people. And, um, she was an anti-colonial freedom fighter, liberation fighter, um, a female, um, Shona what's called mo hondura, which is a powerful, respected, um, ancestral spirit.

And as one of the spiritual leaders of the Shona people, she was a leading force within what was known as the Chimurenga wars, which are wars of national liberation against the, um, British colonialism and in particular [00:25:00] the British South Africa companies' colonization of the area of land that is now known as Zimbabwe. That was, uh, led by Cecil John Rhodes.

And so Mbuya Nehanda, was one of the people that rose up against that, and she was, um, captured uh, by the British South Africa Company, and she was executed by the company on charges of murder of one of the colonial officers. So she's always been a revolutionary kind of freedom fighter in our people's struggle.

She was a, yeah, an African woman reparationist . And what she stood for, um, was defense of her people, her peoplehood, nationhood, and connection to our ancestral mother. That [00:26:00] part of, uh, the land that the Shona people had been cultivating, nurturing, living in relationship with for, for millenia really. And the project therefore then is used to be a guide and example on the role and contribution of African women to reparations.

So I wanted to choose, uh, a continental African woman figure because we tend to elevate and know the names of women in the diaspora, particularly in North America, right. But we tend to miss out all the other women who have been making our story.

Now the, Mbuya Nehanda project, it has some particular aims and this is about, uh, working, how the project is working is there are facilitators based in parts of the Caribbean and in West Africa in particular, where they're interviewing African women about their own connection to [00:27:00] reparations, their own, um, women's stories, our own, her stories, our stories of reparations.

Um, the role of African women freedom fighters who contributed to um, the struggle against the Maangamizi of colonialism, for instance, that are not being remembered. Some of these women are still alive today and they're elders and they've not really been fully recognized.

So it's about developing, um, knowledge about African women's gendered rights to a remedy and reparations, uh, which centers African-centered women's hers tories perspectives, narratives and cosmologies. There is not in the world anywhere, an African woman in reparations project. There isn't. There are gender-based projects. There are women's reparations projects that deal with other women, but not with our specific journeys and narratives. I [00:28:00] wanted to ensure that it was also about promoted African-centered knowledges, which again, are being demonized, are being attacked, are under threat um, for us to even just be who we are. Yeah. How we are naturally. In our own selfhood.

It's also about strengthening African Women's agency political participation and decision making power within the international social movement for African reparations, through supporting women to develop policies and other interventions as contributions to emerging reparations plans that are developing in the UK and globally, especially in parts of the Caribbean and in Africa.

Also because this has come out of the work of the Stop the Maangamizi campaign and the educational arm of the Maangamizi Educational Trust. What we're using this project to do is to support campaigning efforts to have the [00:29:00] bones of Mbuya Nehanda returned. Now they are supposedly meant to be in one of the, uh, natural History museums.

Um, and there has been a long ongoing process to have these, human remains of Mbuya Nehanda uh, repatriated to Zimbabwe so they can have ancestral rights, funeral and burial rights performed. So, um, her, spirit can be in peace. That is an ongoing campaign. And there are different campaigning groups in Zimbabwe and around the world, and we are seeking to just amplify their voices but also add a much more Pan-African perspective to that.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Just to clarify, her remains are in the UK because they were taken by the British. She was arrest. She was captured.

Esther Stanford-Xosei: That's right. She was captured, beheaded.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: In 1898. And then her remains were taken to the UK where they still are here .

Esther Stanford-Xosei: They are [00:30:00] here. The authorities here are trying to deny knowledge exactly of where they are and um, and what have you.

So this is an ongoing, um, issue, uh, campaigning issue. Uh, that is a reparations issue. That's part of the restitution. We need our ancestors back. It can't be in British museums, in boxes, in cold buildings outside of their environment and not really going through our own, uh, you know, burial rights.

This is what we do as humans, as Africans. And it is, it is treasonous that we could just think that we can go into these European museums and gawk our ancestors like that when they're still being, you know, they're in captivity and they need to be released. They need to be free, and they need to be made, you know, they need to be at [00:31:00] peace because a lot of them didn't have good deaths.

Let's be very clear about. They were resisting, they were tortured, they were brutalized, they were killed. They were executed in standing up for our people. We need to lay these spirits to rest, okay? So that we can have equilibrium again. Yeah. Within our societies, within our communities.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Reparations is a huge topic. Um, it's about, it's about ending the world as we know it and creating something new. It's, it's systems change. It's a change of consciousness. It's, there's so much to, to this work [00:32:00] and, you know, How can an individual what can an individual do? Or where can they start in this work of reparations, both in terms of self-repair that we've spoken about, uh, and also, you know, with community, as you have shown clearly this is communal work.

It's not just a individual centered, it's really about repairing the collective. Um, so how can, how can someone begin this journey? When it's such a, it's so big. Reparations is a big topic, but it's also at the same time, the way, the only ways in which we can start to really think about true healing and true restoration of, uh, mother Earth is when you, when we start from a point of the holistic view of reparations that you've mentioned.

Esther Stanford-Xosei: So I think that's an excellent question. For me, I think about the slogan [00:33:00] of one of the reparations formations that I'm part of, the African Emancipation Day Reparations March committee, uh, that has this slogan. Education is preparation for reparations. So what I advise people to do is to learn.

Learn about this movement, learn about the, um, African mothers, who have been leading and serving in this movement throughout time, and some of this learning just comes to us intuitively, but some others of it we have to go out in search of. We have to ask questions of organizations of movements that we're part of or that we empathize with. We have to do that digging.

We have to do that archival research that restoration of, of actually contributions. Um, finding out about those women who oftentimes people have forgotten. [00:34:00] Yeah, that's a first step. And this learning is not all based on books. Some of it you won't find in books. Some of it you can only find through talking to people. Elders who carry the memories. In fact, most of it, that's how you'll find it.

Um, I would also say amplify them. Let's look at what we find. We'll often find unsung heroes. Let's, let's, um, rehabilitate their memories , Yes. Um, amplify their voices and narratives, contributions and perspectives, their ideas, thoughts, visions, um, that have been emancipatory, liberatory, that we might have forgotten, that we might be reinventing the will because we feel that we are the first person who's thought a particular way or who's come up with a particular idea, not realizing that others who walked this path before us Tried to do certain things, sometimes in a much more [00:35:00] visionary way. So we also have to have that humility to, to unlearn, learn again or relearn.

Yeah. Um, I think it's important to join formations, organizations, campaigning groups, join, movements. You, you can play different roles in movements. Yeah. Um, but that's important because that struggle continues today. Um, so those are some of the ways that people can begin.

Uh, I think it is about supporting, um, the educational, revolutionary kind of programs and initiatives. So there's one for instance called the Planet Repairs Action Learning Educational Revolution. The younger people from within our community who embracing some of these ideas I've been speaking about, but these are youth activists, a lot of them students, some going to universities, [00:36:00] Who are as part of decolonizing movements, are using that as part of the political leverage to open up these institutions to not only critical challenge, but to, um, knowledge of the alternative institutions that we have in our community. Our alternative institutions of repair, of education, where we're learning about how to live in harmony with Mother Earth.

You know what we're learn. We're learning about how to be on land, how to grow food, how to grow particular types of crops for our environment. Yeah. That needs to be taught. It's not just something that comes instinctively to some people, and so find out about those projects and initiatives and support them wherever you are because they, they will be there.

Ultimately, it's about rebuilding community. Ultimately. That's what it's. Rebuilding community, so that is [00:37:00] locally wherever we are, but utilizing the global kind of weight and power of the best of who we are and have been, and those examples, um, that we can draw on.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: So I'm so grateful for our conversation and, um, Yeah, I look forward to following and supporting, uh, the work that you are doing now. I just wanted to say thank you so much.

Esther Stanford-Xosei: Thank you. I really have valued um, having this conversation with you and an opportunity to share and I look forward to further opportunities. And may this podcast go from strength to strength. As you are reconnecting, you're, you are part of that re-membering process, which is a reparatory process of reconnecting and elevating and amplifying the voices and contributions of our sisters, our mothers, uh, you know, in this, um, struggle to restore, [00:38:00] uh, ourselves. In harmony with Mother Earth, mother Nature. And, um, it reminds me of a quote from Professor Molena Corenga, when he's describing reparations and he talks about reparations is the, uh, really the process and the practice of a people who in the process and practice are struggling to restore and renew themselves, literally repair the world. Yeah, we repair the world.

Uh, we, we restore, renew Mother Earth and in that process, repair the world through us being and through us being intentional about our co-creations. That is the repair it ultimately is about transforming, remaking, renewing, rebuilding our world and our connection to mother Earth, In a way [00:39:00] that is more beneficial than what we have found it. And so that when we leave this Earth Mother Earth, that we can say we have done that work.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you for joining us in today's episode. We'd love to connect with you and hear your thoughts. We're on Instagram, LinkedIn, and TikTok at Black Earth Podcast. You can subscribe to our podcast wherever you listen to your favorite podcast. See you in the next episode.