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Denmark's Colonial Past in Focus During Danish PM's Visit to Ghana

© AP Photo / Sunday AlambaA man rides a bicycle past Ghanian flags flown at half mast to honor late Ghanian President, John Evans Atta Mills at the independence square in Accra, Ghana, Thursday, Aug.9, 2012.
A man rides a bicycle past Ghanian flags flown at half mast to honor late Ghanian President, John Evans Atta Mills at the independence square in Accra, Ghana, Thursday, Aug.9, 2012.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 25.11.2021
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While calling slavery a “very dark chapter” in Danish history, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen suggested that apologies should only be given to people who are still alive. According to a Roskilde University professor, though, the reluctance to apologise is at least partly motivated by a fear that compensation will be demanded.
The official visit to Ghana by a high-profile Danish delegation involving Social Democrat Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and the liberal-conservative Venstre party chairman Jakob Ellemann-Jensen has evoked Denmark's colonial past.
While the visit is formally dedicated to the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the history of Denmark and Ghana goes back several hundred years. It was in the 17th century when Denmark founded a settlement on the Gold Coast, in what is Ghana today.
It was from the forts on the Gold Coast that Danish businessmen sailed slaves to the West Indies, where they, among other things, were put to work on the sugar plantations. It was not until 1803 that the Danish transatlantic trade in slaves was officially abolished.
Ghanaians were hopeful that Denmark would apologise for its role in the slave trade. However, Mette Frederiksen flatly rejected this perspective, broadcaster TV2 reported.

“I don't do that. But I can well understand that history means a lot, and I am one of those who believe that our time of slavery should fill much more of our historical consciousness back home,” Frederiksen told TV2.

Frederiksen emphasised that an apology should be given to people who are alive.

“Slavery dates back so many hundreds of years. For good reason, there is not a single survivor from that era. Therefore, I think the apology takes on a slightly strange character. But that does not change the fact that Denmark has a very dark chapter,” Frederiksen mused.
According to Sune Lægaard, associate professor of philosophy at Roskilde University, the issue of possible compensation plays a significant role in Denmark's as well as other countries' unwillingness to come forth with an apology.
“Much of the reluctance is motivated by a concern that you risk being exposed to claims for compensation”, Lægaard told TV2.
According to Naomi Palmer Buchanan, a representative of the Danish West Indies community in Ghana, today's descendants still suffer from the past injustices. According to her, an apology would be a start, but more is needed to make up for the trauma of generations.

“There are many people who have suffered and the suffering still continues,” Palmer Buchanan told TV2.
The closest Denmark came to an apology was during a previous state visit to Ghana in 2017, when then-Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen called slavery a “shameful and unforgivable part of Danish history”, adding that “nothing that can justify the exploitation of men, women and children in which Denmark participated”.
Danish Defence Minister Trine Bramsen (C) addresses a press conference with  Danish Foreign Affairs Minister Jeppe Kofoed (L) and Danske Rederier CEO Anne H. Steffensen in Copenhagen on March 16, 2021 to inform that Denmark will deploy a frigate to the Gulf of Guinea off West Africa to combat piracy, days after a Dutch vessel was attacked by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea - Sputnik International, 1920, 27.10.2021
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At the peak of its imperial might, Denmark had a large presence in the west African country from 1663 up until its decision to sell the sea port of Christiansborg to the British in 1851. From the Danish Gold Coast, thousands of slaves were dispatched to its colonies in the West Indies, which are today known as the US Virgin Islands.
In 2001, the EU made a proposal to apologise for the transatlantic slave trade, but the proposal was blocked by the UK, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands, which were only ready to express regret. Today, the average household income in the U.S. Virgin Islands is $37,254 according to a 2019 article citing the US Census Bureau, whereas the World Bank reports that Ghana's GDP per capita is $2,328.53 per year.
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