Kingston University (KU) are hosting a week of free and open discussions for their Human Rights Festival 2020 focusing on the legacy of empire.

The Comet spoke with Kingston Race and Equalities Council (KREC) Founder John Azah, who is hosting Monday night's discussion at the university, about some of the themes likely to be covered across the week.

Azah, a hero in Kingston who co-founded Kingston Carnival and recently won Home Office support to take the model built by KREC to the national level, said that the frequently horrific impacts of European colonialism needed more frank discussion:

"I'll be covering the brutal truth about the legacy of empire, about the Atlantic slave trade, the partition of India and the extremely brutal Belgian colony in the Congo.

"We're asking questions about why is there a resistance to acknowledging the Atlantic slave trade.

"How can we address the harm done to the colonized countries? How much is known about the brutality of the colonizers?" Azah said.

Surrey Comet: Photograph of famine in South India during British colonial rule c.1876-1879. Image: Willoughby Wallace Hooper/commons.wikipedia.orgPhotograph of famine in South India during British colonial rule c.1876-1879. Image: Willoughby Wallace Hooper/

Indeed, one area of the empire's legacy up for discussion this week at the KU festival will likely be the way empires frequently exacerbated divisions between the various peoples in countries in the Global South they came to dominate — the 'divide and rule' mantra.

Azah reflected that the partition of India in 1947 was a good example of that:

"Sometimes people will tell you about the benefits of Empire but we need to remember the costs, from the Atlantic slave trade to decolonization.

"Look at the partition of India for example — up to two million people are reputed to have died, 14 million people displaced.

"It was a calamity " the KREC CEO said.

Surrey Comet: Image: KUImage: KU

Today, as an increasing number of influential people like rapper and author Akala point out, European imperialism's legacy can be felt in modern-day society.

Hangovers from empires built on myths of white supremacy are felt in the form of persistent nationalism and institutional racism in their countries of origin like the UK.

Despite recent progress addressing this, the direction of travel at present is of serious cause for concern:

"There's a continuing move towards nationalism at the moment you worry about the direction we are moving in from a really nice country to another place," Azah said.

"In the past governments and organizations like anti-racist and anti-fascist organizations have been very active in opposing this.

Surrey Comet: Transatlantic slave ship plan. Image: commons.wikimedia.orgTransatlantic slave ship plan. Image:

"I came into this movement as an activist in the late 70s and early 80s.

"We went on marches and for example to fight and drive the BNP out of Kingston. You have to be proactive.

"Some of those organizations aren't around anymore because of funding perhaps and we need to get those back.

"It's much more difficult for individuals to oppose that so we've got to get back to those proactive stances," he added.

"We're not just fighting those fascists, we're fighting tensions within our communities too."

Kingston University's Human Rights Festival 2020: Empire Legacies - past, present and future is running free events on this topic all week at the John Galsworthy building in Kingston.