Impact and Consequences of Slavery and Colonialism in Africa
History of Black African slavery and Colonization
African Slavery in Numbers
Slavery and Dependence of the African Peoples
Africa has an unfair and unfortunate side to her long history. Though in ancient times her people were culturally, religiously and economically on par with people from other continents, her current state of affairs is far worse than her European, Asian and American counter parts. Her travails started at the beginning of the mercantilist period. Slavery was especially devastating because it decimated her population, made her vulnerable to colonization, destroyed her chances of modernization and brought political fragmentation. According to historians Paul Lovejoy and Samir Amin, African slavery was terribly negative for Africa because it is responsible for transforming Africa into a dependent continent which it is till this day.
Lovejoy’s primary basis for judging African slavery to be extremely unfavorable for Africa is the magnitude of the number of slaves traded which reached up to twenty one million persons (Lovejoy 387). Due to this suction of manpower, African communities averaged a loss of up to 120,000 people per year (Lovejoy 388). The sex ratio of captured male slaves to female slaves was always higher reducing chances of population growth. Hence the consequence of the slave trade was the decimation of Africa’s population and manpower. The population loss weighed heavily on the local communities because they couldn’t farm or trade as successfully as before reducing them to poverty, which to this day has not been alleviated. Lovejoy’s second basis judging African slavery to be adverse says capturing slaves mainly from one region in West Africa upset the internal balance and dynamics of local regions and changed the African political scenario forever. Lovejoy and Amin agree that the devastating effect of the slave trade of particular ethnicities such as the Gbe, Congo etc destabilized the local kingdoms because whole communities were wiped out. Amin’s primary basis states, the wiping out of communities eliminated the traditional boundaries of African kingdoms. A consequence of this was the creation of a power vacuum which allowed the European colonial powers to divide and rule the weak and fragmented African states and societies. Another interesting point Amin raises is the connection between slavery and Islam. Since Islam banned slavery within its brotherhood, many non-aristocratic locals converted to Islam to avoid slavery, which undermined the traditional power structure of African societies. Amin also says African slavery destroyed the traditional non slave trade routes that had been long established for the livelihood of communities. Slavery not only decimated the population, it destroyed communities, forced people to change their religious customs drastically, and destroyed their livelihood. Slavery had transformed Africa, though it appeared otherwise.
The consequences Lovejoy believes that came out of direct contact between Europe and Africa are devastating. The first is the displacement of a huge population and growth rate which couldn’t replace the captured slave population. This meant the previous societies were permanently altered and African communities would very soon cease to exist. The second consequence Lovejoy believes is the development of Islamic slavery. Unlike European slavery, Islamic slavery didn’t stop; rather it prospered because Arabia didn’t have an industrial revolution like Europe. The third consequence is the decline of African trade in the world. Since the slave trade thrashed aside all other forms of trade and development, Africa was dependent on the slave trade. When the Europeans abolished the slave trade in the early to mid 1800s, poverty rose in Africa because their incomes dried up. There was no Industrial revolution to substitute for the slave trade in Africa, and this paralyzed the continent. The fourth consequence stated by Amin, is the proletarianization of African workers for European industries which occurred because migrant workers went to work on European farms and industries. This further destroyed traditional African agrarian economy and lifestyle. Thus traditional African societies no longer existed because their traditional norms vanished during the slave trade. The fifth consequence according to Amin is the boundaries made by European countries did not match the traditional boundaries and dynamics of African society. This caused a great deal of balkanization that became evident in the post colonial period. The sixth consequence is Africa’s dependency for manufactures from Europe and its position as a supplier of raw materials, which has not changed from the colonial period.
Paul Lovejoy’s and Samir Amin’s theses are valid when Africa’s current condition is examined. Firstly, African countries have the poorest people and the lowest GDP in the world. With the exception of Nigeria and South Africa, industrialization and modernization on a large scale is absent. This is because of what Amin and Lovejoy have stated that Africa is dependent on Europe and America for her manufactured goods, technology etc because she never had an industrial revolution to provide for herself due to her involvement in slavery. Secondly, Africa has the worst political scenario. The continent has been filled civil wars in places such as Somalia, Uganda, Burundi, and Eritrea. There are numerous genocides such as one just occurred in the Darfur region. Other states such as Algeria, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Libya, and Zimbabwe all have one or other type of militaristic dictatorship government in place. The causes of this political situation are given by Lovejoy and Amin. Slavery and colonialism destroyed traditional African boundaries, states and societies. Colonial rule further fragmented the continent. Africans cannot keep peace because the cultural, religious and territorial differences that were once hushed under European rule are now exposed again with no effective mechanism to curb the violence. And neither are they able to return to the pre slavery era because it was destroyed. Therefore, Africa does not have an economic or political base of its own because they were destroyed by the slave trade and colonization. Africa continues to remain a dependent continent. Modern types of slavery still continue to plague the continent and it must be addressed to secure a better future for the people of Africa.
End Slavery Now!
Amin, Samir. "Underdevelopment and Dependence in Black Africa:Historical Origin." Joournal of Peace Research 9.2 (1972): 105-120.
Lovejoy, Paul E. "The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on Africa: A review of Literature." The Journal of African History 30.3 (1989): 365-394.