The Atlantic Slave Trade: Effects on Africa

by Karo Kant (Author)

Term Paper 2011 10 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Culture and Applied Geography


1 Introduction

In the sixteenth century, when Europe's interest in Africa moved away from deposits of gold to the need of work force, the Atlantic Slave Trade began. Because of expansion to the New World, Europeans needed reliable workers who were not suffering seriously from diseases and who were used to a tropical climate. After indigenous peopled had proved unreliable and unsuited, African people emerged as excellent workers because they were used to the climate, resistant to tropical diseases, and also hard working on plantations (Boddy-Evans).

The Atlantic Slave Trade took place across the Atlantic ocean, from the Western coast of Europe where goods were brought to the Western part of Africa. Slaves were then shipped through the Middle Passage to the New World and were traded with goods, which were brought to Europe. The so- called triangular trade ended in the nineteenth century through the abolition of slavery.

Considering the forced migration of African people, the continent suffered great losses. About 13 million people were shipped to the Americas. There are still debates as to how much the continent was, and still is, affected by the trade. Due to the fact that slavery was not new to Africans and the influx of goods, the continent gained material benefits. But the loss of people and, therefore, the loss of work force for the continent itself, prove that Africa still suffers from that period. In particular, continuous poverty and underdevelopment play a major role (Boddy-Evans).

The following will be focused on the effects on the economy, society, and people in Africa due to the Atlantic Slave Trade. It will be clarified how Africa changed and how great the effects on African society were and still are today. A working paper on a conference about reparations will be included to illuminate today's extent of the effects.

2 Effects on Africa

Slavery was not new to African people. Various types of slavery were operated in different parts of the continent long before the Atlantic Slave Trade. Several kingdoms in Africa and also the Muslims treated Africans as slaves, forced them to work and exploited them as servants. People were captured to sell them as goods (Boddy-Evans).

The Atlantic Slave Trade had various lasting effects on Africa. Its economy, society and its people suffered from the episode of forced migration.

2.1 Economy

Many historians, such as Joseph E. Inikori and Rhoda E. Howard- Hassmann, who wrote a paper on "Reparations for the Slave Trade: Rhetoric, Law, History and Political Realities", estimate that approximately 13 to 15.4 million African people were transported to the Americas during the Atlantic slave trade, or even died during the transportation on the ships due to brutal conditions (Howard-Hassmann 2).

A number of casualties that high meant a great loss of human capital for the country they came from. Africa suffered from a lack of work force and, therefore, was not able to keep up with economical development of other countries. Europe' and America's economies flourished, plantations grew, and agriculture emerged as a new business worldwide.

On the contrary, as an indicator of profit, Inikori states in his book that "African traders who bought and sold the captives, all realized private gains" and "one can argue on the basis of human rationality that the raiders and traders would not have sustained the captive business for centuries if there had been no private gains" (Inikori and Engermann 2). First of all, the statement tells us that African traders were involved in the trade and that there was national disorder going on as well. Second, it reveals that there also had to be profit on the side of the Africans.

Inikori comes up with the question of how high that profit could have been. Most of the slaves were taken from the interior of the country and the profit was divided between the slave holders and the slave traders, Africans themselves. Because of the low prices they gained for the slaves, the money to feed, move, and guard them and the high mortality rate (Inikori and Engerman 31), it is questionable why the traders did not employ or hold the slaves for themselves in order to produce goods for the domestic market, instead of selling them to other countries (Inikori and Engerman 2).

There was not only pressure from outside the country, but national disorder lead the people in the hinterlands to be thrown into turmoil. Traders on the coasts profited by gaining benefits from selling slaves. But the farmers and others living inside the country not only suffered from the loss of their people, but also from the resulting economical loss. One example was the minor productivity in agriculture (Inikori and Engerman 3).

Martin A. Klein makes the facts clearer in quoting Boubacar Barry when he "argues that the slave trade contributed to the creation of a more arbitrary and centralized warrior state, that it magnified social conflict and increased violence, and that it led to a loss of population, a decline in productivity, and increased exposure to famine" (Inikori and Engerman 26). Nevertheless, later, the production of different goods returned to those who were able to afford slaves and could feed them, and Africa exported goods such as hides, gum and cotton cloth. These goods were, of course, slave-made and still did not help to develop the economy (Inikori and Engerman 39).

It became obvious that the economy as a whole was not able to emerge. Missing people lead to missing productivity which lead to dissatifaction, violence, instability and finally to a militarization of the society. The slave trade also changed the political configuration, in that an administrative class was replaced with a "warrior class whose sole purpose was slave-raiding" (Inikori and Engerman 23-26). The causal chain evoked by the slave trade is still visible today in the underdevelopment of the continent. The loss of people and the following effects prevented the continent from developing markets and extending general commercialization of economic activities (Inikori and Engerman 3).

Africa was not able to keep up with other economies and, therefore, was not in the position to extend their markets to international business and stability within the continent itself. On the contrary, they helped Western states to develop through additional human labor. As a result, Africa was prevented from developing internally as well as and internationally.

2.2 Society and People

The population of the Western coast of Africa "declined in size because of the mortality of captives, the drain of slaves, and continued high mortality resulting from social insecurity" (Inikori and Engerman 121). In several texts the number of people lost during that period is only estimated and even more important, as Klein states in his text, is the question of reproduction which includes, for example, nutrition, disease, political stability, and quality of life (Inikori and Engerman 25).



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    Karo Kant (Author)


Title: The Atlantic Slave Trade: Effects on Africa