BY : FESTUS OPPONG K. ASANTE.
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade is perhaps the most notorious feature of the era of European expansion, and began around the mid-fifteenth century when Portuguese interest in Africa moved away from the fabled deposits of gold to a much more readily available commodity — slaves. By the seventeenth century, the trade was in full swing, reaching a peak towards the end of the eighteenth century. It was a trade which was especially fruitful since every stage of the journey could be profitable for merchants — the infamous triangular trade. It is estimated that between 12 to 15 million people men, women and children, were deported from their homes and sold as slaves in the different slave trading systems, so massive was this venture that till now there has not been a definite number for the slaves transported during this time period. The trade proceeded in three steps. The ships left Western Europe for Africa loaded with goods which were to be exchanged for slaves. Upon their arrival in Africa the captains traded their merchandise for captive slaves. Weapons and gun powder were the most important commodities but textiles, pearls and other manufactured goods, as well as rum, were also in high demand. The exchange could last from one week to several months. The second step was the crossing of the Atlantic. Africans were transported to America to be sold throughout the continent. The third step connected America to Europe. The slave traders brought back mostly agricultural products, produced by the slaves. The main product was sugar, followed by cotton, coffee, tobacco and rice. It was a rank distribution of wealth and power and thus, permitted the exploitation and reconstruction of much of the globe with Africa it’s nexus. Transported slaves were often subject to strikingly harsh and even inhuman slave codes whiles crucifixion, burning and starvation were a legal mode of punishment which were borne as a result of the lack of docility which long years of bondage and strict discipline gave rise to, was absent in them. It goes without saying that such a massive venture had its effects on African’s and the African continent as a whole, mentioned below then are some comparative ways the TAST affected the development of the African continent.
To begin with, Slavery introduced an elastic labor supply into the European economy. It represented an improved factor of production. However, Madam Barbara Solow author of “British Capitalism and Caribbean Slavery” does not view slavery as an isolated variable, rather, she emphasizes the importance of the historical combination of slave labor, sugar, and the plantation system. The plantation system provided the organizational form that made slave labor more productive than free labor, while the demand for sugar proved enormously elastic and provided a remarkable vehicle for the expansion of the market and the accumulation of capital, Her coherent explanatory account makes a powerful argument for the centrality of slave labor in the development of Capitalism. Had said labor been in Africa, there would have been a continual promotion in the economy of Africa to help in the development of the continent, and thus Africans could have been able to expand their market to be able to make a living and even better create a stable economy through which there would have been a definite improvement in the standard of living of African’s.
Furthermore, With the rise of a large commercial slave trade, driven by European needs, enslaving your enemy became less a consequence of war, and more and more a reason to go to war. The slave trade, it is claimed, impeded the formation of larger ethnic groups, causing ethnic factionalism and weakening the formation for stable political structures in many places, and also impeded the social development of African people. These wars had a direct effect on the standard of living and the output as a result of insecurities by the African people. So, whiles the Europeans had an alliance and comrades engaging in Slave Trade, Africans on the other hand were involved in infightings and conflicts among each other. And as unfortunate as it may seem, the vast majority of items traded for slaves were consumables, and one time use items. Which could in no way help establish Africa as a powerhouse worldwide and/or help facilitate infrastructural development.
Moreover, Slavery and the slave trades had a significant impact on the size of the population and the gender distribution throughout much of Africa. The precise impact of these demographic shifts has been an issue of significant debate. The Atlantic slave trade took 70,000 people, primarily from the west coast of Africa, per year at its peak in the mid-1700s. The Arab slave trade involved the capture of people from the continental interior, who were then shipped overseas through ports on the Red Sea and elsewhere. It peaked at 10,000 people bartered per year in the 1600s. According to Patrick Manning, there were consistent population decreases in large parts of Sub-Saharan Africa as a result of these slave trades. This population decline and unequal gender distribution throughout West Africa from 1650 until 1850 was as a result of preference of slave traders for strong male slaves for labor. Walter Rodney argued that the export of so many people had been a demographic disaster and had left Africa permanently disadvantaged when compared to other parts of the world, and that this largely explains our continent’s continued poverty. He presents numbers that show that Africa’s population stagnated during this period, while comparatively that of Europe and Asia grew dramatically, thus, all other areas of the economy were disrupted by the slave trade as the top merchants abandoned traditional industries to pursue slaving and the lower levels of the population were disrupted by the slaving itself.
To end it all, A prominent historian by the name Eric Williams has written about the contribution of Africans on the basis of profits from the slave trade and slavery, arguing that the employment of those profits were used to help finance Britain’s industrialisation. He argues that the enslavement of Africans was an essential element to the Industrial Revolution, and that European wealth was, in part, a result of slavery, but that by the time of its abolition it had lost its profitability and it was in Britain’s economic interest to ban it. Another Scholar Joseph Inikori has written that the British slave trade was more profitable than the critics of Williams believe. Other researchers and historians have strongly contested what has come to be referred to as the “Williams thesis” in academia. Moreover, economic historian Stanley Engerman finds that even without subtracting the associated costs of the slave trade (e.g., shipping costs, slave mortality, mortality of whites in Africa, defense costs) or reinvestment of profits back into the slave trade, the total profits from the slave trade amounted to not less than 5% of the British economy during any year of the Industrial Revolution. And thus, much as Africans through the TAST developed the European countries, there is no shadow of a doubt that it had severe negative consequences and repercussions on not only the then immediate development of Africa but also that of the future development of both continents, with Africans getting the short end of the stick.
In Conclusion, The Tran-Atlantic Slave Trade as Maulana Karenga termed it was “the most morally monstrous destruction of human possibility involved redefining African humanity to the world, poisoning past, present and future relations with others who only know us through this stereotyping and thus damaging the truly human relations among people of today”, and in so doing caused the destruction of the development of the African Continent. Thereby, forcing the starting point of the development of Africa to be much slower with great disparity to that of the European Nations.
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