The main reason Africans were involved in the Slave Trade was the need for Medieval African Empires like Mali and Asante to expand their power and influence over other African States by accumulating wealth using Slaves to trade for European commodities including guns.
Ultimately, the effect of African involvement in the Slave Trade was the disintegration of African Political and Economic power which would result in the conquest of Africa through European Colonization.
The Trans-Saharan Slave Trade
The African Trans-Sahara Slave Trade was responsible for over 20 million Africans being transported across the Sahara to Egypt, Syria and other parts of the Middle East.
The Trans-Sahara Slave Trade is by far the oldest type of Slave Trade documented in Africa and perhaps the world at large and dates as far back as 1000 BCE.
The Trans-Sahara Slave Trade was conducted on Ancient African Trade routes linking the West African interior across the Sahara Desert with Egypt and the Mediterranean which had been used to transport items like Spices, Gold and Salt.
As the Trans-Sahara Slave Trade continued deep into West Africa, weaker African States were raided and conquered by more powerful African States. This led to the rise of the Mali Empire around 1324 where the richest man who ever lived Mansa Musa took over the Mali Kingdom and expanded it through a series of conquests.
Mansa Musa was so rich in gold from the African Trans-Saharan Slave Trade that after his pilgrimage to Mecca, his Capital City Timbuktu became so famous that Mali found its way into the Catalan Atlas in 1375 because Mansa Musa had given away so much Gold on his Pilgrimage that he increased the Gold supply on the world market so much, it depressed the Gold price globally for at least 10 years.
As a result, Mansa Musa’s Capital, Timbuktu became a major African City recognized by Europeans because of the wealth Mali generated from the African Trans-Saharan Slave Trade, and beginning in the 14th many European explorers sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from France, Portugal England, Germany and Spain to the African coast.
A significant number of these European Explorers landed in West African Ports, an event which would give birth to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and later the Colonization of Africa as Europeans recognised the wealth and opportunities in the African interior.
The Trans-Saharan Slave Trade was therefore the first major Slave Trade in Africa which helped usher in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade as well as the Colonization of Africa.
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade In Africa
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade occurred in Africa from the late 15th to the mid 19th century.
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade spanned 3 Continents and forcibly brought more than 10 million Africans to the Americas.
The origins of the African Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade began in the late 1400s with Portuguese Colonies in West Africa, and Spanish settlement of the Americas shortly after.
Europeans turned to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade by enslaving Africans because in their new Colonies in the Americas, Europeans grew Sugar Cane, Tobacco, and Cotton which were very labour intensive. There were not enough settlers or indentured servants to cultivate all the new land and even the American Natives that were enslaved in the Americas died from new European diseases whilst others resisted.
As such, to meet the demand for labour, Europeans resorted to Slavery of Africans which gave birth to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
African Kingdoms like Mali and Dahomey initially prospered from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, but meeting the European’s massive demand created intense competition.
To defend themselves from Slave raids, neighbouring African Kingdoms acquired European firearms, which they bought with Slaves. Thus the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade led to an Arms race on the African Continent which permanently altered Societies and Economies across the African Continent.
As a result of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, Africa lost tens of millions of its able-bodied which adversely affected the demography and future Political and Economic development of Africa.
Thus when the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was finally abolished, the African kingdoms that had come to rely on the Slave Trade collapsed, leaving them open to conquest and colonization.
In addition, the increased competition and influx of European weapons at the height of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade fuelled warfare and instability in Africa that continues to this day.
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade also contributed to the development of racist ideology.
Most African slavery had no deeper reason than legal punishment or intertribal warfare, but the Europeans who preached a universal religion, and who had long ago outlawed enslaving fellow Christians, needed justification for the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade which was inconsistent with their professed Christian ideals.
As such, in order to justify the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, Europeans claimed Africans were biologically inferior and destined to be slaves.
Thus, Slavery of Africans in Europe and the Americas during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was carried out on a racial basis, making it difficult for Slaves and their future descendants to attain equal status in the Societies in which they were enslaved in Europe and the Americas as a result of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was therefore an injustice on a massive scale whose impact continues to be felt to this day.
The East African Arab Slave Trade
Arabs were involved in the Slave Trade in Africa during the East African Arab Slave Trade which began around the 9th Century as Muslim Arab and Swahili Traders began to dominate the Swahili Coast.
The Muslim Arab and Swahili Traders entered the African interior largely in Tanzania, Mozambique and Kenya where they captured the local people or Zanj whom they would transport.
Its been estimated that the Muslim Arab Slave Trade sold as much as 17 million people to the Middle East and North Africa via the Indian Ocean Coast circa 1500-1900.
The 17th Century saw an acceleration in the Arab East African Slave Trade when more and more Arab merchants from Oman relocated to the Island of Zanzibar as it took centre stage in the brisk Swahili Coast global Trade.
Furthermore, enterprising individual Slave Traders like the infamous Tippu Tip would greatly expand the East African Slave Trade by conquering vast swathes of the African population and taking the people as slaves.
Once transported to their destination in the Middle East, the Zanj worked on Arab Estates mainly in Agriculture under inhumane conditions.
Eventually, the Zanj would find the conditions so intolerable, that the Zanj Slave rebellion broke out from 869 until 883.
Although the rebellion did not put an end to the East African Slave Trade, it demonstrated the cruelty of the Trade and the intolerable conditions victims of the Trade were forced to endure.
The End Of The East African Muslim Arab Slave Trade
The Muslim Arab Slave Trade continued to thrive until the Haitian Slave Revolt signalled the end of Slavery throughout the world.
Following the Hatian Slave Revolt, the movement for abolition gained momentum leading to the abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Things moves much slower in East Africa however, and it was only in 1873 that Zanzibar outlawed the trade despite the resistance of the Arab merchant class.
The decree banning the Trade was not followed or enforced however, and it was only in 1909 that Savery in East Africa formally came to an end.
Modern Day Slavery In Africa
Despite the formal abolition of Slavery, its been observed that Slavery still exists in Africa today particularly in countries like Mauritania.
Whilst the impact of the Transatlantic Slave Trade cannot be denied, equal attention should also be paid to the Muslim Arab Slave Trade in East Africa.
Its been suggested that the East African Slave Trade is not discussed in Africa as much as it should be due to the fact that the significant Muslim population in Africa would rather focus on the Western Transatlantic Slave Trade out of what can only be described as a sense of Religious loyalty.
Nevertheless, the impact of East African Arab Slave Trade cannot and should not be underestimated or forgotten.
Conclusion: Legacy Of Africans In Slaves
Africans Traded Slaves for a considerable part in African History beginning with the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade followed by the Trans-Atlantic and then the East African Arab Slave Trade.
It is also undeniable that Africans Trading In Slaves has shaped the course of African History where it initially provided a means by which African States could accumulate wealth and thus attain Political and Economic supremacy on the Continent.
In the final analysis however, the Slave Trade in Africa ultimately led to the destabilisation of the African Continent which made it easier for Europe to Colonize Africa because of the divisions and instability created by the Slave Trade.
Important to also note is that it is not only Europeans that were engaged in the Slave Trade in Africa, Arabs have also played a significant role in the Slave Trade in Africa.
The role played by African States themselves as Africans Traded Slaves should also remembered because African States also engaged in the Slave Trade as a means of dominating other weaker African States.
Nevertheless, by Africans Trading in Slaves they weakened their own Political and Economic power over the long term which ultimately led to the Colonization of a weaker African Continent than that which had existed before because of the impact of the Africans Trading in Slaves.
Based on the above, it can be concluded that the main reason Africans were involved in the Slave Trade was the need for Medieval African Empires like Mali and Asante to expand their power and influence over other African States.