The transatlantic slave trade is a major element of global history. The forced movement of West African people across the Atlantic resulted in unprecedented forms of cruelty and subjugation, a marked decline in the West African population, shifts in notions of race and cultural identity, racism, inequality, and significant economic and agricultural developments in Britain and the Americas. The legacies of this history served to marginalise peoples of African descent across Britain, Europe and North and South America and normalise notions of superiority amongst white populations.
The impact of slavery
Rich in its history and culture, West Africa prior to the transatlantic slave trade had long standing civilizations with developed political systems and established commercial networks. When European merchants realized that a trade in human beings would yield more lucrative returns than their highly sought gold or ivory, the decimation of the Atlantic coast?s African populations began. Along side the Dutch, French, Spanish and Portuguese, British merchants established trading bases in countries, including modern Benin, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, and established dependent commercial ties with African slave traders. In all, estimates of Africans kidnapped from their homelands during the transatlantic slave trading years are placed between ten and twelve million. The impact of this mass removal of the population still resonates across the African continent today.
The pace of subsequent economic development in African nations has been attributed to the transatlantic slave trade. Slave traders sought men and women between the ages of 18-40 and into the 1750s began transporting large numbers of children as young as 7 to the Americas. This meant that over time West African farm lands were not cultivated to their full potential in societies affected by the slave trade and in turn, unable to secure the foundations for industrialization.
Many African people became enslaved as a result of internal warfare but a peaceful region could dramatically slow down the trade.
?War makes gold scare but negroes plenty.? Dr. Akosua Adoma Perbi, Ghana?s Legion University, citing a trader?s writing.
Guns were a highly sought European commodity by African traders within the Triangular Trade. Many European traders within such warring environments, however, would only trade guns for people, forcing some African people to calculate human exchange in terms of defensive strategies and overall human loss. The introduction of guns into African regions dramatically changed the scale and style of warfare. Today, these regions hold centuries old hostilities from this period. These ongoing conflicts can be linked back to the period of the slave trade.
As conquering intentions changed in the late 19th century and Europeans moved beyond their protective encampments along the coast, the ?Scramble for Africa? resulted in European colonial domination of most of the continent. Many scholars have argued that the previous decimation of indigenous populations because of the slave trade and the lack of stable political entities within African regions made the process of colonization easier for European powers. For them, Africa meant new markets of raw materials, cheap labour and global strategic significance.
Britain particularly saw an African stronghold as a key link to India, negotiating a vast colonial holding across Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, the Gambia, Malawi, Orange Free State, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa. The English poet, Rudyard Kipling, coined the justification for colonial activity in his poem, White Man?s Burden. Here non-European cultures were seen to require the protection and direction of European rule.
Decolonization followed, with visionary Pan Africanists like Ghana?s Kwame Nkrumah, spearheading modernization efforts in countries ruled directly or indirectly by European interest for hundreds of years. Nkrumah united the divided Gold Coast territories and also created the Organization for African Unity, which is the forerunner to the African Union, a consortium of African states that works to achieve continental cohesion and political, economic and social advancement for modern Africa. Representations of Africa in the media today often overlook the inherited challenges that remained post decolonization and contributions by African leaders and activists presenting at limiting view of the continent as AIDS ridden and war torn, omitting the complex history and issues confronting African nations today.