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  • Hamza Kyeyune

How Enslavement Fundamentally Altered African Economies

Centuries of slave raiding and massive abduction of productive populations led to an acute downturn in workforce and human capital development for African economies, which immensely retarded progress in the area of socio-economic development


-Africa’s poor economic performance remains one of the largest puzzles facing the world today. Despite the abundance of natural resources, the continent lags behind the economic progress of developed countries. The continent’s retarded economic development has been linked by many scholars, to Europe’s slave trade which caused human and economic losses.

Initial trade between Africans and Europeans was in legitimate commodities, massive slave trade started following the English civil war between 1642-1651. Owing to the conflict, King Charles II of England spent the next nine years in exile within France, the Dutch Republic and the Spanish Netherlands, where he witnessed the potential of wealth accumulation through slave trade. After returning to England and assuming the throne, he established a royal-chartered company that would engage in slave trade.

From that date on, the British Empire became one of the principal actors that played a leading role in the enslavement of millions of Africans and shipment of them in the Atlantic between 1663 until 1808.

Millions were abducted across the continent and enslaved in farms, factories, homes among others. It is widely reported that most slaves who worked on farms died within five years because of the harsh conditions in which they lived. A belief that blacks were physically stronger and endured resiliently harsher conditions such as hard labor, starvation, rough terrains and extreme weather, made matters worse. Those who were recruited in the army were deployed in terrible wars and losing battles where survival rates were extremely low.

More than 13 million Africans were taken as slaves between the 16th and 19th centuries.

The bias

In 1772, an anti-slavery ruling was made putting an end to the greatest human, social and economic catastrophe for African societies, although the judgement remained non-effective until 1808. In the following years of the verdict, about 400 people, known as the 'black poor of London', who had fought for the British in the American war of independence, were sent to Sierra Leone to rid England of these unwanted people. Most of these died from diseases and lack of shelter and food in a few years.

Britain’s anti-immigration policies especially for African countries remain to date.  According to a study by the Royal African Society (RAS), “African applicants are over twice as likely to be refused a UK visa than applicants from any other part of the world”, and many visa application centers in Africa were closed since 2007. As of 2020, it was not possible to apply for a UK visa in 24 African countries, citizens of these 24 nations have to apply for a UK visa in a neighboring country.

The bias is not just limited to visa refusals, but the process is lengthy and bureaucratic, often taking several weeks. Visa application centers across the continent do not have the authority to evaluate and decide on applications. There are only two decision-making centers for 1.3 billion people, and these centers are operated by a private company contracted by the British government. Applicants are often charged a much higher fee than British visitors pay for visas to enter African countries.


Altered path of African economies

Several scholars like Walter Rodney argue that slave trade fundamentally altered African economies. In his book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, he argues that there have been times in history, when social groups have grown stronger by raiding their neighbors for women, cattle, and goods, then use the “booty” from the raids for the benefits of their own community, but slave trade in Africa did not even have that redeeming value. This is because captives were shipped outside instead of being utilized within any given African community for creating wealth, effectively creating a long-term negative effect on economic performance.

Besides, it is not difficult to imagine that centuries of slave raiding and the massive extraction of the productive populations of the invaded countries, led to an acute downturn in workforce and human capital development for African economies, which immensely retarded progress in the area of socio-economic development.

Enslavement provided fertile ground for exploitation and dispossessed the continent of valuable human capacity which effectively altered the direction of economic activity, discouraged state-building and encouraged the capture of young strong Africans that would cultivate land and engage in taxation and nation building. The diverted the path of economic development to Western societies.



Nathan Nunn (2008) Slave Trade and African Development

Walter Rodney (1972), How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

Ohio University Press, (2003) Fighting the Slave Trade

Miller, Joseph (1978), Way of Death: merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave Trade.






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