The Slave Trade in Africa
Eric Williams thesis entitled "Capitalism and slavery"
is not a study on the nature of the slave trade, but rather
a study of the role of slavery in the English economy. In
his thesis Williams proposes the idea that capitalism is a
result of the Atlantic slave trade.
Williams defines capitalism as when someone can use
their resources to make a profit without that person
actually being present. The Atlantic Slave Trade was then
an example of capitalism. English investors gave funds to
stock companies, such as the Dutch East Indian Company, who
wound use those funds to purchase ships and trading goods.
The stock companies would then hire a crew and send the
ships to Africa where they would trade their goods for
African Slaves. The ships would then transport the slaves
to the Americas where they would sell their human cargo and
purchase American goods. The ships could then return to
England and sell their American goods for capital, then
splitting the profit amongst the investors.
In his thesis Williams asserts that these stock
companies were the first examples of capitalism and that the
capitalists systems which are present in the modern world
are direct results of the Atlantic Slave Trade. It appears
that Williams is correct in his thesis. While elements of
capitalism, such as buying and selling of goods, were
present prior to the slave trade, this was the first point
in history when private investors combined their capital in
the form of a company whose sole purpose was to increase
that capital. At no point did the stock companies
manufacture any new product instead these companies served
only to buy and sell commodities in such a way as to
increase the capital of their investors.
Ancient Africa was characterized by strong states.
Unlike Europe African states were well organized before the
birth of Christ. However as European states became stronger
African states weakened.
These strong ancient African states such as, Egypt,
Ethiopia, Kush and Benin, believed that the purpose of the
state was to serve the people. This ideology made it
possible for African states to become strong because since
the state served the people the people were willing to
participate in defending the state and submit to taxation in
order to provide for the needs of the state which then
benefited the individual.
However African states began to weaken when the Arab
came into Africa. In a quest to seek the destruction of
Christianity in Europe the Arabs tore through the Maghreb
(five north African countries). The Arabs not only took
over the state, but also the culture, as a new Arab
population settled, and pushed the original African
population below the Sahara.
The Arab presence in Africa soon led to a weakening of
the African State. In 1350 the strong African state of
Songhai began to have border disputes with the Arab led
state Morroco. Songhai stated that the purpose of the
African state was to serve the people to which Morroco
replied that the purpose of the state was to serve Islam.
Since the ruler of Morroco was a descendant of Mohammed that
meant that it was Songhai's responsibility to support the
Morrocan state rather than the interests of it's own people.
Songhai was destroyed by Morroco in 1591, and after
Songhai's destruction any new states that emerged in this
area put the interests of outsiders above the welfare of
their own people. The area that had once been the strong
empire of Songhai became the core of the slave trade in
When Europeans came into Africa to trade they dealt
with these weakened African states. They provided the
states arms and the states allowed Europeans to enslave
their citizens. African states allied with European nations
at the expense of their own people; showing that the...
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