The Effect of the Slave Trade on West Africa

Topics: Atlantic slave trade, Africa, Slavery Pages: 6 (2174 words) Published: October 2, 2013
The Effect of the Slave Trade on West Africa



The Social, Economic and Political Effects of the Slave Trade On West Africa

The trade of West African slaves for European commodities began in the fifteenth century. From its inception up to the late seventeenth century, the scale of the slave trade could be considered quite small when compared to the dramatic increase in its magnitude from the eighteenth century. This increase was propelled by ongoing European colonization and the growth of industry in the new world, which created a great demand for labour. Consequently, the Europeans expanded the slave trade within Africa and across the Atlantic removing innumerable amounts of persons from the region of the Senegal River to Congo in West Africa. Slave trading in West Africa could be likened to “a tidal wave [which] tossed people caught its turbulence in its wildly swirly currents of [social], economic and political change” (Ciment,13). The disadvantages of the trade far outweighed the benefits derived from it. The slave trade destroyed the fabric of West African societies. The mass depopulation of West Africa was one of the most salient effects of the slave trade as was evident in kingdoms such as Congo, Senegal, Angola, Tio, Oyo and Dahomey. “It is estimated that between 1700 and 1850 some eleven million people were taken from West Africa” (Ciment, 12). The forced emigration of these individuals resulted not only in a reduction in population numbers but it also crippled the ability of the nations to replenish themselves. This was so as most captives were between the ages of fourteen to fifteen; the age range of sexual maturity and potency. Consequently, there were lower birthrates and the rate of natural growth decreased. Population numbers also decreased as a result of much mortality in slave raids and due to the maltreatment of captives. Lastly, this depopulation changed the demography of the population to one characterised by mostly, women, children and elderly men. The decline of the population also spurred the breakdown of the family structure in West Africa. In slave raids there was no regard for family ties, once an individual was seen as viable he was captured. Accordingly, many young orphans were left to fend for themselves. Furthermore, there was the erosion of the traditional nuclear family structure and the subsequent development of single parent families. Moreover, since a greater ratio of men than women were traded, there was a distortion on gender roles; for example women had to take on roles as breadwinners of the families. This disruption of the family precipitated the ultimate disintegration of communities. The slave trade expunged the community life and community spirit in some West African states. Prior to the vicious trade, West African communities were characterised by socialization among persons, happiness, subsistent living, brotherhood and love. However, as a result of the slave trade societies became corrupt; leaders were overtaken with greed and exploited their common people. Individuals became very defensive and suspicious of their own neighbours. Moreover persons became nomadic and fled from their communities to forested areas where they had a better chance of remaining free. The disruption of the communities also occurred due to the fact that the slave trade induced negative psychological effects on Africans. This trade created immeasurable levels of fear and insecurity, as well as mental instability. This occurred as there was always the looming threat of being captured in a slave raid at any point in time and at any location. Furthermore, the slave trade gave rise to alterations in the social structure of the West African societies. Prior to the trade a structure existed where the most prestigious individuals owned slaves which they used for...
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