Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Effects of the Atlantic Slave Trade on West African Societies

The Effects of the Atlantic Slave Trade on West African Societies

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor's Note: The following article is excerpted from the "Pambana Journal Monograph Series" number four published in the Spring of 1985 at Wayne State University in Detroit. Azikiwe founded the series one year before and continued to publish the research reports until early 2000.

The impact of the slave trade in the 15th century, had devastating effects on Africa as a whole. The centuries of slave capturing and exporting drained Africa of millions of its strongest and most capable youth between the ages of 15 and 25. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact number of Africans who were taken away from the continent during the period between the 15th century and the 19th century. The European slave merchants did keep records on the sale and transport of slaves but it is difficult for any objective person to accept these records as being valid and accurate. Many slaves were transported illegally after the trade in human cargo was deemed illegal in England and America during the middle 19th century. It was during this period in the 19th century, that the trade in slaves reached its peak.

According to Karl Marx, humankind's development can be categorized into stages of societal progression in regard to the relationships of production. The initial stage in human development is the communal stage, which is often described as primitive communism. The society at this stage is classless and the majority of the society's inhabitants work collectively for the benefit of the society as a whole. The level of technology at this stage is primarily geared toward the survival of humankind from the physical environment. The ownership of land during this stage of human societal development is collective.

As humankind progressed through history, the level of technology increased and therefore the human being's mastery of their environment improved. These factors allowed for a situation to come about where certain people in society were able to acquire large tracts of land whereas others were forced to work for the benefit of a small land owning elite within society. This stage in productive relationships is called slavery.

In Africa, slavery existed prior to the coming of the Arabs and the Europeans. Going back to ancient Egyptian society, we can see clearly that large scale slavery existed. The pyramids were built by slaves who worked long hours over extended periods of time to construct these monumental structures. However, this form of slavery, that was peculiar to African society, differed from the European chattel slavery that the Africans were subjected to during the 15th to the 19th century. In the African slave system the slave could eventually work his or her way out of servitude and even marry into the ruling class of the society. The African slaves were primarily prisoners of war who were not normally executed as in other societies, but allowed to work as a means of paying off his or her "debt" to the society that the slave was originally at war against. The slave in the African context was not considered genetically inferior to the members of the ruling class in society. This form of slavery differs greatly from that of European society where the enslaved were condemned to perpetual servitude for the duration of the slave's life and was constanly reminded that he or she was a conquered being at the mercy of the ruling class masters.

The great demand on the part of the European slave traders for African human cargo served as a disruptive factor in the economic life of the African society. The trade in slaves proved to be more profitable than the traditional trade in gold. Therefore, many Africans who were interested in acquiring European goods such as guns, ammunition, cloth, cooking utensils and alcoholic beverages were encouraged by the European slave traders to acquire African captives in exchange for these goods. This factor served as a means of discouraging internal trade in the African commodities and provided incentives for Africans to engage in assisting the Europeans in the trade in human cargo.

Walter Rodney, in his classic work entitled: "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa," describes how this process worked between Europe and Africa in regards to stifling the internal evolution of African societal development:
"The above changeover from gold mining to slave raiding took place within a period of a few years between 1700 and 1710, when the Gold Coast (modern Ghana) came to supply about five thousand to six thousand captives per year. By the end of the eighteenth century, a much smaller number of captives were exported from the Gold Coast, but the damage had already been done. It is worth noting the Europeans sought out different parts of West and Central Africa at different times to play the role of major suppliers of slaves to the Americas. This meant that virtually every section of the long western coastline between the Senegal and Cunene rivers had at least a few years experience of intensive trade in slaves with all its consequences. Besides, in the history of eastern Nigeria, the Congo, northern Angola and Dahomey, there were periods extending over decades, when exports remained at an average of many thousands per year. Most of those areas were also relatively highly developed within the African context. They were leading forces inside Africa, whose energies would otherwise have gone towards their own self-improvement and the betterment of the continent as a whole."

The Africans who were exported out of Africa to Europe and the Americas during this period had no idea of what awaited them at their destination. Neither did the Africans who sold slaves to Europeans realize the devastating effects of what they were doing to the future development of their societies. It must be stated clearly that the majority of Africans who were taken from Africa as slaves by Europeans were not taken as a result of commercial trade. Walter Rodney, in the same above-mentioned book, states that the level of deceit and treachery on the part of the European slave traders was largely responsible for the capturing of the majority of Africans who were made slaves.

"However, on the whole, the process by which captives were obtained on African soil was not trade at all. It was through warfare, trickery, banditry and kidnapping. When one tries to measure the effect of European slave trading on the African continent, it is essential to realize that one is measuring the effect of social violence, rather than trade in any normal sense of the word." (Rodney: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, 1972).

The capital accrued in the export of African slaves was phenomenal; it is again impossible to calculate the approximate figures of capital accumulated by European commercial interests by way of their involvement in chattel slavery.

However, it is safe to state that the accumulation of wealth, as a result of the free African labor utilized in the slave trade, provided the basis for the rise of the industrial revolution, capitalist production and the export of capital to colonial territories by Europe (imperialism).

Abayomi Azikiwe is currently the editor of the Pan-African News Wire. Azikiwe also works as a broadcast journalist who can be heard over WDTW, 1310 AM in Detroit on Sunday mornings from 10:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m. In addition, Azikiwe can be heard over CKLN, 88.1 FM in Toronto every Thursday from 9:30 p.m.-10:00 p.m. This broadcast, hosted by Norman (Otis) Richmond's "Diasporic Music," is streamed at http://ckln.fm .

1 comment:

MUKA said...


McSpotlight on the
Oil Industry
| Shell | BP | Texaco | Exxon | Others |

With the current censure and boycott of Shell over its activities in Nigeria, consumers may be looking for someone else to buy their fuel from. But are Shells rivals any more ethical?
Texaco and Total for example have been criticised for fuelling the oppressive military regime of Burma. Du Pont, the owner of Jet petrol stations, is said by Greenpeace to be responsible for 14% of the ozone hole due to its production of ozone-depleting chemicals. And the French companies, Elf and Total could be on your boycott list over France's nuclear testing.
The fact that petrol is derived from crude oil, a non-renewable fossil fuel, means that the petroleum industry has considerable enviromental impact. But petrol is only one of the end products of crude oil along with plastics, chemicals and pesticides. The oil companies have also attracted criticism for these operation. Du Pont and Shell manufacture the fungicide Benlate DF and pesticide DBCT respectively, both of which have landed the companies in the US courts for hefty compensation claims. Elf and Shell are also involved in the chlorine industry, which has recently begun to be more heavily criticised for its role in the production of dioxins (see the WEN report; Chlorine, Pollution and the Parents of Tomorrow).
Shell's oil exploration and production activities on Ogoni land in Nigeria has brought to the public's attention the impact these operations have not only on the environment but also on tribal peoples' land rights. Shell is not the only oil company operating in Nigeria; British Petroleum, Chevron / Esso, Du Pont, ERAP, Texaco, and Total also have interests in Nigeria, where any exploitation is facilitated by a compliant oppressive regime.
Other oil companies have also been criticised for this sort of behaviour in other oppressive regimes, for example Total and Texaco in Burma. It is reported that the Burmese military is forcing indigenous peoples to work on clearing forest areas to prepare them for oil and gas exploration and transportation.

Shell Oil in the McSpotlight
Royal Dutch / Shell Group: c/o Shell Centre FNX/6, London SE1 7NA
Shell Oil has attracted much criticism and media attention recently over two major issue; Brent Spar and Nigeria.
It is now over a year since the Nigerian military dictators executed Ken Saro Wiwa, the leader of a minority ethnic protest group in Nigerian region called the Ogoni. He and eight others were sentenced to death in an unfair trial for their alleged involvement in murder. They were innocent, the real motive for the 'trial' and the execution was to end campaigns against Shell Oil. Ken Saro Wiwa played an important part in leading the protest against the exploitation of Ogoni lands and Ogoni people by the oil giants such as Shell. Shell Oil did nothing to stop the killing because they wished the protests to end so that they could return to Ogoni to continue to exploit the oil reserves, the environment and the local people. As media interest peaked, Shell Oil was forced to admitted that they had even supplied guns to the Nigerian government. Nineteen others are still detained without charge for their involvement in the anti-Shell movement.
Shell owns Brent Spar, an oil storage platform in the North Sea. It is obsolete and awaiting decommissioning. Shell Oil asked the British government for permission to dump Brent Spar in a deep water trench and the British government gave them permission to do so (Oil companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico have been required to take their platforms apart and dispose of them on shore). Greenpeace successfully campaigned against the dumping, and Shell backed down.
It is important to remember that the issue was not about Shell or Brent Spar specifically, but about the hundreds of other similar oil installations that Shell and other oil companies would then have been able to dispose of in the same way (over 50 are due for decommisioning in the next 10 years).
Other criticism of Shell Oil include their anti-trade union activities that include playing a leading role in moves by the Oil Industry to de-recognition of trade unions in the UK.
Shell On-line
Shell Nigeria - Public relations company on behalf of Shell
General propaganda and public relations stuff
More propaganda about the issues
Shell US
[new improved] On-line comments form
Shell critics on-line
Amnesty International
Human rights in Nigeria
Interview with Dr Owens Wiwa
Sierra Club on Ken Saro-Wiwa
Boycott Shell - Factsheet
10 things to do
Petition to Shell, Clan up Nigeria
Petition to President Clinton Urging Nigeria Sanctions
Body Shop on Saro-Wiwa
The Ogoni 19
Their plight
Write a letter
One World Online
The Drilling Field - prize-winning documentary
Public Media Center - Saro-Wiwa Memorial Fund
More links and information
Earthlife Africa
Ken Saro-Wiwa
Ogoni factsheet
PrairieNet on Ken Saro Wiwa
Amnesty International- Saro Wiwa announcement
The Coalition Against Dictatorship on Nigeria
MOSOP online newspaper
Enviromental impact report
Rainforest Action Network
Heres a few Shell US [free]phone numbers:
General Inquiries: 1-800-248-4257
Shell MasterCard: 1-800-993-8111
Shell Credit Card: 1-800-331-3703

BP in the McSpotlight
British Petroleum Co.: Britannic House, Moor Lane, London EC2Y 9BU
BP operations feature in the Greenpeace Filthy Fifty list and in Friends of the Earth's Secret Polluters list. In February 1991, a 300,000 gallon spill from a BP-charted oil tanker spread for twenty square miles and severely disrupted the enviroment of nearby Huntingdon beach in California. The State of California then drafted new legislation to improve tanker safety and to elicit a $500m spill responce fund to be paid for by the oil companies. This was part of the far-reaching 'Big Green' enviromental proposals defeated in late 1990 by a 3:2 majority. BP spent $171,000 to help oppose the bill.
BP has been criticised a number of times in the past for its mineral operations on tribal people lands. The company has now pulled out of minerals. It does however continue to search for oil and, along with other companies, it has been criticised for operations in the Amazon, where a number of Indian Reserves have been affected.
In July 1988 the Piper Alpha disaster led to a series of strikes on North Sea oil rigs. Workers wanted union recognition and improved safety rights. BP did not agree and started to recruit non-union labour. In 1989 a number of workers at two BP-owned plants in Brazil were said to be suffering from pulmonary silicosis, as a result of inhaling dust containing silica at the plants. In 1990, two explosions in ten days at BP's Grangemouth refinery cost the lives of three workers and the company £750,000 for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act.
Between 1985-9 BP received contracts from the Ministry of Defence for more than £100 million and is the supplier of strategic and non-civilian products used in weapons systems.
BP has animal testing undertaken by sub-contractors. Through its subsidary BP Nutrition, the company is involved in breeding animals including poultry layers.
Other BP products include;
Washing-up Liquid: Crock Clean, Formula 77, Greenforce, New Pin, Topitup, Zamo
Laubdry powder / liquids: Formula 7, Greenforce, Q-Matic, Softmatic, Surcare, Trend
Cat & Dog Food: Butch, Gold Star, Nuckles, Black Cat

Texaco in the McSpotlight
Texaco Inc.: 2000 Westchester Avenue, White Plains, NY 10650 USA
For 20 years, Texaco pumped oil from the Ecuadorian rainforest, one of the Earth's gems of biodiversity, and home to 300,000 Quichua, Siona, Secoya, Cofan, Shuar, and Huaorani Indigenous people. After extracting more than one billion barrels of crude oil, Texaco washed its hands and pulled out of Ecuador in 1992, leaving behind a colossal mess of toxic waste pits, oil spills, and poisoned communities. Texaco's legacy to Ecuador;-
Spills totalling 17 million gallons of crude oil (50% more than the Exxon Valdez spill)
Discharge of 20 billion gallons of wastewater, with hydro-carbons, heavy metals and other toxic
Contaminants abandonment of hundreds of unlined toxic waste ponds
Construction of oil roads opening more than 2.5 million acres of the forest to colonization
Besides extensive damage to rainforest ecosystems, Texaco's operations have affected the people of the Amazon, who use river and rain water for bathing, drinking, and fishing. Skin diseases, stomach ailments, respiratory diseases, headaches, malnutrition, and cancer have surfaced in Native communities affected by Texaco's operations.
Texaco refuses to cleanup, or even to compensate those people whose lives have been affected by their dirty operations. Wherever they work, Texaco has demonstrated irresponsibility and lack of concern for public health, human rights, and the global environment:
In Burma, Texaco collaborates with the brutal Burmese military dictatorship in an offshore natural gas project. In order to construct a pipeline through the rainforest, the army has declared "free-fire zones" in which soldiers are authorized to shoot civilians, including members of the Karen hilltribe.
In Indonesia, pollution from Texaco's Caltex operations has killed fish in Siak River tributaries, destroyed rubber trees near the streams, and caused skin diseases among Sungai Limau villagers.
In Haiti, Texaco has blatantly violated the U.N. oil embargo, designed to pressure Haiti's military dictatorship.
Texaco is America's third largest oil company, with 1992 revenues of $37 billion. They are drilling for oil in 24 countries, and their international holdings include refineries, petrochemical plants, and an international trading and transportation network. Texaco also owns gasoline stations and convenience stores around the world, including 14,000 in the U.S. alone.
Texaco critics on-line
Rainforest Action - Texaco campaign
Texaco resources
What you can do

Exxon / Esso in the McSpotlight
Exxon Corp.: 225 East John W Carpenter, Freeway Irving, TX 75062-2298 USA
The big tanker spills at sea are often the most visual and striking reminder of the potential enviromental damage of oil production. In March 1989 the Exxon Valdez supertanker ran aground and broke open, releasing 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound, Alaska. The US National Transportation Safety Board, investigating the causes of the spill, partly blamed the "higher-ups" at the Exxon Shippinh Company for poor management. It also criticies the Alyeska pipeline consortium, of which Exxon is a partner, for it's massive failure' in reposonse to the spill, which greatly contributed to its severity.
Pollution and spillages can even occur at petrol services stations. In 1991 the US EPA found Exxon and Shell amoungst oil companies that discharged contaminated fluids from their service stations into or directly above underground drinking water sources. Exxon was fined $125,000.

The petroleum industry is described as the 'one of the world's least ethical industries' in a report by the Ethical Consumer Research Association, but obviously some are 'less bad' than others.
In the ECRA report, taking into account corporate responsibility and enviromental impact, they recommend as 'overall best buys' (read 'lesser of the evils');-
Murco (Murphy Oil Corp.), Anglo & Repsol (Repsol/Spanish State) and Q8 (Kuwaiti State).
Of course the only real ethical choice is not to use fossil fuel at all. Alternatives to fossil fuels include; electricity (when produced by non-polluting renewable sources), biofuels; Biodiesel, Ethanol (which do pollute), and, perhaps most promising, hydrogen. However the most practical ethical choices to make when considering transport are; walking, cycling or even shared or public transport.

Credits: The information on this page was taken from
'the Ethical Consumer Guide to Everyday Shopping',
the ECRA product report on Petrol and Diesel,
and from the on-line resources given above.