How did the slave trade affect Africa?

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It would be difficult to overstate the deleterious ramifications for the continent of Africa of the slave trade. Slavery was an industry, and that meant a certain selectiveness in those seized and sold into that industry. Because so many of West Africa’s most vibrant people were precisely those who fetched the highest price, that vast region suffered the loss of the people who would otherwise have been instrumental in developing their own countries. While those West Africans deemed too weak or incapable of manual labor were not marched to their deaths, as occurred in Europe during the Holocaust, but rather left alone, the loss of the young, strong youth and adults left a void in West Africa that could not be filled. Consequently, West African economies did not develop through traditional processes. Those regions of Africa most directly affected by the slave trade were rendered gravely weakened and much of that area continues to struggle with the long-term effects of slavery today.

Another way in which the slave trade adversely affected Africa was in the destruction of families and communities and in the perpetuation of conflict between tribes and clans. Social structures were decimated. Tribes and clans were susceptible to bribery by European slave traders who exploited the potential for ethnic or social divisions to pit tribes and clans against each other. When groups of Africans saw that they could profit at the expense of other groups while remaining free from the slave traders themselves, they became willing accomplices to the slave trade.

The slave trade deprived Africa of millions of people who would otherwise have contributed to the development of their own societies, and it created violent divisions among peoples. The ramifications of the slave trade and the legacy of the colonialism that followed were instrumental in the evolution of dysfunctional social structures and of economic destitution.

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The slave trade had a terrible impact on Africa (or at least on the parts of West Africa from which the vast majority of the slaves were taken).  Let us examine some of these impacts.

  •         It hurt Africa economically.  The slave trade took millions of Africans over the years and removed them from their local economies.  These were people who were in the very primes of their lives and were most likely among the most important people for their societies’ economies.  By taking these people away, the slave trade made it harder for Africa’s economy to develop.  The article in the link below speculates that this is one reason why Africa was unable to industrialize.
  •         It hurt African societies.  Imagine the impact on a society when many of its most important members are being taken away to a terrible fate and there is nothing the society can do about it.  It would be a very demoralizing feeling of weakness and helplessness.  It would have traumatized society, perhaps in something of the same way that the Black Death traumatized European society when it killed so many people in the 1300s.
  •         It caused more wars in Africa.  Wars were one of the main ways that slaves were taken.  Therefore, African kingdoms that wanted to sell slaves to the Europeans had to go to war to do so.  The weapons that they got from the Europeans in return for slaves helped fuel these wars.
  •         It may have contributed to the colonization of Africa.  The article in the link below speculates that slavery weakened African society so much that it was easy for the Europeans to come in and colonize Africa in the 1800s.  In this view, Africa was weakened economically and socially to the point that African states could not effectively defend themselves against European colonizers.
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