How did the African slave trade impact the economic, social, and political structures of Africa?

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The slave trade did actually benefit some African people, especially monarchs and traders of West African states who profited from it. But its effects were catastrophic for the vast majority of West African people. European slave traders initially bought African slaves who had been captured in war. This was a...

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longstanding practice, though African slavery, which was not hereditary and usually not permanent, was very different from the slave system that developed in the Atlantic World. Over time, the demand became so overwhelming that it incentivized war--African kingdoms launched slaving raids into the interior, and against their neighbors, that resulted in endemic conflict. This naturally destabilized the region. Over time, as well, the practice of taking young men--highly in demand among slave traders--had a dramatic effect on demographics in the region.

Beyond these effects, the slave trade decimated villages, destroyed families, disrupted the ancestral culture of African societies, and inundated the region with European manufactured goods, which competed with domestic industry (especially textiles). When we add these costs to the unspeakable horror experienced by scores of African people on the Middle Passage and on the plantations of the New World, we can see that the slave trade was truly an absolute catastrophe. Ultimately, the trade ruined many of the monarchs who had actually benefited from it, as European companies constructed large slaving fortresses along the coast to control the trade directly.

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The slave trade weakened most states of Africa, though it did help some of them.  Let us see why this is the case.

When Europeans came to Africa to take slaves and bring them to the Americas, they did not simply come ashore and start raiding to capture as many slaves as they could.  This would have been difficult for them to do with the small numbers of Europeans who could come on any given ship.  Instead, the Europeans worked with Africans to get slaves.  The African states on the coasts typically raided inland, took slaves, and sold them to the Europeans.

Of course, this helped the coastal kingdoms.  They became rich from the proceeds of their sales.  However, it was not at all helpful to the inland states.  This is because it depopulated them and, in particular, because it took many of their most important people.   When slavers came raiding, they of course took the people in the prime of life who could fetch the best prices.  This meant that the best workers and warriors were being taken.  This clearly hurt the economies of the inland states.  As huge numbers of people were taken away, the social and political fabric naturally suffered.  It is hard to maintain a society or a political structure when large numbers of people are being forcibly removed from that society and political structure.

Thus, the inland states of Africa were badly harmed because they lost so much of their population, particularly those who were at a stage in life when they were most important to the economy, the society, and the political system.

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