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The African Slave Trade, Economics and Capitalism

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Many Eurocentric history books on the subject of the African slave trade and Holocaust, and its impact on the global economy often omit the now-recognized fact that it was that trade in human cargo and brutal, forced labor that helped stabilize the faltering European economies and aided in its transition from an untenable feudal economy to one of progressive capitalism. Western chattel slavery, as an economic system, also helped in the development of the nation state and furthered the launch of Europe's imperial empires that resulted in the infamous Scramble for Africa.

Indeed, the opening of the Atlantic slave trade led to the development of Europe's commercial empire and the industrial revolution. The scope and toll in human lives as a result of trading and trafficking in Black African human cargo are directly attributable to the modern success of the European and American nation and states.

Consider the following:

While Ghana was the headquarters of the African slave trade, tropical America was the real center of the trade. Thirty-six of the forty-two slave fortresses were located in Ghana. Aside from Ghana, slaves were shipped from eight coastal regions in Africa including Senegambia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Liberia region, Gold Coast, Bight of Benin, Bight of Biafra, Central Africa, and Southeast Africa (from the Cape of Good Hope to the Cape of Delgado, including Madagascar).

The slave trade had the greatest impact on central and western Africa. West Africa supplied 3/5ths of the slaves for exportation between 1701 and 1810. Half of the slaves were exported to South America, 42% to the Caribbean Islands, 7% to British North America, and 2% to Central America. In fact, the famed Black historian, John Henrik Clarke, repeatedly said that Christopher Columbus, who claimed to have "discovered the so-called New World," and his now-celebrated voyages, marked the starting point of world capitalism and the launch of Europe's colonial domination of the world. His exploits would also help intensify the global slave economy.

To put it more bluntly: I contend that Columbus set in motion an act of criminality that still influences our lives today. Professor Clarke described the period between 1400-1600 as the point in history when Europe freed itself from the lethargy of the Middle Ages. During this period, Europe witnessed the renewal of nationalism as well as the political transformation from feudalism to nation states through the centralization of power by the monarchs. The opening of the Atlantic led to the development of Europe's commercial empire and the industrial revolution.

Moreover, the core of the African slave period and its economic relationship to Europe and America was not only the continuing demand for African slaves but also the rapidly changing economies in Europe and America, precisely because of this slave-based economy. This demand also corresponded to the growth and development of plantation agriculture, the long-term rise in prices, the consumption of sugar, and the demand for miners.

Now let me set an often erroneously sited historical conclusion straight: Contrary to the popular portrayal of African slaves as primitive, ignorant and stupid, the reality is that not only were Africans skilled laborers, they were also experts in tropical agriculture. Consequently, they were well suited for plantation agriculture in the Caribbean and South America. Also, the high immunity of Africans to malaria and yellow fever, compared to white Europeans and the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and South America, made them more suitable for tropical labor. While white and red (Native Americans for example) labor were initially used, Africans were the final solution to the acute labor problem in the New World.

And no matter what Eurocentric scholars wrote or did not write, the slave trade was one of the most important business enterprises of the 17th century. The undisputed fact is that the nation states of Europe stabilized themselves and developed their economies mainly at the expense of millions of Black African people. For example, during the latter half of the century, Colbert, a Frenchman, stated that "no commerce in the world produces as many advantages as that of the slave trade"(Eric Williams, "From Columbus to Castro").

The wealth of the New World in the form of sugar, tobacco, metals, gold, cotton, etc. was extracted by African labor and then exported from the colonies through the capitalistic enterprises of Western Europe. Western Europe drew profits from the trade in slaves, commodities produced, shipping (mercantile) services, the development of new industries based on the processing of raw materials, financing, and insurance. According to Eric Williams, "no other commerce required so large a capital as the slave trade which kept the wheels of metropolitan industry turning." (Italics mine).

European cities such as Liverpool, Amsterdam, and Bristol were built on slave labor. The capital and raw materials derived from the African slave trade contributed significantly to the Commercial and Industrial revolutions. According to James Rawley, "Black slavery was essential to the carrying on of commerce, which in turn was fundamental to the making of the modern world"(Rawley, "TransAtlantic Slave Trade"). In other words, the modern world was built upon the blood, sweat, and tears of our Black African ancestors.

Fundamentally, the economic systems that dominated the African slave trade mirrored the transitions in Europe's economic systems from a mercantilist orientation that characterized the very conduct of the slave trade. The primary purpose of mercantilism, an economic system that developed during the transition of Europe from feudalism to nation-states, was to unify and increase the power and monetary wealth of a nation through strict government regulation of the national economy.

Consequently, the 16th-century organization of the slave trade was entrusted to a company (the Dutch East India Company, for example) that was given the sole right by a particular nation to trade slaves and to erect and maintain forts in Africa to protect their "Black merchandise." However, these monopolistic companies had two major opponents: the planter in the colonies, who complained of insufficient quantity of slaves and the poor quality of high priced slaves, and the merchants at home. The failure of these European monopolies to deliver enough slaves to feed the voracious appetites of its colonies' plantations ultimately led to free trade in the 18th century.

Today, there is no European country or city, no American city that has not benefitted from the African slave trade. Indeed, the modern-day wealth of many families, cities, and nations is the direct result of the appropriation of African slave (labor) trade and the brutal institution of chattel slavery. No discussion or analysis of the African Contribution to Black History would be complete without acknowledging this fundamental fact.

(Article changed on February 9, 2018 at 19:29)

(Article changed on February 9, 2018 at 19:32)

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