I regard “slavery” as one of the popular word that is vulgar to every language in the cosmos. If you are not fortunate to have a university education, you must have heard of the word “slavery” in one of your high/secondary school curriculum. I first heard of slavery when I was in primary school, also, when I progressed to secondary school; I had an in-depth knowledge of slavery. Therefore, I can state freely that regardless of your - age, society status, educational level, gender and race – slavery is one of those words that you cannot deny having knowledge of.
Slavery is the state of being under the control of another person; it begets vices like Racism, Ethnicity, Apartheid, Homelessness, Hunger, Diseases, Sexual exploitation, Child labour, among others. The modern day slavery is where the underprivileged in the society are compelled, due to harsh economic condition or deprivation of basic necessities of life, to work under servitude for the affluent in the society.
But slavery is deeper, emotional and sensitive than what the two paragraphs above professed.
Slavery in Africa can be dated back to 1441 AD, where the Portuguese explorers became the first Europeans to arrive the continent of Africa. The main intention of the Portuguese was to trade for gold and spices; therefore, they set up colonies on the solitary islands of Sao Tome. In the 16th century, the Portuguese settlers found that these islands were ideal for growing sugar. Unfortunately, sugar growing is a labour-intensive undertaking which will require the Portuguese to work close to the heat with no infrastructure coupled with hard labour. These limiting factors on the human nature of the Portuguese thwarted the progress of the sugar production. To cultivate the sugar, the Portuguese turned to large numbers of enslaved Africans who by virtue of their distinct human nature can work long hours without the aid of machinery and their body designed to withstand any temperature. Elmina Castle on the Gold Coast (which is now called Ghana), originally built by African labour for the Portuguese in 1482 to control the gold trade, became an important depot for African slaves that were to be transported to the New World (North America and South America).
Throughout the 14th and 15th century, the Portuguese dominated the continent of Africa by engaging in buying of slaves (I do not think slaves are regarded as humans in those days, they call them commodity because proceeds from their sales are taxed) and selling them to the rest of the world. These slaves are subject to maximum degree of torture before (and obviously another torture awaits them at their destination) embarking on the slave ship for the New World, some may fall sick along the journey while some may die before reaching the destination. In order to avoid the cost of taking care of the sick slaves, they are thrown into the Atlantic Ocean alive. Yes, alive!
With the man power from Africa, Portuguese were able to designate the required labour for the development of their economy and also profited from the sales of slaves to other countries. It looks like a monopoly venture until other European countries (Spain, France, Great Britain and the Netherlands) joined the cause to exploit Africa of its human and natural resources. And what is the justification of the white men for their evil-deeds? Christianity! Yes, Christianity!! The recent public apology by the Church of England for their involvement in the slave trade is something Africans should start to ponder about.
“When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘let us pray’. We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land.” – Jomo Kenyatta
This business venture called “Slave Trade” grew to be a prosperous recipe as each European country has their individual business strategy. It got to the point (at the time of the industrial revolution, around the 17th century) where the proceeds from slave trade amount to 5% of Britain GDP.
"We have no slaves at home – Then why abroad? Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs receive our air, that moment they are free. They touch our country, and their shackles fall. That's noble, and bespeaks a nation proud. And jealous of the blessing. Spread it then, and let it circulate through every vein." - William Cowper
The Spanish were the first Europeans to use African slaves in the New World on islands such as Cuba and the West Indies (Haiti), where the native population starved themselves rather than work for the Spanish.
Researchers and historians agree that in all, the Dutch shipped about 550,000 African slaves across the Atlantic, about 75,000 of whom died on board before reaching their destinations. From 1596–1829, the Dutch traders sold 250,000 slaves in the Dutch Guianas (Guyana and Surinam), 142,000 in the Dutch Caribbean islands, and 28,000 in Dutch Brazil.
"The African continent was bled of its human resources via all possible routes. Across the Sahara, through the Red Sea, from the Indian Ocean ports and across the Atlantic. At least ten centuries of slavery for the benefit of the Muslim countries (ninth to the nineteenth century); Four million slaves exported via the Red Sea, another four million through the Swahili ports of the Indian Ocean, perhaps as many as nine million along the trans-Saharan caravan route, and eleven to twenty million across the Atlantic Ocean" - Elikia M'bokolo
Western critics debated that slave trade wouldn’t have been successful if the local authorities did not play a role because Europeans rarely enter the interior of Africa, due to fear of disease and moreover fierce African resistance. Therefore, some historians concluded that African rulers enslaved their fellow Africans, selling them to the European traders in exchange for metal cookware, muskets, cloths, gunpowder, currency, iron ore, rum, livestock, and seed grain. But Mungo Park, a Scottish explorer, who traveled within the interior of Africa between 1795 to 1797 described how curious and inquisitive Africans are, wanting to know if white men are cannibals, also what becomes of their fellow Africans who traveled across the Atlantic Ocean.
This conspiracy by western critics is obnubilate, if truly African rulers sold their fellow Africans to slavery; what do we say of King Jaja of Opobo who refused to do business with slavers? Ashanti King Agyeman Prempeh who sacrificed his own freedom so that his people would not face collective slavery? King Nana Badu Bonsu II who was executed in 1838 by the Dutch for decapitating two Dutch emissaries?
"The viewpoint that “Africans” enslaved “Africans” is obfuscating if not troubling. The deployment of “African” in African history tends to coalesce into obscurantist constructions of identities that allow scholars, for instance, to subtly call into question the humanity of “all” Africans. Whenever Asante rulers sold non-Asantes into slavery, they did not construct it in terms of Africans selling fellow Africans. They saw the victims for what they were, for instance, as Akuapems, without categorizing them as fellow Africans. Equally, when Christian Scandinavians and Russians sold war captives to the Islamic people of the Abbasid Empire, they didn’t think that they were placing fellow Europeans into slavery. This lazy categorizing homogenizes Africans and has become a part of the methodology of African history; not surprisingly, the Western media’s cottage industry on Africa has tapped into it to frame Africans in inchoate generalities allowing the media to describe local crisis in one African state as “African” problem." — Dr. Akurang-Parry, Ending the Slavery Blame
Across the West African borders, a record of over twenty million African slaves were shipped via Badagry Lagos State of Nigeria, Elmina Castle in Ghana and Ivory Coast to Europe and America. 5% of the twenty million African slaves lost their lives before reaching the final destination. The continent of Africa was depopulated as a result of the slave trade. The slave trade deters the formation of larger ethnic groups thereby causing ethnic division; it also reduced the mental health and social development of African people. Slavery birthed hatred among African tribes as the children of the slaves were used by the white men as a bait to catch alligators. There was a need to transport wild animals to Europe and America; therefore, children of the slaves are thrown to the wild animals as food so they can be caught alive. The children die and the wild animals are being shipped overseas and kept in the zoo.
One of the ships that was used to transport millions of African slaves to America is called Jesus. You get to wonder why Black folks don’t run when they hear the name Jesus. Apparently, the Africans in Africa are waiting for the slave ship Jesus to return and take them to America WHILE the Africans in America are waiting for the slave ship Jesus to bring them back to Africa.
Paul Adepoju, ACMI