Magazine article African Business

The Incomplete Legacy of the Abolition of Slavery: On 25 March, There Were Global Celebrations Marking 200 Years since Slavery Was Abolished. in This Essay, Our Guest Columnist Places This Event in the Wider Modern History of Africa and Shows That While African Emancipation Has Come a Long Way, It Is Far from Complete

Magazine article African Business

The Incomplete Legacy of the Abolition of Slavery: On 25 March, There Were Global Celebrations Marking 200 Years since Slavery Was Abolished. in This Essay, Our Guest Columnist Places This Event in the Wider Modern History of Africa and Shows That While African Emancipation Has Come a Long Way, It Is Far from Complete

Article excerpt

On 25 March, Africans from around the globe came together to commemorate the bicentennial celebration of Britain's abolition of the slave trade.

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The slave trade was an institution of powerful nations and empires that allowed people of African descent to be captured and sold like cattle. Many were forced into labour that bought about economic development and wealth accumulation throughout the world.

The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was enacted on 25 March 1807 by the British, one of the principal European powers that developed this iniquitous practice. Before its abolition, slavery claimed the lives of millions of Africans. It is now recognised as one of the most odious crimes ever committed by and against humanity.

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At the turn of the millennium, the Dutch and the French had both taken the lead among the former colonial powers in officially acknowledging that slavery was a crime against humanity. These two nations have each set aside a special day in remembrance of their role in perpetuating this odious institution over the centuries.

In commending these leading nations, US Representative, Major R Owens reminded fellow Congressmen that, "the African slave trade stands out in the annals of world's history as one of the greatest crimes ever committed against humanity". This crime benefited the slave owners, slave traders and rent-seeking institutions which strongly opposed its abolition. All the colonial empires and institutions drew on African slave labour to build their infrastructure and enhance their productive capacities.

In recognition of their exceptional contribution in the Americas, at the turn of the millennium the US Congress acknowledged that African slaves had built Capitol Hill and the White House, the two most powerful institutions in the most powerful country in the world.

For centuries, Africans were not permitted to work or think for themselves while at the same time, the rest of the world was drawing on the resilience and much higher productivity of their labour to accumulate fortunes. Naturally, this skewed accumulation process resulted in a widening income and welfare gap between Africans and the rest of the world. The abolition of the slave trade came with tremendous challenges: fostering political emancipation, effecting cultural renaissance and bridging Africa's widening economic and scientific gaps with the rest of the world. As Africans marked the bicentennial, it is important to review the progress they have made in meeting the challenges underlined by these three areas of development. This is the first of three special studies. It focuses on achievements in the political area.

Political emancipation

The abolition of the slave trade in 1807 galvanized the struggles for freedom and independence of Africans and African states. Earlier, the successful slave revolt of 1791 that led to the independence of Haiti in 1804 following the defeat of the French army established the first free black republic in the world. The birth of this first black republic created the initial space of liberty and freedom for people of African descent. Subsequently, it transformed the whole world, by inspiring millions of other victims of oppression in their quest for liberty, a movement that resulted in a crescendo of abolitions and emancipation most notably in America and Europe, and independence of African nations around the world.

In America, the first victory in the quest for emancipation in the post-abolition era came in 1863, following the Emancipation Proclamation by US President Lincoln. This historical victory was just the first step in the process of drawing a line between abolition and effective freedom, between slavery and a post-slavery world.

For people of African descent, abolition implies effective emancipation and allows greater aspiration. However, for slave holders and the powerful rent-seeking institutions benefiting from slave trade, abolition did not really imply discontinuity from the past--for most Africans were thought to be "genetically inferior", unable to escape from the historically engrained culture of tutorship and servitude. …

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