Africa and the Africans in the Nineteenth Century: A Turbulent History

By Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch; Mary Baker | Go to book overview

7
The Century’s Innovations

Slavery: A Mode of Production That Had Become Dominant

Africa’s trade in slaves with the rest of the world declined in the nineteenth century, at least with respect to the West, yet at the same time owning slaves became a sign of social status in Africa south of the Sahara. Ironically, one was the corollary of the other. As outside markets closed, beginning with the Atlantic market, it was advantageous to dump unsold slave “stock” on the domestic market. Domestic economies had to reorient toward production of raw materials that were in demand in Africa (cotton, sugar cane, grain, etc.) and in industrialized countries (vegetable oils, dye wood, gum, etc.), or adopt a predatory economy that was maintained and accentuated by the sale of European-made guns. Both production and predation created great demand for slaves, who were used as laborers, servants, and soldiers.

The century began with the Europeans’ official prohibition of slave trading. This had been advocated since the end of the eighteenth century, when a small group of English humanitarians settled in the peninsula of Sierra Leone. Though it took some time before the measures were adopted by all countries and states, this was the beginning of a deep social change in Africa. At the same time, on the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar’s domination was becoming more dependent on slave-based production, and this was a social weight until the start of the twentieth century. In that area especially, the slave trade’s growth was largely a perverse corollary of the European Industrial Revolution, which began flooding the Arab world with African rifles that had been manufactured or retooled in industrial centers such as Liège in Belgium.


The Risks of the Slave Trade

In the Mediterranean, privateering against Christians, which formerly had been very profitable for the Ottomans, was declining.1 Peace treaties were signed between Algeria and Spain in 1792, and also by Algeria, Tunisia, and France in 1800–1801. From then on, privateering expeditions became rare. In

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