The African Slave Trade: Driven By Racism, Greed and Economics - Part I
(In Celebration of Black History Month)

By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

February 20, 2004

Throughout the world today, more and more people are calling for the democratization of their societies as well as speaking out against the violation of human rights. They want to have a society in which every individual or group will be allowed to exercise his/her or their God-given rights more freely, and to select the leader of their choice. However, for centuries, these fundamental rights were denied them based on all sorts of justifications. The majority population of the world, who happens to be people of color, were subjugated to the idea of the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race. At times, religion was used to promote this belief.

This essay, “The African Slave Trade: Driven By Racism, Greed And Economics”, will look at how slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism, flag independence, abuse of power and corruption have impacted the people of color. It is the intent of this writer to show how these systems were implored either directly or indirectly to control the resources and people of these nations.

According to Prof. Ali A. Mazrui:

“The initial military triumph of European power over the local rulers was itself enough of a strain on the historic prestige of indigenous monarchies and institutions of governance. But that initial European military triumph was followed by policies deliberately calculated to change the nature of Africa's political process forever”.

For example, one of the greatest travesties ever committed against humanity was carried out by the former British Empire. The name Sir. Francis Drake is best identified with England’s defeat of the Spanish Armada, including his circumnavigation of the world and stories about his so-called heroic raids upon the Spaniards in the Caribbean. The main reason for Drake’s journey, however, was not in the interests of scientific discovery, but of trade and plunder, motivated by greed. At the time of his adventures, Spain was the most powerful nation in Europe and jealously guarded the seaways to these colonies.

Based on John Guy’s book - Drake & The 16th-Century Explorers, Drake was summoned to a secret meeting with Queen Elizabeth before he began his voyage. Apparently, the queen instructed him to raid the unprotected Spanish ports on the west coast of South America. To that end Drake was extremely successful. “He brought his investors, which included the queen an incredible 4,700% profit. Queen Elizabeth profited by 300.000 Shilling” (John Guy, Drake & The 16th-Century Explorers. New York: Barron’s, 1998).

It is my view that Drake and other 16th-Century Explorers should not be considered heroes because they committed terrorist acts against the Spanish and Native Americans. They simply stole Spanish treasure and committed other blatant acts of piracy – a kind of “steal, from steal – makes God laugh”. Yet, they are looked upon in history as heroes and Native Americans from whom they stole are considered savages for defending their lives and property rights.

The stealing of other people’s wealth continued in the 18th-century. During this period, the British control vast majority of the strategic materials and peoples throughout the world. The British’s overseas colonies, consisting of the Commonwealth of independent (dependent) nations provided her with all that she needed through her various corporations. The Britain was assisted by the United States and most other Western nations to see to it that this practice was maintained. For example, it was maintained through their unscrupulous surrogates. In recent time, the likes of Mobutu Sese Seko, Idi Amin and other like-minded parasites and thieves were brought to power through external sponsored coup d' tat. The Kenyan writer Ngugi described these corrupt leaders in his novel, Devil on the Cross as “individuals who celebrate corruption in all forms”.

The dilemma African nations or for that matter, people of color are faced with will not require a simple solution. We are at war at every front. It all started with the notion that people who were not "white" where somehow created inferior as compared to whites; disregarding the Biblical concept that we were all created in the image of God, and overlooking the recognition made by Ancient Greeks and Romans in reference to the concept of natural laws.

This concept eventually gave rise to the secular and humanist strains of thought that appeared during the Renaissance and blossomed fully during the 18th-century Enlightenment. It was from the belief in natural rights, the contemporary theories of morality grounded in the rights of the individual was developed. The crowning achievements of which are the English Bill of Rights of 1688, the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, along with the Bill of Rights to the U S Constitution, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1791.

While these Rights were espoused for whites, they were denied to the people of color throughout the world. A kind of hypocrisy that the West has practiced for centuries. From the institution of slavery, colonialism, legal segregation to the present economic arrangement, which makes developing nations depend on the West for its survival. It is amazing how much our painful history is tie to our human and natural resources!

As a matter of fact, these systems have determined the way and manner in which we relate to each other. For example, fundamental entitlements which all persons are supposed to enjoy regardless of race, creed, belief, religion, country of origin or political persuasion, are not recognized when it concerns people of color. Westerners are taught to believe that it is their birth right to impose their cultural hegemony - to make us so-called civilized creatures, no matter how brutal and uncivilized the process. They saw to it that their stooges (imposed leaders) continued the abuse where their masters left out. This relationship was sustained through monetary and material support.

This brings us to the manner in which everything about us – Africans, for that matter, people of color continue to be distorted (the truth about Africa’s contributions to humanity). This distortion has its genesis as far back in the Greco-Roman period. Out of this distortion, came several myths, beliefs and out-right LIES about people who are not white. Jozef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski, known as Joseph Conrad - in his novel, “Heart of Darkness”, perpetuated the same “sensational” lie. Joseph Conrad along with other European/American writers propagated this myth about all people of color.

For example, David Hume in 1768 wrote: “the negroes (are) naturally inferior to whites. There never was a civilized nation of any complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation.” Hegel noted in his Philosophy of History “it is manifest that want of self-control distinguishes the character of Negroes. This condition is capable of no development or culture, and as we have seen them at this day such have they always been.... At this point we leave part of the world; it has no movement or development to exhibit.”

With these kinds of racist scholarship, these individuals were portrayed in the West as “smart people”. And we were practically forced to study these perpetrators of such unscientific observation as science and other disciplines in their institutions as well as ours. The myth that Africans are simply uncivilized savages supported the so-called “civilized” rationalizations for the African slave trade. John C. Calhoun, one of the most influential political leaders of the early nineteenth century, felt that blacks were inferior and should stand aside while the superior whites got on with the job of developing civilization. Many white historians went on to argue that Africans practiced slavery even before the coming of the white slave ships to Africa. But what they failed to point out is when Europeans were leaving Europe for Africa, they had their minds already made up to capture Africans whether the local chiefs cooperated or not.

In The Scramble for Africa, Causes and Dimensions of Empire, Raymond F. Betts explained:

“The ‘scramble for Africa’ is a striking example of the historian’s attempt to recapitulate the historical process by means of metaphor. ‘Scramble’ suggests rapid and confused activity and, in this particular instance, a rush forward, a sort of treasure hunt. The metaphor therefore not only tend to describe vividly, it also tends to assign values to the historical action itself. The popular conclusion has long been that the opening up of Africa in the nineteenth century was done both with great haste and with reckless abandon as European explorers, missionaries, and military men brought European politics, culture, and confusion to a hitherto largely terra incognita. The Dark Continent, it would appear, was suddenly suffused with light”.

In another article written by Alexander Hanson-Harding under the title: “African Kingdoms”, he wrote:

“Once, European referred to Africa as ‘the Dark Continent’. They didn’t know – or care – that the light of civilization was shining brightly in Africa long before Europeans colonized it. More than 800 languages are spoken in Africa, whose peoples have an ancient tradition of music, arts, and stories. Africa also has a long history of power and highly developed empires”.

African slavery in comparison with its European/American counterpart was relatively a benign institution. This is not to justify any form of slavery but rather to show a clear distinction between the European/American slavery and the one practiced in Africa.

Charles L. Blockson wrote In his book entitled, Black Genealogy that:

“African slaves often married into the families of their owners; some - like Jaja of Opobo, even became local chieftains. But when white factors or traders arrived on the coast with muskets, gunpowder, cotton cloth, and other European goods, unscrupulous Arabs and native chieftains began using almost any excuse to increase their supply of negotiable slaves. Wars were begun solely to capture prisoners to be sent by armed caravan to the coast. Petty offenses or family squabbles were often enough to deprive men and women of their liberty. Africans who worshipped Allah sold condemned criminals to whites so as not to stain their hands with blood. But when the white factors’ barracoons were short of a full ‘legitimate’ slave cargo to ship out on the next boat, they had no scruples about making their own captures” (Blockson, Charles L. Black Genealogy. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1977).

In another book written by Charles Spurgeon Johnson (1893-1956), published in 1987, Johnson said:

“In the institution of domestic slavery, the social institutions of the natives had an insidious element which the Liberians did not escape. Slave traffic was old to Africa, with the holding of domestic slaves an integral part of the social structure. The Krus (Klaos) have been among the few that did not subject their own tribes to bondage, nor have they been enslaved by other tribes. They have been, throughout history, the great transporters of slaves; and while maintaining freedom for themselves; they have held other tribe members. In a great portion of the Liberian interior the system has not been extremely oppressive on the slave, and it is difficult for the stranger to distinguish a slave from a free member of the native household. They can, however, be easily enough recognized by natives; though living and working with the masters, they lack minor privileges. The Krus (Klaos) have had the peculiar custom of sending the sons out with their slaves to cut palm nuts. It was imperative that the son scale the trees, even though dangerously high, to cut down the nuts; the slaves gathered them and brought them back with the tools. Back of this tradition is the idea of qualifying the sons to meet any situation” (Charles Spurgeon Johnson, Bitter Canaan: The Story of the Negro Republic. New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1987).

European and Arab institutions of slavery compared to African social institution of slavery were brutal, degrading and were designed to prove they were superior than the Africans. Europeans and Arabs’ need for slave labor was “demand driven”. By this I mean, slave’s labor was essential for the achievement of their economic activities, i.e., agriculture, gold, diamond and other minerals. Therefore, whether the African chief (Headmen) cooperated with them in providing slaves for their enterprises, they would have taken them by any means possible, because this was a decision they made prior to leaving their respective countries for Africa.

For instance in 1915 when the United States began its military occupation of Haiti, an occupation that lasted two decades, and General John B. Russell who for many years was the High Commissioner, and the most powerful administrator in the ‘treaty government’, held publicly that “the average Haitian had a mental age of seven” (The Afro-American Response to the Occupation of Haiti, 1915 – 1934 in PHYLON, June 1982 Edition).

The fact of the matter is, John B. Russell was an ex-Marine who had no formal training in psychology or psychiatry, but yet he came to the conclusion that “…the average Haitian had a mental age of seven”. How did he arrive at this conclusion? If this is not a racist statement than I don’t know what else you will call it.

It is the kind of hypocrisy and feeling of supremacy that has continued “man’s inhumanity to man”. How can one be both the judge and the jury at the same time? Based on historical precedent, Europeans/Americans do not have the moral authority to criticize Africa or other developing nations for not democratizing. I am in no way suggesting that these nations should not adopt democracy. Europeans/Americans should be the last people on earth to condemn African nations for not practicing democracy. Why? Because history can attest to the fact that their interactions with Africans, Native Americans and the Aborigines of Australia were nowhere near democratic. Any group of people who have experienced brute force as a means to maintain law and order and were told over and over that they are inferior or can only govern their people through dictatorship, tend to believe it. In fact, there is a long history to support this belief.

It is this political legacy of "force" inherited from the European system of governance that has continued to plague Africa. From the beginning of European occupation, Africa was not ruled democratically. How can they then expect those they trained to replace them to do otherwise? I have taken the position that the problem of governance with developing countries is the creation of the imperialist powers. It was they who helped to perpetrate modern day tribalism, sectionalism and the use of brut force to enforce and maintain their control. This practice was made possible through the "divide and rule" policies of the Anglophone and to certain degree, the Franco-phone. These systems have caused us more harm than good. As the result, many attempts at unity never materialized, because Africans from these camps see themselves first from the cultural lenses of their colonizers. We copied the good as well as most of the bad habits of these foreign cultures at the expense of our own. This disunity was exacerbated during the Cold War era.

Westerners talk about democracy as if Africans are not capable of practicing it. Westerners were not born practicing democracy. As a matter of fact, the practice of leadership by consensus (by the people) is nothing new to the people of Africa. It was practiced centuries ago in Africa. This practice originated from the oral tradition of our people. For example, when dispute was being judged, the elders sat under a tree or in the “palaver hut” to deliberate until they came to some agreement. Just picture the way palaver was handled in our villages. Everyone took turn to express his or her opinion. And having heard both sides of the issues, a decision was rendered. But this practice was misinterpreted as senseless exercise.

Permit me to end Part 1 of my essay with the poem entitled:


By S. Anai Kelueljan

You Mohamed and I
Are not brothers,
You're the son of my aunt-
You're my cousin!

Long ago your Arab father came,
Also he came with the Holy Koran
And his traditional ways,
But without a mistress or a wife!

Your father came to live among friends,
Not his slaves,
For the Africans are always generous
And useful friends
Until they are offended by despising
Their traditional ways...

So despise his colour, or creed,
Your father was free
To surround himself with lovely maids,
And then he began to study
The existing tribes and clans,
And concluded that Arab
Was culturally and racially superior
To the African Man!

So, he proceeded to propagate Islam
Along with his traditional ways.
Islam and Arabism
The jihad (holy war) men thought invincible!

But all the Africans,
Those men who were charcoal black
From every tribe and clan
Came and assembled,
They fixed their vision on gigantic idea
To survive collectively...

They said to themselves:
"If the Arabs have come to claim
This African Land,
No doubt they will have it pretty rough!"

But then,
Continuing their assault
The Arabs wiped out thousands of the African males,
And took the women as their slaves
With whom they freely mated!

This is the version of the story
Of conflict between the Africans and Arabs
The Arab historians do not tell.

And so,
You cousin Mohamed in the Northern Sudan
Are an offspring of my slave-aunt,
Who in her wretchedness stooped to conquer
By blood strength...
A reality as large as the Imatong mountain!

Your are no longer
A pure Arab, like your father,
You are the hybrid of Africa,
The generous product
Of many years of bloody wars
On the African Land
Your African Motherland!

My cousin Mohamed
Thinks he's very clever...
With pride,
He says he's an African who speaks
Arabic language,
Because he's no mother tongue!
Again, he says,
It is civilized to speak Arabic!

Among the Arabs,
My cousin becomes a militant Arab-
A black Arab,
Who rejects the definition of race
By pigment of one's skin.

He says,
If an African speaks Arabic language
He's an Arab!
If an African is culturally Arabized
He's an Arab!

My cousin claims
That Islamic region is a property
Of the Arabs!
He says,
God revealed the Holy Koran in Arabic..
And it cannot be translated
To other languages,
Because God has forbidden so!

He says,
Muslims must know Arabic
Because it is the language of the Holy Koran,
And the Holy Koran is the vehicle
For the Arab culture,
Because the Arabs are God-chosen people!

My cousin says,
The Africans have no culture!
The Africans have no history!
The Africans have no religion!
The Africans have no language!
The Africans are uncivilized!

He says, it is his duty to extend
The Arab sphere of influence
Into Africa!
He claims that,
Egypt is already Arab!
Libya is already Arab!
Tunisia is already Arab!
Algeria is already Arab!
Morocco is already Arab!
Mauritania is already Arab!
Somalia is already Arab!
Djebuti is already Arab!
Sudan is already Arab!
and soon,
Western Sahara shall be Arab!
Eritrea shall be Arab!
And if God's willing,
Ethiopia shall be Arab!
Let the whole African continent,
Become an Arab continent,
So that its people can be civilized!

My cousin is deafened
By Orouba (Arabism):
To be an Arab is right!
To be a Muslim is right!
If an Arab/Muslim kills you during jihad,
He has secured his place in paradise!
If you kill him,
All the same, he goes to heaven
For furthering Islamic cause!
In other words,
My cousin wins both ways!
His opponent has no alternative,
But to submit!

And so,
Like Zionism, or Apartheid,
Orouba has become a racist ideology!

Poem taken from: Durmam Daxxel - Military Rule, Racism and Democratisation in Mauritania: Comparisons with Sudan

Stay tune for Part 2 - The Conclusion…