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The New Slave Trade Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Salisu, Nigeria Sep 23, 2004
Human Rights , Slavery & Human Trafficking   Opinions
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In the 400 year period between 1500 and 1900, perhaps 30 million Africans were forcibly taken from their homes and sold into slavery. It is estimated that of these, 17 million were sold into slavery on the coast of the Indian Ocean, Middle East and North Africa; 12 million were taken to the Americas; 5 million across the Sahara and East Africa to other parts of the world. Some estimate that 20 percent of slaves chained in the holds of the slave ships died before reaching their destination.

The slave trade formed part of a lucrative triangle developed by European countries. It involved exporting manufactured goods to the west coast of Africa where they would be exchanged for slaves (often forcibly obtained). The slaves were then sold for huge profit in the Americas where the money was used to buy raw materials such as sugar, cotton, coffee, metals and tobacco that were eventually shipped back to Europe for more profit.

While I do not want to digress by pointing out how the slave trade developed Europe and the Americas (particularly North America) while leaving Africa short of human and material resources necessary for development, it is worth noting that slavery created and then relied on a large support of shipping services, ports, finance and insurance companies. New industries were created, processing the raw materials harvested or extracted by slaves in the Americas.

Before the Industrial and Commercial Revolutions (which partly resulted from the slave trade), wealth was measured in terms of agriculture. The quantity of land and the amount of labour available to work on it was the major determinant of wealth. In this area, Africa was denied the opportunity to maximize its human and natural resources to any appreciable level because the strong and able bodied people who would have done so were being evacuated to develop strange lands. Thus, the marriage of land and labour never quite happened in Africa except at the sustenance level.

In fact, so vicious was the slave trade that it is estimated that at least 4 million died in slave wars and raids before ever leaving Africa. In West and Central Africa, it led to huge population upheavals. Coastal tribes fled slave raiding parties and captured slaves were redistributed to different regions in Africa. (The civil wars and genocide of today bear historical link to this artificial relocation of people).

At any rate, when the Industrial Revolution made human labour (slaves) uneconomical, the Europeans (and later Americans) began to look for what to do with them and eventually arrived at the idea of abolition. (Was there any other option?) It is fanciful to claim that the abolition of slavery was predicated on humanitarian grounds, but the reality is that slaves had become an unwanted liability. With time, following political and sometimes military (U.S. civil war) developments, the slave trade was finally abolished. Or so we thought.

Incidentally, the creation of Liberia and Sierra Leone as settlements for former slaves was not for humanitarian reasons. It was done to reduce the Black population in America. (Without the resettlements, there might have been an African American President of the US?) Meanwhile, I will not belabour readers by taking them through the arguments on how Europe underdeveloped Africa. Walter Rodney has more than taken care of that. But the fact remains that this barbaric cruelty of man to man significantly explains the reasons behind the strife, poverty and underdevelopment of Africa today (Very easy to blame somebody else for your problems?). Sadly, that is beside the point. The crux of the matter is: There is a New Slave Trade today. Oh, it is subtle and called by different terms, but at the end of the day, it will have the same consequences as the slave trade.

The world today is faced with the realities of integration of trade and capital flows facilitated by the rapid growth of information technology and hitherto closed societies and economies in Russia, Eastern Europe and China. Globalization has triggered a development revolution that includes mobilization of human and material resources across the borders of an increasingly seamless world. And as usual, Africa is once again at the receiving end. (We also receive toxic wastes too dangerous for other parts of the world).

The world is moving rapidly into the knowledge society where capital is measured not in terms of agricultural or industrial capacity, but in terms of knowledge, expertise, professionalism or simply, information. To create wealth today, what is required is not vast quantities of agricultural land and labour, or huge stacks of industrial goods. (Perhaps China is an exception?)

Today, information is wealth. It is no coincidence that the two richest people in the world today are Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, none of whom is a farmer or industrialist. Their wealth is based not on what they produce but on the ideas and information they have and use to manage their businesses. The issue at stake is that today, millions of Africans are once again on the move to Europe, Middle – East and the Americas. Highly skilled African professionals in every field are leaving the continent for other parts of the world, some call it Brain Drain and of course it is! Since brains constitute wealth and it is the mass movement of trained and skilled Africans that is the new slave trade. Unfortunately, this new slave trade has the capacity to stunt African development far more than 400 years of the Old slave trade ever did.

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Ricky | Oct 8th, 2004
It's very sad but what you explain is true.

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