Africans Selling Africans

An argument point that always comes up when discussing race and slavery is that Africans were the ones selling other Africans into slavery, therefore are responsible for slavery in America in the first place. I will not deny that this happened and that Africans should share a bit of responsibility for slavery but they were not the sole contributing force behind the slave trade. If anything, they played a very small part as the host of a parasitic relationship.

First and foremost, I want to address the skewed image people have of African countries before colonization and imperialism. African kingdoms and states were a place of higher learning, literacy, commerce, and wealth. It is a known fact that some of the first institutions of higher learning were established in Africa (see Egypt and Kush). When Europeans came over, they saw something different from them and immediate dismissed it as primitive. For them, not knowing the English language (or whatever other European language) made you illiterate, not believing in the Christian God made you a savage in need of reinvention, and wearing minimal clothing made you a heathen. To them, it was their God given duty to change these “savages” for the better but what they really did was destroy and exploit the natural resources, erased the identity of individual tribes and states, and destroyed what economic and social stability they had. This created the parasitic relationship I was talking about. Without the previous access to resources, many Africans developed a dependency on their European oppressors and of course the colonizers saw this as an opportunity.

What did this have to do with the European slave trade? Plenty. Initially, African states gave European missionaries their criminals to work with them and receive redemption. These criminals were eventually given resources such as money and guns and made even more dangerous than before by the Europeans. They became the African bounty hunters colonizers used to get slaves. But Europeans actually started the slave trade by raiding and kidnapping Africans, but that proved too dangerous to continue. Africans were at the short end of the stick. They had little resources and with the transatlantic slave trade underway, were constantly in danger of being kidnapped. In order to provide not only protection but food and supplies for their families and tribe members, many Africans resort to selling others (usually from other states or tribes) in exchange for a good standing with the Europeans. In most cases, the Europeans created a pitting system between African states in which the state that contributed the most to the slave trade was treated better and given supplies. But usually those same tribes or states would later be kidnapped and sold by the very Europeans they helped. Europeans essentially created a toxic culture of dependency and a twisted evolved form of the Darwinian evolution theory, “survival of the fittest.”

The slave trade eventually became a sizable source of income that many did not want to do without and when it was abolished many countries became impoverished. As an African, as a Nigerian specifically, I accept my people’s role in the slave trade and I condone the actions of my ancestors, for ignoring their role does not help our current movement. But to shift the blame solely to them is just a flimsy attempt to console European and white guilt. People of European descent need to accept their role as is and realize that the slave trade was more than just selling slaves, it became a cruel, unforgiving system of oppression and injustice that is still present today.

Originally published at