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The Existence Of Choice In The African Slave Trade

873 words - 4 pages

The immense scale and power of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in Africa was enabled by a close partnership between Africans and Europeans in which Africans provided a continuous supply of slaves in exchange for European goods and money. However, to what extent said partnership was voluntary for the Africans is debatable. John D. Fage and Walter Rodney are two historians who fall on opposite ends of this inquiry. Fage posits that African leaders had a choice, which they made based on economic reasons, while Rodney insists that the Europeans forced the Slave Trade upon them. Likely neither extreme is correct, with the truth lying somewhere in the middle. While some degree of choice may have ...view middle of the document...

In addition to military prowess, the Slave Trade also provided a political advantage to African leaders. The wealth accumulated through trade was concentrated in the upper class, leading to increased centralization and power. Historians have noted “a close correlation in West Africa between…political development…and the growth of the institution of slavery” (145). Trade profits not only increased political power, but also generated economic influence. Fage argues that these economic benefits were so great that, for African rulers, it was not a choice of whether or not to partake in the Slave Trade, but rather a decision regarding “the number of slaves they could afford to export, in order to obtain the guns and other imports their states required, without weakening their societies” (149).
While Fage is correct in his economic analysis, he fails to acknowledge the other factors that caused African leaders to deal in the Slave Trade, for it was not an exclusively economic choice. Rodney is correct that Europeans accelerated the Slave Trade in Africa because they provided the sought-after materials. Therefore Europeans, indirectly through their goods, forced the Slave Trade upon African States. However, the pressure exerted was not as direct as Rodney claimed.
However, debating the extent to which African leaders had a choice ultimately matters little. What directed their actions was not the reality of their situation, but their perception of it. Not all African leaders were willing participants, yet they continued to trade due to a belief in their own powerlessness. From the beginning Europeans occupied a dominating role in the trade relationship, imposing their will with...

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