The transatlantic trade refers to a portion of the global slave trade conducted across the Atlantic Ocean to America transporting captured, kidnapped, and enslaved Africans. It was conducted between the 16th and the 19th century before being abolished by many nations worldwide. Million and 12 million Africans were transported from their places to America to work in different areas (Helg, 19). The transatlantic slave trade was the second of the three stages of the worldwide triangular trade where wine, textile, and arms were moved from Europe to Africa for colonization and support for the slave trade. The second stage was shipping enslaved people to America from Africa to work in the industries and the farmlands created in America (Helg, 17). The slave trade can be traced back to the 1480s, with the Portuguese ships transporting Africans to Madeira Islands and Cape Verde for use as enslaved laborers (Helg, 22). Spanish conquistadors took enslaved Africans to the Caribbean after 1502; however, the merchants from Portugal continued to dominate the slave trade until the 1650s operating from the Congo-Angola area along the African West Coast (Helg, 22). The business was all around, and for more than 300 years, 10.5 million Africans were torn from their families to America (Helg, 17,19). Therefore, this essay aims at articulating the impact of the trans-Atlantic slave trade on Africa, Europe, and America; the paper will examine how the trade led to the impoverishment of Africa while enriching the European nations and America.
The impact of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade on Africa
Various researchers in Africa have documented several adverse effects of the trans-Atlantic slave trade on Africa’s economy, social structures, and institutions in West Africa and the African continent. The demand for enslaved people rose sharply in the 17th century as the Chesapeake tobacco plantations and the sugar plantations in the Caribbean expanded (Helg, 26). Thus, it robbed Africa of its energetic population, as strong men and women in their prime age were captured and shipped to Europe and America to provide free labor in plantations and industries. Furthermore, the trade led to political instability and social fragmentation. It increased lawlessness, and violence, as it provided incentives to warlords, who would capture and sell their fellow Africans to Europe and America (BBC, 2019).
The rapid depopulation of the African population due to the trade made agricultural development difficult. The continent lacked an energetic population to work in the agriculture sector because most people left behind were primarily dependent people, disabled, and elderly who could no longer contribute to the economic group (BBC). Moreover, the constant fear of being captured as enslaved made most men and women keep hiding, thus slowing economic development, especially in west African countries. The trade also changed the cultural landscape of African societies, as women had to assume roles played by men as most of them got captured and sold to slavery in Europe and America (BBC). With many family members being taken to slavery, communities lost their leaders and role models, thus leading to many hardships and instabilities, which is still evident in most West African countries, the most affected nations in Africa during the slave trade. The trade also left most African families in poverty and hunger as those left behind could not cater for themselves.
Furthermore, the trans-Atlantic trade led to many African deaths during their capturing and transit due to disease, hunger, and while trying to escape (Helg, 18). However, it’s also evident that the trade also benefited Africans; for instance, the Europeans brought valuable products such as clothes for Africans to wear and iron bars which revolutionized agriculture. However, guns brought by the Europeans only benefited specific communities’ trade as opposed to the African continent in general. For example, the increased demand for enslaved people and the availability of weapons as guns led to the emergence of powerful African kingdoms. They raided and camptured other communities through their powerful militaries, whom they sold to the Europeans and American merchants as enslaved people (Lecture Notes, 20). Therefore, it is arguable that Africa’s current underdevelopment results from trans-Atlantic trade.
The impact of trans-Atlantic trade on Europe and America
The trans-Atlantic trade is the most devastating human-forced migration in human history. Many Africans were forcefully shipped to Europe and America to work as butlers, domestic workers, cleaners, plantations, and many other positions (Whatley et al., 98). During this period slave trade became a lucrative business. Most of the goods the Europeans were exporting to Europe from Africa previously as many European merchants could earn more income from transporting and selling Africans as enslaved people in different parts of Europe and America (Manning, 46). Nonetheless, although the trade adversely affected Africa, it’s evident that Europe and America benefited positively from it because, as Africa’s economic, political, and social structures were deteriorating, the Europeans and Americans were becoming much more robust and more complex (Manning, 46).
Europe’s and America’s rapid economic growth can be attributed to the increased agricultural plantation, which usually benefited from the Africans, free labor. For example, it is believed that America’s economic strength was built by the enslaved people, who provided the country with free forced labor for centuries (Helg, 17). Moreover, countries such as Portugal developed their economy, social, and political structures, with gold and the free labor acquired from the enslaved Africans. Furthermore, owning many enslaved people became a form of wealth to the Europeans, considering that the value of their property depended on the number of enslaved people an individual was holding.
Furthermore, Europeans could acquire valuable goods such as coffee, tobacco, and sugar from Africa, which would then be shipped to Europe and America for consumption and trade. Ironically, the money accumulated from those products was then used to acquired more African slaves (Helg, 21). The enslaved people were the core drivers of the trade operations as coffee and sugar were needed for consumption and trade. Furthermore, most people captured during the trade were of prime-age, who worked in plantations and industries, eventually leading to more economic growth in European countries and America ((BBC). The trade led to enormous wealth generation among most individuals and companies dealing in the slave trade or benefiting from the free labor provided by the enslaved people in Europe and America. Europeans continued making weapons to conquer the world and enhance their boundaries.
Furthermore, the economic growth that Europe and America experienced due to free labor provided to the enslaved Africans led to the country’s technological advancement, especially in warfare, agriculture, and other sectors of the economy. Thus, making them powerful nations globally, as Africa lost its dominance in the world (BBC). While on the negative side slave trade created a notion that African-Americans, being of enslaved Africans’ ancestry, are not equal to white men, a notion that has caused the African American community much pain and misery in the United States due to racial discrimination and prejudice. Many African Americans are still losing their lives at the hands of racist Americans who believe inferior.
In conclusion, the trans-Atlantic slave trade was one of the most dehumanizing experiences that enslaved Africans had to go through. Furthermore, the trade had positive and negative impacts on Africa, Europe, and America. Africa was negatively impacted by trade, both economically, politically, and socially. The trade led to slow development in Africa on the economic side, as most of her resources and labor were shipped to Europe and America. While on the political ground, the trade led to insecurity and political instabilities that most African countries still experience today, leading to the emergence of warlords in the continent (Lecture Notes, 12).
Furthermore, the trade led to the collapse of social aspects of African communities as families were torn apart and increased poverty rates in most African countries whose resources got exploited by the Europeans. However, it’s evident that the trade greatly benefited Europeans and Americans who could acquire cheap labor and raw materials for their plantations and industries. The trade also weakened Africa and opened her to colonization. Therefore, its evident that the trans-Atlantic trade is responsible for the economic underdevelopment experienced by Africa today.
BBC. “Implications of the Slave Trade for African Societies – Revision 1 – Higher History – BBC Bitesize.” BBC Bitesize, 2019, www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zxt3gk7/revision/1.
Helg, Aline. Slave no more: self-liberation before abolitionism in the Americas. UNC Press Books, 2019.
Lecture Notes. Absolute Power: Way Before 1619, Europe, Africa and the Making of the Atlantic World.
Manning, Patrick. Slavery and African Life. Cambridge: Cambridge Up, 2000.
Whatley, Warren C., and Rob Gillezeau. “The Fundamental Impact of the Slave Trade on African Economies.” Economic Evolution and Revolution in Historical Time, 2011, pp. 86–110, www-personal.umich.edu/~baileymj/Whatley_Gillezeau.pdf.