How was the continent of Africa enslaved from the 15th to 19th century? Was it because the technology of the Europeans was that much better for them to be able to do that?


How was the continent of Africa enslaved from the 15th to 19th century? Was it because the technology of the Europeans was that much better for them to be able to do that?

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Are you talking about slavery or colonization? Slavery was a common practice in Africa during that period, and many tribes kept members of other tribes the conquered in battle as slaves.

Colonization was driven by a quest for materials, and a widespread belief in Westphalian government structures with sovereignty over a geographic boundary. In Africa they found migratory tribes, which they found “not as good a government” than the one they could impose. In their mind, they were “helping” Africans.

It is complicated, local tribes in Africa often were in conflict with each other and occasionally prisoners were kept after and used as slaves, these handful of slaves were then sold to the first visiting Europeans in exchange for metal, weapons and other items which gave the tribe an advantage over others. The tribes then went on raids with their new equipment and took more slaves, the Europeans then set up trading posts n the coast where substantial number of slaves were sold in exchange for equipment and encouraged the tribes to seize more slaves..

So firstly slavery already existed in Africa – Europeans upped the stakes significantly though. Secondly much of Africa was not populated or developed – Europeans using the African coastline to get to India would setup trading posts which in turn grew and grew. Thirdly Europeans got the African populations to work with them and treat with them by exchanging goods which included firearms and alcohol. Lastly when Africans fought back the Europeans brought out the canons. Attacking colonial powers armed with artillery pretty much never went in favor of the natives.

African kingdoms and tribes went to war with each other, just like anywhere else, and sometimes the winners would capture prisoners to sell into slavery, as the “spoils of war”.

The Europeans came to African port cities looking to sell guns and buy gold and spices and cloth. Some of these cities had slave markets. The Europeans who had just founded colonies in the Americas had a desperate need for *labor* to work the sugar plantations they’d set up there. It was nearly impossible to get Europeans to come work those plantations voluntarily, as the conditions were so miserable, so the only way to get labor was to buy slaves.

The Europeans bought all the slaves they could get their hands on. It spurred the African kingdoms to go to war *more* so they could capture even more slaves and make even more money selling the slaves to the Europeans.

That’s how it worked for 300-400 years, from the late 1400s to the 1800s. The Europeans didn’t *conquer* sub-Saharan Africa for most of that period. The Portuguese captured a few port cities around the continent, and the Dutch conquered some bits of South Africa and settled there. But for the most part Africa remained independent. It was only in the mid-to-late 1800s that two technological inventions allowed Europe to completely dominate Africa. The drug *quinine* was discovered to be a cure for malaria, which used to kill nearly every European soldier sent to Africa. And then the *Gatling gun* gave European empires a huge military advantage that the Africans couldn’t beat. So by the 1890s all of Africa was colonized by European empires, except for Ethiopia.

I think it would be wrong to say that Africa was enslaved.

Two different things happened.

Europeans bought enslaved people mostly from other Africans to ship to the Americas and elsewhere.

Europeans also colonized most of Africa. While some of the ways that European colonizer lorded over the locals qualified as slavery, much of it was not quite there.

For the most part Europeans had the advantage of more advanced military tech similar to how they had that advantage over the native Americans. Unlike with the Americas, Africa actually had the advantage when it came to diseases, especially in the tropical regions.

So outside of the North and very south of the continent. Europeans never settled in large numbers. they had skeleton crews that ruled the lands with the help of native proxies who did most of the work and who in turn ruled over the other natives.

The often exploited tribal and ethnic rivalries or created new ones to have a class of loyal subject who would help them exploit the others.