1. Abolition of Trans Atlantic Slave Trade (Triangular Slave Trade)
  2. Abolition of Slave Trade in the Indian Ocean (East Africa Slave Trade)



The triangular slave trade was a kind of trade that was conducted between three continents of Africa (western parts), America and Europe (especially the Western parts of Europe)

The trade involved traders from Europe who came with industrial goods and exchanged with slaves and precious goods in Africa (gold, diamond, silver) where they took slaves and other goods to America.

There, slaves produced agricultural raw materials and minerals where Europeans took them to Europe for manufacturing goods.

Slave taken in Africa were shipped to America through the Atlantic Ocean where they were enslaved in various economic sector. Such trade relation formed a Triangle Shape which came to be known Triangular Trade.


This trade is believed to have been started at the late of the 15th century and extended up to the dawn of the18th century where it was abolished.


The main participants were traders from Europe who controlled the trade.  Others were African local Chief who offered slaves to European traders in exchange of European industrial goods. The starting point of the operation of the Triangular Slave Trade was in Europe and the trade also ended in Europe.

The Commodities involved:

  • From Europe

From Europe, traders brought in Africa industrial manufactured goods like cloth, drinks, cigarettes, guns and gunpowder, ornaments, utensils and other which were exchanged with slaves and other precious goods in Africa

  • From Africa

From Africa, European traders exchanged their goods and obtained slaves and other precious goods like gold, ivory, silver and animal skins. Slaves were taken to America and West Indies ss(Caribbean Island) to work in the plantations and mines established by Europeans.

  • From America

From America, Europeans obtained agricultural raw materials for examples cotton, sisal, tea and tobacco and minerals to Europe to be manufactured in industries.


The rise and development of Triangular Slave trade was contributed by a number of factors. Some of the factors were as follows:

The rise of merchants class in Europe

The emergence of traders in Europe by the 15th c led to the demand of capital for industrial development. This led to the development of the trade.

The discovery of America(New World)

The discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492 led to the development of the Triangular Slave trade.

The establishment of plantations and mines in America

After the discovery of America, Europeans established different crop plantations like cotton and tobacco plantations in West Indies. These demanded labour hence development of the trade.

Failures of Red Indians in plantations

At the beginning, Europeans used the natives of America (Red Indians) in their plantations as labourers. But these people failed to work effectively like what Europeans expected. This made Europeans to come in Africa to find labourers hence development of the trade.

Advancement in marine technology

The development of marine technology (ship building and compass direction) simplified transportation between Africa, America and Europe. In this way, the development of the trade became inevitable.

Geographical position of the three continent

America, Africa and Europe situates nearby each others. This also made it easier for the development of the trade.

Availability of slaves in West Africa

Slaves and other precious commodities like ivory, gold and diamond were much available in West Africa. This made the development of the trade to become inevitable.

The role of African local rulers in West Africa

In West Africa, some rulers involved directly in the Triangular Trade by organizing slaves and assisting the European traders to conduct trade in West Africa. Some of these were King Agaja, Alfin Abipa, Alfin Ojago and Alafin Ojig. This also contributed to the development of Triangular trade.


Some of the effects of the Triangular Trade especially in West Africa were as follows:

Led to depopulation because of involved use of slave

Many Africans were taken as slaves to America in order to work in European plantations and mines. This reduced the number of Africans especially in West Africa.

Led famine and hunger due to poor production

The trade also led to famine and hunger because production failed to continue due to the loss of manpower in Africa. The ones who were taken as slaves were only the able bodied people and not the old and the children.

Led to family separation/disintegration

Triangular trade also accelerated family separation due to taking of Africans as slaves to America and the West Indies.

Led to the collapse of the Trans-Sahara trade

The trade contributed to the total decline of the Trans Sahara trade. By the end of the 15th c, Trans Sahara could not continue due to the beginning of Triangular trade.

Stimulated slavery and slave trade

The trade also stimulated the development of slavery and slave trade in Africa particularly in West Africa. Many African local rulers also largely involved in buying and selling slaves in the region.

The collapse of some kingdom

Triangular slave trade led to the decline of some kingdoms in West Africa especially those which depended on selling goods and not slaves to Europeans. Some of them were Ghana, Mali, and Songhai etc.

The rise of some states

The trade led to especially those based on slavery Tokolar, Ife, Dahomey etc


The trade generally accelerated the underdevelopment of Africa in all aspects socially, politically and economically.


The Trans Atlantic Slave Trade was established purely for economic reasons and so was it abolished.

Ending the Atlantic Slave Trade was not an overnight event because it took a long process that involved changing economic circumstances.

Denmark was the first European country to abolish the slave trade in 1792. Great Britain followed in 1807 and throughout its colonies in 1834 and the United States in 1808. The Netherlands followed in 1814, France in 1815, Spain in 1820. Cuba was the last to outlaw slavery in 1888.

At the Congress of Vienna in 1814, Great Britain exerted its influence to induce other foreign powers to adopt a similar policy, and eventually nearly all the states of Europe passed laws or entered into treaties prohibiting the traffic. It remained for the British, who controlled the world’s most powerful fleet to enforce anti-slave trade laws.

The Ashburton Treaty of 1842 between Great Britain and the USA provided for the maintenance by each country of a squadron on the African coast to enforce prohibition of the trade. And in 1845 a joint cooperation of the naval forces of England and France was substituted for the mutual right of abolishing the trade.

The French slaves had freedom conferred on them in 1848; the Dutch slaves in 1863. Most of the new Republics of South America provided for the emancipation of slaves at the time of their establishment. In Brazil, however, slavery was not abolished until 1888.


The reasons for the abolition of Triangular Trade are categorized into two major groups which are

  1. Economic (Afro centric) reasons.
  2. Non–Economic (Eurocentric) reasons.

Economic are regarded by African historians as a genuine reasons for the abolition of slave trade in the World.


These are reasons given out by Eurocentric Scholars who in most cases were Europeans. To them, abolition of slave trade was not due to economic reasons but rather social and political factors. The reasons were:

Humanitarian reasons

Antislavery sentiments began to appear in Europe in the 18th C with roots in Christian religious principles. Human rights groups strongly opposed slave trade. They claimed that slavery was inhumane and against human rights and that it had to be abolished.

Evangelical/religious reasons

Evangelists in Britain and other European countries campaigned for the abolition of slave trade. They claimed that slavery was against the will of God and so it was sinful.  Missionaries like Dr. Livingston came to Africa to campaign for the abolition.

Roles of writers

Writers played an important role in the shutting down of slave trade. They wrote all evils brought about by the slave trade. This caused outrage to the public. Such writers included William Smith of Britain.

The role of economists

They unveiled the losses brought about by slave trade. Adam Smith who is also considered as the father of economics had written and provided lectures on the economic implications of slavery

The French revolution of 1789

The pillars of the revolution (equality, liberty, fraternity, humanity) had inspired many people both in France and around the world. Since slave trade was incompatible with the ideals of the revolution, more campaigns were waged against slave trade

Slave resistance

Bloody slave rebellions somehow discouraged the trade. For example the slave revolt on the French island of Saint-Dominguez (now called Haiti) in 1791.


These were the central reasons for the abolition of slave trade. They were given out by Afro centric scholars who in most cases were of African origin trying to shape the history of Africa and challenging the Eurocentric perspectives.

Much wealth obtained during Mercantilism through brutal ways was heavily invested in industries leading to Industrial Revolution, which at first occurred in Britain in 1750 and later to other European countries by the mid of 19th c(1850s). Slavery became incompatible with the development of industrial economy because the revolution led to:

Growth of science and technology

The industrial revolution contributed to development of science and tech which enabled the manufacture of many machines that simplifies work. Slaves were becoming less useful because machines could alternatively do their (slave) jobs hence to continue keeping slaves was becoming less profitable and uneconomic

Shortage of raw materials

Industrial revolution created a severe shortage of raw materials in Europe. Most of these materials (like palm oil) were found in Africa. So slaves had to be set free and remain in Africa to produce the required materials.

Shortage of market

Because each country in Europe had many industries, another problem emerged; shortage of market. Slaves had to be set free and remain in Africa where they would provide good market for European goods

British and French competition in sugar production

 British campaigned for the abolition of slave trade in order to deprive the French of labor (to prevent French from getting a free labor from slaves) in their sugar plantations in Re-Union and Mauritius Islands so that Britain (who was the first to industrialize hence had machines), could remain the sole (monopoly) supplier of sugar in the world. British believed that after the abolition, French would no longer be able to produce sugar because there would be no any source of free labor

American independence

USA got independence in 1776 and hence making it more difficult for Europeans to depend on for raw materials. With this, there were no reasons to continue to keep or take slaves to America

The impact of a combination of all the above forces eventually led to the abolition of this filth and evil trade that was in operation for more than 400 years (from 15th to 19th c).

Britain then started to influence other European countries and Arabs to pass anti slavery laws and to stop it completely. However this was not easy because some nations especially the Arabs were still benefiting from the trade. Thus in East Africa where Arab dominance was eminence, slave trade took longer time to be abolished.



What is a slave?

A slave is a person who is owned by another person just like any other commodities. He can be bought or sold just like other commodities in the markets.

What is slave trade?

Slave trade is the buying and selling of human being just like other commodities in the markets

In East Africa, slave trade began far back in the 7th c during the time when the coast of East Africa had interactions with the Middle East and Far East Asia. During this time, slaves were needed to work in domestic activities in Asia and also work in different activities especially in plantations

.The rate of slave trade in East Africa increased much from the 15th c when the Portuguese arrived along the coast of East Africa. The coming of the Portuguese intensified slave trade because they wanted slaves to carry precious raw materials like ivory, gold and animal skins. Also they needed slaves to work in domestic works and other activities.

In 1700s, after the end of Portuguese rule, the Oman Arabs conquered again the coast of East. Africa. The conquest of Arabs in the 1700s again intensified slavery activities. In 1840, the Oman Sultan, Seyyid Said arrived in Zanzibar and led to the development of slavery and slave trade in East Africa.


(Especially in the 19th c)

The rise and development of slave trade in East Africa by the 19th c was attributed by a number of circumstances as follows:

The coming of sultan Seyyid Said in Zanzibar by the 19th

This led to demand of more slaves in Zanzibar because the sultan depended from slave trade as a way to increase his wealthy.

The opening of sugar plantations by the French in Madagascar, Re-union Islands, Comoro and Seychelles

The French wanted labourers who could work on those plantations. This as a result led to the increase of slave trade in East Africa.

The establishment of clove and coconut plantations by the sultan in Zanzibar

The sultan in Zanzibar wanted labourers who could work on those plantations. This as a result led to the increase of slave trade in East Africa

The need of slaves in Arabia, Asia and Persian Gulf

Slaves were needed to work in domestic activities in Asia,Arabia and Persian Gulf and also work in different activities especially in plantations.

The involvement of African local rulers in slave trade

During the 19th c, several African local rulers involved much in the trade. These included Machemba, Chief Mponda, Nyungu ya Mawe, Milambo, Abushiri just to mention the few.

The profitability of the trade

This attracted much the Arabs and other African traders such as Nyungu ya Mawe not to abandon the trade due to the profit obtained from the trade.

Establishment of slave markets

The opening of slave markets in Zanzibar, Bagamoyo, Kilwa and Mombasa intensified the rate of slave trade in East Africa.


In East Africa, slaves were obtained through the use of different mechanisms. Some of the methods used to obtain slaves were as follows:

Through selling of debtors

-People who were in one way or another in debt were sold like slaves.

Through village raiding

-Villages were raided and the people were caught in that incident.

Through selling of the criminals

-People with cases and those who were criminals in courts were taken and sold or bought as slaves.

Through domestic servants

-Also slaves were obtained through selling of the domestic workers (servants)

Through selling of war captives

-Those who were caught as war captives were sold and bought as slaves

Through ambushing people who were in activities or walks.

Through kidnapping people in different places.


The East African Slave trade was organized in a particular ways in such a way that the trade operated successful. The following was how the trade was organized in East Africa:

  • Through capital

At this aspect, the Indian Banyans who settled at the coastal of East Africa provided capital to slave traders who were to accumulate slaves.

  • Through caravans

Caravan routes were set out from the coast of East Africa to the hinterland. Arabs and Swahili traders dominated these caravans. Some of these were Afro-Arabs such as:

  1. Hemed bin Majid( Tipu Tippu)
  2. Mlozi and Rumaliza where these based on Ujiji and Congo.
  3. Abushiri and Bwana Heri at the coast.
  • Through involvement of local rulers

The trade also involved African local rulers especially in the interior parts. These involved in gathering slaves ready to be sold by slave traders from the coast, for examples Machemba and Nyungu ya Mawe.

  • Through establishment of slave markets

Slave markets were established especially along the coast of East Africa and in some other centers in the interior which were called Calling Stations for example Kotakota.


During East African slave trade, the caravan routes involved were three. These caravan routes were as follows:

  • Southern Caravan Route

This route started from Kilwa and passed at Uhehe and went through the southern tips of lake Nyasa to Malawi and Zambia.

The route was dominated by theYao who were at the beginning under Chief Mataka,Mponda and later Chief Machemba who dominated from Kilwa and Mikindani where from Uhehe the route was under Mkwawa.

The calling stations were Kotakota, Karonga and Chikole.

  • The Central Caravan Route

This route started from Bagamoyo through Tabora and it went through Eastern Zaire and other parts of Central Africa.

The route was dominated by the Nyamwezi who were under Milambo at the beginning and later on Mtemi Isike and Chief Fundikira of Unyanyembe together with Nyungu Ya Mawe of Ukimbu.

Mlozi and Rumaliza operated between Ujiji and Tabora where Hemed bin Majid (Tipu Tippu) operated from Ujiji to Zaire.

The calling stations were Kilosa, Mpwapwa and Ujiji

  • Northern Caravan route

It ran from Pangani, Mombasa in southern Kenya and passed through interior parts of southern Kenya and northen parts of Tanganyika via Lake Victoria to Buganda.

The Abolition of Slave Trade in East Africa was not easy because some nations especially the Arabs were still benefiting from the trade. Thus in East Africa where Arab dominance was eminence, slave trade took longer time to be abolished.


QN: Why did slave trade take longer to be abolished in East Africa than in the West?

British started their campaign very late in East Africa. This was due to interest and distance.

High demand of slaves. Slaves were still needed by Arabs in clove plantation in Zanzibar and by the French in sugar plantation in Re-Union and Mauritius islands.

Vastness of Indian Ocean. British patrol ships could not effectively stop all slave ship around the vast Indian Ocean.

Profit obtained from the trade encouraged some Africans and Arabs to continue slave trade

Britain had little influence over the sultan of Zanzibar who took very weak steps towards the abolition although he had signed a number of treaties like the Moresby treaty- 1822, Harmerton treaty-1845 and the Frere treaty-1873.

Shortage of Personnel. Slave abolitionists were fewer in number than slave dealers

Corruption of some officials. Some of abolitionists were corrupt hence hampered the efforts to stop slaver.

The location of East Africa is far more distant than that of west Africa from Britain where all campaigns to stop slavery were coordinated

Weakness of British patrol boats


Slave trade was the most profitable trade at the time. Some organizations, individuals, states and leaders were so much attached to it (in terms of getting the profits) that they were neither willing nor had the audacity to stop it.

Because of this, the abolition of slavery was a very difficulty, challenging and time consuming process. In spite of all the reasons to abolish slavery (as explained above), slave trade continued as it was once at its height.

So, the abolitionists took the following stages:

  1. Signing of treaties.

British and other campaigners entered various treaties with different people to convince to stop slaver. Some of these treaties are

  1. The Moresby Treaty (1822). Captain Moresby concluded a treaty with Sultan Seyyid Said that the Sultan shouldn’t     sell any slave out of his domination. However, despite the treaty, slavery continued
  2. The Harmer ton Treaty(1845). The treaty was signed between the British commander Hamerton and the Sultan of Sultan Seyyid Said, the treaty demanded the Sultan that, no slave should be sold out of East Africa neither by him nor by any other dealer.
  3. The Frere Mission Treaty – 1873. The treaty was signed between Captain Bartle Frere and Sultan Seyyid Bagharsh (the son of Seyyid Said) in Zanzibar. The treaty stated that, there should neither be slavery nor slave trade in this his dominion
  1. Closing of the slave market. The abolitionists attempted to close slave markets. For example, the Zanzibar slave market was closed in 1873.
  2. The British and other campaigners, persuaded other people or countries to stop slave trade
  3. Passing of laws to outlaw slavery, various governments passed ant-slavery laws which legally, put slave trade to an end. For example, Denmark passed it in 1792, Great Britain in 1807, USA in 1808, Sweden and Holland in 1813, Netherlands followed in 1814, France in 1815, Portugal in 1817, Spain in 1820 and Cuba as well as Brazil outlawed slavery in 1888
  4. Use of force/ military techniques. In case of the failure of other methods, force was used to free slaves. British used their Navy Patrol Boats to stop slave shipping


The slave trade in East Africa had numerous impacts in the region. Some of the effects of the trade were as follows:


This was because people were taken out of the region to other parts of Africa and the world as slaves.

Separation of family

The trade also led to separation of societies and families where people were taken to different parts of the globe.

Decline of production

The trade also led to the decline of production in agriculture and other production activities due to loss of manpower.

Growth and spread of Swahili language

The language spread in the hinterland of East Africa.


People of different parts intermarried each other due to this trade. The Nyamwezi, Yao and Arabs for instance intermarried to other people of the coast and interior parts.

Technological stagnation

The trade accelerated the stagnation of technology in East Africa. This was due to the decline of Agriculture and local industries.

Emergence of powerful leaders

Powerful leaders emerged out of the trade due to richness. These were for examples Nyungu ya Mawe, Machemba etc.

Growth of chiefdoms

Other chiefdoms expanded much due to their involvement in the trade. A good example was Ukimbu chiefdom under Nyungu ya Mawe.


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