Triangular Trade, Slavery, and Reparations to...
Triangular Trade, Slavery, and Reparations to Africans and African Descendants ~
Slavery and slave trade
have significantly featured in several parts of the world for the major part of
the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.
Africa provided a majority of the slaves who were traded within this era, which
destabilized her people and impeded her development. Despite providing an
important factor of production and supporting the financial development of the
countries they were sold to, these slaves subjected to extensive psychological
and physical torture. In consonance with Walter Rodney’s argument, Europe’s use
of slavery and the triangular trade ought to require former slaveholding
countries to pay reparations to Africans and African descended peoples.
Existing in the 18th and
19th centuries, the triangular trade system was carried out by three
participants. These included Britain, West Africa, and the West Indies, with
Britain as the major player in this trade.
The first side of the triangle involved the trade between Britain and West Africa.
The British would trade their goods, which included such things as guns, for
the slaves in West Africa. They would then transport these slaves to the West
Indies where some of the slaves were sold, forming the second side of the
The West Indies was mainly involved in plantation agriculture where slave labor
was extensively used to increase production. Caribbean products like sugar and
rum were offered to the British in exchange for the slaves.
The British then took the products to their country, completing the triangular
The slave trade stimulated
several developments in vital sectors of the British economy.
The insurance industry was one of the sectors which benefitted largely.
The slave traders’ travels involved movement across vast bodies of water. This
posed considerable risks, including death and loss of cargo which led to a huge
demand for insurance cover. Marine insurance, therefore, experienced major
growth within this period. The banking and discount market were also major
beneficiaries of this trade. As the demand for slaves grew, the merchants
needed greater financial resources to meet this demand. The slave trade,
however, needed the merchants to travel over long distances and this meant that
their resources would be held up for long periods of time. This hindered their
ability to operate effectively, necessitating the use of credit to acquire the
slaves. Consequently, several banks whose main activity involved discounting
slave bills and providing credit facilities to slave traders sprang up.
Additionally, the slave trade led to the advancement in the shipping industry.
For instance, the slave vessels often needed repair and costly outfit which led
to more investments into the building, outfit, and repair of vessels. In turn, the metal trades, which provided
support to the aforementioned activities blossomed.
These included the metal ore mining, copper, brass, coal mining, and
Other supporting industries also began to
develop as a result of the slave trade. For instance, guns were a major trade
item as they were often exchanged for slaves.
Equally, the cotton textile industry experienced major expansion as cotton
exports to West Africa were a key trade item. The West Indies also registered a higher
production due to the use of slave labor in their farms. On the other hand, the
slave trade denied West Africa the much-needed labor force. It also led to
instability due to the oppression and wars stirred by the merchants and leaders
participating in the trade.
Rodney calls for the perpetrators’ reparations
to the victims. To justify these calls,
he holds that the slave trade within the triangular trade system impacted
negatively on the economic development of Africa. First, he argues that the slave trade led to
depopulation within Africa. In this line, he views the population as a
contributor to technical advancements in the existing African context. The African community was a primitive
agrarian society. As evident in other communities with similar production
modes, technological change had a close relationship with population pressure.
The researcher also argued that the slave trade rid Africa of potential
inventors. Similarly, in an effort to produce slaves for the slave merchants,
wars were often stirred. These wars, he holds, impeded technological
advancements within the region.
Finally, Rodney argued that Africans’ compensation for their kinsmen’s slavery
was inadequate. In this line, the researcher argued that the merchants provided
the Africans with poor quality products.
For instance, they would offer them cheap gin, poor quality beads, and damaged
In my opinion, Rodney’s call for reparation is
justified. First, the Africans sold into
slavery were captured against their will.
Similarly, they were not compensated for their service in the slave
dependent countries despite the benefit they accorded their masters. In most cases,
their families were harmed in an effort to capture them and the loss of young
people in their prime impacted the economy of the African countries from which
they were sourced.
Some challengers of
Rodney’s call base their argument on the evidence of sophisticated African
traders who would often strike hard bargains and the Marxist perspective under
which the term “unequal exchange” is non-existent.
However, this ignores the plight of the masses and focuses on few beneficiaries
of this trade, such as the African rulers who used this trade to consolidate
their power through the acquisition of sophisticated weapons and horses.
Another contradictory argument is that the slaves taken from Africa could not
have contributed to any substantial technological development due to the
limitations put in place by the existing African society.
This group views Africa’s economic underdevelopment as a result of the social
relations existing in precapitalist Africa.
Considering that the slave traders had embraced capitalism earlier, it
can be argued that it gave them an edge over Africa in terms of development.
While this argument is largely valid, it also ignores the fact that the
restitution is necessary for that which the slaves were not compensated after
doing. The technological advancements in the slaveholding countries were
largely based on the use of slave labor. Consequently, these advancements may
have been impossible to achieve without an adequate pool of slave labor.
While it is evident that the slaves were not the sole contributors to these
technological advancements and their participation may have been limited to the
unskilled and slightly skilled labor offered in various industries, it would be
partial to deny the need for reparation for their uncompensated service. The
slaves were also denied the opportunities which were granted to the citizens of
the slave holding countries. As a result, the African slaves’ descendants
continue to register a low quality of life in their current countries.
I would be willing to
support a reparation strategy which took into account the effects of the trade
on the African countries and the impact of the slavery on the African slaves’
descendants living in the slaveholding countries. With regard to the later, the
strategy should weigh the effect of segregation, slavery, and racial violence
on their current lives. In most cases, the effects of slavery continue
influencing the social, economic, and political standing of these
descendants. For this group of people,
it would be necessary for the reparations to involve those actions which would
put these descendants on level ground with the rest of the citizens. These may
include providing them with equal opportunities and countering existing
institutional discrimination. For the countries from which slaves were taken,
the strategy should offer them an agreeable compensation through such things as
loans and grants or technological assistance. This would compensate for the
possibility that the slave trade compromised their technological development.
Evidently, the slave trade
was a major economic activity between the 18th and the 20th century. The
triangular trade system involving Britain, the West Indies and West Africa was
one of the major trade systems which supported the slave trade.
Notably, this trade impacted the technological advancement of the diverse
players. Considering that its effect on Africa and African descendants was
largely negative while its impact on slaveholding countries was positive, it is
necessary for the later to pay reparations to Africans and African descended
people. Moreover, some traces of the vices which plagued the slaves in those
days have not been eradicated in totality leading to things like institutional