Social & Economic Issues

Africa before Transatlantic Enslavement study ‘Africa before Transatlantic Enslavement‘ by USI(Understanding Slavery Initiative), a UK national learning project which specializes in researches regarding transatlantic slavery and its legacies through museum and heritage collections, reminds that some of the world’s great civilizations such as Kush, Axum, Mali, and Great Zimbabwe flourished in the years before 1500.

It was wealth, especially gold in great empires of West Africa such as Ghana, Mali, and Songhay, that induced Europeans to make voyages to Africa during the 13th and 14th centuries. As pointed out in the study, Africa before 1500 had developed sound economic and political systems. Difficult agricultural problems were solved, and Africa was engaged in local, regional, and even international trading networks. There were specialized miners, artists, and other knowledge professionals. Although some form of slavery existed in all forms of early civilizations and Africa no exception, transatlantic slavery under which Africans were exploited by colonial western rulers did immense harm to the fabric of African continent in an unprecedented way. It is at the heart of many problems that Africans still face today although slavery is banned officially in all respectable societies today.

Transatlantic slave trade led to the forceful immigration of tens and thousands of Africans. As Africa started underperforming, the capability of Africans as a race began to have a negative perception. Notions were put forward that Africa had never developed any institution and needed European assistance to make progress. This is despite the fact that some of the early civilizations existed in Africa, including the Nile valley civilization, Egypt over 5000 years ago. Africa is a place where some of the world’s great civilizations such as Kush, Axum, Mali, and Great Zimbabwe flourished in the years before 1500. It is ironical that it was a Muslim invasion with their North African conquest of the Iberian peninsula beginning the 8th century that led to the re-introduction of much of the knowledge of the ancient world to Europe!

The study under lens by UK-based USI reminds rich achievements of Egyptians in learning including mathematics, medicine, mechanics, philosophy, and agriculture. As a consequence, negative views by philosophers like David Hume in the 18th century, German Philosopher Hegel in the 19th century, or Hugh-Trevor-Roper in the 20th century regarding Africans cannot stand the scrutiny. 

It hurts when unjustified doubts are raised about Africans. One cannot definitely agree with some of the claims in the study like Pythagoras theorem known to the Africans hundreds of years before Pythagoras’ birth. Most of the contents, otherwise, in the study are supported by wider findings by other historians on the issue. For instance, the Muslim conquest of the Iberian peninsula in the 7th century is supported by Medieval Sourcebook: Ibn Abd-el-Hakem: The Islamic Conquest of Spain.

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