I know that some African nations participated in the slave trade by providing captured enemies as slaves to Europeans, but what are some of the reasons they did? Was it simply a new economic opportunity that they took advantage of and sought to use to gain advantage against their rivals?

I'm looking for a nice synthesis of the issue and some decent sourcing to other materials, or book recommendations.

  • For the money, obviously.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 17:37
  • 1
    Please document your preliminary research
    – MCW
    Commented May 30, 2022 at 12:48
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bantu_expansion Do you know about Bantu expansion, the longest genocide in history? Pushing weaker or less warlike tribes to extinction was the norm. "Assimilation" usually does not mean "peaceful fair trade and cultural awe". At least, Khoisans had to flee to the desert, and pygmies to the forest, for some reason. If somebody wanted to pay for slaves... why wouldn't they go along?
    – Luiz
    Commented May 30, 2022 at 13:14
  • @Luiz: The Bantu expansion is a hypothesis of a migration from about 1000 BCE to 1 AD mostly founded in linguistical research, and "genocide" doesn't feature into it. Your comment makes it look as if genocidal Bantu expanded from the 16th to the 19th century and sold everyone into slavery who didn't run fast enough.
    – DevSolar
    Commented May 30, 2022 at 13:46

2 Answers 2


As I've understood it, selling entire tribes or large parts of it was already an ancient use. This was useful to the victors for money, as well as power and the guarantee that the particular tribe wouldn't attack them in the near future.

Furthermore, slave trade deep into Africa was also in use by the Arabs, who, like the Europeans did at first, bought the slaves from local leaders. The Europeans were just a new customer in their early periods there, in that sense.

  • I'm more so curious as to what factors (political, economic, social) contributed to those African nations being willing to engage in the trade. For example, was there frequent war between people in Africa prior to the arrival of the Europeans looking for slaves? That sort of thing.
    – ihtkwot
    Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 20:58
  • As I've understood there was. From early European descriptions of their journeys to Africa we know that they already did such things. I don't believe they were biased as slavery wasn't really in use yet in the first place. Furthermore, Arabs had the use of buying slaves aswel, which began far before the time that Europeans came.
    – Meike
    Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 22:17
  • 1
    @ihtkwot: Basically all nations at that time were frequently involved into one war or the other.
    – sbi
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 15:46
  • 2
    @Meike: That started long before the Arab slave traders bought slaves in Africa. As mgb said, this is at least as old a custom as ancient Egypt.
    – sbi
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 15:47

Read the journals of David Livingstone, Henry Stanley, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, Olaudah Equiano, Quobna Ottobah, Ignatius Sancho.... You will learn more about slavery and what the world was like a few hundred years ago from these journals than from second hand historical accounts. Slavery has no color or nation. From early times, small tribes beat up their neighbors. The tribes stole their neighbors' women and sheep and killed their men and boys-- or sold them. Everyone did it. Tribes attacked their enemies and sold them, which was more profitable than killing them. Everyone was guilty. People lived in a world where they were starving; they ate cakes made of mashed bugs. The rules were different, and destitute Africans sold other Africans in a huge slave market, which was run by Arabs and Portuguese for hundreds of years. These Portuguese and Arabian sultans were rich from the ivory trade. The Africans made money selling ivory, and slaves to carry the ivory. The slaves, if they survived hauling the heavy ivory through central Africa, were sold to the ivory buyers, which were the Arabs and Portuguese. They then made a profit selling the ivory and the people who hauled it. There was only one way to enter the interior of Africa and carry ivory; no pack animal could do it-- they all died. Only Africans, walking, could do the job. Native Americans stole people from neighboring tribes as well. This shame has no color; all people of every color and nation have oppressed their neighbors until a greater oppressor comes along and oppresses them. Europe was terrorized by Napoleon; The Sioux terrorized the less powerful tribes in North America; the Zulu did the same in Africa.... Some people act like greedy bullies regardless of where they are and what color they are. Some people are good, some are bad. Their races and nationality don't make a difference. Their reasons are all the same: power and greed.

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