From reading Wikipedia, it's not clear how much the slave trade to the middle east from Africa declined, or when. If it declined, did that coincide with

1) the turn of the century, when almost all of Africa was colonized by Europeans?

2) the end of the first world war?

3) the establishment of the UN and international laws against slavery?

Note: I am aware that a slave trade still exists. Decline is not the same thing as disappearance.

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    Not sure which Wikipedia you checked but Arab slave trade has this: "In the 1800s, the slave trade from Africa to the Islamic countries picked up significantly when the European slave trade dropped around the 1850s only to be ended with European colonisation of Africa around 1900." Commented May 24, 2020 at 10:49
  • The slave trade still exists though. Presumably it declined more than once. I'll revise the question when I get a chance
    – Ne Mo
    Commented May 24, 2020 at 11:07
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    Welcome to History:Stack Exchange. Thank you for your question, but please consider revising it to be more in line with our community expectations. Like many other stacks, we expect questions to provide evidence of prior research. That helps us to understand the question, and avoids our repeating work you've already done. Our help center center, and other stacks provide additional resources to assist with revisions.
    – MCW
    Commented May 24, 2020 at 11:08
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    @Alex That's about importing slaves from Europe, not Africa.
    – Spencer
    Commented May 24, 2020 at 17:55
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    There is also a Wikipedia article on the Arab slave trade: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_slave_trade
    – Alex
    Commented May 24, 2020 at 20:00

1 Answer 1


Officially, the African leg of the Arab slave trade ended in 1923 when Ethiopia, one of the last countries where slavery was legal, definitely outlawed it after years of incremental legislation against the practice. This was done by the Ras Tafari (later known as Emperor Haile Selassie) in order to gain admittance to the League of Nations.

Of course, the slave trade continued after that point. Inside Ethiopia, due to social & economic resistance to its abolition, people remained enslaved due to the financial investments slaves represented, as well as the limited reach of the Ethiopian government. (At the time, the Ethiopian government relied on the help of local aristocrats to exercise its power, many of whom were slave owners. Nevertheless, progressive elements in Ethiopian society persisted in freeing slaves & limiting the trade.) Slavery in Ethiopia only came to a definitive end under the Italian occupation (1936-1942). It must be emphasized that the Italian Fascists did not end slavery for altruistic reasons, but to weaken Ethiopian traditional society & strengthen their hold on the country.

Outside of Ethiopia, the trade continued much longer. Despite control of the major ports, the English & Italians could not stop every small boat that crossed the Red Sea with kidnapped people destined for the slave markets of the Arabian peninsula. Evidence of this comes from one Western tourist, Rosita Forbes, who writes:

When I was in Yemen in 1923, Abyssinian slaves fetched a high price and the harems of the Tehama were full of girls who could not speak a word of Arabic, so they could not have been long away from their native Ethiopia. (cited in Richard Pankhurst, Economic History of Ethiopia (Addis Ababa, 1968), p. 127)

For further information, Pankhurst devotes an entire chapter to the Ethiopian portion of the Arab slave trade, & Harold G. Marcus Haile Sellassie I: The Formative Years (1892-1936) (Lawrenceville: Red Sea Press, 1996) discusses the politics behind Ethiopia's abolition of slavery.

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    De jure slavery is illegal in Ethiopia. De facto it still is. I witnessed it, personally.
    – Jos
    Commented May 25, 2020 at 23:38

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