The growth of external contacts and pressures
The slave trade in East Africa


Slave trade in East Africa
Organisation of slave trade
Abolition of slave trade
Slave Trade Pictures and Play
Learners' activities

Abolition of slave trade

Reasons why it was difficult to stop slave trade
  • Slavery existed before in Africa societies that is to say, domestic slavery and internal slave trade, which provided a favourable situation for continuation of the lucrative  slave trade.

  • The Abolition movement which had begun in Britain and her overseas territory first took effect in West Africa. The decline in west African trade encouraged the expansion of trade in East Africa especially with America and West Indies.  

  • Slave trade was difficult to stop because of division of African tribes against each other .This meant that African tribes would find it difficult to unite together and resist the slave traders, who raided their societies using organised bands of men.

  • Disregard of human life ,many African rulers tended to put less value for the lives of their subjects  whom they ruled for example quite often, a ruler of a tribe would easily order his warriors to attack the villages  of his subjects and seize their property ,kill some of them .   

  • Active participation and willing cooperation of African chiefs and coastal traders who were making a lot of profits made the slave trade last for so long.

  • Many European countries depended on the products of slave labour in West Indies and America for example, British industries depended on raw sugar, raw cotton and unprocessed minerals from America which she was not willing to loose.

  • European slave merchants and Africans involved in the trade were blinded by the huge profits made from the trade.

  • There was smuggling of slaves outside the forbidden areas. Slave traders would pretend to sail northwards when sighted by British patrol ships but would change course after British navy ships had disappeared.

  • Other European countries refused to co-operate with Britain to end slave trade because they had not yet become industrialized, and therefore they still benefited from it for example Portugal and Spain.

  • The only economic alternative of slave trade was Agriculture which was not reliable compared to the booming slave trade.

  • The anti slavery campaign was too expensive for Britain alone to compensate slave owners.

  • Stopping slave trade in the interior was difficult  because Arabs  were in control  of large areas.

  • The East African coastline was long which delayed the anti-slavery group penetration in the interior.

  • Due to the tropical climate, most British personnel were affected by malaria which hindered the stopping of Slave trade.

  • Seyyid Said and Bargash were always unwilling to end slave trade at once due to fear of losing revenue and risk of rebellion by Arabs who found it profitable.

  • The anti-slavery group was small compared to the East African Coast.

  • European powers continued with slave trade, they shipped the slaves cargos in to ships bearing American Flags.

Factors that led to the abolition of slave trade

It  was the British government that began the abolition  of the slave trade during the years,1822 -  1826 . This was because of the pressure by various groups based on different  factors;  

  • Rise of humanitarians  in Europe such as Christians and scholars condemned it on moral grounds. The missionaries wanted it to be stopped because they wanted good conditions for the spread of Christianity. The formation of the humanitarian movements in England aimed at stopping all kinds of cruelty including slave trade, flogging of soldiers and child labour. 

  • Industrialization in Britain was one of the main forces behind the abolition .E.g. Britain industrialists urged its abolition because they wanted Africans to be left in Africa so that Africa can be a source of raw materials for their industries, market for European manufactured goods and a place for new investment of surplus capital.

  • Formation of Anti-slavery movement and the abolitionist movement in 1787. Its chairman was Granville Sharp and others like Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce who gathered facts and stories about the brutality of slave trade and slavery to arouse public opinion in Britain.

  • Religious revival in Europe, Anglicans preached and condemned slave trade as being opposed to laws of God and humanity. Catholic popes also protested against the trade and prohibited it. In 1774, many religious leaders served as examples when they liberated their slaves in England.

  • The French revolution of 1789 and the American revolution of 1776 emphasized liberty, equality and fraternity(brotherhood) of all human beings. As a result, people began to question whether anyone had a right to deprive fellow man of his liberty when he had done wrong.   
  • The British desire to protect their national interests, British planters wanted  slave trade stopped to avoid competition with other European planters .This is because other planters were producing cheaper sugar ,British sugar accumulated hence the need to stop over production.

  • The rise of men with new ideas e.g. Prof. Adam Smith(challenged the economic arguments which were the basis of slave trade when he argued convincingly that hired labour is cheaper and more productive than slave labour, Rousseau spread the idea of personal liberty and equality of all men.

  • Slaves had become less profitable and yet had led to over population in Europe.

  • Influential abolitionists like William Wilberforce( a British member of parliament ) urged the British government to legislate against the slave trade in her colonies.

  • The ship owners stopped transporting slaves from Africa and began transporting raw materials directly from Africa and America to Europe ,which led to a decline in slave trade.

Steps in the abolition of slave trade

The movement to abolish slave trade started in Britain with the formation of Anti-slavery  movement. The British government abolished the slave trade through anti slave laws (Legislation), treaties and use of force.
The Anti – slavery movement was led by Granville sharp, other members were Thomas  Clarkson, William Wilberforce and others.

  •  The first step was taken in 1772 when slavery was declared illegal and abolished in Britain. The humanitarians secured judgment against slavery from the British court.

  •  In 1807, British parliament outlawed slave trade for British subjects.

  • 1817 British negotiated the “reciprocal search treaties” with Spain and Portugal.

  • Equipment treaties signed with Spain 1835 Portugal 1842 and America 1862.

  • In E. Africa in 1822 Moresby treaty was signed between Captain Moresby and Sultan Seyyid Said it forbade the shipping of slaves outside the sultan’s territories. British ships were authorized to stop and search suspected Arab slave-carrying dhows.

  • In 1845, Hamerton treaty was signed between Colonel Hamerton and Sultan  Seyyid Said. It forbade the shipping of slaves outside the Sultan‘s East African possessions, i.e, beyond Brava to the north.   

  •  In 1871 the British set up a parliamentary commission of inquiry to investigate and report on slave trade in E. Africa.

  • In 1872 Sir Bartle Frere persuaded Sultan Barghash to stop slave trade but not much was achieved.

On 5th March 1873, the Sultan passed a decree prohibiting the export of slaves from main land and closing of slave market at Zanzibar. Zanzibar slave market was to be closed within 24 hours. 

  • 1876 the Sultan decreed that no slaves were to be transported overland.
  • 1897 decree left slaves to claim their freedom themselves

  • 1907 ,slavery was abolished entirely in Zanzibar and Pemba.

  • In 1927, slavery ended in Tanganyika when Britain took over from Germany after the 2nd world war.
Effects of abolition of slave trade
  • The suppression of slave trade led to loss of independence that is to say, it confirmed among the Arabs and Swahilis that the Sultan had lost independence over the East  African coast, and that he was now a British puppet .

  • The suppression of slave trade led to development and growth of legitimate trade which provided equally profitable business to both Europeans and African traders. Many ship owners diverted   their ships from transporting slaves to transporting raw cotton and raw sugar from Brazil and America.

  • It accelerated the coming of European missionaries to East Africa who emphasized peace and obedience thus the later European colonization of East Africa.

  • Disintegration of the sultan Empire. This is because it loosened the economic and  political control which the sultan had over the East African nations .His empire in E.A. therefore began to crumble .This gave opportunity to other ambitious leaders like Tippu-Tip to create an independent state in Manyema ,where he began selling his ivory and slaves to the Belgians in Zaire.

  • The abolition of slave trade was a catalyst to the partition of East Africa where by Britain took over Kenya, Zanzibar and Uganda and Germany took over Tanganyika.

  • Slave trade markets were also closed foe example Zanzibar in 1873 following the frere treaty signed between Sultan Bargash and Bantle Frere.

  • Islam became unpopular as many converted to Christianity.

  • African societies regained their respect and strength as they were no longer sold off as commodities. 


Teachers' guide
Scheme of work

Lesson plan
Learners' activities

Useful weblinks

Story of Africa
Slave trade