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

Organization of slave trade in E. Africa

The middlemen involved were;

  • Arab Swahili traders

  • African chiefs.

Ways of obtaining slaves

  • Selling of domestic slaves in exchange for goods like beads, guns, glass etc 

  • Selling of criminals, debtors and social misfits in society by the local chiefs to the Arab slave traders.

  • Prisoners of war could be sold off.

  • Porters were sometimes kidnapped, transported and sold off to the Arab traders.

  • Raiding villages, this would begin at night with gun shoots and people would scatter consequently leading to their capture.

  • Through inter tribal wars many Africans become destitutes and these would be captured by the slave traders.

  • Tax offenders were sold off by the African chiefs.

  • They were also captured through ambushes during hunting, travelling and gardening.

  • Slaves would be acquired from the main slave trade market in Zanzibar.

  • Other Africans are also said to have gone voluntarily in anticipation of great wonders and benefits from the Arab Swahili traders.


Slave journey: -

  • Slaves' journey was a difficult one. They moved long distances on foot.

  • Chained, whipped and sometimes killed on the way.

  • Had little food and water and experienced extreme suffering.

 This is illustrated by a Quotation from Dr. David Livingstone’s Last Journal.  London 1878:

“We passed a  woman tied by the neck to a tree and dead …we saw others tied up in a similar manner, and one lying  in the path shot or stabbed for she was in a pool of blood. The explanation we got invariably was that the Arab who owned these victims was enraged at losing the money by the slaves becoming unable to march.”

  • The main slave market where slaves were auctioned was at Zanzibar.

  • The journey across the India Ocean was horrible.

  • Crowded in ships with hardly any space to breath. Ships carried anything from 250 to 600 slaves. They were very over crowded and packed like spoons with no room even to turn.  

  • Whenever they saw anti-slave trade people, slaves would be thrown in the ocean

  • As a result many died in the process.

Slave life on the plantation or mines

  • Life was unbearable, slaves worked day and night.

  • Sanitary conditions were very poor

  • There were revolts, burning cotton and sugar plantations.

  • Some slaves temporarily regained their liberty

  • The song below reflects slave life in plantations

Music: song on the slave trade

Slave! Slave! Slave!

In America,

Working day, day and night,

Planting sugar, sugar and tea,

When I was in America.

See my hand,

Which was broken,

Working day, day and night,

Planting sugar, sugar and tea,

When I was in America.

See my leg……

See my back

Effects/Impact of slave trade on people of E. Africa.

Positive effects
  • New foods were introduced through trade routes like maize, pawpaws, rice, groundnuts both at the coast and in the interior. 

  • Plantation farming increased in some areas, especially the clove plantations were slaves worked.

  • The interior was opened to the outside world this later encouraged the coming of European missionaries. Many European Christian missionaries came to East Africa to preach against slave trade and to campaign for its abolition.

  • The trade routes became permanent routes and inland roads which led to growth of communication networks.

  • Swahili was introduced in land and is now being widely spoken in Tanzania , Kenya ,Uganda and Eastern Congo.

  • Islam as a religion was introduced by Arabs and it  spread , especially in Yao land and in Buganda land.

  • A new race called Swahili was formed through intermarriages between Arabs and some Africans.

  • There was growth of Arab towns such as Tabora and Ujiji inland.

  • There was emergence of dynamic leaders such as Mirambo and Nyungu ya Mawe in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

  • Slave trade strengthened the large and powerful states, which could easily get access to guns at the expense of small ones.

  • Slave trade led to a situation whereby power became centralised and no longer with the small, local authority (segimentary societies) mainly to enable African chiefs directly control slave trade.

  • Slave trade encouraged large-scale trade whereby contact was established between the trade masters and indigenous/local population.

  • Africans were dispersed to other parts of the world e.g Arabia, America and West Indies. In Africa, Sierra-Leone and Liberia were founded to accommodate former slaves from Europe and America.
Negative effects
  • African population was reduced, people who would have been great leaders and empire builders were killed. It is estimated that over 15 to 30 million people were solded in to slavery while other millions died in the process being transported.

  • Slave trade brought misery, suffering and lowered the quality of people in East Africa this is because they were reduced to ‘commodities’ which could be bought and sold on land.

  • Villages and families were destroyed and broken up by slave raiders and never to be reunited this later resulted in to loss of identity.

  • Diseases broke out among the overcrowded slaves for example the Spaniards introduced Syphilis and soon it spread to other traders.

  • Slave trade led to displacement of people and many became homeless and destitute many and stayed in Europe with no identity.

  • Economic activities such as farming were disrupted. This is because the young and able craftsmen, traders and farmers were carried off, causing economic stagnation as the economic workforce depleted.

  • Progress slowed down, which resulted in famine, poverty and destitution and helplessness.

  • There was a decline in production of traditional goods such as coffee, beans, bark cloth and iron which greatly hindered the cash economy.

  • There was a decline in African industries which also faced a lot of  competition from imported manufactured goods for example the Bark cloth and iron working industries.

  • Guns were introduced into the interior which caused a lot of insecurity and increased incidences of wars for territorial expansion.

  • Clans and tribal units, languages were broken and inter-tribal peace was disturbed for example swahili language replaced the traditional languages in the interior.

Teachers' guide
Scheme of work

Lesson plan
Learners' activities

Useful weblinks

Story of Africa
Slave trade