Before Europeans came, Africans had diverse ways of life under different kinds of governments. Kings ruled great empires like Mali and Songhai. Some states had a democratic rule. Some groups had no central government.

However, slavery existed in Africa long before Europeans arrived. Rulers in Mali and Songhai had thousands of slaves who worked as servants, soldiers, and farmworkers. Villages raided one another to take captives and sell them.

Often, a slave could work to earn his or her freedom. In the 1400s, however, Europeans introduced a form of slavery that devastated African life and society. In the early 15th century, European traders began to sell slaves. They raided towns to capture unwilling Africans.

Some Africans captured in wars were sold to European traders by other Africans. According to The Atlantic Slave Trade: Effects on Africa, Karo Kant states that “10 to 12 million Africans were forced into slavery and sent to European colonies in North and South America from 1520 to 1860” (pg135). Many more were captured but died of disease or starvation before arriving. The Transatlantic slave trade profoundly diminished Africa’s perspective to develop economically and uphold its social and political stability.

Socially, the biggest impact the Trans-Atlantic slave trade had on West Africa was a decrease in their population. Statistics gathered from Western Civilization: A Brief History (pg145), state that the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was responsible for the forced migration of between 12-15 million people from Africa.  

About two-thirds [1]of the people sold to European traders were men, the majority of those enslaved West Africans were males which led West Africa’s sexual demography to become unequal. Fewer women were captured and sold because they were required to take on the burden of rebuilding their destroyed families and communities.

Europeans took the West Africans to the Americas for the cultivation of sugar and cash crop. In addition, what contributed to the population decline was the increase in warfare amongst African groups. Africans started to raid smaller villages for slaves so that they could capture and sell them to keep up with the European demand for slaves[2]. Hence, this leads to civil unrest; West Africans felt insecure and distant in their very own society due to the raiding of villages.


The West Africans were unable to sustain their country, politically, because of the Trans-Atlantic Trade. Historian, Kathrin Kubetzek, says in Atlantic Slave Trade: Effects on Africa, “As African rulers organized the capture of slaves, traditions were created of brutal and arbitrary intervention by the powerful in people’ lives.”

This led to more war and more destruction of empires and civilizations. This happened because rival African rulers would compete over the control of the slave capturing and trading. Some states, such as Asante and Dahomey, grew powerful and wealthy as a result. Other states were completely destroyed and their populations decimated as they were absorbed by rivals.[3]

Ideally, trading with countries usually grows a country’s economy through reciprocity. However, this was not the case with the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in West Africa. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade greatly debilitated the economy of West Africa.

Looking at the relationship between GDP per capita today and participation in the slave trade centuries ago, Nunn (2008)[4] finds that the slave trade had a negative long-term effect on economic performance. The main contributing factor to a country’s economy is its working class or labor force.

Africa was losing approximately 12-15 million West-Africans. Africa was losing its most valuable resource. “These disruptions prevented Africans who were not involved in the trade from doing business in peace and security without the threat of being kidnapped and sold to the Europeans”[5].

[1] Christopher R. DeCorse West Africa During the Atlantic Slave Trade – 2001. Page 38

[2] Christopher R. DeCorse West Africa During the Atlantic Slave Trade – 2001. Page 45

[3] Albert Dock-Africa and Europe: Slave Trade.-2014 Page 123

[4] Nunn, Nathan. Historical Legacies: A Model Linking Africa’s Past to Its Current Underdevelopment.”

Journal of Development Economics 83, no. 1 (2007): 157-175.

[5] Taylor Pose and Francis Cadd. Economic Effect on Africa. (2008): pg125

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0


  1. Yes you can. You just have to put n.a. before you put the date. There is citing methods in the library and you should learn these.

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