Slavery was common in prehistoric Africa and, in fact, well into the 20th century. As far back as 3500 years ago, Egypt was conquering other states and villages in their quest for more slaves. However, it was the global trend.

For many years, slavery in Africa was perpetuated as a lot of the tradesmen and merchants viewed slaves as produce or property. There were, of course, those who held very different opinions of their slaves and made an effort to make them part of their own family. In some other cultures, slaves were even enabled to achieve positions of power in the military or in administration. When slaves belonged to an African owner, they were seldom of the same ethnic group, although both being black.

A person was usually made a slave as punishment for a crime committed, in repayment of an outstanding debt, or as a result of being a prisoner of war. Therefore, they were seldom acquired under ‘innocent’ terms, creating a preconceived idea of all slaves being criminals. Once bought, they would be used to perform menial tasks around the property, in the case of men, and work as domestic workers inside the home (cooking, spinning and dying cotton, washing, and cleaning) in the case of women. They may also have been purchased as wives and concubines for the slave owner, or as a means of improving his status within the community. Women made up the majority of early African slaves. Men’s roles would include being porters, weaving, farming, construction and metalwork.

the Arabs invaded many parts of West, East and Central Africa between the seventh and 20th centuries, they bought slaves and sent them to North Africa and to some countries in Asia. The Europeans, who arrived in about the 15th century, sent slaves to America, Europe and the Caribbean until the 1800’s of our Common Era (CE). This not only implied the dissipation of many of the African families and, therefore, cultures (as slaves lost their kinship and identity), but also meant that slavery became a major commercial enterprise, being the backbone of many African civilisations’ economy. Even amongst the civilisations, slaves became the yardstick to determine how much land that society was able to own. So, the more slaves they owned, the more land was due to them.

The Muslim Arabs were the first to trade in African slaves, exporting them and selling them as a commodity to an enormous extent. The link between this profitable trade and their strict faith became strengthened, and slavery eventually became an integral part of the religion. During the seventh and eighth centuries CE, these Arabs moved west from North Africa, claiming Berbers as their slaves and introducing these ones to Islam. As these slaves were sold to other regions, the Muslim faith spread, not only through Africa, but also into other countries (e.g. India, Iran and so on). The Arabs also moved around, trading in and invading parts of Africa and thus spread Islam over the continent.

It was when Europe took a stance for human rights that slavery in Africa, and the rest of the world, began its decline. This happened during the 1700’s, when industrial development overtook agricultural progression. The United States did away with slavery in 1807 and the United Kingdom had followed by 1833. Brazil was the last country outside of Africa to follow suit in 1888. Africa was, unfortunately, too dependent on the slave trade and, despite being legislated against during the 20th century, continued to trade in human beings as a product illegally for many decades thereafter.