The Consequences of Slavery in Africa

Nathan Nunn, an economist at the University of British Columbia, has written an interesting working paper called “The Long-Term Effects of Africa’s Slave Trade.” His abstract sums it up well:

Can part of Africa’s current underdevelopment be explained by its slave trades? To explore this question, I use data from shipping records and historical documents reporting slave ethnicities to construct estimates of the number of slaves exported from each country during Africa’s slave trades. I find a robust negative relationship between the number of slaves exported from a country and current economic performance. To better understand if the relationship is causal, I examine the historical evidence on selection into the slave trades, and use instrumental variables. Together the evidence suggests that the slave trades have had an adverse effect on economic development.

So Nunn finds that “the African countries that are the poorest today are the ones from which the most slaves were taken.” Does this mean, however, that the extraction of slaves caused those countries to remain poor? Nunn is careful to say that the evidence is not conclusive, since it may be that the African countries that were chaotic and corrupt enough to support the slave trade in the first place may have continued to suffer economically for those same reasons.

Regardless, it is a really interesting paper — and a good preamble, of sorts, to Fogel and Engerman‘s Time on the Cross, which argued that American slavery was less inefficient, and less miserable, than previously thought.

Nunn’s paper is also a good reminder that when many Americans think of Africa, they think of … well, Africa, a continent, as opposed to the many different African nations, each of which has its own set of bounties and problems.

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  1. holly says:

    quoting…”Had there been no slave trade out of Africa, these engineers, chemists, physicists and so on, would have been in Africa and would have enriched their own land with their research and pioneering spirit. That is something I do not see the abstract addressing, either; the tie between slavery and loss of intellectual minds needed for development and advancement in a society.”

    “So if a country’s best, physically speaking, people are removed from a society what happens? According to Darwinism, the society will eventually collapse.”
    …………………

    Just to mention…because of this thought that slaves were picked for their physical qualities… and physical qualities = brains… claiming “Overseas slavery works as a brain-and-muscle-drain”.

    I’m not saying that some slaves leaving the country weren’t strong and smart… I’m sure some were…but to make it seem like the best were captured …draining africa of it brains and brawn seems like a BIG stretch. Seems like the captured couldn’t have been the “quickest”… or they wouldn’t have got caught in the first place.

    Also physical qualities don’t always add up to “deep thinkers”. How many times have we seen the dim witted hunky guy or clueless pretty girl…but the wimpy little scrawny nerd… is the one with all the brains.

    Logically…it stands to reason that there must have been a lot of “muscle” to remain in africa… because it wouldn’t have been “wimpy” africans rounding up the captured slaves. (Since it WAS africans capturing other africans) Plus…the hunters would have had to have some ability to strategically think… to be able to plot & plan how to trap the slaves.

    So I don’t understand why people would assume captured slaves were the best and brightest of the group.

    And I really don’t think the african tribe’s king cared if he was selling the “best” product. I’m sure it was more about head count to him. Does anyone know exactly how slaves were sold IN africa… to the slave ships? As a group…or on an individual basis…each one evaluated for a price?

    In all honesty…wouldn’t the truly physically strong and bright have figured out a way to NOT get caught in the first place?

    I don’t know…Just something to think about.

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    • Benjamin David Steele says:

      “In all honesty…wouldn’t the truly physically strong and bright have figured out a way to NOT get caught in the first place?”

      Being physically strong really had no advantage when a group of violent, well armed slave traders came. As for being bright, it depends on what you mean. If you mean well educated with intellectual ability or professional trades, those type of people would have been concentrated in urban populations.

      It was precisely those in or near urban areas that were the easiest targets for slave traders. Also, early slave buyers were often seeking slaves that had specific knowledge and training. Many slaves were educated, literate, and professional workers.

      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/what-africans-brought-to-america/

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  2. holly says:

    quoting…”Had there been no slave trade out of Africa, these engineers, chemists, physicists and so on, would have been in Africa and would have enriched their own land with their research and pioneering spirit. That is something I do not see the abstract addressing, either; the tie between slavery and loss of intellectual minds needed for development and advancement in a society.”

    “So if a country’s best, physically speaking, people are removed from a society what happens? According to Darwinism, the society will eventually collapse.”
    …………………

    Just to mention…because of this thought that slaves were picked for their physical qualities… and physical qualities = brains… claiming “Overseas slavery works as a brain-and-muscle-drain”.

    I’m not saying that some slaves leaving the country weren’t strong and smart… I’m sure some were…but to make it seem like the best were captured …draining africa of it brains and brawn seems like a BIG stretch. Seems like the captured couldn’t have been the “quickest”… or they wouldn’t have got caught in the first place.

    Also physical qualities don’t always add up to “deep thinkers”. How many times have we seen the dim witted hunky guy or clueless pretty girl…but the wimpy little scrawny nerd… is the one with all the brains.

    Logically…it stands to reason that there must have been a lot of “muscle” to remain in africa… because it wouldn’t have been “wimpy” africans rounding up the captured slaves. (Since it WAS africans capturing other africans) Plus…the hunters would have had to have some ability to strategically think… to be able to plot & plan how to trap the slaves.

    So I don’t understand why people would assume captured slaves were the best and brightest of the group.

    And I really don’t think the african tribe’s king cared if he was selling the “best” product. I’m sure it was more about head count to him. Does anyone know exactly how slaves were sold IN africa… to the slave ships? As a group…or on an individual basis…each one evaluated for a price?

    In all honesty…wouldn’t the truly physically strong and bright have figured out a way to NOT get caught in the first place?

    I don’t know…Just something to think about.

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    • Benjamin David Steele says:

      “In all honesty…wouldn’t the truly physically strong and bright have figured out a way to NOT get caught in the first place?”

      This actually has been dealt with in the research. Many Africans escaped slavery by hiding out in the most rugged areas. This led to a strange phenomena where the most developed parts of Africa are more rugged today, which is the opposite pattern found anywhere else in the world. The problem with this is that rugged areas aren’t developed for good reason because development is extremely difficult, and so it leads to underdevelopment in Africa.

      http://www.salon.com/2007/06/21/bad_geography/

      “The upshot? “The combination of the threat of slave raids with the availability of areas with varying ruggedness has resulted in a concentration of population in particularly rugged areas that has persisted until today.”

      “Which means that bad geography has had both a positive and negative effect on the economic development of Africa. By insulating some Africans from the disastrous effects of the slave trade, it had a huge positive effect, significantly boosting incomes.

      “But the contemporaneous negative effect on economic development imposed by rugged terrain also exists. So those Africans that escaped the frying pan of slavery ended up in the fire of bad geography. History and geography: a double dose of destiny.”

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  3. Ellie Nield says:

    please can you tell me some infomation on the conequences of disobedience in the slavery,as soon as possible? thanks :)
    Ellie Nield

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  4. Benjamin David Steele says:

    There actually is a lot more to Nunn’s research than this, as I understand it. I was reading about it from The Hidden History of the Human Race by Christine Kenneally. It’s a good book which covers more than just slavery. What really caught my attention was this part (Kindle Locations 2295-2302):

    “In order to find a connection between slavery and modern economies, Nunn asked if the differences in economic well-being today could be explained by differences that existed before the slave trade. Were the countries that were already poor the same countries that were more engaged in the slave trade? In fact, Nunn found the opposite : Regions that lost the most people to slavery had once been among the best-developed economies and best-organized states on the continent, with central governments, national currencies, and established trade networks. It was the states that were least developed and had higher degrees of violence and hostility at the time of the slave trade that were better able to repel slavers and not suffer the long-term effects of the trade.

    “Could the relationship between modern poverty and historical slavery be explained by the subsequent effects of colonialism or by the natural resources possessed by a country? Nunn found that although those factors appeared to have an effect, neither was as powerful. It was slavery that mattered, and it mattered greatly.”

    I discuss this and much else in the following post:

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/facing-shared-trauma-and-seeking-hope/

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