Bound and shackled against their will, thousands of Africans were forced to trek the Atlantic Ocean for what would be a life subjected to servitude and exploitation for the means of producing valuable goods. The transatlantic slave trade had an unforgettable “ripple effect” in terms of trade within Europe and beyond.
An advancement in capitalism and mercantilism were the driving factors to a successful prospect within Europe. Though Europe reaped the benefits of this entrepreneurial adventure, Africa faced a dramatic shift in economic life. Conceived in social and political terms, African slavery eventually gave way to a much greater concept where states relied on a slave mode of production, in which the production of wealth was dependent on slave labor. The abundant land Europeans had “discovered” in the Americas were useless without an ample amount of laborers to exploit it. Slavery systems of labor exploitation were preferred, but the inadequacy of European and Native Americans sources to complete the task posed a dilemma mainly due to diseases. A labor force had to be sourced from elsewhere, hence the start of the African Slave Trade. A reputation as competent workers preceded Africans in Europe and on up and coming sugar plantations on the Madeira and Canary Islands off the coast of Africa.
This lead to the popularity of enslaved Africans which became the labor force of choice to produce raw materials and cash crops (e.g. sugar, cotton, tobacco). As a result, Africans became the astounding majority of the colonial populations in the Americas.
Mercantilism, sometimes referred to as “imperialism on steroids”, benefited and worked to increase Europe’s wealth by government regulation of the nation’s commercial interests. This process of mercantilism during this period would be known as the triangular trade. One triangle trade route entailed the following: from Africa, slaves were sent to the West Indies, from the West Indies, molasses and sugar are sent to the 13 colonies, from the 13 colonies, raw iron and rum are shipped to Africa. These were traded for more slaves, and the process started over again. Exploitation for profit in the Atlantic economy gave way for capitalism to develop and take a stronghold.
At the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade era, the British government did not allow rich individuals to try to make profits from the trade. At the time, The Royal Africa Company was the only company that transported enslaved people was the British government’s own. Then, in 1698 the number of enslaved Africans being transported dramatically increased. This was due to the law changed for other British merchants to trade enslaved Africans as a “fundamental and natural right”. Profits in the slave business continued to be re-invested in Western Europe into areas such as shipping, insurance, the formation of companies, capitalist agriculture, and technological developments.
Indeed the triangular trade was the epitome to Europe’s economic power. However, one nation’s success, would be another’s existential crisis. African societies plunged into distress with an abundance in violence and uncertainty from the expanding frontiers of enslavement. Only kings and kidnappers benefited from the slave trade. As slaves were being shipped and sold off, or fleeing their land by any means necessary, countless societies were starting to become ghost towns with population dramatically decreasing. Traditional cultures were disrupted due to the introduction of firearms and manufactured goods.
By providing firearms amongst the trade goods, Europeans increased warfare and political instability in West Africa. Other states were completely destroyed and their populations decimated as they were absorbed by rivals. Social relations were restructured and traditional values were subverted. The slave trade resulted in the development of predatory regimes, as well as stagnation or regression.
The “ripple effect” set into motion by the transatlantic slave trade left and set a legacy that will never be forgotten by countless generations to come. The degree of power concentrated in the hands of the rich and powerful, interested only in maximizing their profits, allowed excessive levels of exploitation that have marked in many ways the development of an economical transgression driven by the birth of capitalism. The slave trade left Africa underdeveloped, disorganized, and vulnerable which would later set an example and major movements into play.