West Africa during the Nineteenth Century

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The Atlantic slave trade was abolished by the British parliament in 1807. This caused great problems for West African slave traders who had witnessed a period of vast growth in the industry towards the end of the eighteenth century. They now had to focus on more lawful, legitimate means of trading. The types of industry that often replaced the slave trade were produce based, agricultural goods such as palm oil. The potential problems faced by traders were ‘exacerbated by the fact that it coincided with other problems for West Africa’s external trade.’ This refers to the Anglo-French wars which made the demand for West African exports very unreliable. The rise of the palm oil industry however, softened the blow for West Africa. Prior to…show more content…
This crisis was worsened by the characteristics of the industries that replaced the slave trade. As the slave trade ‘had been effectively monopolised by a small number of large entrepreneurs’ , the owners could benefit from economies of scale (a lower average cost caused by high levels of production). The agricultural trade had fewer barriers to entry which led to it often being produced on a small scale and was therefore much less profitable. Those that had risen to power during the slave trade period now found themselves facing a ‘high degree of atomistic competition.’ The crisis can be seen then, in the great decline in profit made by the slave owners in Western Africa. This point can be contested strongly but to do so, one must ask to whom this ‘crisis of adaptation’ applied to. Hopkins states that due to the barriers to entry in the new legitimate, produce based trade being so low, they allowed ‘the ordinary African farmer [to] enter the overseas exchange economy for the first time.’ The fact that the once prosperous and untouchable slave traders now had to compete in a competitive market does not necessarily mean that there was a ‘crisis’. Instead, it suggests a smooth transition from the once monopolised slave trade to a more
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