Here is an extract from Basil Davidson’s book “The African Slave Trade
” that gives a few European opinions of Africans at different points in time and some insight into the difference between the European and African states before the Atlantic Slave Trade began. These points can be developed.
In the early days of discovery, men in Europe believed they had found partners and allies and equals in Africa. “Let them go and do business with the King of Timbuktu and Mali.” Ramusio, secretary to the rulers of Venice, was urging the merchants of Italy in 1563, “and there is no doubt they will be well received there with their ships and their goods, and treated well, and granted the favours that they ask …”--Basil Davidson, "Before the Trade Began." The African Slave Trade (Boston, MA: Atlantic Monthly Press/Little, Brown, 1980) 26-27
Four hundred years afterwards, other men in Europe were sure that Africans had never so much as known the rudiments of political organization, let alone the means of building powerful states and operating central governments; Africans, it would be commonly said, simply lacked the faculty for growing up. “Their inherent mental inferiority, almost more marked than their physical characters,” Professor Keane was writing with assured Victorian complacency in 1896, “depends on physiological causes. …” Once an African grew beyond childhood, Richard Burton had decided a little earlier, “his mental development is arrested, and thenceforth he grows backwards instead of forwards.”
If earlier Europeans had been closer to the truth, though having less information, they too were astray in their judgment. They avoided the crass absurdity of opinions such as those of Keane and Burton. They were right in thinking that their captains and caravels were discovering powerful states and potent commercial partners. But they were wrong in imagining that this Africa of lord and vassal and willing merchants was passing through the same political development as the states of Europe.
Looking back now, we can see that appearances were double-faced. On the one side, it was true that the “cultural gap” between the European discoverers and the Africans they found was narrow and was often felt to be nonexistent. On the other side, it was false that these appearances reflected a similar experience and potential of society in Africa and Europe. For the African states, evolving their governments and empires in lands remotely muffled from the heat and clash of European or Mediterranean competition, had reached a phase of relative stability. They could and would continue at much the same level of power and organization for a long time to come. But the states of Europe were anything but stable. On the contrary, they were about to trip the springs of all those piled-up tensions and turbulent contradictions that a restless and much-invaded past had compressed in their inheritance. Unlike the states of Africa, they were about to enter a time of fast and furious growth and change.
It was in these peculiar circumstances of great likeness and unlikeness that the African-European connection began. It was out of this equivocation that the confusion and misunderstanding of later years would grow.
The African Slave Trade By Basil Davidson