Another Look at Arab and European Slavery
Recently, I was having a discussion about Arabs in Africa which led me to do some research on the Arab Slave Trade and to try to understand its significance and impact on the African continent before Europeans took center stage. It made me think to look again at some pictures of the city of Mombasa which is on the east coast of Kenya. The city’s buildings have a strong Arabic theme, due to past invasions by Arabs. Indeed the area has a significant history of Arab slavery which was meted out to coastal Kenyan populations. In reading, I came across this article, “Kenya: Postcolonial Imperial Hangover”
by Nicholas Githuku in the Pambazuka News. I was struck by the last three sentences the author made in this paragraph:
“Attempts to secede, besides what must have been truly inspiring Arab Spring revolutions in the north of Africa, are based on the arrangement reached between two empires, one big and overstretched needing the smaller one (Omani) that had played a crucial role in the politics and economics of the region way before the British made their presence felt in the east coast of Africa. One of my inspirations to specialize in history and war and conflict by extension was the heroics of Saif bin Sultan, the Iman of Oman, who routed the Portuguese from the Zanj in the 1690s. It should be remembered that before this in 1862, France and Britain had agreed reciprocally and mutually “guaranteed” the integrity of Zanzibar’s domains. In the 17th century, Oman Sultan Sai’d Ibn Sultan in 1837 decided to oversee his eastern African coast territorial and trade interests more closely and thus made resplendent Zanzibar his citadel of the growing Oman Empire and influence along the coast. Zanzibar was, significantly, also the nerve center of the slave trade that exploited the hinterland of what is modern Kenya, Tanzania all the way to Zambia and DRC-Congo, which were the supply zones. There’s no gainsaying the fact that trade in African slaves increased with Omani hold on Zanj territory. But that is beside the point
How is the Arab slave trade, which was conducted on such a vast scale and over such an extensive period of time, secondary to Oman Sultan Sai’d Ibn Sultan’s choice to fend off the Portuguese or any other European/Western influence? The same basis for territorial defense occurred along many other coastlines in the North of Africa as well as other parts of Africa over the centuries.
Githuku takes the position that is often repeated, that Arabs ‘saved’ Africans from some other demise; most popularly they saved them from Christianity and missionaries. But the truth is, these Arabs were simply protecting an economic and political interest that had nothing to do with integrity, morality or humanity. They did not see Africans as a group equal to them, they saw their culture and religion as inferior and, therefore, easy to abuse and dominate.
Coincidently, I came across another article, “The Queen and her slaves”
, that posits the opposite. The author, Marjorie Gann, makes a response to an article by a Trinidadian named Charles Roach, now living in Canada. Roach objects having to swear allegiance, and to being a subject of the Queen of England based on the injustices of Britain as a result of colonialism and slavery. Marjorie Gann writes in the National Post (Canada):
“After the slave trade was outlawed, British ships attempted to police slave trading in the Atlantic by other nations. In the second half of the 19th century, Britain’s imperial interests in Africa were often justified by exposing indigenous slave trading there. In neither case were Britain’s actions exclusively altrustic, but it remains the case that it was British explorers and missionaries, like David Livingstone, who exposed the horrendous abuses by Afro-Arab slave traders in Central and East Africa and the brutal use of slave labour in Belgian King Leopold II’s Congo “Free” State. Anyone should be proud to swear allegiance to a Queen who represents Britain’s historic commitment to freedom.”
She also presents the popular argument that the British were the great emancipators of slaves and fended off coastal regions and the Atlantic Sea from slave traders. However, the British were really protecting their own interests. They had amassed a lot of wealth already from slavery and were repressing others from trying to attain the same. They stopped slavery after its economic high point had passed. This is no different from the Arabs fending off Europeans; they were both protecting economic interests.
Gann also conveniently used the phrase ‘Afro-Arab’ slave traders, making it out that Arab slavery was a ‘black’ thing and, therefore, forwarding the argument that indigenous Africans were abusing other indigenous Africans, which ultimately is a distraction from the significant, Arab, then European racist impact of Slavery on the African continent. It is also an inaccurate statement. The reality is far more different than that; these articles give a snapshot of this: “Islam, Colourism and the Myth of Black African Slave Traders”
and "Slave? What Slave? - A Study of the Traditional Systems of African Servitude"
. The fact that many Africans converted to Islam and cooperated in this genocide does not excuse the Arabs, Portuguese, British and other groups from what they introduced and sustained in Africa for their economic benefit.
The idea of either an Arabic-Islamic or European-Christian savior of Africans is erroneous as both groups came to Africa for economic gain from a position of assumed racial and religious superiority seeking to dominate and exploit coastal African populations who they both viewed as inferior. Racism, along with many other social ills which continue today, is a result of both the Arab and European slave trades.Links to articles: Kenya: Postcolonial imperial hangover
: http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/83114Activist doesn’t let tumour or stroke stop his battle to remove Queen allegiance oath as citizenship requirement
: http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/05/30/activist-doesnt-let-tumour-or-stroke-stop-his-battle-to-remove-queens-allegiance-oath-as-citizenship-requirement/The Queen and her slaves
: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/06/23/todays-letters-dont-encourage-luka-magnotta-worshipIslam, Colourism and the Myth of Black African Slave Traders
: http://www.rootswomen.com/ayanna/articles/10022004.html Slave? What Slave? - A Study of the Traditional Systems of African Servitude
Additional link: Christianity, Islam and Slavery